COMING OF CULINARY OLD AGE
As an old school purist and stickler for tradition I have had to endure the trendy comings and goings over the years in food. It took a few centuries to work things out in gastronomy with plenty of trials and errors along the way but it is always hard work to try and accept the disruptive changes each culinary generation introduces in the name of creation and reinventing the wheel, not that much reinvention is needed. My biggest gripe is the disappearance of seasonality and not working with nature.
The food service industry and supermarkets make sure everything is available all the time these days so we have nothing to look forward in the menu cycle of the year, there would be riots now if strawberries were not available in winter. A single one stop truck can supply the modern restaurant with anything the menu desires twelve months of the year from meat, fish, vegetables and wine to even crockery and napkins.
Then when we do get to menus, the days of just having a standard starter, main course and dessert are seriously challenged with the advent of say the tasting menu where you might have a dozen or more mini dishes so the chef can show off their repertoire in one dazzling array of nibbles which can be exhausting for both customer and kitchen. I am usually all tasted out well before double figures and your bill will more than likely have triple figures to justify all the excessive work needed to put on such a show. I just had to menu proof one with twenty two dishes. I had to lie down after just doing that and not even tasting them.
Another one is the shared tasting plates, the issue here is similar in getting as many dishes on the table as possible but managing to create competition to who might get to salvage the last morsel. I do not want anyone else delving into my meal unless I am offering a small taste of what it is I am eating to my fellow diner. I would prefer chefs to focus on quality and not quantity and actually getting the basics right. Our palate can only deal with so many flavours in one sitting.
I do however like the European format of the food at home being served in what is termed ‘a la famille’ whereby you can decide how much you serve onto your empty plate from a platter in the middle of the table. This is how you get fussy kids to learn to eat everything so they can wean themselves on at their own pace to adult meals. It is not however suited for the eating out experience in my view.
Another trend is the chefs table where you can have a ringside seat to watch your meal being made and pay extra for the privilege. For me this is like sitting behind the stage for a magic show and diluting the whole eating out experience. If you want to learn how your food is made up close I suggest then actually getting a job in a kitchen and you will soon see it is not such a piece of cake.
On the same theme some restaurants at the high end will now offer you a tour of the garden growing their vegetables, a visit to the wine cellar where you can select your wine, then into the test kitchen where new dishes are developed and finally you will eat in the dining room where the joy of eating all that you have been exposed to will be utterly diminished having had the workings of the entire operation divulged to you beforehand.
I guess every generation of each trade bemoans the practitioners coming after them and it is my turn now to look at what is happening in food and dismiss it with my tired and negative mind. There were no foams, gels, swoosh’s and dusts when I was starting out and tweezers were for surgeons and makeup artists. There was nouvelle cuisine though and it was probably the last great positive trend that mattered in gastronomy and I recall the older chefs back then giving out about it. Plus ca change.