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Achieving Balance in a Menu


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#1 robert brown

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Posted 10 February 2003 - 03:00 PM

Lizziee has conceived and written the following topic:


Michel Trama, chef of the two-star Loges de l'Aubergade, in Puymirol, says, "All my searching has one goal: to sharpen and satisfy our five senses. I try always to orchestrate elements for the satisfaction of our senses. For me, a dish should be beautiful: well-presented to attract the eye, aromatic to excite the sense of smell. The savor must satisfy the palate and the crispness between the teeth make pleasant music to the ear. Touch is also satisfied, because at my place one resorts to fingers for sucking a shellfish."

Trama is speaking of balance within one dish, but I think that this same balance extends beyond one dish and should be reflected in the meal as a whole.

For me, dining is multi-dimensional and the appetite is stimulated by all of the senses. A chef must balance not only flavor, but also color, texture, shape and temperature. A meal should have a symphonic flow to it.

The diner takes responsibility for this flow when ordering à la carte, which formerly was the rule rather than the exception, especially in France. Ordering à la carte, the diner's quest for balance and flow requires help from the maitre d' or wait staff. I am reminded of a review of Taillevent in the October 1998 issue of "La Belle France". At that time, there were no fixed price menus, and the reviewers ordered "boudins de homard à la nage" as a first course and langoustines with cabbage as a second. Their complaint was that they were "submerged in a sea of beurre blanc sauce". The fault for the lack of menu balance clearly fell on the front of the house.

A tasting or chef's menu, in contrast, should reflect the chef's vision of balance and as Trama says, "stimulate and satisfy all our senses" and touch all of the elements I listed above:For flavor, I expect something sweet, tart, bland, salty, and sour in each meal. I find my palate dulled when one flavor dominates.

For color, I look for contrasting and attractive combinations. Think how unappetizing a plate of white meat turkey, mashed potatoes, and cauliflower would be.

For texture, I look for a combination of crisp, soft, chewy, and firm. Some menus feature mousse after mousse, foam after foam: I feel as if I have lost my teeth and am eating baby food.

I like a mix of shapes and sizes, with items that are flat, round, long, chopped, shredded, heaped, tubular, square, etc.

For temperature, I want both hot, cold, tepid, lukewarm, even icy foods.
Two chefs' comments are relevant to the issue of balance:

For Thomas Keller, the answer is "five to ten small courses, each meant to satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. I want you to say, 'God, I wish I had just one more bite of that. 'The way to keep the experience fresh is not by adding flavors, but rather by focusing more on specific flavors, either by making them more intense than the foods from which they come, or by varying the preparation technique."

For "chefg" at Trio (click here), balance encompass surprise, fun, entertainment, even drama. "Trio wants to produce an experience that takes diners to every gastronomically tangible place known. The ceiling is nonexistent in this kitchen, the blinders are removed, but the focus is intense. This experience in dining goes beyond food and hunger. It is entertainment, if the guest is willing to let it be."

What do you think of as the most important elements of achieving balance in a meal?

Do you consider balance when designing meals that you cook yourself?

What good and less good experiences of balance have you encountered?

#2 vmilor

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Posted 10 February 2003 - 07:30 PM

There are so many interesting issues raised by Lizzie in this essay. I will arbitrarily select 3 and comment, but this is by no means an exhautive list.

1. Trama's conception of balance between 5 senses is consistent with his cooking. He does not seem to have a hierarchy. I had felt the same about his cooking, i.e. he may have given too much weight to color and texture and have relegated the flavor to the background. This may have been the Japanese influence which was apparent in the room design. I think that for a chef the flavor should come first and the other 4 senses should follow.

2. There are multiple ways to achieve equilibrium in mathematics(Nash). Same in cooking. I usually feel that menu degustations achieves an equilibrium but not the optimum (highest) one. A la carte ordering does better or worse. In the "La Belle France" example, the Taillevent captain is at fault for not having told the guest that langoustines with cabbage come with beurre blanc. I usually have the opposite experience. I am warned. Or they improvise. Let me give an example. In the summer of 2001 I had a solo lunch at Lucas Carton and ordered their new foie gras appetizer with dried fruits. Extaordinary. A huge and pink lobe with a complex, multi-colored and multi-textured sweet and spicy sauce. In the fall I was dining there with my wife and ordered the same dish along with venison chops and langoustines. First, they changed the order and brought langoustines which was a main dish before the appetizer. Second, it was the same thick and superb lobe of foie gras but with a differnt and much lighter sauce. This is because it turned out that the venison also had a very rich, sweet and spicy sauce, and it was accompanied with a giant crouton topped with dried fruit. The captain made sure that we had a harmonius meal and we progressed from the least rich to the most rich. When the bill came I also noticed that they had charged less for the foie gras than what it was supposed to be, without highlighting it. Some people complain about the "hegemony"of French cuisine, but as long as they uphold the standards, I am willing to defer.

3. Sometimes we all deviate from optimum balance, but it is a function of our upbringing and where we live. I grew up eating great fish and shellfish, and now I can not find either. In contrast, I find very good beef. So sometimes I order prawns and langoustines and spiny lobster and explain to the poor captain that I am deprived of these goodies and please don't laugh. This is a preemptive strategy. The response is invariably sympathetic to say the least. Somehow they make sure we achieve some balance in an overall skewed meal. Is this not great?

#3 Jon Tseng

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 12:15 AM

I would agree that, on the whole, contrast and variety are the sine qua non of menu design. Hence there are various "rules" when diners choose a la carte e.g. don't replicate ingredients, sauces, cooking methods in your choice (I would add that such rules are very much made to be broken - at the end of the day I always order what I want to eat, rather than what some "rule" tells me!)

Many of the same principles also apply to the construction of individual dishes too (and classic ingredient combinations) eg fatty meat - sour/tart vegetable; hot poach fruit - cold ice cream.

Note that this is also a feature of Chinese menu planning, where you try to have a mix of cooking styles at the table (eg a braised dish, a stir fry, a deep fried, &tc.

Having said that there are also examples where exactly the opposite principles are employed ie instead of contrast there is a layering of only one ingredient for dramatic effect. Ingredient-based (eg truffle) tasting manus are one example. The same can apply to dishes too (er, double chocolate fudge cake, anyone?)

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#4 Tonyfinch

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 02:17 AM

To flavour,colour, texture etc. I would add "weight". French rerstaurant meals often use very rich ingredients-lots of foie gras, cream, butter,cheese,alcohol and sugar. It is easy for such food to leave one feeling bloated and sated at a relatively early stage in the meal. Recently,at a two star French restaurant in London, having declined a proffered cheese board, I was served a "pre-dessert", a dessert, and then chocolates and other sweetmeats with coffee-talk about sugar overload (I know you don't HAVE to eat it all but.......)

Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cuisines at the top level are far and away ahead of French cuisine in terms of paying mind to the weight of the meal, but their influence on French restaurant food has been minimal because of rigidly conservative concepts by diners regarding the ingredients they require from a French meal (is there a top French restaurant anywhere which doesn't have at least one foie gras preparation on its menu?-there's your required fat content in any one meal for a start) and because of the French need to titillate the palate with an ever increasing number of courses rather than concentrating on satisfying the body and the soul.

#5 Jonathan Day

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 04:17 AM

I wonder if one reason for this isn't the haute cuisine technique of making fats "invisible" by emulsifying them into sauces, mousses, pastries and other preparations that may look light but aren't.

In many other cuisines (Chinese, Italian, lower echelons of French) you may be served pork fat (lardo, belly pork, etc.) or duck skin, but it clearly is what it is -- it hasn't typically transformed been into something else, and hence it is easier for diners to find the balance that they seek.
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#6 Tonyfinch

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 04:59 AM

The fat is not always invisible. In a French restaurant butter will be presented. What is the cheese course but pure naked wedges of fat presented to you after you will typically already have consumed plenty in the form of foie gras or butter and cream in your starters and pre starters and main courses. And then in you're in for a dessert fest. filled with cream and sugar.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy these meals as much as anyone from time to time. But any idea that they are "balanced" in the sense of weight (as opposed to texture or flavour or colour etc.) is a nonsense. Clearly this type of balance is not as important to French cuiusine and despite attempts in the past to "lighten" it-Cuisine Minceur etc.-the culinary philosophies needed to do this properly have clearly been ignored.

#7 John Whiting

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 05:11 AM

I remain convinced that, in eating as in sex, the theoretical balance among the senses is an empty academic exercise which should give way to whatever one happens to feel at the moment. A maitre d' may suggest a sequence of courses but, however skilled, he has no right to overrule or even to question whatever my whim of the moment may dictate. Sudden passionate urges, leading to a unique if eccentric pleasure, may come as readily to an educated as to an ignorant palate.
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#8 Lord Michael Lewis

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 06:04 AM

French food does often seem to engender post-meal suffering. And as Tony says, this should be viewed as part of what balance means.

Certainly the Asiatic view of food as medicine is thoroughly absent in French haute cuisine and the excesses in their approach to achieving balance consider little more than the food's relationship with the head. Perhaps this has something to do with Catholicism.

#9 A Scottish Chef

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 06:47 AM

I remain convinced that, in eating as in sex, the theoretical balance among the senses is an empty academic exercise which should give way to whatever one happens to feel at the moment.

Just perfect.

#10 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 07:16 AM

In my view, the idea of balance goes beyond the conception of individual dishes, beyond the orchestration of a succession of them. It inlcudes the temperature of the room, where one is seated, one's companions, even the weather and what kind of day one has had to that point. While it may be that approaches to balance are different among cultures and cuisines, I don't see any value in insisting on a single set of scales on which to weigh a great Japanese meal, for example, against a great French meal. Each can be balanced within the context of its own culture. I would agree with the idea that, while a restaurant can offer its best with respect to a balanced dining experience, it will be the diners use of their self-knowledge, their skills of communication, their sense of time and place, that will add the last dimension of personal satisfaction to a meal.
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#11 John Whiting

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 07:47 AM

Robert seems to come close to saying what I believe most profoundly -- that the enjoyment of food and wine carries with it no higher obligation whatsoever. Careful discrimination, endless analysis -- these etiolated pursuits are for those who enjoy them as ends in themselves (which sometimes includes me). Where pure pleasure is concerned, the bear that reaches its paw into the beehive, licks it and grunts with evident pleasure is experiencing a sensual delight on as high a level as Robert Parker when he jots "98" on his notepad.
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#12 Jonathan Day

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 08:00 AM

Certainly the Asiatic view of food as medicine is thoroughly absent in French haute cuisine and the excesses in their approach to achieving balance consider little more than the food's relationship with the head. Perhaps this has something to do with Catholicism.

LML, can you say more about this? What element of Catholic thought or practice are you referring to?
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#13 Lord Michael Lewis

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 09:01 AM

LML, can you say more about this? What element of Catholic thought or practice are you referring to?

Here I refer to a feast-fast continuum. Many dishes from the classical repertoire originate in feast dishes; however, for the rich, the notion of feast-fast became obsolete as lack of imagination as to how to spend one’s money resulted in perpetual feasting. The result of this can found in ‘French’ fine dining around the world; it’s hallmark being a total excess of protein, fat and sugar; albeit manifested in ‘high quality’, expensive ingredients. Essentially haute cuisine was and, by many standards still is, gentrified gluttony. Pragmatically, Catholicism associates guilt with base pleasure but then assuages it by penance; ie. You can do it as long as you regret it. For this reason, no one considers it a fatal flaw of French haute cuisine that one is belching fire, and basically out of circulation for twelve hours after a meal. Rather it seems appropriate.

#14 Tonyfinch

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 10:06 AM

I remain convinced that, in eating as in sex, the theoretical balance among the senses is an empty academic exercise which should give way to whatever one happens to feel at the moment.

Er....shouldn't that be two? (or more peut-etre?)

#15 Wilfrid

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 12:04 PM

"Some menus feature mousse after mousse, foam after foam: I feel as if I have lost my teeth and am eating baby food."

Monsieur Trama has clearly been following my posts with care and attention. :biggrin:

However, I do agree with John Whiting that balance and harmony are sometime things. Occasionally I enjoy a meal with a balance of flavors and textures, light and heavy dishes. Perhaps more often, I enjoy following a theme through a meal - strong flavors, gamey flavors, savory dishes. A couple of sample dinners which stick in my mind:

Oysters.
Roast grouse.
Stilton.

Preserved pig's liver.
Roast woodcock.
Welsh rarebit.

Not balanced meals in any obvious sense, but meals striking a strong and consistent note. If Lizziee enjoys a symphony, I suppose the above meals are more like Sousa marches; one knows just where one's going, and gets there pretty briskly.

#16 vmilor

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 01:47 PM

the French need to titillate the palate with an ever increasing number of courses rather than concentrating on satisfying the body and the soul.

I see this as a general malaise afflicting some of the HC eating but I am less sure whether French are responsible for it. I think the issue is more complex. I can actually testify that in some French restaurants such as L'Ambroisie and Lucas Carton, captains were quite unhappy when they thought I ordered too much and the same thing also happened at Rochat. I also looked at the deg. menus I kept from Robuchon and they are quite reasonable. But somehow at some point a gullible public has been led to believe that a *great* dining out experience requires getting overwhelmed by the number of dim sum continental style courses and you did not get your money's worth if you are still able to breathe after the dinner. Now that John Whiting raised the analogy, I used to think that great food is the best prelude to love making but after eating in most 2 or 3 stars you are lucky if you can sleep smoothly. My best guess is that cost factors is playing a salient role in the situation. If a chef serves only 3 courses(look at Wilfred's great menus), he will have to find best quality ingredients, pay attention to the local products and seasons and execute them perfectly. They also have to confront a public who does not eat many things such as grouse, woodcock, etc. Is not it much easier to concoct a myriad of baby food, not necessarily composed of freshest ingredients, and then make them tasty by using cubes of high quality butter? (This was one of the observations which led me to compose the Post-Modern versus Renaissance or Neo-Classical cooking essay in Haute Cuisine). Unfortunatley more and more"creative" chefs are doing this and not only in France but in Italy, Spain, US etc.
The observations about the fast/feast continuum are interesting. On the other hand ,and based on my observations in London, US and Paris I noticed that on the average(excepting people who are reading this note) French are least inclined to dwell in excess. The way the Parisian ladies dress also reflects the same mindset: elegant and harmonious without strong statements. Finally, of the 3 countries I have lived French seemed to be to me the most resistant not to let their traditions and standards slip even though compromise will be in their material interest. Admittedly I am simplifying and over-generalizing but I want to restore the balance given that all the contributors to the debate are non-French.

#17 Bux

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 02:26 PM

Lizziee's topic is so well conceived and so eruditely presented that I regret not being the first to find some flaw in the ideal of a balanced menu. I suspect the paragon of all courses or dishes would be one so balanced and harmonious as to be a complete experience. But a meal of three, four or more so perfectly balanced courses could easily be a bore to sit through. By some sort of logic then, it's obviously the meal that must be balanced and not each specific course. Count the number of ways it can be balanced and the master chef will balance it on the greatest number of scales. As as with dish after dish each so balanced that we are bored by dessert, a life of meal after meal so perfectly balance will bore us as well. I'll take most of my meals with some balance and I'll relish a few that are so perfectly balanced as to be so exquisite so that this all acts as a foil to my evenings dedicated to a single theme, be it truffles, pork fat or pizza. By the end of my time here, I will have balanced it all, or I will ask for an extension to finish the job.
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#18 John Whiting

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 02:50 PM

It hardly seems necessary to add that a "balanced diet", in nutritional terms, is something else again. Some attention to this in one's total eating pattern can determine how long one can go on indulging one's self in the detail. Fortunately, instinct goes a long way towards self-correction, except for those so unfortunate as to live where the food industry almost totally controls the supply -- and there are such places.
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#19 Lord Michael Lewis

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 03:38 PM

Balance, as it has been overwhelmingly used here, seems to stand for: maximization of variety throughout dishes and by extension throughout a meal. This would suggest that balance is then an imprecise label for the complimentary synergy that exists between different foodstuffs and drinks. However, as a definition, it is highly unsatisfactory; instead of being critically applicable to all cuisines, it has, in fact, been directly extrapolated from the classic French model. This means, were it necessary to explain, that when considering the nature of the balanced meal or dish we must begin with, and continually return to, the French ideas of combining colour, texture, taste, ingredient, technique etc. to produce the illusion of super-abundant variety. In fact, at least for myself, contemplation of what we mean by balance draws one’s attention to the supreme importance of combination as part of a professional cook’s repertoire. Indeed, I would go further: combination, skilful or not, is what many of us interpret as talent on the part of a chef.

Perhaps it is this, and a personal disillusion with fine dining in general, that serves to reinforce my belief that the office of star chef is one of the most intellectually superficial on the planet.

#20 lizziee

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 03:47 PM

Bux,

A balanced menu does not necessarily mean boring. In fact, if a meal put my palate to sleep, this is an unbalanced menu. I totally agree with you that the master chef "balances a meal on the greatest number of scales." The balance could be the surprise, the jolt, variations on a single theme, or what I originally referred to as the symphony. Some symphonies are bombastic, some are gentle, but each is able to hold together in the end.

Thinking about those chefs that I most admire and those meals that I have found extraordinary, there is a huge spectrum of taste sensations. Regis Marcon presents mushrooms in all its guises; this is a balance on a theme. At L'Arnsbourg, Chef Klein bombards you with unique flavors, different textures, taste surprises; his balance is his variety. Thomas Keller takes what is ordinary and transforms it to haute cuisine with each dish building to a grand climax.

On the other hand, Au Crocodile seemed to have no rhyme or reason to its tasting menu. It was just a collection of dishes that not only by itself were mediocre but taken as a whole were less than the parts.

Maybe, then, what I mean by balance is that the great menu is more than its parts; it excites, it stimulates and it builds. Chefg actually said it best on his last post on Trio: "It (our menu) is designed to flow from beginning to end in a progression of flavors, textures, techniques and temperatures."

#21 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 05:41 PM

The dominant tendency to return to the French model for ideas of luxury undoubtedly extends beyond cuisine, and in some way may be a celebration of the economic liberation of the masses by the market system, allowing them to pursue at least symbols of that which was formerly reserved exclusively for the Court, whether food, clothing, furnishings, or pictures, and whether so pursued in reaction to religious asceticism or not. Luxury as a pursuit for citizens after the 18th century defined itself, and continues to define itself in French terms. This comes as a surprise to certain Asian and sub-Asian cultures, as well as to a minority of freer-thinking Americans. In a sense, the prevalence of lml's aptly-put "combination" aesthetic, is a marketing coup of generational proportions.
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#22 JAZ

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 06:04 PM

I think a well designed menu does a number of things: it stimulates the palate but doesn’t overstimulate it; it provides a sense of continuity but doesn’t bore; it keeps one’s interest with contrasting elements but doesn’t confuse the palate.

One crucial element of a successful menu that hasn't been explicity mentioned is continuity. Yes, of course you need contrast, and you want to balance various elements, but if there is nothing that ties the menu together, you're only left with a string of dishes. That's why Wilfred's ideas would, I imagine, work so well. The "themes" give some structure to the experience, and even though I don't think most people think of that consciously, I think they would notice the absence of some kind of continuity.

That being said, many different elements can provide the continuity; it can be as obvious as sticking with the same ethnic cuisine o a feeling of seasonality (e.g., "winter food" v. "summer food").

Then, once you've got some kind of continuity working, you can work on contrast. I think the aspect where contrast is crucial is in texture, including mouthfeel. As Lizziee mentioned, all foam and no crunch is boring. (I found it very interesting that Michel Trama felt he had to to drag in using one's fingers for shellfish as an example of food engaging our sense of touch, when that is precisely what texture and mouthfeel do. "Crunchy," "crispy" and "silky" are not tastes; they don't engage the taste cells at all, yet chefs are always conflating the two.)

One final point: I was struck by the comment of Thomas Keller's that Lizziee quoted (on the subject of serving five to ten small courses), "I want you to say, 'God, I wish I had just one more bite of that.'"

Like many people, I went through a stage of always wanting several small plates or tasting menus, but I think I'm over it. Not that I don't enjoy a couple or a few courses, but I've found that lately I want more than a bite or two or three of any given dish. This stems not from physical hunger, because a small amount of ten dishes would certainly satisfy that. Rather I find myself wanting to be able to experience the way a dish changes from the first to the last bite. Subtly complex dishes, especially, can require more than a few bites to appreciate fully.

That's actually one criticism of Thomas Keller that I've read -- that his dishes lack "staying power" (for lack of a better term), by which I mean that everything there is present in the first bite, and subsequent bites don't add anything else to the experience. Note that I've never been to the French Laundry and I have no idea whether this is true. But I have experienced that phenomenon of eating something that lacked this sort of staying power, and it's very disappointing.

Finally, if anyone is interested, there was a fairly recent thread on this topic, menu creation.

#23 Tonyfinch

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 06:05 PM

I agree with LML that the word "balance" is being used here to indicate "variety", which is French cuisine's interpretation. It is revealing how automatically contributors are speaking of this topic in terms of French cuisine only.

The concept of balance in Asian cuisines means more than just "nutritionally" balanced , although it does mean that. It also means balanced in terms of achieving a unity between our inner and outer selves and the world around us, and a recognition of the link between our physical, emotional and psychological well being. In Asian philosophy food is medicine not in the narrow Western sense of medicine, but as a promoter of all round health and well being in which the notion of "balance" is core.

What is really being talked about by Lizzie etc. here is "sensations" because that is what French cuisine sets out to achieve-a series of sensations which can be...well...sensational as an experience in and of itself. But that has little to do with "balance"-at least as I interpret the word because, as LML pointed out, French cuisine does not embrace the philosophies needed to create it.

#24 vmilor

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Posted 11 February 2003 - 08:48 PM

LML: If I understand you correctly you are making the counterintuitive and thought provoking point that misplaced notions on variety enabled some quasi charlatans to concoct artifical combinations(fusion?) and a gullible public mistook this for greatness. Would you please develop the argument and spell out your conception of "greatness" in cuisine? Is this an attainable ideal?

#25 Tonyfinch

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Posted 12 February 2003 - 02:51 AM

Lizziee has conceived and written the following topic:


Michel Trama, chef of the two-star Loges de l'Aubergade, in Puymirol, says, "All my searching has one goal: to sharpen and satisfy our five senses. I try always to orchestrate elements for the satisfaction of our senses. For me, a dish should be beautiful: well-presented to attract the eye, aromatic to excite the sense of smell. The savor must satisfy the palate and the crispness between the teeth make pleasant music to the ear. Touch is also satisfied, because at my place one resorts to fingers for sucking a shellfish."

This is the quote that opened the thread. Note how the French chef perceives cuiisine in terms of satisfying the senses only To him this is the be all and end all-how his cuisine can literally be "sensational".

Nothing wrong with a cuisine that pleases the senses of course but the problem is that the senses become sated notoriously quickly and need ever new stimulii in order to keep them interested (analogies with sex and some kinds of music also come to mind in this regard)

This does lead to the possibility of variety for variety's sake being the goal in order to stave off jadedness and that in turn does open the door for the charlatan who may well be able to fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time.

True "balance" in cuisine is about more than satisfying the senses, however well that is done. It is about starting from a philosophy of life in which food is part of a holistic way of living, which links past, present and future and which works in harmony (music analogy again) with not only the senses but the intellect, the body and the "soul" to promote health and well being and to satisfy at a level beyond that envisaged by the foams,gellees and mousses which pass for progress in modern Western cuisine.

For a taste or sense :wink: of what I'm talking about I suggest a viewing of the best (IMO) movie ever made about food: Ang Lee's "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" in which the old master chef's philosophy of cuisine as linked to the traditional rhythms of Taipei social and family values, becomes increasingly tested by the intrusion of Western mores into his daughter's lives. If it doesn't make you see Eastern cuisine differently, nothing will.

#26 JAZ

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Posted 12 February 2003 - 10:30 AM

The concept of balance in Asian cuisines means more than just "nutritionally" balanced , although it does mean that. It also means balanced in terms of achieving a unity between our inner and outer selves and the world around us, and a recognition of the link between our physical, emotional and psychological well being. In Asian philosophy food is medicine not in the narrow Western sense of medicine, but as a promoter of all round health and well being in which the notion of "balance" is core.

And

True "balance" in cuisine is about more than satisfying the senses, however well that is done. It is about starting from a philosophy of life in which food is part of a holistic way of living, which links past, present and future and which works in harmony (music analogy again) with not only the senses but the intellect, the body and the "soul" to promote health and well being and to satisfy at a level beyond that envisaged by the foams,gellees and mousses which pass for progress in modern Western cuisine.


Can you explain a little more about what this sort of balance entails? You've said quite a bit about what it's not (i.e., it's not "nutritional" balance and it's not sensation based), but not much about what it is. Is it just an awareness that how I feel is, in part, affected by what I eat? Is it an awareness that what I eat has an effect on the environment? Both of those? More?

Maybe this is something that I'm just not going to understand, because I'm not by any definition of the term a "spiritual" person, but I'm really interested, if you could give some examples (sorry, but watching Eat Drink Man Woman is not an option for me).

#27 Lord Michael Lewis

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Posted 12 February 2003 - 04:42 PM

LML:  If I understand you correctly you are making the counterintuitive and thought provoking point that misplaced notions on variety enabled some quasi charlatans to concoct artifical combinations(fusion?) and a gullible public mistook this for greatness. Would you please develop the argument and spell out your conception of "greatness" in cuisine? Is this an attainable ideal?

Let me make a tenuous but, hopefully illustrative analogy.

How does the utterance:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Differ from:

Shall I texture thee to a clubber's tray? ?

Superficially, very little. Both utterances obey the rules of English syntax, morphology and orthography. Furthermore, both contain ten syllables, which alternate between unstressed and stressed vowel. Both are questions.

A reasonably intelligent human with no knowledge of English could, by merely comparing the two utterances, glean a great deal about the English language. Enough in fact to produce an enormous number of unique utterances generated by the following surface pattern:

modal+subject+verb+object+preposition+noun phrase

But mere use of the system to generate novel utterances does not even begin to create meaning. Indeed, the system is only important as a means to an end.

I believe there are some chefs who have something to 'say', (which may or may not be worth listening to) in that their culinary 'utterances' have transcended their system of delivery. However, too many only go as far as to master the surface system in order use it for novel, crowd pleasing, but ultimately nonsensical ends.

#28 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 12 February 2003 - 05:35 PM

Lewis and Finch are onto some of the most interesting ideas yet broached on egullet. Any good quality thinking that wrests emphasis away from gravitational Francophilia (Finch), and which shows up much of well-regarded restauranteurship as just so much putting one over (Lewis), is bound to raise the bar for debate. I'm reminded of that moment when Cinemascope was introduced in theaters and the curtains widened to reveal the rest of the screen.
Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

#29 JAZ

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Posted 12 February 2003 - 06:12 PM

But mere use of the system to generate novel utterances does not even begin to create meaning. Indeed, the system is only important as a means to an end.

I believe there are some chefs who have something to 'say', (which may or may not be worth listening to) in that their culinary 'utterances' have transcended their system of delivery. However, too many only go as far as to master the surface system in order use it for novel, crowd pleasing, but ultimately nonsensical ends.

Very nice analogy. I'd not thought about food in terms of syntax and meaning before (too busy thinking of musical analogies, I suppose).

One could go further and say that some other utterances, while not meaningless, are still so banal that they should certainly have been edited out of the final draft.

There are numerous references in books on language to computer programs that attempt to create meaningful sentences and paragraphs, most of which have been dismally unsuccessful. I wonder what the result would be if a chef tried to use a computer program to generate ideas for new dishes?

#30 vmilor

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Posted 12 February 2003 - 08:18 PM

It is a form of art one has to feel and very difficult to translate to words then. Those who translate to words(critics) will get excited when they see two new flavors put together and gradually bad money drives out good money. But there will always be some who will wage losing battles and a minority will appreciate them....