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Looking westward


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#1 vserna

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 11:23 AM

OK, I'll clarify all this 'here' and 'there'. 'Here' is western Europe, and more specifically Spain, where culinary innovation currently resides thanks chiefly to my pixieish, unpredictable friend Ferran Adrià. 'There' is the United States, where the restaurant industry is more important, more professional and more developed than anywhere else in the world.

Not to make this long and boring, a few points on what I think is an important aspect of the future of dining - the differences of concept between Europe and the US:

- Every French, Spanish, British and Italian restaurateur now looks to the US as an example of what to do, as the pioneers in the newer concepts of restaurant dining. The stuffy 'luxury' European restaurant is a dying breed because, first, it's too damn expensive and far-removed from 21st century lifestyles, and second, because the less formal, more fun but equally professional, modern American restaurants have become everyone's model. So whatever the future holds in store, one thing is pretty sure - we'll see it in the US first. The admiration for the rhythm, the atmosphere, the excitement, the pizzazz of the better, modern restaurants in the US is widespread throughout the world, IMHO.

- As to what we'll be eating in these Americanized restaurants worldwide, it's such a fast-evolving scene that predictions are quite difficult. Ever more high-tech-aided 'molecular gastronomy'? I don't know. Even in Spain, the supposed beacon of technological light, I see that my colleague the journalist Rafael García Santos, the greatest mover and shaker of the El Bulli revolution in the media (and through his yearly symposium, Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía), is starting to despair about so many young cooks producing culinary caricatures with lots of sous-vide and liquid nitrogen.

- This was to be expected. Ridiculous excess killed Nouvelle Cuisine (or, at least, Nouvelle Cuisine's glamorous image) 25 years ago. The same may happen in Spain and perhaps elsewhere in the near future. Me, I believe in blatant eclecticism to keep the fun going and, at the same time, to keep in touch with our roots. So a restaurant (thinking here of places like Celler de Can Roca in Spain or like Blue Hill in New York, where Bux and Mrs. B took me a few months ago...) where they would offer, on the same menu, wisely balanced dollops of sheer, brilliant (scarce!) raw materials, of high tech (for me, a little bit of liquid nitrogen perhaps, and a lot more of sous-vide, which is a great technique), of cheeky but well-judged fusion that works, and of a little raw, unadorned tradition that can't be improved on... That would be my idea of a nice food experience in the 21st century. With wines chosen with the same eclecticism, that would enhance the one defining, decisive aspect of the whole experience: Pleasure!

- Lately, in Madrid, I've noticed how two chefs who come from totally opposite ends of the spectrum, Abraham García of Viridiana (traditional low-tech training, little interest in foams and syringes, but an open mind to fusion for more than 20 years) and Sergi Arola of La Broche (Adrià's No. 2 man for years, and a child of high tech) are actually coinciding in their interest in fun and 'real' food, which translates into their refined versions of 'street food' from Spain, Turkey, Morocco or Mexico...

- Then again, unpredictable things happen in dining: something is deemed unsafe, or politically incorrect, and we change our eating habits. The other night at Viridiana, with the charming proprietors of Frascati, the fine San Francisco bistrot, we enjoyed Abraham's terrific signature dish, duck foie gras (house-smoked on maple cuttings, served on rich brioche with a few drops of sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry and a rose-petal chutney) as if it were the last platter of foie gras in our lives! This was because, as they reminded me, next year there will be no more foie gras in California...

Victor de la Serna
El Mundo, Madrid

Edited by vserna, 26 September 2005 - 11:28 AM.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

#2 Michael Ruhlman

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 12:06 PM

"wisely balanced dollops," with an eclectic pairing of wines, that too for me is my hope for fine dining.

and i do think that the avant garde thrusts in the united states can be very easily damaged by young cooks who don't have a solid grasp of culinary fundamentals. Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago is pushing boundaries but he can only do so because of his fundamentals are perfect.

and the foie situation in the united states is so sad so muddled by ignorance I can scarcely bring myself to comment. I dream that intelligence will prevail, but then I wake up and realize where I live.

#3 pedro

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 12:13 PM

Well, if this americanization of the restaurant industry in Europe, or at least in Spain, becomes the trend, then we'll see a few changes taking place: more tables turning, restaurant operating more hours per day and more days per week. And of course, less light in the dining room and less space for diners in their tables.

Concepts and techniques travel well these days. The internet can only improve that even more. I hope that traditions and dishes are received with an open but also clever mind: certainly, I wouldn't want restaurants all over the world to become a new version of what still exist in many hotels under the name of "international cuisine."
PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

#4 pedro

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 12:23 PM

and i do think that the avant garde thrusts in the united states can be very easily damaged by young cooks who don't have a solid grasp of culinary fundamentals.  Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago is pushing boundaries but he can only do so because of his fundamentals are perfect.


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I can be wrong, but my perception was that the States isn't an easy market for the practitioners of avant-garde cooking (I like very much Steingarten's denomination: hypermodern cooking). Wylie Dufresne comes to my mind as someone who should be receiving much more credit and attention. Given the dynamism of a city like NY, I would had imagine that it could be the ideal place for this movement to start gaining momentum in the States, but it seems I'm wrong.

Under those circumstances, the risk of hypermodern cooking being wiped out of the country because a few bad moves seem to be plausible.
PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

#5 Bux

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 05:02 PM

One difference between Blue Hill and Can Roca, perhaps even between Stone Barns and Can Roca, is that Can Roca impressed me as a much more formal restaurant, surprisingly so for it's provincial location. It reminded me at least of the more formal French provincial restaurants, if not of Paris. It's certainly a restaurant that would have a few more crossed forks and spoons than Blue Hill, if there was a Michelin guide to NY. I hear that should be out by November. Service was exceptional. If asked about the service at Blue Hill, I'd say it was good, but casual. Nobody loses points, but Can Roca operates the dining room at a higher level. Of course dress of the diners is far less formal than it used to be all over Spain. I'd say the same for NY and most of the US as well as France, in general.
Robert Buxbaum
WorldTable
Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.
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#6 Michael Ruhlman

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 05:04 AM

While you're right, pedro, about the bigger cities more likely supporting boundary pushing cuisine, it will inevitably filter through the united states. i think the market is limited, but there is a market and don't think the market for it will decrease.

check out this menu and chef profile from nashville:

http://www.nrn.com/o...m?ID=6852505266

Edited by Michael Ruhlman, 27 September 2005 - 05:06 AM.


#7 vmilor

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 07:23 AM

These are truly dire prospects. You may be absolutely right but the moment these happen in Europe eating out will be devoid of its inherent joy, hedonistic dimension, and communal-joy sharing roots.
Why there is less light in the American restaurants by the way? ( I started carrying a flash light to all Atlanta restaurants)



Well, if this americanization of the restaurant industry in Europe, or at least in Spain, becomes the trend, then we'll see a few changes taking place: more tables turning, restaurant operating more hours per day and more days per week. And of course, less light in the dining room and less space for diners in their tables.

Concepts and techniques travel well these days. The internet can only improve that even more. I hope that traditions and dishes are received with an open but also clever mind: certainly, I wouldn't want restaurants all over the world to become a new version of what still exist in many hotels under the name of "international cuisine."

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