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Robert Schonfeld

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Posts posted by Robert Schonfeld

  1. The Fat Guy has asked:

    "Given that most gourmets would cite Italy as one of the top food destinations on Earth -- there are even many who prefer dining in Italy to dining in France -- why is it that Italy hardly seems relevant to the world of modern gastronomy?

    Is it a simple question of the heavily regional orientation of Italian cuisine combined with the lack of identifiable Italian chef-personalities? Or is there something more to it?"

    A lively, if only partially informed, discussion ensued, which, if you have time on your hands, you may read here.

    What is your opinion?

  2. Chefs don't cook, hardly ever. They run kitchens, or they run businesses. This is is a characteristic of haute cuisine and is an important difference with the Italian approach, so ok, by the French definition and reality of a chef, there likely would not be an Italian in the top 50. The "facile" comment was, well, forget it.

    When you say, "Italy has completely failed to produce chefs or restaurants that are as well known or influential as chefs and restaurants in most every other country that has an upper middle class.", you are overstating the case. To say that this is a huge failure on the part of Italian cuisine is to demand that Italian cuisine (the full scope of which, in all of its ramifications, social, political and economic, you are not familiar) conform to a configuration to which it is not suited and to which it does not aspire. This is like insisting that the square peg be jammed into the round hole, or be damned in the trying.

    I will say this:

    "Italy has not produced chefs or restaurants that are as well known or influential in the realm of haute cuisine as France or Spain."

  3. In fact if you were to make a list of the top 50 chefs in the world, it is questionable that a single Italian would make the list. That's what some of us have been talking about and I don't see how you telling me that your squid dish was delicious responds to that point. Nobody but people who are diehards for Italian cuisine is paying any attention to that dish. That isn't a matter of opinion. It's a fact.

    Problem, Steve. When you say the top 50 chefs in the world, you need to use the qualifiers that put you in the realm of the inference you have drawn from the original question. Chances are good that there are many more people who don't give a damn about oysters and pearls, or whatever the hell it is, or about going to Gagnaire, than there are people who don't give a damn about the squid dish. It would be better if you said "the top fifty haute cuisiniers". I can think of ten Italian cooks I'd choose to eat with in any list of the top fifty, and there are probably a lot more. Then there are Mexicans, Chinese and so many other brilliant cuisiniers who don't fit your criteria. You haven't heard of any of them and you never will. Which is fine, but I do think you should specify your criteria each time you make a statement like that. Besides, and I think this is relevant (you should excuse the expression), Italians tend to be great cooks; the French, adhering to their system, tend to be great chefs, a big difference.

  4. Why is it that you believe that the best ingredients need the simplest preparation? Why do you believe that the Italian way is better just because there is less intervention?

    Steve, I'm pleased with your question because it shows that you are, at a minimum, thinking about things.

    Here's my answer: I do not believe that the best ingredients need the simplest preparation, nor do I believe that the Italian way is better.These are my personal preferences. It is a way of eating that can be a way of life (not a religion).

    In the same way that I also enjoy French furniture and decorative arts (well commented upon by Robert Brown a few pages ago), I enjoy French haute cuisine. But I wouldn't want to live with them, or it, for any extended period of time.

  5. But for the last 10 years, nada. But Schonfeld, you're an Italophile. Why don't you visit a bunch f those babies and tell us hop they are?

    Nada, given the criteria stipulated, the likely reasons for which have been posited quite a few times already in this discussion.

    One thing you're absolutely right about, Steve, it's been way too long since Mazal and I have eaten our way through an Italian itinerary. We were talking about this on our recent trip out west, over lunch at Bistro Jeanty, I think it was.

    But even if we did go back, I'm afraid - no, I know - you'd be disappointed in much of what I'd have to say. Last time, one of the greatest meals we had in my recollection was a plastic basket lined with wax paper and filled with perfectly fried baby calamari (calamaretti) that were alive minutes before. They were so good, we had dinner twice.

    The minimum number of ingredients of the highest quality, combined as simply as possible. Say it with me: the minimum...

  6. My impressions in brief on Roxanne's are about two thirds of the way through this post. All of the staff we encountered were very friendly and helpful. Larkspur is a prosperous suburb of San Francisco, and everything about Roxanne's, from the physical plant to the clientele, speaks of the luxury to try something different. If it means anything, there seemed to be more tables of women in groups than there were couples comprised of one woman and one man. No table looked as if it was a business meal.

    There was no raw food presented on its own, such as shellfish or sashimi, or even a dish of olives. The restaurant seems to exist with the purpose of demonstrating that meals can be built of good quality preparations of raw food. Here is the menu from the night we were there:


    Cucumber wrapped Summer Roll with sweet red peppers, jullienne carrots, cocnut noodles and sweet chili sauce [i had this, and, while it was very well done, I found it somewhat bland. When I tried it with the sweet sauce, I found that the sauce was too strong for the roll. Without a doubt, one misses the fried wrapper that stands up to and complements the sauce. Maybe a different sauce with this roll would work better.]

    Marinated olive and tomato pizza with baby arugula and herbed cashew cheese [Mazal had this. I tasted it. It was delicious. It has nothing to do with pizza. The disk on which the salad sits is made of almond something-or-other. Whatever cashew cheese is, it was certainly fine with this salad. Without the pizza analogy, this is a fine appetizer in its own right. The greens, the tomatoes, the olives, all were first class ingredients.]

    Heirloom tomato pave with cashew cheese, pesto, herb oil and 100 year old balsamico

    Sea vegetable salad with kaisou, pineapple yuzu and hijiki vinaigrette (additional $2.00)


    Layered Lebanese salad with fresh almond feta, heirloom tomatoes, oregano, sumac, micro herbs, tiny lettuces and broken crackers

    Hearts of Romaine Caesar with crunchy croutons and rawmesan

    Little Gem lettuce with pears, lemon and herb cheese vinaigrette, chives and maple pecans


    Tortilla soup with fresh corn, cilantro, avocado and tortilla strips [by the restaurant's mandate - nothing heated beyond 110 degrees - the soups are really purees. This one was delicious.]

    Tom Kha soup with red chili and green curry oils [outstanding]

    Spicy melon soup with chili cashews, mint, cilantro, coconut


    Anaheim Chili filled with queso amarillo, avocado, corn and tomatoes with red chili and corn sauces [Very good. I liked the crunch of the uncooked chile together with the soft filling ingredients.]

    Mediterranean platter of falafel, hummus, dolmas and Greek salad served with lemon yogurt sauce [We eat this kind of thing all the time, so we passed. It certainly looked good on a neighboring plate.]

    Pad Thai of coconut noodles, cilantro, thai basil, almond chile and sweet tamarind sauces

    Lasagna layered with roma tomato sauce, mushrooms, baby spinach, corn and herbed cashew cheese [Not lasagna. A raw vegetable terrine well executed]

    Cheese Plate (Add $11.00)

    Smoked almond cheese with white honey and dates and herb marinated cashew cheese with sundried tomatoes and sun cured olives

    Entree and one starter $29 Entree and two starters $38 Entree and three starters $47

    Desserts $8

    Raspberry and blackberry crisp with maple vanilla ice cream [This was delicious; as good as any cooked crisp I've ever had]

    Mocha Ice Cream Sandwich [Not great; not enough deep ice cream taste nor creamy mouth feel]

    Lemon Creme Brulee with raspberries and mint

    Banana Split Chocolate brownie, strawberry and coconut crunch ice creams, with chocolate sauce and fluff

    There was a very good wine list. We drank something by the glass I don't remember

  7. Given that most gourmets would cite Italy as one of the top food destinations on Earth -- there are even many who prefer dining in Italy to dining in France -- why is it that Italy hardly seems relevant to the world of modern gastronomy?

    Robert - That is the original question. It's pretty simple when it comes down to it. Restaurants that practice "modern gastronomy" do not seem to be relying on Italian technique. It has nothing to do with good food or bad food. Just the food that those who practice modern gastronomy are interested in, i.e., find relevant.

    I know, Steve. I quoted the first part myself, and I think I represented the rest accurately.

    What I am suggesting at this point is that we lack sufficient information to say with authority what's going on in modern Italian cuisine and whether and to what degree it is influenced or influential.

  8. I think we lack sufficient reporting from the front to go much further with this. No doubt, there is plenty of serious contemporary cooking going on in Italy. The operative questions now might be, where is it being done and what is being done? Maybe Robert Brown will have some information for us at the end of the year. Maybe others could correspond with Italian contacts who could enlighten us. To come to conclusions without sufficient research would be wrong.

    Regardless of what is being done inside the country, I think the reasons for Italy's limited reach in "modern gastrnomy" as defined have already been adequately enumerated.

  9. Robert - An excellent answer that unfortunately begs the question of why there aren't two prongs to Italian cuisine like there are in France. A traditional prong and a creative prong. And the truth of the matter is that there is a creative prong like Robert B. pointed out using Vissani etc. as an example. So the real question comes down to why therir creative prong has so little impact on the worldwide food scene. And the question becomes more puzzling because their traditional cuisine is so delicious.

    Of course there's a creative prong, and I'd love to have an opportunity to check it out. As I've said before, I think its lack of influence is due to economics, regionalism, the predominance of cucina casalinga, and a certain predilection for avoiding Frenchness (I'm still being polite here.)

  10. When we say relevance we mean food that people are talking about *because the preparations are different and unusual.*

    He wants to know why we have so little interest in what goes on in Italy (foodwise.)

    Steve, You may be answering your own question: You "have so little interest in what goes on in Italy (foodwise)... because the preparations are [*not*] different and unusual".

    I know we've discussed this in other threads before. There is general agreement that the Italians are not contributing in an influential way to the leading edge of creative and/or experimental cuisine. So Italian cuisine may be said to be "irrelevant", which is to say fundamentally noncontributing, to the leading edge of creative and/or experimental cuisine. Therefore, it is not interesting to people, like you, who have issues of haute cuisine and/or experimental cuisine and/or French cuisine foremost in their minds. To many of us, though, we have a great deal of interest in what goes on in Italy foodwise, because our thought processes are driven by different priorities.

  11. In an effort to be faithful to the FG's original question, I would answer yes and no. (It's almost impossible for a lover of things Italian not to be sarcastic on this subject.)

    Yes, it is relevant because it provides a monumental, inspirational, yet simple tradition upon which to draw. The Alice Waters "revolution", and any "ingredients-based" cuisine (see the FG's review of Citarella in his newletter, for example, or recent comments about Ducasse's insistence on the best raw materials), are based on what the Italians would call living their everyday lives.

    No, because the regional nature of Italian cooking tends to keep things local, even insular. No, because Italy is generally not an affluent country and dining out is more a local, casual experience, with much less emphasis on internationally competitive alta cucina. And no because the Italians are not, to be polite about it, motivated in meaningful ways to absorb elements of French culture, including restaurant and cooking style.

    I've said before that the fact that there isn't much new (I'm sure there are some things new; others would know this better than I) in Italian cuisine doesn't really concern them very much. If anyone is really interested in why, I would recommend as a starter "The Italians" by Luigi Barzini.

  12. I read this entire thread. Then I made a plate of spaghetti aglio/olio. While I was eating it, I wondered why Chinese cuisine isn't relevant to Mexican cuisine. Or, maybe it is. I wondered why both of them, jointly or severally, are or are not relevant to a Francocentric view of cuisine. Then I thought, Fat Guy should write a book on comparative gastronomy while teaching a seminar on the subject at Columbia. Then I watched a rerun of Kenneth Clark's lecture on the Romanesque.

    I had the best espresso, and therefore the best cup of coffee, I have ever had outside of Italy, on the main street of Calistoga, California last week. It seems that a Venetian man has taught his daughter something outside of time and place, and fitted it with utter incongruity into the streetscape of this odd town.

  13. Nothing goes to waste in our fridge, either. This is as deeply etched in stone as the rule about no food packages on the table.

    We often plan meals with leftovers in mind. Meat loaf and fried spaghetti (gateau de viande and frittatta, if it helps) are a couple of favorites among many. We both look forward to Thanksgiving dinner for at least a week after the event. Mazal buys a 15-20 lb turkey, no matter how many are coming. (It's always at our house, because we want the leftovers.)

  14. that's why I referred to it as "modern Hebrew."

    I meant to indicate that your sarcastic example and Jason's were both too narrow and silly.

    Although I'm as much a peasant as the next guy, my wife is not. I learned what you call the peasant elocution, but have adopted hers. I now prefer it, without any loss of identification with my peasant roots, no pun intended.

    "My Fair Lady" was on the other night, but I was too absorbed in Audrey Hepburn to pay much attention to Professor Higgins.

  15. For words that are in common English usage, I favor English-language pronunciations. Do you pronounce Paris par-EEH?

    Yeah. Like if you live in Great Neck or in Joisey, its "Yum Kipper". If you've got a place in the Hamptons, its Yom Kee-Poor.

    Right, because us peasants use Yiddish pronunciations like our grandparents did, while the rich reform Jews use modern Hebrew.

    You know better, FG. Israelis and those who learned from them also pronounce it as if they had a house in the Hamptons and/or were rich reformed Jews.

  16. Steve, the thin pasta you mentioned is called taglierini. If I'm not mistaken, it's a handmade egg pasta, or pasta sfoglie.

    Apropos of pronunciation, I once heard that guy on tv with the gray goatee and the glasses ("The *something* Gourmet) refer to its cousin, tagliatelle, as tag-lee-uh-tellee. I turned it off there and never watched again.

    I have heard risotto called riso, but I've taken it to be nearly a slang; a very colloquial usage, more like ris'o, the way Gio is short for Giorgio. If you ask for it this way, you'd be well advised first to be sure you're in the right setting and speaking to the right person, and you'd better be prepared to continue in seamless local conversational Italian.

  17. My comment was limited to New York City, Steve, for the most part, I guess, because I've never waited 45 minutes for risotto in NYC, indicating that it has been prepared from scratch at an unreasonable cost to the restaurant.

    I've had great risotto in Italy, many times. This has been a function of the wait, the ingredients, and of having it served immediately, the latter being essential to a consummate risotto experience.

  18. "Cooking rice (which is essentially what risotto is), is NOT difficult."

    My grandfather used to say, "Anything's easy once you know how to do it". His homily may not apply to producing fissionable nuclear materials, but it does apply to a lot of cooking methods. The difficult part lies in devoting the time and energy to understanding and mastering the method. If you are reasonably competent in the kitchen, and if you are instructed by someone knowledgeable in making risotto, and if you make it every day for a week, then by the end of the week, you will be making good risotto. As with so many things, the distance from good to exceptional is great, and depends on much more than a command of the technique, principally ingredients and timing.

    I'm more than willing to believe that pressure cooking or par cooking can produce a good risotto. I'd like to try this risottoria place. That said, I have never had a good risotto in a restaurant in the US. I don't know why, because I don't know what goes on in the kitchen. But I do know that a skilled cook starting from scratch and doing it right, can produce one. Clearly, this has never occured in my experience with restaurant risotto.

  19. If Peter Luger always gets first choice at the source (there's the conspiracy theory of the week)

    Are you suggesting that my butcher friend is a conspiracy theorist? Do you want him to come at you with his gold cleaver?

    If you want to contradict someone with that kind of experience, you're going to have to offer some facts, or at least someone else who wears a gold cleaver for a tie bar.

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