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Culinista

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  1. NOT a deal, Pedro That fish looks wonderful! And beautifully cut, as well. I'm so tired of seeing chefs "saw" their fish instead of slice it. But does this mean I have to choose between sushi and the grilled mollejas of milk-fed lamb I've been craving?
  2. This does sound interesting. Do you have any more detail on it? ← One major qualifier here: My grasp of Castilian Spanish is shaky at best, and Ferran's in particular I find hard to follow, especially since the mike kept flickering--and I was in the front row. If anyone finds an error in my description of his comments, I'd be grateful. Ferran himself did not go into too much detail, but he made a concerted effort to include seemingly simple demonstrations with implications outside the usual gastrotech eyepoppers that so enthrall the crowd. For instance, he deep-fried mackerel innards and spoke of stewing chicken wing tendons to create new foods from cheap, everyday parts normally overlooked. It was my impression that the crowd didn't seem to know what to make of this unexpected deviation from the gastrotech dog-and-pony extravaganza, admittedly a brief part of the presentation that soon swung back into blowing huge bubbles and sphericizing everything. However, I think this thrifty concern for finding new ways to avoid waste and discover new flavors was one of the "important" techniques in our day and age. Another comment that I found interesting was that Ferran backed off a little from his previous stance (in a private conversation in about 2000) that he is interested only in pure innovation, which he defined as avoiding copying. I am not sure if he was referring to a defense of his own cuisine, which has been criticized for plagiarizing Japanese and other techniques, or it was a comment about the need to curb unbridled and bad-tasting creative wildness in the search for culinary innovation. Chefs are like musicians--not every great performer is cut out to be a composer. Second, he defended his use of artificial or industrial ingredients. In the first point, he said that if a surgeon adopted cutting-edge techniques developed by someone else, no one would ask him to justify why he was "imitating" another. In the second, he pointed out that practically every domesticated animal or cultivated ingredient is not "natural" since it has been manipulated by humans for a very long time. (I would add that we have been adding chemicals and preservatives like salt forever.) During Ferran's presentation, he repeatedly said that this or that technique was suitable for prepraring for any number of people, including huge banquets of 1,000. I felt it was interesting that his mind seems to be turning to more and more mass-replicable food, although many of his techniques remain so technically difficult that even his virtuoso right-hand guy Oriol failed several times. The thought occurred to me that most of these techniques are almost designed to continue widening the gap between home and restaurant cooking. That said, I bought one of those cool sphericization kits and brought it home to play. I was in BCN for an unrelated roundtable discussion among foreign journalists for a Catalan audience (!!!) about how contemporary Calalan cooking can be defined and how it is seen abroad. Catalans are justly proud of having claim to the world's most important chef and are enjoying the media attention, but they are concerned that outsiders are largely unaware of or dismissive of traditional or non-Ferran Catalan cuisines. I realized in the course of the discussion (but was perhaps unable to explain in my pidgin castellano) that for all its tsunami effect on international kitchen technology, El Bulli has for the most part not transmitted a single integral, signature dish abroad. His ideas have caught on because people seized on his techniques and applied them to their own native dishes. What is now called modern Catalan (or, even worse for the local hosts, Spanish) cooking is really a compendium of vanguardist kitchen techniques, not an idiomatic regional cuisine that is recognized by your average foreigner. In Catalunya, for example, people are re-inventing the suquet, the escudella, escalivada, cap i pota, etc, but most of these words remain gibberish to my non-eGullet general readership. I didn't know how to break it to my Catalan friends, but the nuances of Catalan cuisine remain almost unknown among my husband's business associates, for example. That reflects more on our own abiding ignorance and is no reflection at all on the inherent greatness of Catalan culture. Everyone by now has heard of Ferran, however. Perhaps Ferran is sucking too much oxygen for the comfort of his more nationalistic compatriots? Some of the chefs in the roundtable audience (including some very notable names) were sounding distinctly Salieri to Ferran's Amadeus. In a way, Catalans might be grateful to be spared seeing their wonderful dishes bastardized in the manner that bolognese tagliatelle, paella, and sushi have been as they transitioned into mass-market international cuisine. However, those who want to create a rigid definition of "authentic Catalan" cuisine--no doubt as another battlefield of modern identity politics--have a lost cause. All the great, non-subsistence cuisines got that way from constant enriching contact with foreign influences--the tomato, potato, and chocolate are all cases in point. Ferran Agullo' in the "Llibre de la Cuina Catalana" said that the very power of Catalan cuisine resided in its ability to assimulate influence. Another writer, Josep Pla, said cuisine was landscape in a pot. We should remember that while a river looks eternal, it is always flowing from somewhere to somewhere else, and over a great deal of time, you would never recognize the place. One woman, I assume a restaurant chef, said she didn't need to have the American press come tell her how to cook. I wouldn't presume. And as long as Catalans like her feel that way, Catalan cuisine has no fear of ever losing its unique flavors and identity.
  3. Well, maybe my sense of Spanish distance is distorted by backpacking the Camino, 30 km a day. Best way to work off those meals
  4. Welcome to eGullet (from a relatively new poster, ha)! It is just my own impression, but comparing the Arzak of today bears no candle to the Arzak when Juan Mari was more firmly in control. He was the new Basque cooking, which was a marvelous balance between the classic and the modern/nouvelle cuisine. He was always learning, and I remember how he told me his experiments in subliminal seasoning, adding almost imperceptible amounts of aromas exotic--like pulverized ginger-- to classic Basque cuisine that could inobtrusively enhance the traditional profile of the dish. I'll never forget some of the dishes I had there. Maybe because when we eat, we re-consume previous meals, I find my recent meals in Arzak not up to the old standard. Elena is talented and Juan Mari is a very proud papa to have such a successor to the family restaurant, but in my mind she is still feeling her way, along with the thousands of Ferranistas. She has not found her own cuisine. I say give her a few years' breathing space to come into her own without too much undue early scrutiny. In a way, her inheriting her father's kitchen is a big burden, since externally it seems like an unbroken continuity. I predict Arzak is like a phoenix, and right now we are in the molt stage. Elena has an impeccable culinary pedigree and talent, so all she needs is time and space. All of these comparisons of Arzak and Mugaritz are in a sense unfair, although its understandable that it arises when travelers to Donostia are trying to decide where to budget their few meals. Even though I would call Arzak disappointing, it has an enduring classic appeal and is easy to like for first timers. Mugaritz is totally different. Andoni, like all geniuses, is not easy to understand because there are so few previous references. If you love the aesthetics of Michel Bras, admire the technical virtuosity of El Bulli but don't like eating ringside in a circus, you'll adore Mugaritz. It's not for everyone, thank goodness. If I were to characterize today's Restaurant Arzak, it's like seeing Joel Robuchon going through a midlife crisis. Andoni is still reaching for the peak of his powers at a time when so many of the old greats are retiring. Let's hope he is the future of Basque cooking. It will be very bright indeed.
  5. But Culinista, you're saying that strangers actually approach you and ask for your phone number while you are dining in restaurants in Paris? ← Usually the waiters. Really. ← Oh my One evening at la Lorraine, a man from the next table just planted himself at mine for a short chat. Nothing more forward, just the usual tango that makes Paris Paris. My French girl friends start to feel that something is wrong with them if they aren't chatted up at least 3 times a day Edit: I remember now that that same night, the waiter left me his phone number with the maitre d'. So I must have been off my game that evening...
  6. Hehe, shows my American sense of distance. 40 miles is considered a reasonable CA commute for work, much less for food.
  7. Don't be surprised (or offended) if someone tries to get your phone number. Whenever the old self esteem needs a boost, I dine alone in Paris.
  8. I missed the fabes/faves presentation, unfortunately. I thought it was interesting that Ferran Adria stressed the importance of separating new techniques that are merely spectacular from new techniques that are important. I'm not sure his blind followers heard, however. As for Trotter, I personally thought he was a disgrace. How could he have thought of coming to Barcelona and explaining how to cook an egg at low temp with an immersion circulator? Deep fried anchovy ice cream? Pureed lettuce? Please. His contemporary Caesar was a grotesque caricature, and the goal seemed to be to sling as many mismatched texture/temperature contrasts as possible on the plate in hopes of confusing the diner into thinking this was something good to eat. His using pre-made dressing in his "traditional" version shows what little understanding he has of the fundamentals of the dish in the first place. The Caesar is not just a tossed salad with cheese, egg and anchovy; it was meant to be tableside theater. Trotter completely missed the point. Andoni, on the other hand, was spectacular. His restrained, Zen-like minimalism made Trotter look all the more ham-fistedly baroque. I love the way he is creating a whole new aesthetic universe of flavors on the plate, maybe even a new philosophy of our relation to eating and the earth. Romaine is not an interesting ingredient? Trotter purees it or orders designer greens (available only to chefs, he tells the crowd smugly), while Andoni goes off into the woods and looks for wild edible plants or grows the greens himself. I had goosebumps afterwards.
  9. Why not add some White Lily biscuit flour or stone ground blue cornmeal? About PAM--is it OK to bring aerosol cans on the plane? Plastic wrap--it wasn't just the quality of the wrap, but the design of the package. No one seems to have heard of a metal cutting edge. And I forgot to mention I also used to bring in grits (the Cousin Vinny kind, not instant) and bring out Ricci extra fin couscous.
  10. I sometimes put them into my gyoza stuffing
  11. When I lived in France, I brought in umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums), my sister-in-law's homemade maple syrup, and jamon de jabugo (much cheaper in Spain). We also brought a large cellar of California wines. I also regularly had my husband bring salmon from Finland. My Canadian friend in the 17th always asks me to bring her Canadian cheddar from Marks and Spencer. I feel strange bringing cheese into France I plan to restock on tilleul next time I'm in France. I've had several Mistos, and none of them ever lasted long without clogging up. I just went back to poured oil. PS: I also brought in a 4 year supply of American plastic wrap (what Brits call "cling film") and aluminum foil. The European brands always seemed to disintegrate, or the boxes were so poorly designed that it was a struggle to tear pieces off.
  12. I think I would now, but the proof is in the rice Actually, a Japanese restaurant featuring Spain's spectacular seafood would be a dream come true.
  13. I've been trying to remember a Korean movie I saw at least 10 years ago--all I remember is that the title of the American video version was the numbers of two adjoining apartments. It was about the relationship between two female neighbors, one of whom cooks. I think it ends with her cooking the neighbor. I wouldn't call it the best food movie ever (that would be a toss-up between Babette's Feast and Tampopo, closely followed by Big Night), but there were a lot of food scenes and it bugs me that I can't remember the title.
  14. I fell into food writing by accident, while I was doing my grad work in Asian languages and comparative literature. Writing is the most important skill, followed by passion for food and travel. I speak Japanese, Spanish, and French, and these have been invaluable. So are research skills and practical culinary knowledge. I do wish I had studied journalism.
  15. Totally agree with Hiroyuki on the "Itadakimasu" concept. I had whale for the first time this year, several weeks apart, both times without knowing it was on the menu. First in Kozue, in a very delicate nabe. Rather too fatty--it was mostly blubber--with a strong, gamey flavor. I decided it wasn't a taste worth acquiring, especially since I had just fallen in love with suppon (turtle). Then I had it in kind of a prosciutto-like salt cure in Norway, very thinly sliced and served on a salad. Better, and possibly worth eating again. However, I still prefer pata negra ham. Believe it or not, horse is very good, especially as carpaccio.
  16. I was there for lunch in September (after the change), and while I don't think there is any real objection to bringing a family, be prepared for a lot of significant changes. It was not what you'd call relaxed--a lot of rushing about, business lunchers, etc. It may be more amenable to leisurely family dining on a weekend, if that is an option.
  17. I recommend "The Fine Art of Japanese Food Arrangement" by Tsuchiya for anyone interested in learning more about formal ideas about marrying food and dishes. I also love books on obento and ekiben. These are a good way to learn the basics, like how to arrange color, not putting round foods on round plates, etc. One of the joys of eating in a first-rate kaiseki place is the dishware. At Hyotei and Kozue, each bite comes served in a piece worthy of an art gallery, if not a museum. I love picking up the dishes, opening the lids, seeing the colors. Literally, a feast for all the senses when a gorgeous plate comes with something beautiful to eat. I admit I've developed a huge Japanese tableware addiction. It started at the Setomono matsuri a few years ago, then got dangerous when we got into Oribe-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki. Now we've branched out into various other regional styles, as well as antiques and lacquerware. It's not so bad as the rage for teaware under Hideyoshi, but I've gotten to the point where I plan the food and the plates together.
  18. Hmm. He repeatedly attributes the "50 Best" list to the Guardian. He only read about it there--when they reported on the list compiled by Restaurant Magazine. And "good restaurants," and even more frequently the world's best, do serve offal--kidneys, sweetbreads, brains, the list goes on. It isn't just Lyonnais bistros and, as he correctly points out, St. John. However, it does not seem right to me that a conscientious critic would lambast a restaurant for someone else's review with which he happens to disagree. After all, it was Bourdain and others, not St. John, who were claiming that the restaurant was "avant-guard [sic] and shocking." Surely the unsurpassed doyen of the non-monoglot anglophone audience can get such basic facts straight, as well as name at least one Japanese restaurant in Japan superior to Nobu, a very minimal bar for a professional eater after spending even 10 days in the country. I suggest he stop trying so hard to be funny and go read some of Jeffrey Steingarten's work on Japan to learn what can be accomplished even on a short trip by an intelligent food writer who doesn't speak a word of Japanese. He manages to be funny and inform at the same time.
  19. Knife sharpening, preferably lessons? I have 4 Japanese whetstones and several high-quality sashimi and santoku knives but am petrified of ruining them. They were last sharpened at Aritsugu in Kyoto. I'm also looking for Iwatani gas canisters and Japanese charcoal-the smokeless kind that can be used in a small tabletop brazier.
  20. Ooh, this is dangerous. Mr. Creosote's office used to be next door to Laduree in Paris, and I gained many a kilo there. I walked through on my way to a meeting, but unfortunately didn't have time to eat. The selection looked smaller than the Paris shops, but maybe because that was late in the day and the goods were plundered. Laduree's caramel, citron, and fruit flavors are my favorites. I leave the lychee and roses to Pierre Herme. I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on the the croissants, both the golden ancienne and walnut-filled, as well as the traditional St. Honore. The tiny finger sandwiches are ruinously expensive but wonderful. Heh, at least some things never change.
  21. OK, this thread has made me SERIOUSLY hungry for wagashi. BTW, years ago I had a fantastic kuri manju made at a stand while you wait near Asakusa in Tokyo. They did not keep at all-an hour later, and the special texture was completely lost. Anyone know what I am talking about and if I can find it again? I've been back many times and wandered the streets, but I haven't found it.
  22. Bleudeauvergne and some others, I am not saying that not following/knowing French customs will get you rude service. I also had no intention of proclaiming universal custom--obviously not everyone in France or America behaves the same way. I was simply listing gastronomic cultural differences that I have observed. I should also mention that I don't appear American (I am Japanese), but I have lived in both France and the US. I wouldn't want to take sides. I've never had rude service in any restaurant that I recall, but maybe because I choose not to take offense at things that are clearly common practice, like French service pacing or American waiters announcing themselves by name. (And this practice isn't even all that common beyond TGIFridays, and I suspect those waiters are told to do it by the management.) The whole point of my post was that knowing these different practices and taking them as they are understood in the context of local restaurant culture prevents misunderstanding. When in Rome is the way I survive in all the places I've lived.
  23. I should qualify: Mr. Creosote and I are not light eaters, and when we split portions, it is so that we can have at least one starter, fish course, and meat course, plus cheese and dessert. It is a no-no to eat off another's plate, which is why, if the preparation of the dish allows, restaurants will split them for you. Naturally, not all dishes work this way, and not all restaurants will do this. Most of the high-end ones will.
  24. American wine is a great idea, as are maple syrup and salsas. However, try to go for the more restrained wines, not the huge oaky Cabs or the fat Chardonnays. French people also seem to love smoked salmon. A side of primo Alaskan wild salmon or lax would be a hit with my friends.
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