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John Whiting

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Posts posted by John Whiting

  1. As I think this is a cynical ploy, the timing does look very suspicious, and 3 restaurants is still nothing to write home about when there are still 173 of them serving crap.
    The world is full of restaurants serving crap. I'm grateful for every little exception, whatever the ulterior motives may be. :biggrin:
  2. It's a sad fact that good eating and sleeping places in provincial France are, to put it euphemistically, in a state of flux. I'd get hold of a copy of the Logis hotel guide; it won't lead you to any gastronomic epiphanies, but it's very useful in out-of-the-way places.

    For a general overview of French history and cuisine, Waverly Root's "France" is a wonderful read, but it has both the strengths and the weaknesses of having been written half a century ago.

  3. It irritates me to see traditional and inventive bistros set up for a "let's you and him fight" scenario. But of course there's no news without conflict, so when it doesn't exist, it must be manufactured.

    Sometimes I'm in the mood for a fresh new experience like Spring; sometimes I just want a plate of super gambas and frites at L'Ecurie done exactly the way I've eaten them there for years, ever since they were recommended by an up-market chef and his family who always ate there on a Sunday night. They were "the best in Paris", he claimed. Was he right? I couldn't care less; they were delicious and reasonably priced, and I didn't regret the absence of an expensive infusion drizzled around the edge of the platter.

  4. John T shares with two other fine-food-writing Johns (Thorne and Hess) the indispensible realization that there are other more important things going on in the world. As Paul Richardson so succinctly summarized it in his Cornucopia: A Gastronomic Tour of Britain,

    It is a hard thing to say, but fine food is far from the most important thing in the world. It is not really a question of reaching perfection – that would be too much to ask – nor of lotus-eating, but of finding and maintaining a level of confidence in the food we eat day by day that enables us to get on with the rest of our lives. I forget who said it [he later told me that it was Jane Grigson], but the phrase could apply perfectly well to [our food]: ‘We have more than enough masterpieces. What we need is a better standard of ordinariness.'

    Fortunately we still have his wide-ranging and free-wheeling presence in John Talbott's Paris, whose Alexa rating is likely to bump sharply upwards.

  5. . . . with a book or a film, those that judge these competitions at least deal with manifestations that are identical and fixed; not restaurants, which are constantly changing in personnel, dishes, consistency and economic or financial tinkering in the drive for profits and, especially now, survival.

    Precisely. The food we eat is as ephemeral as the air we breathe. As whole economies collapse before our eyes, such detailed, carved-in-stone certifications of excellence are as arbitrary and unproductive as oxygen counts in industrial cities. By the time next year's mutual grope comes around, how many of these establishments will still be solvent?
    In reality, it is nothing more than a circle jerk comprised of people whose notion of “best” is limited to restaurants that innately provide the most fodder for the media mills and who desire to create an artificial buzz with an awards dinner thrown in.. I would even go so far to say that it is counter-productive to the notion of the acquisition of gastronomic connoisseurship.

    Not sure if this was your intent, or if I'm off the mark, but you come off as incredibly condescending and for some reason even angry towards a whole group of people that I'm sure you would otherwise consider your peers if you met them in due course at said lobster shacks over a beer. It's barely worth noting were you not the sage of a place like eG.

    Context is all. If Robert were to meet any of these judges in a fine restaurant, I'm sure that he would greet them respectfully; if he were to spot them coming out of a brothel, he would probably look the other way. :biggrin:
  6. My view was that cooking stocks, sauces, stews and most pastry somewhere off site made lots of sense financially, that the margins he achieves are his business - if the price for a meal is too high the place will fail - and that eating at one of his spots is optional not compulsory like the rates.

    Absolutely spot on. This is classic food to a predictable standard, not flights of gastronomic fancy. Pragmatism rules -- we're talking nourishment and simple pleasure, not transubstantiation.
  7. As I would expect from its roots in Greek mythology, I have never encountered "narcissistic" in any usage other than the pejorative. Within the context of this thread, there are roughly two categories of restaurant diners: those who expect the familiar and those who demand surprises. At their extremes, the former will happily order the ame old dishes in the same old bistros; the latter will plan their visits to El Bulli a year in advance. Individuals may sometimes shift from one category to the other, but the more dogmatic in either camp constantly heap scorn upon each other.

    I like an occasional surprise, but on the whole I tend to go along with Jane Grigson's shrewd remark: "We have more than enough masterpieces; what we need is a better standard of ordinariness."

  8. John, why stop the elevation at priesthood?  Let's go all the way and make them divinities.

    I'm using priesthood as a generic term meaning an enlightened elite from whom knowledge and/or taste flow outward. In cuisine as in art, such a status is sometimes imposed on them by their followers rather than claimed by the practitioners themselves. [cf. Life of Brian :biggrin: ]
  9. I am aware that pointing out to the existence of this narcissistic trend is bound to raise controversy and urge some to discuss it frenetically as if it were a theory, doubled with an attack on persons. But is is not a theory, and not an attack either; it is a search criteria based on a very simple, instinctive perception of food.

    It is not aimed at dismissing certain chefs and diners or at creating yet another new excommunication bureau (narcissistic does not mean bad food, and again it describes an approach, not persons), but at setting a few concepts right, which have been mysteriously overlooked in the general food discourse for a few years.  And that Julot and I have been discussing recently in the light of many meals we have had.

    We should perhaps come up with a less pejorative word than narcissistic. What we're talking about is an artist's ability to set his own agenda, a revolutionary achievement usually credited to Beethoven and the rise of romanticism. In other words, the artist/chef ceases to be a servant and becomes a priest, culminating in the elevation of Adria and Blumenthal to mythical status.

    None of the above is tended to be dismissive but rather descriptive. My wife and I quite enjoyed Blumenthal's recent TV series of quasi-historical feasts and, unlike John Cage, I'm rather fond of Beethoven :biggrin:

  10. As for the economic outlook, I'll go along with my nephew who is a Princetonian and a very well-read stock trader who says we have hit bottom, but will have to wait  several years before we see again the 14,000 level in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In other words, we'll bump along at a rather reduced level for longer than people hope.

    I can think of at least three Nobel Prize economists who are not so sanguine, partly because they are prepared to factor peak oil, soil depetion and global warming into their economic prognoses.

    As for the top-end restaurants, the market will produce new billionaires to replace the old -- there will just be fewer of them and therefore fewer surviving venues to take their money. In the depths of the Great Depression, Maxim's, the Ritz and the Stork Club were still doing nicely, thank you.

  11. As usual, Robert Brown has got it right. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the financial markets knows that the prognosis for the food markets is equally unrosy.

    Meanwhile, we’re off to Lyon, where Jean-Paul Lacombe has seen the handwriting on the ledger and relaunched his Michelin-starred Leon de Lyon as an up-market brasserie. We look forward to being able to afford it.

  12. This week’s Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 (available for online listening until Sunday) deals at length with the effect of the credit crunch on the British restaurant trade. The most ominous threat, dealt with at the end of the programme, is the trend towards firing skilled chefs and buying in prepared components and even complete dishes from mass-producing commercial suppliers. As the latter move up market, it’s a trend that is sneaking in the service entrances, not only of gastropubs, but of respectable upper-middle establishments.

  13. As a "destination" bistro, La Mere Agitee may easily disappoint; it's up and down, but I prize it for having something of the feel of the sort of place which A.J. Liebling frequented in Paris back in the 30s. "In learning to eat,", he wrote, "as in psychoanalysis, the customer, in order to profit, must be conscious of the cost."

  14. John, what about the notion that if there is deflation and slackening demand, the price of raw materials will fall. Maybe even the Caspian Sea will become nicely restocked with Beluga and Osetra sturgeon eggs.

    It's not just the classic equation of supply and demand within a closed economy, but of a drastically reduced supply of food on a global scale which is already hitting the third world and which is beginning to reach us as well. My paper for the Oxford Symposium, "Eating the Earth", goes into this in exhaustive detail, but you can skip to Gwynne Dyer's brilliant wrap-up which I quote at length as a postscript.
  15. Here’s another prophecy: as raw materials become more expensive, we’re likely to see a widespread shift, not only from the luxury cuts of meat, but from the super-sourced ingredients whose meticulously documented provenance bumps up the cost. Attention will once more be paid to the skill with which a chef does the best he can with what he can afford. There will be a renewed respect for inventive cooks such as M. F. K. Fisher’s Dijon landlady, Madame Ollangnier, who was notorious in the local markets for buying their cheapest merchandise, however unpromising:

    Storekeepers automatically lowered their prices when they saw her coming…Up would come the trapdoor to the cellar, and down Madame would climb…he would pick up a handful of bruised oranges, a coconut with a crack in it, perhaps even some sprouting potatoes…And yet…from that little hole, which would have made an American shudder in disgust, she turned out daily two of the finest meals I have ever eaten.
  16. There's a classic French tale about a famous chef who entertained the King and amazed him with a very simple dish perfectly cooked. Can someone fill in the gaps in my memory?

    I believe you are referring to one of the stories from Rouff's La vie et la passion de Dodin-Bouffant, gourmet.

    The king was the prince of Eurasia – a big foodie of the day. He wanted to meet Dodin's chef Adèle Pidou so he prepared a huge feast and invited Dodin-Bouffant (hoping to impress him and get an invite to his). However, instead of impressed, he was aghast with the Prince's excess. Nonetheless, he did invite him round, but decided to serve a humble four-course meal. The main dish was a simple, but incredible pot au feu...

    That matches the story as I remember it. Thank you -- I've been trying to dredge it up for years.

    Postscript: The story is told in baroquely embellished detail by Marcel Rouff in his novel, "The Passionate Epicure". It was reviewed in the New Yorker by Francine du Plessix Gray, who was once a student at Black Mountain College. An incredibly sexy snapshot of her appeared in one of the books about this amazing place; I promptly fell in love with her. :biggrin:

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