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hathor

Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine

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We veered off topic on another thread, and wound up discussing something that has much wider implications.

When does one cross the line from traditional regional cooking to non-traditional? How do you serve very traditional dishes and still push the flavor envelope? Is there any reason to cook totally traditional dishes, if you want to be a cut above a trattoria? Can a restaurant attain and/or maintain "stars" cooking completely traditional, regional foods?

At the moment, I'm most intrigued by what's going on in Spain. Now, I have not tasted the food, I've only experienced them through Docsonz's eyes and words and other research on my own, but there seems to be a connection, a grounding to the traditional foods while they are expanding the limitations of those dishes. To me, it's critical to know, understand, appreciate the foundations of regional cooking before you go blasting into the kitchen.

I've wrestled for 2 seasons with how to sophisticate the classic combination of melon and prosciutto. I've tried pulverizing dried prosciutto, I've tried melon sorbetto, melon aspic...but nothing comes close to the texture and flavor contrasts of the original dish. For me, this exemplifies what I try to do in the kitchen....respect the original dish, while attempting to seduce the diner with a new rendition that is equally satisfying. I haven't found the answer yet, but that's ok, the journey to finding the answer is a pleasant one.

I don't think it is 'enough' to constantly remake the traditional dishes, even if you use the finest ingredients and the purest, most classic preparation techniques. Traditional dishes sprang from the ingredients and techniques that were available at that moment in history. To me, it's ok to now push the boundaries with new preparations and techniques. I don't want to work in a food museum, if you know what I mean.

edit to add link to Docsconz's topic


Edited by hathor (log)

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We veered off topic on another thread, and wound up discussing something that has much wider implications.

When does one cross the line from traditional regional cooking to non-traditional? How do you serve very traditional dishes and still push the flavor envelope? Is there any reason to cook totally traditional dishes, if you want to be a cut above a trattoria?  Can a restaurant attain and/or maintain "stars" cooking completely traditional, regional foods?

At the moment, I'm most intrigued by what's going on in Spain. Now, I have not tasted the food, I've only experienced them through Docsonz's eyes and words  and other research on my own, but there seems to be a connection, a grounding to the traditional foods while they are expanding the limitations of those dishes.  To me, it's critical to know, understand, appreciate the foundations of regional cooking before you go blasting into the kitchen. 

I've wrestled for 2 seasons with how to sophisticate the classic combination of melon and prosciutto. I've tried pulverizing dried prosciutto, I've tried melon sorbetto, melon aspic...but nothing comes close to the texture and flavor contrasts of the original dish.  For me, this exemplifies what I try to do in the kitchen....respect the original dish, while attempting to seduce the diner with a new rendition that is equally satisfying. I haven't found the answer yet, but that's ok, the journey to finding the answer is a pleasant one.

I don't think it is 'enough' to constantly remake the traditional dishes, even if you use the finest ingredients and the purest, most classic preparation techniques. Traditional dishes sprang from the  ingredients and techniques that were available at that moment in history. To me, it's ok to now push the boundaries with new preparations and techniques. I don't want to work in a food museum, if you know what I mean.

edit to add link to Docsconz's topic

I'll start it off. Below are descritions of two dishes recently mentioned by Tupac.

Aside from the fact that he ate both dishes in Italy, and both were prepared by an Italian chef, what did these dishes have to do with Le Marche?

"The Scampo zen soon followed. In the center was one gloriously fresh raw scampo (a type of larger shrimp) on a skewer, covered with sake foam. Raked around the plate were zen garden designs of dehydrated raspberry and green tea powders, and in the corners, a wonderfully refreshing dice of cucumber and pineapple with grated lime zest."

"Still not done, I now had Sogliola, cus cus, quinoa fritta e cocomero. Two stark white lightly cooked (steamed?) piece of sole fish, topped with fried quinoa, and resting on a bed of couscous with about the same size grain as the quinoa. (Does it make me strange that James Brown was shrieking "I got soul, and I'm super bad" in my head as I ate this?). Mixed through the couscous were delicious summery-sweet chunks of watermelon."

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I have taken some of my comments from the other post and combined them into a sort of new post to express my feelings.

I hope no one is offended:

I was just wondering if the average gastro tourist coming to Italy is looking for traditional restaurants, or Super Chefs? As I read these forums it seems as though the majority are in pursuit of the latter. I find that the more I pay or the more a chef is written up, the more I expect, but in reality isn't there only so much you can do with food?

I find myself at a culinary crossroads. While I am interested in the creative new cutting-edge creations from world renowned chefs, I am also fascinated by the traditional preparations which have evolved over centuries, handed down from generation to generation and continually adjusted and perfected. The aromas emitted from the kitchen windows of my village make my mouth water so overwhelmingly fast, that it is hard for me to imagine how starred chefs can eclipse this. In fact I know they don't.

When I dine out nowadays it is usually at the less celebrated restaurants. I have been separated from a small fortune over the last 20 years in celebrated restaurants eating the food of famous chefs and I have to say on reflection, based on a purely emotional point of view, that I have had less satisfaction in these places than in my simple local restaurants. Not only is it more convenient on the pocketbook but more satisfying for the soul.

Throw away your guide books and ask the winemakers, butchers and pastry makers: "Who cooks well in the area?". The information you glean will be more accurate, current and passionate than any guide book and they will probably call and make reservations for you!

Perhaps I leaving the impression that the starred chefs have nothing to offer but in fact I am very interested in the inventions of all chefs, famous and obscure, cutting edge and traditional. No one who loves food could not be.

What I mean to say is that traditionally prepared food is equally as interesting and equally worth pursuing. In fact the type of cooking that I am trying to describe does not really exist in restaurants. I am speaking of preparations requiring hours and hours of hand work and equal time cooking. This type of food is not economical for a restaurant to make but is often practiced in homes, mostly by loving mothers for their family or for a special feast or wedding. In most cases food like this can't be bought and the recipes are either memorized or closely guarded. This is the food I covet and I look for restaurants that try to practice this.

Traditional restaurants are everywhere in Italy all you have to do is ask, but really great traditional restaurants are just as rare and Michelin stars.

We are very fortunate here in Zanco to have Da Maria which has been open since the 50's and has been continuously run by a mother and her two sons who would rather close the restaurant than alter one of their precious recipes. No fusion, no exotic imported spices just traditional food prepared the same way it has always been. For 7 or 8 antipasti, including carna cruda, a pasta course (usually homemade agnolotti), a roast course (usually rabbit or pork), local artisanal cheeses and dessert you pay 25 euros (tax and tip included). Most of the wines are between 10 and 15 euros. Dinner usually includes a table visit and intense and opinionated food discussion with Georgio (the son that cooks) and a free grappa or two. People regularly come from Milan and Turin to eat at Maria's. I have even run into Italian UN dignitaries in Geneva that habitually stop at Da Maria when they are in the area. In the guide books or on the internet? Yeah right!


Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

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I've wrestled for 2 seasons with how to sophisticate the classic combination of melon and prosciutto. I've tried pulverizing dried prosciutto, I've tried melon sorbetto, melon aspic...but nothing comes close to the texture and flavor contrasts of the original dish.  For me, this exemplifies what I try to do in the kitchen....respect the original dish, while attempting to seduce the diner with a new rendition that is equally satisfying. I haven't found the answer yet, but that's ok, the journey to finding the answer is a pleasant one.

I don't think it is 'enough' to constantly remake the traditional dishes, even if you use the finest ingredients and the purest, most classic preparation techniques. Traditional dishes sprang from the  ingredients and techniques that were available at that moment in history. To me, it's ok to now push the boundaries with new preparations and techniques. I don't want to work in a food museum, if you know what I mean.

edit to add link to Docsconz's topic

Well, my feeling is that maybe there just isn't any way to sophisticate the classic melon and prosciutto combination...I mean, that's the reason it's a classic, isn't it?

But it isn't classic if served with a less than delicious melon or poor quality prosciutto - and to me , that's one of the jobs of a good "traditional" chef - the sourcing of good ingredients. Not necessarily the same as "cooking," but ultimately, just as important.

When we travel, especially to Italy, we don't seek out the "super star" chef, trying to do the same thing that chefs are doing in food-centric locations around the world. We try to seek out indigenous food, prepared with the same care that the nonna might have given to it were she cooking it in her own home. To us, that is the joy of experiencing a country as if we were its citizens - certainly, most Romans aren't going to La Pergola; rather they're eating at Da Sergio ( a fine little restaurant off the Campo) - affordable, delicious cuisine, fresh fish on Tuesday and Friday, etc.

However, I also agree that it's ok to try and push the boundaries with new preparations and techniques. To not take advantage of new technology and equipment that is available, just for the sake of tradition, doesn't make sense. So, pulverize away, Judith...just make sure that the dried prosciutto you're using is damn good; that the finished dish tastes and feels good, and that you're not pulverizing, foaming, drying, etc. just for the sake of it!


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Hi-I think a chef should exhibit two characteristics:1) S/he should be very familiar with a food tradition (whether or not said chef cooks the food according to said tradition is her/his own personal choice. It is not really important.)And,2)The food should be really, really, really tasty.From what I have read, you satisfy both conditions.


"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Well, my feeling is that maybe there just isn't any way to sophisticate the classic melon and prosciutto combination...I mean, that's the reason it's a classic, isn't it?

But it isn't classic if served with a less than delicious melon or poor quality prosciutto - and to me , that's one of the jobs of a good "traditional" chef - the sourcing of good ingredients. Not necessarily the same as "cooking," but ultimately, just as important.

I agree 100%. I never order melon and prosciutto "a la cart" because there are just too many variables and dishes like this, placed almost obligatorily on a menu, usually spell disaster.

So the question is: would I try ordering a tweaked-up version from a starred (or wanna-be starred) chef? My answer is yes, I probably would because it would indicate to me that s/he was focusing on it and doing something special. The next question is... If I had a perfect classic melon and prosciutto on a plate right next to it, which one would I like more?

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A spirited debate on a related topic -- Does Italy Lack Culinary Relevance? -- took place five years ago. Highly entertaining, it ran to 13 pages and featured opinions from members long decamped to other sites. I'm bumping it up here, since it seems relevant to the discussion at hand.

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Aside from the fact that he ate both dishes in Italy, and both were prepared by an Italian chef, what did these dishes have to do with Le Marche?

"The Scampo zen soon followed. In the center was one gloriously fresh raw scampo (a type of larger shrimp) on a skewer, covered with sake foam. Raked around the plate were zen garden designs of dehydrated raspberry and green tea powders, and in the corners, a wonderfully refreshing dice of cucumber and pineapple with grated lime zest."

"Still not done, I now had Sogliola, cus cus, quinoa fritta e cocomero. Two stark white lightly cooked (steamed?) piece of sole fish, topped with fried quinoa, and resting on a bed of couscous with about the same size grain as the quinoa. (Does it make me strange that James Brown was shrieking "I got soul, and I'm super bad" in my head as I ate this?). Mixed through the couscous were delicious summery-sweet chunks of watermelon."

These dishes may not have anything to do with current impressions of what is the area called Le Marche, but food and place have always had a co-evolutionary existence. What is generally considered traditional today was at one time unusual, novel and quite untraditional. While tomatoes are now classically associated with the south of Italy, it wasn't too long ago that they were introduced there. As Judith said, above, she doesn't "want to work in a food museum."

Tradition is something that should be respected and is a great reference point and springboard, but it should not be treated as something sacrosanct. One of the things that makes Italy wonderful is the myriad of traditions throughout the country that have come, established themselves and forged themselves into other traditions to create wholly new ones. Sicily provides a prime example of an area that has fused multiple traditions into an amazing and unique cuisine. What would it be without the Arab, Italian, Spanish, Norman and French influences laced throughout?

Personally I love going to Italy as I do Spain and mixing and matching the traditional and the new. My last visit to Modena was a great example. I had equally wonderful meals at Hosteria Giusti and Osteria Francescana, which BTW, does a great job of using modern techniques and concepts grafted onto local food traditions.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Without getting too far from Italy into the excitement that exists around Docsconz's Girona/Catalonia, where Ferran Adria's students have begun to spin off, your discussion of how to improve/alter prosciutto and melon, recalls two experiences in the last week that impressed me.

Today, I, actually my co-host Felice, but she shared it with me, had a so-called gazpacho made from melon that had an incredibly intense flavor and had a plug of equally-intense melon ice in the brandy-snifter it came in and was accompanied by three tiny rolls of coppa on toast. Not your classic preparation but the chef/desiger was not your classic chef but Generation "C", Le Fooding, oMni's darling, Gilles Choukroun, ex-Les Cafe des Delices, now at the l'Angl'Opera, Cafe Very + MiniPalais, were we were eating.

On the other hand, last week in Florence, at the Trattoria Antellesi, another friend had the classic melon with classic prosciutto draped over the ripe slices and they couldn't have been improved on. But, as weinoo says, the product was tops.

I guess there's room for both.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I have taken my comments from the other post and combined them into a sort of new post to express my feelings.

I hope no one is offended:

I was just wondering if the average gastro tourist coming to Italy is looking for traditional restaurants, or Super Chefs? As I read these forums it seems as though the majority are in pursuit of the latter. I find that the more I pay or the more a chef is written up, the more I expect, but in reality isn't there only so much you can do with food?

I find myself at a culinary crossroads. While I am interested in the creative new cutting-edge creations from world renowned chefs, I am also fascinated by the traditional preparations which have evolved over centuries, handed down from generation to generation and continually adjusted and perfected. The aromas emitted from the kitchen windows of my village make my mouth water so overwhelmingly fast, that it is hard for me to imagine how starred chefs can eclipse this. In fact I know they don't.

When I dine out nowadays it is usually at the less celebrated restaurants. I have been separated from a small fortune over the last 20 years in celebrated restaurants eating the food of famous chefs and I have to say on reflection, based on a purely emotional point of view, that I have had less satisfaction in these places than in my simple local restaurants. Not only is it more convenient on the pocketbook but more satisfying for the soul.

Throw away your guide books and ask the winemakers, butchers and pastry makers: "Who cooks well in the area?". The information you glean will be more accurate, current and passionate than any guide book and they will probably call and make reservations for you! 

Perhaps I leaving the impression that the starred chefs have nothing to offer but in fact I am very interested in the inventions of all chefs, famous and obscure, cutting edge and traditional. No one who loves food could not be.

What I mean to say is that traditionally prepared food is equally as interesting and equally worth pursuing. In fact the type of cooking that I am trying to describe does not really exist in restaurants. I am speaking of preparations requiring hours and hours of hand work and equal time cooking. This type of food is not economical for a restaurant to make but is often practiced in homes, mostly by loving mothers for their family or for a special feast or wedding. In most cases food like this can't be bought and the recipes are either memorized or closely guarded. This is the food I covet and I look for restaurants that try to practice this.

Traditional restaurants are everywhere in Italy all you have to do is ask, but really great traditional restaurants are just as rare and Michelin stars.

We are very fortunate here in Zanco to have Da Maria which has been open since the 50's and has been continuously run by a mother and her two sons who would rather close the restaurant than alter one of their precious recipes. No fusion, no exotic imported spices just traditional food prepared the same way it has always been. For 7 or 8 antipasti, including carna cruda, a pasta course (usually homemade agnolotti), a roast course (usually rabbit or pork), local artisanal cheeses and dessert you pay 25 euros (tax and tip included). Most of the wines are between 10 and 15 euros. Dinner usually includes a table visit and intense and opinionated food discussion with Georgio (the son that cooks) and a free grappa or two. People regularly come from Milan and Turin to eat at Maria's. I have even run into Italian UN dignitaries in Geneva that habitually stop at Da Maria when they are in the area. In the guide books or on the internet? Yeah right!

Ah, but the great trattorie still exist. My first brush with what a trattoria could be was in the early 70s, with the late great Cantarelli in Busseto. Beppe Cantarelli set the standard for all others to follow and those who have some sense of perspective with regard to food history in Italy, freely acknowledge that. He was the first one, after the very long post war recovery, to elevate trattoria food to its proper place. I returned again and again (as money and time would allow), and each time it seemed to get better and better. We’re fortunate in Italy to see that tradition continue today. I’ve written (as have others here) about some of them: Da Amerigo in Savigno; my old friend Miriam at La Buca in Zibello; Osteria della Villetta near Brescia; Antica Trattoria dei Mosto and La Brinca, both in Ne’ near Chiavari; Rubbiara in Nonantola; and one of the last of the great Florentine trattorie Vecchia Bettola.

And the list could go on, including one we went to for the first time yesterday. In the middle of nowhere, although it turns out that nowhere is probably about 30-40 minutes from ? . But it feels like nowhere. The place is attractive, in a simple and traditional way - the dining room didn't feel old and dated, but simple and “trattoria-like”, pleasant lighting, perhaps room for 50-60 coperti in two dining rooms; comfortable.

Some brief notes… in my mind, the best wine list in Italy, except for Pinchiorri where I’m sure the same bottle is sold at probably twice the price as it is in this trattoria? The best wine list in Italy in a trattoria in the middle of nowhere; how is that possible? Don’t know, but it puts the one at Gambero Rosso to shame as it does to all the other big name restaurants with lists. More than a hundred and fifty Barolos, same with Barbarescos, Barberas perhaps 60; incredible selection of Tuscans, from Friulli, from Alto- Adige, the south; everywhere in Italy ( took a quick glance at the section on French whites and I was staggered). An entire list of champagne and spumanti; pages and pages of whites from all regions in Italy. Pages and pages of dessert wines. All the right years. All the names of course, but the fun was to see how many relatively unknown producers she had on the list and all the wines were reasonable priced. Yes, she, for La Signora was passionate (incredible so!), opinionated and extraordinarily knowledgeable about the wine.

Now for the food; in one word… incredible (and fortunately no fruit on each plate, no foam, no frozen anything, no liquid nitrogen used, no Mason jars used; no surf and turf). Just a great seasonal trattoria menu, with a few daily specials each in antipasti, primi and secondi, all dishes beautifully, but simply, plated We started with a taste of culaccia, which is the cut of meat that makes culatello, but because it is too dry to make culatello in this area, they cure it like prosciutto and you get something called culaccia; another primi of sformato of potato with a light sauce made from a local cheese which we had never heard of. The sformato was light and delicate, and the culaccia was delicious. Then we had one of the day’s specials - tortelli di patate with a sauce of mushrooms and tomato - and ravioli di zucca as they make them here. Thin delicate pasta for both. They serve the potato tortelli two ways - one with just butter and cheese, and one with a sauce of mushrooms with a touch of tomato. We had it with the sauce, but La Signora had us taste it first with just the butter and cheese, so that we could get the delicacy of that, and then with the sauce, which was delicious. The ravioli di zucca are made with spinach pasta and served with a vegetable sauce which cuts the sweetness. A completely different dish from the usual, and wonderful. Both pasta dishes showed a master in the kitchen and were as good as any we have had, EVER, and our dear friend Bruna Santini at Dal Pescatore is our standard for stuffed pasta excellence (that is, the pasta itself). Then my wife and I had guanciale of veal, stewed in red wine and served with a light and soft polenta. Intense in flavor, light in texture. We finished with the two desserts of the day - sorbetto di fichi, and a taste of the various torte that they make - a little pound cake, a light torta di mandorle, and a torte of plums and one of apricots. We talked at length about wine, and what has happened in recent years, and Mondovino and Parker, and many other things. Papa is still in the kitchen and he’s 80 years old. Classic trattoria. The name? Let’s see how many takers we have who can guess it. Eventually, I’ll give it up if there is enough real interest. It’s classic and great.

Swiss Chef, you'd really like it.

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Ready your hands for gesticulating traditions, but can't you find a lot of contemporary Italian cuisine in California?

Now, off to buy prosciutto for polenta tartlets filled w a melon curd...


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I've wrestled for 2 seasons with how to sophisticate the classic combination of melon and prosciutto. I've tried pulverizing dried prosciutto, I've tried melon sorbetto, melon aspic...but nothing comes close to the texture and flavor contrasts of the original dish.

Personally, I think that the entire point of cooking is to make the most delicious thing to eat that you possibly can.

I guess I can understand people wanting to make something "new" and "different", but if what they come up with is less delicious than the dish they're trying to improve, it seems pointless to me.

I'd prefer to see a chef devote countless energy and hours to acquire the most delicious melons and the best prosciutto possible, than spend time trying to freeze dry the prosciutto and turn the melon into foam.

I've had the pleasure of eating in many small, traditional trattorie in some of the very off-the-beaten-path little towns in Italy, but I also remember driving quite a distance in the late 1980's the to have a meal at San Domenico in Imola, which was one of the very first "inventive" restaurants, and crying with disappointment at every course, wishing that for my one dinner in the Emilia-Romagna region I had gone to a great, traditional restaurant.

Yes, I understand that chefs who grew up cooking the dishes that their mothers and grandmothers cooked every day want to cook something different. But I don't think I've yet had the meal that was an improvement on what Grandma could cook. For me, it's a great crime that the traditional cooking of so many regions and heritages is dying out.

I'm afraid that when we're done with foam and molecules, there will be nobody left who knows how to make tortellini in brodo, or lasagne Bolognese. And that will be a culinary disaster.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I've wrestled for 2 seasons with how to sophisticate the classic combination of melon and prosciutto. I've tried pulverizing dried prosciutto, I've tried melon sorbetto, melon aspic...but nothing comes close to the texture and flavor contrasts of the original dish.

Personally, I think that the entire point of cooking is to make the most delicious thing to eat that you possibly can.

I guess I can understand people wanting to make something "new" and "different", but if what they come up with is less delicious than the dish they're trying to improve, it seems pointless to me.

I'd prefer to see a chef devote countless energy and hours to acquire the most delicious melons and the best prosciutto possible, than spend time trying to freeze dry the prosciutto and turn the melon into foam.

I've had the pleasure of eating in many small, traditional trattorie in some of the very off-the-beaten-path little towns in Italy, but I also remember driving quite a distance in the late 1980's the to have a meal at San Domenico in Imola, which was one of the very first "inventive" restaurants, and crying with disappointment at every course, wishing that for my one dinner in the Emilia-Romagna region I had gone to a great, traditional restaurant.

Yes, I understand that chefs who grew up cooking the dishes that their mothers and grandmothers cooked every day want to cook something different. But I don't think I've yet had the meal that was an improvement on what Grandma could cook. For me, it's a great crime that the traditional cooking of so many regions and heritages is dying out.

I'm afraid that when we're done with foam and molecules, there will be nobody left who knows how to make tortellini in brodo, or lasagne Bolognese. And that will be a culinary disaster.

Bravo. What oft was thought, but n'er said so well.

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I've wrestled for 2 seasons with how to sophisticate the classic combination of melon and prosciutto. I've tried pulverizing dried prosciutto, I've tried melon sorbetto, melon aspic...but nothing comes close to the texture and flavor contrasts of the original dish.

Personally, I think that the entire point of cooking is to make the most delicious thing to eat that you possibly can.

I guess I can understand people wanting to make something "new" and "different", but if what they come up with is less delicious than the dish they're trying to improve, it seems pointless to me.

I'd prefer to see a chef devote countless energy and hours to acquire the most delicious melons and the best prosciutto possible, than spend time trying to freeze dry the prosciutto and turn the melon into foam.

I've had the pleasure of eating in many small, traditional trattorie in some of the very off-the-beaten-path little towns in Italy, but I also remember driving quite a distance in the late 1980's the to have a meal at San Domenico in Imola, which was one of the very first "inventive" restaurants, and crying with disappointment at every course, wishing that for my one dinner in the Emilia-Romagna region I had gone to a great, traditional restaurant.

Yes, I understand that chefs who grew up cooking the dishes that their mothers and grandmothers cooked every day want to cook something different. But I don't think I've yet had the meal that was an improvement on what Grandma could cook. For me, it's a great crime that the traditional cooking of so many regions and heritages is dying out.

I'm afraid that when we're done with foam and molecules, there will be nobody left who knows how to make tortellini in brodo, or lasagne Bolognese. And that will be a culinary disaster.

Bravo. What oft was thought, but n'er said so well.

Except that they are not mutually exclusive.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I can't help wondering if we are not gravitating towards traditional food because we are fleeing something else? In all things artistic there have been revolutions for the simple. In the 18th century formal French gardens were dug up to make the more natural looking English gardens. In art we see how artist’s styles became increasingly looser and more natural over the centuries.

In the past 20 years, fine food has become increasingly fussed-over and contrived in order to garner more fame and revenue for the author and I find that the restaurants that serve these “creations” are usually uptight and uncomfortable, even the wait staff propagate this ostentatious funk.

To me, traditional food, comfort food and regional food all represent a departure from our modern attempts to glorify food.

"Simple pleasures are always the last refuge of the complex." - Oscar Wilde

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Mitch, I couldn’t agree with you more that technique should not be used just because you can, i.e. pulverizing, drying, foams etc. I refer to this as ‘boys with toys’ cooking; just because you can do it, that is not a good enough reason to glue chicken skin to the back of a salmon.

I’m wondering about something else that you say: “….we don’t seek out the same things that chefs are doing in food-centric locations around the world.”

So, as a tourist, you are seeking regional, local food; which is fair enough and totally understandable. But doesn’t this lock me into the food museum slot? Of course, there is always room for different types of restaurants, and thanks god for that. However, you may have stumbled onto something that has been puzzling me for years: why are there so few high end Italian restaurants? Maybe its just because everyone wants nonna food and I should end my quixotic search for a new way to serve prosciutto and melone. (We are growing our own melons, so as long as the porcupines and hedgehogs don’t get there first, we’ve got excellent melons!).

Swiss-Chef: you are right, prosciutto and melone are obligatory on the menu, if you read the ristorante national by-laws, its law 14, section B. Pasta with porcini is covered under section C, however you are permitted to choose the type of pasta.

Seriously, even if its not on the menu….it still gets ordered, regularly. By the locals.

It’s very interesting what you are saying about comfort foods, and people seeking out these non-threatening foods. It could be the pendulum swinging away from the experimental, or it could just be that we only seek the experimental foods on an occasional basis.

And Markk, you are exactly right, if the new dish isn’t better than the original, what’s the point? Again, for me, it’s about the journey, tinkering around with flavors and textures; not about creating some fancy ass dish that we can charge more money for.

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It’s very interesting what you are saying about comfort foods, and people seeking out these non-threatening foods. It could be the pendulum swinging away from the experimental, or it could just be that we only seek the experimental foods on an occasional basis.

Hi Judith,

We just had a huge Sunday lunch which included a rather surprising bottle of Italian brut rosé and a shockingly good 6 year old white Château Neuf du Pape, so I hope this makes sense...

"Cutting edge" is not what I think of as threatening, I think of it more as contrived for the benefit of notoriety and revenue. On the other hand, traditional foods and ancient ingredients have gotten pushed to the way-side in most modern restaurants and many of us have no idea how complex and layered their flavors and aromas can be. Classical cuisines are based on hundreds, if not thousands of years of method, technique and ingredients and offer us an amazing array of flavors and textures.

For me, experimental cuisine means using a rice like Favorito which, even though it has been grown locally for hundreds of years, it is now almost extinct and very hard to find and as you might have guessed, it makes mind-blowing risotto. I will bring you some when we come to Montone. :wink:

To me, going backwards in time is very experimental. :wub:


Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)

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For me, experimental cuisine means using a rice like Favorito which, even though it has been grown locally for hundreds of years, it is now almost extinct and very hard to find and as you might have guessed, it makes mind-blowing risotto. I will bring you some when we come to Montone.  :wink:

To me, going backwards in time is very experimental. :wub:

I think you've hit the nail on the head with your last line SWISS CHEF! So many chefs are in a rush to find the future, that they forget that some of the stuff in the past was darn good!!

And Judith, there is NO way you are locked into a food museum...look at how "cutting edge" many people think the use of farro is - it's popular all over again, and it's an ancient grain!

As for your experiments with prosciutto e melone, I think that when you harvest that first perfect melon that you've grown with your own hands, the dish will be one of the best you've ever tasted - and then you'll be thinking about curing your own ham!

Your other point about high-end Italian restaurants is interesting...the new high-end Italian places here in NY are all about serving the classics - I don't think there's any foam on Del Posto's plates, though I may be wrong. And when in Italy, we don't seek those places out - the one or two we've eaten at in Rome tend to either deconstruct the dish that nonna might have made in her kitchen, or serve the international, experimental cuisine that so many have come to expect - not my idea of a great, traditional meal.

I'll take a good trattoria, with delicious local cuisine any day - and look forward to tasting yours!! :laugh::laugh:


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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It’s very interesting what you are saying about comfort foods, and people seeking out these non-threatening foods. It could be the pendulum swinging away from the experimental, or it could just be that we only seek the experimental foods on an occasional basis.

Hi Judith,

We just had a huge Sunday lunch which included a rather surprising bottle of Italian brut rosé and a shockingly good 6 year old white Château Neuf du Pape, so I hope this makes sense...

"Cutting edge" is not what I think of as threatening, I think of it more as contrived for the benefit of notoriety and revenue. On the other hand, traditional foods and ancient ingredients have gotten pushed to the way-side in most modern restaurants and many of us have no idea how complex and layered their flavors and aromas can be. Classical cuisines are based on hundreds, if not thousands of years of method, technique and ingredients and offer us an amazing array of flavors and textures.

For me, experimental cuisine means using a rice like Favorito which, even though it has been grown locally for hundreds of years, it is now almost extinct and very hard to find and as you might have guessed, it makes mind-blowing risotto. I will bring you some when we come to Montone. :wink:

To me, going backwards in time is very experimental. :wub:

Hi- Yes, I too agree with SWISS CHEF. His point about Favorito raises a similar point here . A tribe of indians(native americans)in another state, is supporting itself by growing and selling a variety of wild rice that has been growing naturally on their land for a very long time.

Also, I think this discussion is a very important one to have.The questions/issues raised here are global and I think they are issues that everyone who is passionate about food should consider.

I am following this thread very closely. It is just another reason why The Italian SubForum(?) is my favorite.


"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I think chefs have to respond both to their inclinations and inspirations, and to the demand of the local market (no less an authority than Escoffier berates chefs that are not responsive to the customers' tastes).

As an Italian living in London, for example, I find it amazing how much more 'traditional' fine Italian chefs are here than in Italy, which agrees with a previous poster's observation about NY. They are clearly responding to the demands of a public who is in search of 'real Italian' food and would not recognise it any more as Italian if it were too much oriented towards 'modernity'. However, when Italian gourmets visit London and go to, say, Locanda Locatelli, their reaction is often: 'good, but he cooks like 20 years ago'. This is because Italian gourmets have had their granny's and mummy's and trattoria food for so many years that now they'd like something different - they don't want to spend 70 pounds per head at Locatelli and feel they're having granny's and mummy's and trattoria cuisine. Locatelli himself probably would cook differently in Italy.

However the crucial point is that it is obviously much a matter of degrees, there isn't only 'tradition' vs 'modernity', but there is rather a continuum betwen the two, along which one will have her personal favourite point: but it would be silly not to sample more extreme variations on either side of the favourite style. So, for example, although it is not my absolutely favourite cusine, I like Locatelli and think he cooks supremely well, and his restaurant is perfect for a certain type of experience.

Personally, the Italian restaurants I like best are those that practice a cuisine which is strongly rooted in tradition, with the raw materials fully left to express their original textures and flavours, and without superfluous complications, but which is still capable of surprising you somehow. Probably the 'rice with gold' by Marchesi remains emblematic in this respect (yet it is an old dish now!). But I am very grateful to the many chefs whose sensibility leads them to express a cusine different from this ideal point of mine; the most dreaded thing would be uniformity of style all around.

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Hi,again-This whole discussion reminds me of Picasso :hmmm::huh: Picasso was (as evryone knows)a great artist, and I consider chefs artists, too. I think of Picasso because he was a master who knew the traditions of painting. He even painted a very realistic mother and child :cool: The point is, when he deconstructs painting and gives us cubism I am bound to at least look at his work with an honest, open mind. I may hate cubism(I do),but I owe Picasso the respect of considering his work.The antithesis of Picasso was Frank Stella who,I believe, became a famous abstract artist because he was a poor/uninspired painter.

Does this make any sense? :hmmm::hmmm::hmmm::hmmm:


"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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For me, experimental cuisine means using a rice like Favorito which, even though it has been grown locally for hundreds of years, it is now almost extinct and very hard to find and as you might have guessed, it makes mind-blowing risotto. I will bring you some when we come to Montone.  :wink:

To me, going backwards in time is very experimental. :wub:

I think you've hit the nail on the head with your last line SWISS CHEF! So many chefs are in a rush to find the future, that they forget that some of the stuff in the past was darn good!!

And Judith, there is NO way you are locked into a food museum...look at how "cutting edge" many people think the use of farro is - it's popular all over again, and it's an ancient grain!

As for your experiments with prosciutto e melone, I think that when you harvest that first perfect melon that you've grown with your own hands, the dish will be one of the best you've ever tasted - and then you'll be thinking about curing your own ham!

Your other point about high-end Italian restaurants is interesting...the new high-end Italian places here in NY are all about serving the classics - I don't think there's any foam on Del Posto's plates, though I may be wrong. And when in Italy, we don't seek those places out - the one or two we've eaten at in Rome tend to either deconstruct the dish that nonna might have made in her kitchen, or serve the international, experimental cuisine that so many have come to expect - not my idea of a great, traditional meal.

I'll take a good trattoria, with delicious local cuisine any day - and look forward to tasting yours!! :laugh::laugh:

I dunno. We do grow our own melons, and I can get home cured proscuitto from Alavro (a neighbor and an uncle to Martina, one of the owner's of the restaurant), but that hasnt' stifled the desire to play with taste, texture and presentation. For me, what intrigues me, is to experiment to see if there is another way to serve the combination that tastes, looks and feels just as good. That's all. If I succeed, well brava, if not, then so be it. Sometimes you want to drive a Cinquecento, and sometimes a Ferrari, both will get you there, both are fun and both delight in different ways.

I think we are all saying the same thing, that experimentation and innovation cannot come at the price of flavor, or reason, and that we must respect the roots of the cuisine.

However, I don't think all great meals must be traditional. There is room for more.

Having read thru Tupac's Eating the Boot thread, it makes an interesting companion to this thread, as does Bryan Z's thread where he describes his first trip to Europe. In both threads we are reading and seeing through a novice's eye. Novice in terms of European tradition, not at all in terms of palate sophistication. These 2 people have a wonderful breadth of experience and knowledge, and they are actively seeking to enlarge that knowledge. They have an appreciation and a youthful appetite for innovation. I do think that the older we get, the more we begin to understand and respect tradition, at least for Americans. Americans have an overall 'younger' take on cuisine, which is good and bad: they aren't confined by some of the 'rules' of Italian cusine (no cheese on seafood as a debatable example), and at the same time they don't have the generations of consistent dish preparations to guide them in their expectations and choices.

Tupac's rave review of Uliassi v. Le Calandre is also an example of subjectiveness. All the criticism of Le Calandre I have heard levelled at Uliassi. Pretentious presentations, unlikely pairings...etc. It would be fascinating, if there was a way to serve Tupac the exact same meals 20 years from now and see what his opinion would be.

Is the chef at Le Calandre working under the burden of early fame? Does the need to constantly reinvent dishes, to constantly innovate, lead to these strange combinations? Probably. To be a star at 22 becomes a horribly heavy burden at 42.


Edited by hathor (log)

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It would be fascinating, if there was a way to serve Tupac the exact same meals 20 years from now and see what his  opinion would be. 

I'll see what I can do. :raz:

To be a star at 22 becomes a horribly heavy burden at 42.

Agreed.

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The antithesis of Picasso was Frank Stella who,I believe, became a famous abstract artist because he was a poor/uninspired painter.

    Does this make any sense? :hmmm:  :hmmm:  :hmmm:  :hmmm:

Some.

Informed and relevant regarding points concerning Picasso and the general comment applies to most contributions to fields, society or culture.

Remark about Frank Stella may reflect personal taste, but is either not informed or misinformed. (Quibble, but his work tends to be non-objective as opposed to abstract.) To keep this brief comment on topic, I will mention that Frank Stella's wife fed their baby by nursing in the back of the auditorium during a panel that inaugurated an exhibition of the artist's works. At that time, he had moved from the stark minimalist paintings that remind one of contemporary trends in dinnerware (square, linear, often executed without color) to exuberant hybrids of painting and relief filled with dynamic color, texture and curvilnear forms evocative of tangled spaghetti even if none of the forms was abstracted from nature/culture.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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