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Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine


hathor
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Speaking for myself, I'd rather not eat any dishes that taste as if they were prepared for the first time. I'd prefer to eat the dish as prepared by a line cook who has made it a thousand times and has it down to a science.

FG, I think you're setting me up here to walk into a trap with your superior brain power and verbal skills!

I didn't mean to eat it the first time a guy experimented with it. I meant to say that at the point where somebody took veal from the calf in the neighbor's backyard, and sage from his garden, and experimented with the idea that a quick sautee in butter and a toss of herb would bring out the best in both ingredients and elevate them to a new level of deliciousness... I want somebody to recreate that sensation in my mouth by recreating that excitement of culinary discovery after it was perfected. That's what I meant by "as if". Yes, a line cook at a restaurant like Jean-Georges would get it dazzlingly right each time. But as I posted earlier, a line cook at Babbo today would phone it in, and I know this because I've eaten "phoned-in", lifeless, one dimensional 'classic' dishes there. I've had them in Italy as well. But I also have a friend on Capri who's a cook, and one day he invited me to his home for lunch and made "Scallopine alla Sorentina". It couldn't have been simpler. Some fresh veal, a slice of prosciutto, some astoundingly fresh "fiore di latte" melted over the top, a dash of wine, and simplicity never tasted so good. But I know that the line-cook at the place in town near the train station, that's in all the guidebooks, makes a less exciting version of the identical dish.

Edited to add that I walk happily into whatever trap you set, FG :cool:.

Edited by markk (log)

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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Speaking for myself, I'd rather not eat any dishes that taste as if they were prepared for the first time. I'd prefer to eat the dish as prepared by a line cook who has made it a thousand times and has it down to a science.

You are beginning to sound like a traditionalist FG.

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But I'm not sure that "generic" is the right word, or that it's being used correctly in this discussion.

"Generic" was used in the sense of "general/not specific identitiy". I said earlier that if I am eating in Italy then I want to eat something that is Italian and delicious, not something generically delicious. Maybe this is where Italy fails on the fine dining scene, not generic enough?

I think that at some point FG (?) mentioned that at least one present cutting edge chef produces food of the highest international standard without in reference to local food traditions. In this discussion I have trouble keeping track of what level of cooking we are talking about. I'm not at all sure that restuarants serving food of the highest international standard for a restricted group of diners can be compared usefully to fiaschetteria, osteria, ristorante, trattoria, taberna....

When we are talking about "Contemporay food", does this mean "International Modern" of the moment or are we talking about the development of at new wave of "Contemporay Italian"?

I think that FG is correct, restaurants at international cutting edge have no need to have a basis in tradional cooking, and in part the emphasis on technique and ingredient quality excludes this. Which isn't to say that inspiration can't come from local dishes or traditions either. What is proberly more important at this level is originality of thought and execution of the dish. For example, I notice that Robuchon is now being criticized for selling dishes that are too heavily influenced by other chefs creations. No matter how delicious these dishes are, they are not his "original creations".

In terms of fiaschetteria, osteria, ristorante, trattoria and taberna it could be possible to contruct some sort of hierarchy in terms how they relate to one another and what sort of food they produce, but for the vast majoritory of them "delicious" is going to be a much more important criterion then "originality".

Getting back to the original question "Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine, Is it a conflict or a building block?", I feel that on an intellectual level that their is no conflict between the two, but also at a high end international dining level there is no requirement for any real overlap either.

On the otherhand what Italy does have in vast amounts is food that fits many peoples definition of "Delicious". One conflict that I see is that some individuals that have a primary interest in high end international dining level food is the way in which all this delicious Italian food is discussed is in the negative. Italian food culture has failed in someway because it hasn't (and maybe can't) produce the required high end international dining experience. I think that the view that Italy has failed to deliver the high end international dining experience and the view that traditional food in Italy is delicious are both correct, I don't see the conflict in the two opinions.

What I think is an interesting question is if it is true that Italy has failed to deliver the high end international dining experience, why is this so? A few years ago I would have said it was because the tradional food were so good that there wasn't a niche for the high end international dining experience. I felt then that this type of dining came from regions where the local traditional food culture was either degraded or never really existed. To a certain extent I have changed my views on this, I don't see a conflict with the development of an international dining scene and having strong local food traditions.

I don't have a simple explanation of why Italy doesn't have this high end international dining culture, and I don't think there is a simple answer.

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Does it really not have it or is it just that some people don't consider it "Italian" and tend to rail against it. Italy certainly does have some very highly regarded modern restaurants. What I am seeing here is a tendency to dismiss them out of hand by Italian food "purists." For my purpose, I would hate to have to give up either approach. I love traditional regional Italian foods, but I am also smitten by effective creativity. Why do they have to be mutually exclusive within a culinary tradition? Why can't a "traditional" trattoria co-exist alongside a modern temple of gastronomy and both be wonderful and successful? It is not even as if everyone must love or appreciate both. There is plenty of room for those like Mark to enjoy traditional, regional cuisines and never have to set foot in a creative restaurant. For those who only enjoy the highest aspirations of creativity, they need never set foot in a traditional setting. I'll take both so long as each is done well.

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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Does it really not have it or is it just that some people don't consider it "Italian" and tend to rail against it. Italy certainly does have some very highly regarded modern restaurants. What I am seeing here is a tendency to dismiss them out of hand by Italian food "purists." For my purpose, I would hate to have to give up either approach. I love traditional regional Italian foods, but I am also smitten by effective creativity. Why do they have to be mutually exclusive within a culinary tradition? Why can't a "traditional" trattoria co-exist alongside a modern temple of gastronomy and both be wonderful and successful? It is not even as if everyone must love or appreciate both. There is plenty of room for those like Mark to enjoy traditional, regional cuisines and never have to set foot in a creative restaurant. For those who only enjoy the highest aspirations of creativity, they need never set foot in a traditional setting. I'll take both so long as each is done well.

I have no problem with coexistence. :smile:

I don't think that the two extremes of traditional or contemporary have to be mutually exclusive, but there is no reason why a modern "creative restaurant" has to have any basis in traditional cooking. If this is the case then I think that you can run into the issue where "Italian food purists" don't consider this type of food "Italian" (what ever that means). The flip side of this is where high end diners are dismissive of tradional food.

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Does it really not have it or is it just that some people don't consider it "Italian" and tend to rail against it. Italy certainly does have some very highly regarded modern restaurants. What I am seeing here is a tendency to dismiss them out of hand by Italian food "purists." For my purpose, I would hate to have to give up either approach. I love traditional regional Italian foods, but I am also smitten by effective creativity. Why do they have to be mutually exclusive within a culinary tradition? Why can't a "traditional" trattoria co-exist alongside a modern temple of gastronomy and both be wonderful and successful? It is not even as if everyone must love or appreciate both. There is plenty of room for those like Mark to enjoy traditional, regional cuisines and never have to set foot in a creative restaurant. For those who only enjoy the highest aspirations of creativity, they need never set foot in a traditional setting. I'll take both so long as each is done well.

I have no problem with coexistence. :smile:

I don't think that the two extremes of traditional or contemporary have to be mutually exclusive, but there is no reason why a modern "creative restaurant" has to have any basis in traditional cooking. If this is the case then I think that you can run into the issue where "Italian food purists" don't consider this type of food "Italian" (what ever that means). The flip side of this is where high end diners are dismissive of tradional food.

I agree that a modern "creative restaurant" need not have a basis in traditional cooking, however, the best ones, in my experience such as elBulli or Can Roca, provide a context for their creativity that is often if not usually based on tradition, local or exotic. Even a dish as apparently outlandish as Joan Roca's oyster with Earth, has a context taken from tradition. That dish, which pairs a raw oyster with a distillate of contents taken from a local forest floor, has a basis in a classic pairing of oysters with the mineral rich wines of Chablis. It is that very minerality that in combination with the brininess of the oyster that allows that dish to work. Is it "better" than having an oyster with a sip of good chablis? It is simply different...and fun because it is unique, clever and because it does really work despite one's initial thought of its impossibility. Now I am not about to go out and make a habit of that dish, but I would certainly have it again and am sure glad that I experienced it and admire Joan Roca for the creativity that went into it. It was a memorable and positive experience. A similarly memorable dish was a simple, house-made fresh fusilli with pomodorini del Vesuvio at Agriturismo Seliano in Paestum south of Naples.

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 think of food as I do fashion. There are famous designers parading fantastic designs on the runway for a adoring public and press, but in reality, very little of that "creativity" actually trickles down to the everyday wear of the real world.

I forget who it was (maybe Coco Chanel) but a famous designer once said (about her show) "this is not how I make my living. I make my living making rather boring suits for over-weight women. All of this is done to demonstrate my imagination."

Coexist? Sure, it has to be so. Like it or not, experimental cooking will be always be in demand by a society that prizes its food, especially these days when chefs are more famous than writers and professors and even doctors and lawyers have become food experts! :wink:

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
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I agree that a modern "creative restaurant" need not have a basis in traditional cooking

I think that FG is correct, restaurants at international cutting edge have no need to have a basis in tradional cooking

So now at this point in the discussion I have to ask a question, mostly to get a perspective:

Do we consider Jean-Georges a French restaurant?

Anyway...

and even doctors and lawyers have become food experts!  :wink:

Hey, I got that!

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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But I'm not sure that "generic" is the right word, or that it's being used correctly in this discussion.

"Generic" was used in the sense of "general/not specific identitiy". I said earlier that if I am eating in Italy then I want to eat something that is Italian and delicious, not something generically delicious. Maybe this is where Italy fails on the fine dining scene, not generic enough?

I think that at some point FG (?) mentioned that at least one present cutting edge chef produces food of the highest international standard without in reference to local food traditions. In this discussion I have trouble keeping track of what level of cooking we are talking about. I'm not at all sure that restuarants serving food of the highest international standard for a restricted group of diners can be compared usefully to fiaschetteria, osteria, ristorante, trattoria, taberna....

When we are talking about "Contemporay food", does this mean "International Modern" of the moment or are we talking about the development of at new wave of "Contemporay Italian"?

I think that FG is correct, restaurants at international cutting edge have no need to have a basis in tradional cooking, and in part the emphasis on technique and ingredient quality excludes this. Which isn't to say that inspiration can't come from local dishes or traditions either. What is proberly more important at this level is originality of thought and execution of the dish. For example, I notice that Robuchon is now being criticized for selling dishes that are too heavily influenced by other chefs creations. No matter how delicious these dishes are, they are not his "original creations".

In terms of fiaschetteria, osteria, ristorante, trattoria and taberna it could be possible to contruct some sort of hierarchy in terms how they relate to one another and what sort of food they produce, but for the vast majoritory of them "delicious" is going to be a much more important criterion then "originality".

Getting back to the original question "Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine, Is it a conflict or a building block?", I feel that on an intellectual level that their is no conflict between the two, but also at a high end international dining level there is no requirement for any real overlap either.

On the otherhand what Italy does have in vast amounts is food that fits many peoples definition of "Delicious". One conflict that I see is that some individuals that have a primary interest in high end international dining level food is the way in which all this delicious Italian food is discussed is in the negative. Italian food culture has failed in someway because it hasn't (and maybe can't) produce the required high end international dining experience. I think that the view that Italy has failed to deliver the high end international dining experience and the view that traditional food in Italy is delicious are both correct, I don't see the conflict in the two opinions.

What I think is an interesting question is if it is true that Italy has failed to deliver the high end international dining experience, why is this so? A few years ago I would have said it was because the tradional food were so good that there wasn't a niche for the high end international dining experience. I felt then that this type of dining came from regions where the local traditional food culture was either degraded or never really existed. To a certain extent I have changed my views on this, I don't see a conflict with the development of an international dining scene and having strong local food traditions.

I don't have a simple explanation of why Italy doesn't have this high end international dining culture, and I don't think there is a simple answer.

I'm curious what you mean when you say "high end international dining experience."

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Ciao Naftal! When I say generic, I mean that you will find the same dish at many, many restaurants. Anyone who has traveled as a tourist, and stayed for 2 weeks in anyone area knows what I mean when I say you feel that you've encountered some sort of government standard issue menu.

In Umbria, for example you will always find pasta with porcini, pasta with truffle sauce, pasta with cream etc.

In Lazio you find arrabiata, cacio e pepe etc.

In Emilio Romagna you find bolognese sauce.

These are very simple, broad, examples, but,  you find these dishes on 99% of all the menus in that area, so to me, that makes them more or less generic. 

Not generic is a bad way, just generic.

But I'm not sure that "generic" is the right word, or that it's being used correctly in this discussion.

"Generic" was used in the sense of "general/not specific identitiy". I said earlier that if I am eating in Italy then I want to eat something that is Italian and delicious, not something generically delicious. Maybe this is where Italy fails on the fine dining scene, not generic enough?

I think that at some point FG (?) mentioned that at least one present cutting edge chef produces food of the highest international standard without in reference to local food traditions. In this discussion I have trouble keeping track of what level of cooking we are talking about. I'm not at all sure that restuarants serving food of the highest international standard for a restricted group of diners can be compared usefully to fiaschetteria, osteria, ristorante, trattoria, taberna....

When we are talking about "Contemporay food", does this mean "International Modern" of the moment or are we talking about the development of at new wave of "Contemporay Italian"?

I think that FG is correct, restaurants at international cutting edge have no need to have a basis in tradional cooking, and in part the emphasis on technique and ingredient quality excludes this. Which isn't to say that inspiration can't come from local dishes or traditions either. What is proberly more important at this level is originality of thought and execution of the dish. For example, I notice that Robuchon is now being criticized for selling dishes that are too heavily influenced by other chefs creations. No matter how delicious these dishes are, they are not his "original creations".

In terms of fiaschetteria, osteria, ristorante, trattoria and taberna it could be possible to contruct some sort of hierarchy in terms how they relate to one another and what sort of food they produce, but for the vast majoritory of them "delicious" is going to be a much more important criterion then "originality".

Getting back to the original question "Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine, Is it a conflict or a building block?", I feel that on an intellectual level that their is no conflict between the two, but also at a high end international dining level there is no requirement for any real overlap either.

On the otherhand what Italy does have in vast amounts is food that fits many peoples definition of "Delicious". One conflict that I see is that some individuals that have a primary interest in high end international dining level food is the way in which all this delicious Italian food is discussed is in the negative. Italian food culture has failed in someway because it hasn't (and maybe can't) produce the required high end international dining experience. I think that the view that Italy has failed to deliver the high end international dining experience and the view that traditional food in Italy is delicious are both correct, I don't see the conflict in the two opinions.

What I think is an interesting question is if it is true that Italy has failed to deliver the high end international dining experience, why is this so? A few years ago I would have said it was because the tradional food were so good that there wasn't a niche for the high end international dining experience. I felt then that this type of dining came from regions where the local traditional food culture was either degraded or never really existed. To a certain extent I have changed my views on this, I don't see a conflict with the development of an international dining scene and having strong local food traditions.

I don't have a simple explanation of why Italy doesn't have this high end international dining culture, and I don't think there is a simple answer.

Greetings Hathor!-I guess that I am using the term "generic" the way Adam Balic is defining it. Also, given the fact that many places serve pasta with cream, I am curious:Is it wonderful everytime and in every place that it is done? I do not mean to be difficult,I am seriously asking this question.

"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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This seems like a good Italy forum topic in which to post about our lunch at Veranda il Calandrino, one of the familiAlajmo restaurants...see their web site here!

These restaurants coexist, serving traditional, contemporary and very modern food as well. But I do wonder what portion of their clientele, especially for dinner at Le Calendre, are people who are making the "pilgrimage" as opposed to locals going out for dinner?

Without further ado - the bread basket...

gallery_6902_5187_50807.jpg

On the far left are taralli (round things), unsweetened round semolina cookies, that are boiled, then baked - Italian bagels?! :laugh::laugh:

Our first course was the cicchetti sampler...

gallery_6902_5187_13591.jpg

Here's where things started to blur - some of these appear to be classic cicchetti, while others lean towards a more contemporary spin - middle right, for example, is a deep fried piece of pork belly; there are a couple of varieties of meatballs (one was stuffed with a creamy cheese from the Veneto, another served with a luscious tomato sauce), and there's also "pappa al pomodoro," or tomato and bread soup.

Next up for me was my filetto of beef (pictured and discussed a few posts back), while my wife dined on the special pasta of the day...

gallery_6902_5187_50223.jpg

This was strozzapreti, or priest strangler's, served with a very rich Bolognese ragu. And yes, the pasta was practically red; hathor told me that sometimes the egg yolks are literally that color!

Finally, for dessert, we had to have the sampler, receiving this...

gallery_6902_5187_44810.jpg

Ten delicious pastries, some complex, some simple, and all stunning to look at and eat. Whether this answers any questions in the "traditional vs. contemporary" discussion, I don't know. What it appears to prove, though, is that traditional and contemporary can and do coexist, sometimes even right under the same roof!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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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Here's where things started to blur - some of these appear to be classic cicchetti, while others lean towards a more contemporary spin - middle right, for example, is a deep fried piece of pork belly; there are a couple of varieties of meatballs (one was stuffed with a creamy cheese from the Veneto, another served with a luscious tomato sauce), and there's also "pappa al pomodoro," or tomato and bread soup... strozzapreti, or priest strangler's, served with a very rich Bolognese ragu...

What it appears to prove, though, is that traditional and contemporary can and do coexist, sometimes even right under the same roof!

May I ask you to reconsider the post that started this thread...

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. 

And ask if you're sure you're using the word "contemporary" in the same way that she is? I think you and she are talking about two different things.

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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Here's where things started to blur - some of these appear to be classic cicchetti, while others lean towards a more contemporary spin - middle right, for example, is a deep fried piece of pork belly; there are a couple of varieties of meatballs (one was stuffed with a creamy cheese from the Veneto, another served with a luscious tomato sauce), and there's also "pappa al pomodoro," or tomato and bread soup... strozzapreti, or priest strangler's, served with a very rich Bolognese ragu...

What it appears to prove, though, is that traditional and contemporary can and do coexist, sometimes even right under the same roof!

May I ask you to reconsider the post that started this thread...

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. 

And ask if you're sure you're using the word "contemporary" in the same way that she is? I think you and she are talking about two different things.

To tell you the truth, this whole thread confuses me :blink: .

I just like posting in it.

How about starting a Definition of Contemporary in Italian Cuisine thread?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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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To tell you the truth, this whole thread confuses me  :blink: .

I just like posting in it.

Yeah, it's been confusing me too. That's why I posted the question earlier of whether people are considering Jean-Georges a "French" restaurant.

I think we're into a lot of apples vs. oranges in this thread, not the least dimension is whether we're talking about people who live in Italy, or people visiting Italy as tourists.

So I'll throw in my two cents as a tourist in Italy, not a native...

The photos you posted look fine to me. I would be able to deal with a delicious meal like that, probably, and all the more so if it were truly delicious.

I was not able to deal with the meal that I got many years ago at "San Domenico" in Imola, next door to Modena, however. Whatever the hell it was (ego?), it wasn't Emilian, nor was it even vaguely "Italian".

If I can make the veer, I would say that I don't really consider Jean-Georges to be "French" restaurant. But I like it.

That may be because it's in New York, and I associate that with "melting pot" cuisine, which to me means that, since I'm twelve minutes away, I'm not necessarily giving up a meal to go there, and besides, it's not the case that I feel that I want to eat "American" cuisine, whether or not there is such a thing (don't mean to open that can of worms) - I'm just saying that if I'm in Italy or France, it's to eat as much of the traditional cuisine as I can. If chefs want to stretch it to the extent that Jean-Georges stretches "French" cuisine, I can usually deal with it, though if they go too far, I'm gonna be hateful that I could've been having cassoulet, or tortellini bolognese, because those are things I can't really get in New York as good as I can in their country of origin ("normalmente").

Personally, I don't want to eat anyone's 'deconstructed' or 'molecular' food when I go to Italy or France. On the other hand, I've spent a lot of time in Germany and if somebody were to offer me really good molecular Italian or French food there, I'd jump at the opportunity! :wacko:

Edited by markk (log)

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 spent a lot of time in Germany and if somebody were to offer me really good molecular Italian or French food there, I'd jump at the opportunity!   :wacko:

Interesting point. I have lived in Switzerland for the last eight years and for part of that period I lived right on the border of Germany so I know this region pretty well and the two country's cuisines are rather similar and generally speaking the food is kind of uninspirational (I am speaking of German Switzerland). Both kitchens are largely based on fatty cuts of pork, würst and root vegetables. If ever there was a place to install cutting edge chefs, this has to be where to do it. Trust me, they could use some innovation!

However, it is possible to eat well there, I found that the trick is you have to eat the classics and appreciate them for what they are. The dried/smoked meats like Bundner Fleisch and Black Forest ham are really special. My favorite sliced meat of all time is the Swiss version of Bologna called Lyoner. The Swiss have refined this lowly cold-cut to a level you would not think possible. I have found cheeses in Germany are often flavorless but Switzerland's artisanal cheeses are certainly worth getting excited about. Of course there is chocolate but other desserts like meringues and Gruyère cream, Aargauer Rüblitort and Cremeschnitte are all sensational. Even the old clichés like fondue and raclette can be really fantastic when made with the artisanal cheeses. Much praise can be given to the thousands of different black breads of Germany too. Last but not least...Rösti, cooked slowly, in cast-iron, with lots of butter... has be the ultimate use of a potato! :wub:

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
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To tell you the truth, this whole thread confuses me  :blink: .

I just like posting in it.

Yeah, it's been confusing me too. That's why I posted the question earlier of whether people are considering Jean-Georges a "French" restaurant.

I think we're into a lot of apples vs. oranges in this thread, not the least dimension is whether we're talking about people who live in Italy, or people visiting Italy as tourists.

So I'll throw in my two cents as a tourist in Italy, not a native...

The photos you posted look fine to me. I would be able to deal with a delicious meal like that, probably, and all the more so if it were truly delicious.

I was not able to deal with the meal that I got many years ago at "San Domenico" in Imola, next door to Modena, however. Whatever the hell it was (ego?), it wasn't Emilian, nor was it even vaguely "Italian".

If I can make the veer, I would say that I don't really consider Jean-Georges to be "French" restaurant. But I like it.

That may be because it's in New York, and I associate that with "melting pot" cuisine, which to me means that, since I'm twelve minutes away, I'm not necessarily giving up a meal to go there, and besides, it's not the case that I feel that I want to eat "American" cuisine, whether or not there is such a thing (don't mean to open that can of worms) - I'm just saying that if I'm in Italy or France, it's to eat as much of the traditional cuisine as I can. If chefs want to stretch it to the extent that Jean-Georges stretches "French" cuisine, I can usually deal with it, though if they go too far, I'm gonna be hateful that I could've been having cassoulet, or tortellini bolognese, because those are things I can't really get in New York as good as I can in their country of origin ("normalmente").

Personally, I don't want to eat anyone's 'deconstructed' or 'molecular' food when I go to Italy or France. On the other hand, I've spent a lot of time in Germany and if somebody were to offer me really good molecular Italian or French food there, I'd jump at the opportunity! :wacko:

mark, you are clearly in the majority. Fortunately, for those of us who also like innovative cooking, there are enough of us to be able to support worthwhile innovators. When I travel I certainly love to eat the cuisine that has withstood the tests of time, but I also seek out and enjoy quality innovation, because I enjoy and respect it wherever I might find it. Even in Spain, while I may travel to visit specific restaurants, I always mix in a good amount of traditional cooking. I don't think the innovative can be fully appreciated without understanding the roots of where the cooking is coming from whether they be a specific culinary tradition or heritage or something completely different.

The original premise of the topic is whether traditional and creative Italian cooking can live on the same menu. I think clearly they can, however, it might be confusing and discomforting to some people who prefer clear definitions of what and where they are eating. Also one must beware of what happened at varietal in NYC where there was a clear disconnect in approach between the savory and sweet sides of the meal. The savory side though not exactly classic, took a market based approach that was relatively conservative, but quite good. The desserts under Jordan Kahn were as creative (and good) as are out there. Unfortunately, the combination did not mesh well for most diners and the restaurant suffered. The disconnect there was between two halves of each meal. I think if there is traditional and modern throughout the menu and clear choice such as Trabocchi does, it should not be a problem so long as both are done well. If so, the restaurant should be able to attract and satisfy traditionalists such as Mark and culinary explorers such as myself. Mind you, I would not order exclusively from either portion of the menu.

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 agree that a modern "creative restaurant" need not have a basis in traditional cooking, however, the best ones, in my experience such as elBulli or Can Roca, provide a context for their creativity that is often if not usually based on tradition, local or exotic.

"Nothing comes from nothing..., nothing ever could...."

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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So I was thinking about this discussion tonight over an amazing dinner at The Modern (the restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City), and it occurred to me that we're speaking, fundamentally, about two different visions of the role of the chef: the performer and the composer.

A chef who cooks traditional recipes is like a performer who plays from the repertoire. Great performers like Pavarotti are, in their own rights, great artists. Specifically, they're great performing artists. They enhance whatever work they perform by their performance talent. They may tweak the compositions they perform, they may have their own styles, but they are not creating new works.

A chef who cooks creatively is like a composer (a performer too, of course). I don't need to waste any words explaining what that's so. The point being, if we rule out creative cooking we rule out the possibility of chefs being anything but performers. They can't be composers. And to me, that's sad. It's not that composers are better than performers. The best of both types can be equally brilliant. But we need both.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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...The point being, if we rule out creative cooking we rule out the possibility of chefs being anything but performers...

Who is ruling out creative cooking?

I think we've come around to saying traditional isn't creative. Interesting. I don't know if I agree or disagree, but it's worth thinking about.

Going back to my original dilemma, the balancing act between traditional and contemporary, take a look at part of an e-mail conversation I am having with a chef friend who has worked in Italy.

"Once in the restaurant in Florence I was making this tomato bread sauce that is traditionally made was stale (saltless, tasteless) bread. It tasted like stale bread. One day there was no leftover bread and I made it with the fresh (saltless, tasteless) bread and the sauce was a hundred times better. I told the chef and suggested that now that notwithstanding the fact that this was a recipe based in poverty (and in light of the fact that Italians are no longer poor) perhaps we should make the sauce with fresh bread. He looked at me like I had a lot to learn about the ways of his people and basically said it doesn't matter if it tastes better, that's just not the way it's done."

This in a nutshell, is what I am dealing with.

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I think we've come around to saying traditional isn't creative. Interesting. I don't know if I agree or disagree, but it's worth thinking about.

Actually, (this is directed toward others more than you Judith) traditional food is every bit as creative (if not more) as modern food. The big difference is that traditional food is not new. If Pizza had never existed and was suddenly created tomorrow, it would still sweep the world in no time, because it is a brilliant idea.

The approach I (and many others) take is that many of the old preparations are actually based on very innovative thinking and are no less refreshing (particularly if they have been lost and rediscovered) than their modern counterparts.

I don't covet food because it is new, I covet it because it is remarkable.

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I think we've come around to saying traditional isn't creative. Interesting. I don't know if I agree or disagree, but it's worth thinking about.

Actually, (this is directed toward others more than you Judith) traditional food is every bit as creative (if not more) as modern food. The big difference is that traditional food is not new. If Pizza had never existed and was suddenly created tomorrow, it would still sweep the world in no time, because it is a brilliant idea.

The approach I (and many others) take is that many of the old preparations are actually based on very innovative thinking and are no less refreshing (particularly if they have been lost and rediscovered) than their modern counterparts.

I don't covet food because it is new, I covet it because it is remarkable.

You are quite right. I fully agree with this post. New for new's sake is of limited utility. It needs to have substance behind the style, for sure. However, there are plenty of folks who immediately tune out something simply because it is new and don't give it a chance regardless of the potential of the idea.

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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The great Russian artist Malevich said that if you want to see a cow, go out to the fields and look.

His point was that art ought to provide something different from the everyday and what you can see elsewhere.  It was also in defense of current trends in the visual arts, particularly the painters of his country who rejected the tired same-old academic practices of the establishment and refused to create unimaginative landscapes with traditional subject matter.

In this respect, this is what Hathor and other chefs (or cooks) can do in the face of tradition.  Malevich may have abandoned imagery altogether, but he used the traditional tools, paint, colors, lines and geometic shapes previous artists used.  He painted on the same rectangular surfaces that landscape artists filled with pastures and cows.   The gist of a number of comments here is that one ought to know the history and traditions of one's chosen profession in order to draw from them selectively or reject them utterly.  (Ignorance sometimes is a blessing, but that's another point.)

Like artists, chefs can turn to books to learn that tradition, following recipes, instructions or simply using the pictures.  

However, the analogy falls short in that chefs also resemble performing artists when they create classic or traditional dishes such as those in the repertoires of Italian regions.  Like a musician, actor or director, chefs perpetuate tradition to make of the past a living present.  Nonetheless, we tend to honor those who add something to the familiar that is unfamiliar, new, and distinctly their own.  Over time, such contributions alter tradition.

Weeks later:

So I was thinking about this discussion tonight over an amazing dinner at The Modern (the restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City), and it occurred to me that we're speaking, fundamentally, about two different visions of the role of the chef: the performer and the composer.

A chef who cooks traditional recipes is like a performer who plays from the repertoire. Great performers like Pavarotti are, in their own rights, great artists. Specifically, they're great performing artists. They enhance whatever work they perform by their performance talent. They may tweak the compositions they perform, they may have their own styles, but they are not creating new works.

A chef who cooks creatively is like a composer (a performer too, of course). I don't need to waste any words explaining what that's so. The point being, if we rule out creative cooking we rule out the possibility of chefs being anything but performers. They can't be composers. And to me, that's sad. It's not that composers are better than performers. The best of both types can be equally brilliant. But we need both.

I know a philosopher who probes the relationships among phenomena that superficially are one and the same thing but are not. An example she uses is Beethoven's Symphany Number 9. How does the original transcript compare to the score that orchestras use today? Identical copies of the score, printed in two different countries, used in different years by different conductors? Two different performances separated by 50 years? The first recording and the first performance? The same performance as experienced by the conductor, the violinist with a cold, the violinist without a cold getting married in three weeks, the audience member who knows nothing about Beethoven except that he became deaf, was unhappy in love and the Beatles liked him and so forth.

You are creating something new even w an allegedly dogged following of a given recipe each time the dish is prepared. There are different degrees of novelty, nonetheless, and different kinds of innovations that intersect in any given dish.

One American criterion for recognizing the greatness of a chef is the degree to which a complex nexus of novelty may be identified in his/her menu provided its execution pleases us in terms of looks, smell and taste. This is how we judge creativity.

I am guessing Italian criteria differ when it comes to a chef's greatness.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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The point isn't that old recipes didn't require creativity to create. The point is that it doesn't require creativity to make them now. They can be made flawlessly by a person with zero creativity.

Or, they can be tweaked by a creative person, but that person's species of creativity is the species common to the performing artist. That chef is not free to create a new composition. So you effectively have, in a traditionalist culinary monoculture, no composers. You create a situation where there can be no new operas, no new symphonies -- it's all just people studying the ways to play the old ones better. It's great to have people doing that, and they can be brilliant artists in their own rights, but they're not composers.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The point isn't that old recipes didn't require creativity to create. The point is that it doesn't require creativity to make them now. They can be made flawlessly by a person with zero creativity.

Perhaps, but that person with "zero creativity" needs to start with great raw materials, good cooking skills and excellent taste buds in order to make the recipe "flawlessly," unless the recipe sucks to begin with.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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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