Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Paul Stanley

Does authenticity matter?

Recommended Posts

I think paulraphael nailed it. I don't intend calling the original dish a "fiction" to be denigrating; I think you capture the recursive, open-ended part really nicely. Churchill said, "History is written by the victors"; one might say that authenticity is written by victors as well, but the battle continues to unfold.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's hard to recognize innovation without a sense of what is authentic or at least traditional, but I would always think of "authentic" as "authentic to a certain time and place, and maybe a person." Demi glace with tomatoes is authentic to Escoffier, but was probably an innovation on his part, since it's not authentic to Ranhofer.

One of the interesting things one can discover by striving at least occasionally for authenticity to some particular moment is what it is that all those degradations of food in the course of history were trying to replace. Like if you reduced a can of beef stock with a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup, you would get something not unlike Escoffier's demi glace, but it would be saltier and a lot less subtle than a version made by reducing lots of homemade beef and veal stock with tomatoes and a little roux. Ranhofer had so many creamy sauces with mushrooms and mushroom essence where you might imagine a mid-twentieth-century home cook substituting cream of mushroom soup, though they would lose a good deal of the complexity of a sauce made with three kinds of stock.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think no matter how much we know better or try to intellectualize it, almost everybody who speaks English sees a value judgment attached to the terms "authentic" and "inauthentic." Authentic is good, and there's something wrong with inauthentic. You will not likely ever see a restaurant advertising "inauthentic Mexican/Italian/etc. cuisine," even though any restaurant with a creative chef is selling exactly that.


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)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The way I see it, there are two main ways a dish can come about which I'm going to term the "evolution" way vs the "intelligent design" way. A dish that is evolutionary develops slowly, over time within a community. Small variations are made through the process of trial and error and either are rejected as inferior or accepted and integrated into the mainline of the dish. A dish that is "intelligently designed" is created, out of whole cloth by a cook. They may have influences but they don't have any direct lineage.

By saying that a dish is authentic, I interpret it to mean that it's firmly in the mainline of an evolutionary process. If I eat an inauthentic dish and I dislike it, it's unclear whether my dislike is with the concept of the dish or this particular execution. After I eat an authentic version of the dish, I can confidently say that many people, in many places liked this dish so my dislike of it boils down to some core dislike of the basic concept.


PS: I am a guy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember taking a Mexican friend to a restaurant called "The Heights" on Broadway not far from Columbia University, where they serve something called "Mexican Timpano," which is kind of like a lasagna made if I remember correctly with beef or chicken, cheese, and rice and maybe mole poblano layered between brightly colored vegetable tortillas, with refried beans and guacamole on the side, and he said, "no one makes this in Mexico, but everything in here is Mexican" and he liked it, so it seemed to be in essence authentic despite its inauthenticity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sort of like that Portuguese specialty, tempura....

"Tempora", please, brother Amirault, we don't want the Japanese losing the authenticity of the name.


QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some people are more determined to be authentic then to produce a dish that is great, and if that is their choice, more power to them. For some reason, this has been more of an issue with vegans I have known than other groups, I can only guess it is related to a certain ideological purity. This is the enemy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The way I see it, there are two main ways a dish can come about which I'm going to term the "evolution" way vs the "intelligent design" way. A dish that is evolutionary develops slowly, over time within a community. Small variations are made through the process of trial and error and either are rejected as inferior or accepted and integrated into the mainline of the dish. A dish that is "intelligently designed" is created, out of whole cloth by a cook. They may have influences but they don't have any direct lineage.

How would you fit something like fettuccine Alfredo or Caesar salad into that taxonomy? In other words, dishes that were probably invented by one person but have developed iconic status.


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)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was thinking about this thread and authenticity versus traditional and authenticity's requirement of authorship. My dad was a cook for many years, being a ship cook in the Navy before becoming a captain, and then much later in the States, a chef/owner of a few Vietnamese restaurants. Did he cook anything that was "authentic" by this prerequisite of authorship?

And it struck me that by that definition, pretty much any "authentic" dish is in fact, at its inception, counter-intuitively a brand new dish with no history. An original, non-traditional dish.

He has a particular authentic dish: baked salmon rolls, served almost like Vietnamese shrimp-and-pork summer rolls, but with only salmon -- definitely not a Vietnamese fish -- and scallion oil. I'm the only one, however, who cooks the authentic dish anymore. The restaurant isn't around anymore. No restaurant serves this delicious dish. There is nothing close in Vietnamese cuisine, no baked salmon rice paper rolls. And incredibly, my father doesn't serve it anymore. He changed the dish, and my siblings followed: instead of baking the salmon in scallions and serving with scallion oil, he's replaced the flavor profile entirely, baking with a thick layer of sliced onions, olive oil, and seasoned heavily with black pepper.

Is my dish the authentic dish? Is his new dish the authentic dish? Is it a completely new and different authentic dish? I think it really ends up just being a silly argument over semantics.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem with authenticity is that it can be defined in same way Justice Potter Stewart defined obscenity: "I know it when I see it."

Of course, this means each and every person can view the same thing as being either authentic or inauthentic depending on how they choose to view it.

Obscenity was later defined, in part, in terms of whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would fine the material obscene. Again, in terms of authenticity, the "community standards" will affect whether or not a dish is considered authentic. So a bowl of pho served in a Chicago Vietnamese restaurant, owned by Vietnamese immigrants, to a largely Vietnamese customer base may be considered "authentic" here in Chicago, while in Ho Chi Min City, the same bowl may be considered to be "not authentic."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I appreciate the distinction between traditional and authentic. Authenticity is flexible, because cuisine is flexible; new ingredients enter regions, and innovation is not something that happened up until one particular day and then stopped. To take the example of Turkish cooking, one might argue that brussels sprouts, as a relatively new ingredient here, is not a "traditional" Turkish ingredient, but there certainly are authentically Turkish ways to approach the question of how to cook them. Same with ingredients such as tomatoes, potatoes and winter squash; which have all entered the region fairly recently in historical terms, but have now become so accepted as to become traditional as well. There was however certainly a time when a visitor might have looked at these new ingredients and said "what do these have to do with Turkish food?" There is always the element of personal initial experience, and time.

However, certain dishes do become formalized to the point where they are defined by the presence of certain ingredients. The process of formalization may take some time, but though there may be some variation, there's generally a point (even if it's hard to define precisely) beyond which the dish is no longer that dish. The case of the club sandwich is a case in point.

One interesting case is what is generally known as "Tiramisu" in Turkey. Evidently some cafe owner at some time ate Tiramisu, liked it, and wanted to duplicate it but could not find ladyfingers, mascarpone or liqueur or grappa. Or perhaps (as is rather typical here in so many areas) never bothered to ask what was in the dish. The alcohol might also have been a problem to the more religiously observant. So he/she slapped together some store-bought cake, layered it with some sweetened "labne" (a cheese made of yogurt), soaked the cake with thin syrup and sprinkled some cocoa on top, and served it as "Tiramisu." And the public, having no idea what the original dish was, liked it, and duplicated it. Recipes appeared in all the women's magazines, and today "tiramisu" is something you can find in pretty much any Turkish cafe, all in variations on this cake/pudding concoction. Not a single one bears any resemblance to any of the many variations of Tiramisu that any Italian would recognize. Here is the result of a Turkish Google image search on "Tiramisu recipe." http://www.google.com/images?q=tiramisu+tarife&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=1208&bih=574 Sometimes you hear arguments about what the "right" tiramisu is - should it be chocolate cake or yellow? Should the filling be labne or should it be muhallebi? It's changing into something else, though now some more "authentically minded" people are trying to set the record straight. Still it is sure to evolve further here, and real or not, it's going to be called tiramisu.


Edited by sazji (log)

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I hesitated to weigh in on this topic because I may have a slewed appreciation of "authentic" and/or "traditional" recipes, or whatever term people want to use.

I've learned to cook a number of traditional Mexican dishes from my neighbor who was born and raised in Mexico, on a ranch near the city of Durango but she and her husband, who still own a ranch down there, have been been here for nearly forty years, are citizens and put all their kids through college.

When we chat about "authentic" recipes, and I questioned her about preparing them in the "traditional" manner, she asks, "Are you mad (loco)? Why would I kneel on a dirt floor, using a metate to grind ingredients when I have the use of a meat grinder, a food processor or blender? Life here is more complicated and there is not enough time to devote to preparing food as my mother did. If my mother was alive, she would be delighted with the time-saving instruments I use in my kitchen."

I've eaten the same foods she prepares when I was in Mexico and I can't tell the difference in flavor, texture or appearance. Her dishes are authentic in that she uses the same ingredients and cooks them so the end result tastes the same.

An earlier post mentioned someone else argued against red posole being authentic. Red posole stewed with pork IS traditional in different parts of Mexico. I spent a week in La Piedad de Cabadas in Michoacán and it was served to me in a private home and in a restaurant during my stay. It was very spicy.

I've also had posole verde with turkey in Mexico. As I recall it was in Colima but I could be mistaken on this one. I know that where I had it there were a lot of turkey "ranchos" in the area and driving along the road we saw quite a few running loose. These are not the white ones and they aren't wild but are the domestic bronze turkeys. We saw little boys rounding them up with long sticks because they are apparently mean critters.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've eaten the same foods she prepares when I was in Mexico and I can't tell the difference in flavor, texture or appearance. Her dishes are authentic in that she uses the same ingredients and cooks them so the end result tastes the same.

This is an excellent example of why I sought out this type of discussion.

Is a dish "authentic" or "traditional" based on the end result alone, or does the cooking technique matter?

Here is why I ask. Last week my brother followed a recipe for a Cheese and Grits "souffle", which consisted of making cheesy grits, adding whole beaten eggs, and baking in a casserole dish. I objected that this wasn't actually a souffle, since a souffle requires that the egg whites be beaten separately, then incorporated. This was really just an egg and grits casserole. It was good, but it wasn't a souffle (IMO).

Does this seem correct? It seems to me that "authenticity", with regard to naming a dish, might matter differently when discussing the techniques that are used to make a certain dish, rather than the ingredients of a dish. Obviously a "braise" is only a "braise" if you follow the definition of braising, but what about when a certain dish implies a certain technique?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The example you give here seems more a matter of nomenclature -- is you is or is you ain't a soufflé -- than a matter of authenticity -- whatever its name, is the cheese-n-grits dish "authentic" to a tradition or culture.


Edited by Chris Amirault typo fix -- CA (log)

Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmmm...I don't see the difference between the souffle and a carbonara. Both are nomenclature arguments, aren't they? I'm just wondering if the nomenclature is dictated by a process/technique, rather than the specific ingredients in the finished product. Would you still call a baked dish of spaghetti, egg, cheese, pepper, and pancetta a "carbonara", even if the cooking technique is different? Or what if you substitute risotto for the pasta? That changes the ingredients AND the technique.

P.S. I don't mean to be argumentative, I just don't understand the distinction between authenticity/tradition and correct nomenclature.


Edited by JHeald (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hm -I'm quite pedantic, but not officiously so. I don't think the Cheese and Grits passes for a soufflé, although it might get a nod as a "soufflé" in an informal environment. I think the point made about technique is extremely valid. If you call it a braise, ain't no way, no how you can pass off a roast as a variation of the dish. When you tie a dish to a specific culinary technique, you have a lot less wriggle room than say adding a little cream to a carbonara. In fact, now that I think about it, technique is key (if you reference your dish in this way), ingredients less so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...