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The Failure of Haute Cuisine


Steve Plotnicki
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So it doesn't matter how popular Mary had a Little Lamb is, it will never be "as good" a piece of music as Beethoven's 5th. And I think you would have a hard time finding someone who could make the argument that it is from an analytical perspective that has to do with the music itself

Of course you would have a hard time. But who rank orders from that perspective? No-one as far as I can see.

Instead people compare like with like (is Beethoven's 5th better than his 3rd? Is Mary Had a Little Lamb better than Pat a Cake Pat a Cake Baker's Man?)

Just because both fit the definition of "music" doesn't mean the comparison is meaningful. Its like asking "Is an Armani suit "better" than a pair of Nike Trainers."?

They both count as "clothes". They're both worn, as Music is listened to, or food is eaten.But the comparison is meaningless for the purpose of intelligent discussion.

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Wilfrid - It isn't. As long as you are clear about what you are measuring, it isn't really problematic. Most of the disputes we have around here are about defining parameters. Once we agree on the parameters, the rest of the convesation goes pretty smoothly. For instance, it wouldn't be very controversial for me to say that symphonies are more complex pieces of music then nursery school songs. Nor would it be for me to say that the Night Watch is better then the oil painting of the Wailing Wall that many Jews have in their apartment.

It's also not a matter of just compexity. It's a matter of complex and good. Good is the underlying theme for great art. It's in the implication of complex. In fact I believe that if something was complex but not good, someone would go out of their way and say it was bad.

Finally, the differrnces between Pot au Feu and a Boiled Dinner are the same as a Navarin and an Irish Stew. One tastes good and one doesn't :biggrin:.

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Wilfrid - It isn't. As long as you are clear about what you are measuring, it isn't really problematic. Most of the disputes we have around here are about defining parameters. Once we agree on the parameters, the rest of the convesation goes pretty smoothly. For instance, it wouldn't be very controversial for me to say that symphonies are more complex pieces of music then nursery school songs. Nor would it be for me to say that the Night Watch is better then the oil painting of the Wailing Wall that many Jews have in their apartment.

It's also not a matter of just compexity. It's a matter of complex and good. Good is the underlying theme for great art. It's in the implication of complex. In fact I believe that if something was complex but not good, someone would go out of their way and say it was bad.

Finally, the differrnces between Pot au Feu and a Boiled Dinner are the same as a Navarin and an Irish Stew. One tastes good and one doesn't  :biggrin:.

1. Art is not math.

2. Art is not what you decide is good.

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Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

Been here, done that.

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

Oh wendy, i'm baaack!

Edited by jaybee (log)
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Great art is a function of great technique applied in a special way, or it's a matter of opinion. I do not see how it can be both?

Great art may, or may not be a matter of opinion, but it's certainly more about idea than technique. The technique may have to be good enough to carry forth the idea, but it's a means more than an end. Great food however, just needs to taste great. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Craig - Well I don't see how you can disagree with me and then say number 2. Great art is a function of great technique applied in a special way, or it's a matter of opinion. I do not see how it can be both?

I guess that is my point - it is all subjective. Who had better technique Pollock or Rembrandt? The results and the technique are certainly different, yet each has his proponents. So for me it is both as the final appreciation of art is a personal experience.

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Craig - Funny you should ask that question as I am writing this from Amsterdam after having spent the morning in the Rijksmuseum. If Rembrandt and Pollack are arable I do not know how to do it. But there were loads of Dutch painters we saw today that didn't have technique as good as Rembrandt's and I don't think it was subjective at all. Or how about Vermeer? He might have had better technique then Rembrandt but he didn't paint dramatic paintings, i.e., didn't apply his technique in a way that would make him as well known as Rembrandt.

Bux - Well I said that didn't I? I said "applied in a certain way."

I think we get sidetracked when we hold up too very disparate things and say aha, see, its all subjective because they cannot be compared. Because someone much smarter then I could find the common deniminator between Rembrandt and Pollack and theorize why one had better technique. But I think that is a different task then comparing the complexity of natural juices versus enhanced etc. It's like the person who says they are content eating the perfect peach (okay it's Robert S.) As good as the perfect peach is, it is not dessert. Yes you can eat a peach for dessert but when I say dessert, I am defining it as something that is prepared by a dessert/pastry chef. A peach is a peach is a peach and when I go into a fine restaurant, I do not expect to be served a bowl of peachs and a knife. I can do that at home. When I eat out, I want to see technique applied to the appropriate item. Of course this doesn't describe every meal.

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Great art is a function of great technique applied in a special way, or it's a matter of opinion. I do not see how it can be both?

Great art may, or may not be a matter of opinion, but it's certainly more about idea than technique. The technique may have to be good enough to carry forth the idea, but it's a means more than an end. Great food however, just needs to taste great. :biggrin:

Steve- I don't agree, as you might have guessed. There is a vast difference between great technique applied in a special way and great art. Of course no food made for the primary purpose of consumption can be great art but if we limit this discussion to art, technique is only tangential to the merit of a piece of art. I'm not saying anything you don't already know and agree with. Great art is art whose ideas have influenced other artists. How it is perceived by the viewing public is the cultural aspect of its creation. The opinion part is the sticking point in any argument like this because, oftentimes, the ideas that are communicated by the work are not absolutely clear and so the discussion as to what they are begins. Furthermore, there are instances where great technique is the kiss of death for the work.

Bux- You're beginning to sound like Jim Leff :shock: with his deliciousness is deliciousness mantra. Yes, great food has to taste great but, at least for me, I wouldn't say JUST has to taste great. But, yes, I certainly would agree that great art is more about idea than technique. As a matter of fact, seeing someone other than me write that here makes me mist up with pleasure. :biggrin:

Edited by stefanyb (log)
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Or how about Vermeer? He might have had better technique then  Rembrandt but he didn't paint dramatic paintings, i.e., didn't apply his technique in a way that would make him as well known as Rembrandt.

As good as the perfect peach is, it is not dessert. Yes you can eat a peach for dessert but when I say dessert, I am defining it as something that is prepared by a dessert/pastry chef. A peach is a peach is a peach and when I go into a fine restaurant, I do not expect to be served a bowl of peachs and a knife. I can do that at home. When I eat out, I want to see technique applied to the appropriate item.

Out of respect for the angels, but with difficulty, no comment on the first quotation.

On the second, yes, it is dessert to some. You use the article "I" seven times in explaining why you believe that it is not. Telling.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Your phrase was, "It is not dessert". The definition you went on to make included the seven "I's".

It is the last course in many meals served in many places. In Italy, a dessert is usually called "dolce". Fruit is usually called, unsurprisingly, "frutta".

In common usage, the phrase most often heard is, "What's for dessert?", not "What's for a dessert"? The answer could be fruit, a sweet, a complex multi-technique-applied creation of the mind and hand, or something else. So while I appreciate your admonishment that the distinction is not a small one, you may rest assured that I am aware of that, as well as many of the other linguistic stick-pokings that stand in for information, education and learning.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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A restaurant I like in Rome a lot is 'Dal Bolognese' a very smart restaurant, with very good people-watching. One of the nicest things about it is that for desert you can just have a bowl of fruit. Maybe a large bowl of cherries in crushed ice. This is almost the perfect desert. It is very difficult to improve on a cherry. At the Louis XV in Monte Carlo when he was on his way up and at two stars, there was a pudding of poached cherries on a sort of granita of cherry. That was better than a perfect cherry on its own, but not by that much. When you go to a good Japanese restaurant, the standard pudding is just some sliced fruit. But if the fruit is very good, the sliced fruit is very good. It's just absurd to say that a peach needs to be poached and sliced and coated in a sauce or pureed and then deep-fried to be a good pudding.

Only the French have this bizarre idea that complexity == good. (Amongst others).

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Great art is a function of great technique applied in a special way, or it's a matter of opinion. I do not see how it can be both?

Great art may, or may not be a matter of opinion, but it's certainly more about idea than technique. The technique may have to be good enough to carry forth the idea, but it's a means more than an end. Great food however, just needs to taste great. :biggrin:

Bux- You're beginning to sound like Jim Leff :shock: with his deliciousness is deliciousness mantra. Yes, great food has to taste great but, at least for me, I wouldn't say JUST has to taste great. But, yes, I certainly would agree that great art is more about idea than technique. As a matter of fact, seeing someone other than me write that here makes me mist up with pleasure. :biggrin:

I'll take your word for what Leff says. I don't have enough long term experience reading what he says ro know his habits. On the other hand, I find Plotnicki's writings on food worth coming back to read each time. My reference to delicious in this case is more inreference to a past discussion with Steve about whether Adria's food is delicious in the way that Robuchon's food is.

A painting must rise above being good looking and being well made, for me to think of it as art. For food to be art to me, it must also rise above just being great food--that is tasting great and being well made out of good ingredients--and repesent some intellectual level of challenge. My suspicion here is that my use of "great" is misleading. It's like when I order a beaujolais and the waiter asks how it is and I say "fine." Both of us understand that I'm not talking about a fine wine.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Look I just don't find the serving of fresh fruit a legitimate dessert for a restaurant. That isn't the reason I go out to eat. My grandmother can serve me a bowl of perfect cherries No reason to go to Bolognese and pay a premium. Of course this doesn't detract from the fact that a bowl of cherries is a great thing. But let's not let semantics get in the way of the definition of dessert in the way it is being used in this thread.

Stef - To add to my last post. There are many works of art that are great ideas that are crap art. If only ideas alone could do it.

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There are many complex desserts that are full of ideas but crap anyway, and I'm not sure why I've bothered to say that obvious thing here.

It would be rare for me to order a fresh fruit for dessert at a fine restaurant, but I don't think it's wrong to think of it as a legitimate dessert anyplace. I'd also be reluctant to order raw oysters at a three star restaurant although that's how I prefer my oysters. When it comes to what I want in a fine restaurant, it usually includes the talents of the chef and his kitchen which I feel I'm not getting with a raw oyster or a raw peach. Then again sometimes I've had too much savory food and all I can think of is a simple sorbet or piece of fruit.

No matter what I like, I think it's legitimate for a fine restaurant to serve fresh fruit as a dessert choice and apparently so does Passard. I vividly remember seeing the waiter carefully peel and prepare a fresh pineapple for another table. My eyes were riveted on the spectacle of his removing all the eyes in one continuous carving. I wondered who the hell would order fresh pineapple when they could have had one of the more original and interesting desserts, but I was pleased to watch the show at another table. Of course Arpege had only two stars then and may no longer serve raw pineapple. Perhaps that's the second thing a restaurant does when it gets a third star. Maybe all bottles of wine under 50 bucks go off the list and then they 86 the raw fruit. I think they could already smell the third star that night. The sommelier was pushing 25 dollar wines as if they had to go.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Sometimes I wonder why statements I make are taken as if they happen 100% of the time? Because in no way am I saying it is impossible for, or that a 3 star restaurant ever served raw fruit because I am sure they have. But then again, if what they were about was serving raw fruit they wouldn't have pastry chefs. And I find the serving of that pineapple to be more about the service (peeling) then anything else. And I'm not discounting the fact that a chef might include a raw fruit course as a dessert course. But in my vernacular, if all a restaurant did was serve fresh fruit for dessert, or even ice cream, I would refer to them as not really offering dessert. And I feel the same way as Bux does regarding the raw oysters. It's not that I wouldn't ever think to order them, it's just not the reason that I go to those types of places. In fact I am having a hard time seeing why anyone would pay those prices for fruit at a restaurant.

Actually, I don't think that not serving fresh fruit is a failure of haute cuisine. Do you?

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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I think it is perfectly reasonable for 3-star restaurants to serve some things completely simply. A non-exhaustive list include oysters and other raw shellfish, cheese and wine (:biggrin: ). I don't see why fruit should be excluded.

Anyway sometimes I am not physically capable of eating anything except some fruit afterwards. :sad:

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I do often go to restaurants and eat like that. Michelin does not give 3-stars to restaurants that serve simple food. But some of the best meals I have had have been of very simple food -- not much more elaborate than the meal you describe. Would I pay 300 euros per person for the food? No.

We are in danger of going in a circle here -- we agree that haute cuisine is elaborate or complex in general -- though there are some traditional exceptions -- cheese, green salads, perhaps ice-creams, perhaps oysters. My point, in as far as I had one, was that fruit seems a reasonable addition to the list of things that could or should be served in elaborate restaurants in very simple ways. And my personal opinion was that it sometimes can be very nice to have just fruit at the end of a complex, rich and sometimes indigestible meal.

As to whether simpler food is better or worse than complex food, that is another question.

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As to whether simpler food is better or worse than complex food, that is another question.

It is not a question with any meaning. It cannot be answered. The only question you can ask is "Does this food serve the purpose that I have for it and for which it is designed?"

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