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The Failure of Haute Cuisine


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

I think that a tendency towards over-complexity is a failure of haute cuisine; in fact this was one of the points that nouvelle cuisine was meant to address. I guess that not serving fresh fruit is at most a symptom of this problem; I wouldn't go so far as to call it a problem in itself.

(I can't get the quotes to work)

[Did I do what you wanted? --Bux]

Edited by Bux (log)
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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?"

That's slightly reductive, but i guess I agree. I was deliberately using 'thin, flexible' words like better and worse to point out how arbitrary the question is.

I think that a lot of the purposes that 3-star restaurants serve, probably not for people on this board, are about signifiers of wealth and social status as much as about the food. And very elaborate food is good for that, just as very expensive cars are, though they may not as good at going shopping in.

(figured out the quotes now)

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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.

Steve Plotnicki:

"Again this isn;t my assertion. But would you go to a 3 star restaurant that serves fresh oysters, a nice salad with dressing. a grilled steak and fresh fruit?"

My answer: No. I would consider paying 500 Euros for 4 people - as my family did at Grand Vefour for what really was a pretty cheap 3-star lunch - for such a meal to be a horrible, inexcusable ripoff.

To the quote from balex:

I would argue that cheese can itself be a quite complex blend of flavors. The chef may not have created that blend of flavors, but the diner benefits from his/her expertise in choosing what one hopes are superb examples of particular cheeses (just as the chef didn't grow the grapes or make the wine, normally speaking - and wine can be complex, too, or not). Also, while a green salad is itself more or less simple (depending on the presence or absence of various fresh flowers, e.g.), the vinaigrette can be complex - or not. I don't think that the sublime green salad with mushrooms and hazelnut oil that I had at Michel Vignaud (on my first visit there) was incredibly complex, at least not in terms of numbers of ingredients, but the fact that the substitute line chefs abjectly failed to duplicate it the second time demonstrates that, even in more or less simple preparations, balance of flavors and careful treatment of materials can be of very great importance.

I also think that while fresh fruit by itself doesn't seem to me like a haute cuisine item per se, a terrific fruit salad with wonderful sorbet, perhaps in a liqueur of some type or other, can be a splendid, refreshing dessert after a big gourmet meal. I know I ordered such a dessert somewhere on my trip to France last summer, but I forget where. Clearly, the experience of eating the fruit salad with sorbet was not as memorable as some other things, but it was very pleasant and satisfying at the time.

I will say this: I have a pretty strong memory of the macedonia di frutta con gelato that I liked to eat at my favorite gelateria in Siena. Was it haute cuisine? I guess not, considering that it was served in a place where you could get a triple cone of gelato for something like L. 4.000 in 1994. (The macedonia was considerably more, though I forgot how much. L. 12.500?) But it was great artisanal food, and had a blend of sweet and sour fruits and the different ice cream tastes I chose to have added to that wonderful blend of top-quality Italian produce. Of course, Italian food can't be haute cuisine anyway, right? :laugh: (Never mind, Steve, I'm not arguing that point with you and do understand the criteria you've been using.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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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.

I would argue that cheese can itself be a quite complex blend of flavors. The chef may not have created that blend of flavors, but the diner benefits from his/her expertise in choosing what one hopes are superb examples of particular cheeses (just as the chef didn't grow the grapes or make the wine, normally speaking - and wine can be complex, too, or not). Also, while a green salad is itself more or less simple (depending on the presence or absence of various fresh flowers, e.g.), the vinaigrette can be complex - or not. I don't think that the sublime green salad with mushrooms and hazelnut oil that I had at Michel Vignaud (on my first visit there) was incredibly complex, at least not in terms of numbers of ingredients, but the fact that the substitute line chefs abjectly failed to duplicate it the second time demonstrates that, even in more or less simple preparations, balance of flavors and careful treatment of materials can be of very great importance.

I think I was meaning more simplicity in terms of preparation and presentation; wine and cheese are as you rightly point out the result of some quite complex and highly evolved procedures and the result is a foodstuff which is very complex from a taste point of view. But the contribution of the restaurant beyond sourcing the stuff is minimal -- storing correctly at the right temperature, selecting, bringing to serving temperature. You can do all that at home. Similarly, though green salads in a 3-star restaurant can be very elaborate and have complex dressings, they also can be quite simple though in this case they are usually off-menu items made as a special request. My point being this is one of the socially sanctioned areas of simplicity in haute cuisine.

In fact as I understand it often the cheese is not selected by the chef -- he gets it from an 'affineur' (I think that is the right term)-- the person who stores and matures the cheeses I read an article a couple of weeks ago about a famous one of these (in the Tribune de Geneve) where he was saying very firmly that he selected the cheeses he supplied to restaurants ' I do not run a cheese shop'; and he supplied a long list of 2 and 3 star restaurants.

Edited by balex (log)
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The answer, I think, has to do with culture more than anything else. I see this question as being inextricably tied to Steve's last question about the relevance of Italian cuisine. Just as Italians have developed a culture antithetical to haute cuisine, the French restaurant was fully evolved at the time when restaurants such as GT and USC came about in NY (which, after all, was not all that long ago). In fact, NY used to be a lot like Paris, where a place as formal as La Cote Basque was an offshoot of Le Pavillion.

Just as Paris may indeed lack restaurants like Craft or GT (why do the Danny Meyer restaurants so frequently come up here -- is he a category unto himself?), NY lacks much of a bistro culture. Indeed, NY's casual neighborhood spots are invariably mediocre-at-best Italian pasta joints, while even a good neighborhood bistro can command top dollar (see, Etats Unis, Tocqueville, Red Cat etc., which I think are really American bistros).

But perhaps Paris will evolve. I think Leyoden's casual restaurant is an indicator of things to come.

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mogsob -- The Ledoyen casual restaurant that used to exist is no longer there. If we are addressing the casual restaurant on the lower floor, it did not exist at least as of May 2002. Might there perhaps be a new casual restaurant at Ledoyen? :blink:

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I think I was meaning more simplicity in terms of preparation and presentation; wine and cheese are as  you rightly point out the result of some quite complex and highly evolved procedures and the result is a foodstuff which is very complex from a taste point of view.  But the contribution of the restaurant beyond sourcing the stuff is minimal -- storing correctly at the right temperature, selecting, bringing to serving temperature.  You can do all that at home.  Similarly, though green salads in a 3-star restaurant can be very elaborate and have complex dressings, they also can be quite simple though in this case they are usually off-menu items made as a special request.  My point being this is one of the socially sanctioned areas of simplicity in haute cuisine.

In fact as I understand it often the cheese is not selected by the chef -- he gets it from an 'affineur' (I think that is the right term)-- the person who stores and matures the cheeses  I read an article a couple of weeks ago about a famous one of these (in the Tribune de Geneve) where he was saying very firmly that he selected the cheeses he supplied to restaurants ' I do not run a cheese shop'; and he supplied a long list of 2 and 3 star restaurants.

I see your point about simplicity now.

Your remarks about the affineur are fascinating, and I'd love to read that article if it's not yet archived and therefore possible for anyone to post a link to it. (And I do read French.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Your remarks about the affineur are fascinating, and I'd love to read that article if it's not yet archived and therefore possible for anyone to post a link to it. (And I do read French.)

Unfortunately it has been archived -- the only bit I could find is the introduction:

2. Maître Bernard Anthony affine les grandes pâtes pour les stars (88%)

Tribune de Genève, 21.12.2002, 834 mots

Ce fromager alsacien fournit douze « trois étoiles »! Portrait d´un artiste du lait cru. Bouille ronde, yeux en demi-lunes et sourire lutin, Bernard Anthony inspire d´emblée la sympathie. Et l´appétit aussi. Car nous voilà en compagnie de l´un des maîtr [...

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Bernard Anthony has been written up several times of late in American food magazines, the most recent that I remember is October 2000 Gourmet. As I posted previously, he presents reservations-only weekend degustations of cheese, bread and appropriate wines.

Bernard Anthony

17 rue de la Montagne

Vieux-Ferrette

03.89.40.42.22

eGullet member #80.

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Everything aside from Pierre Gagnaire's is a blur from the last time I was there (9/01), but I remember being taken to Asian restaurants whose food was not striving for star-dom, but was still very good and presented in a more personal fashion than traditional Asian dishes.

Please... any addresses? I live in Paris but I'm from Vancouver and my wife is Chinese and we find Paris' Asian restaurants to be--without exception so far--disastrous. Including Tan Dinh...

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Where else do you favour for dim sum in London? (Maybe this should be in another thread now).

I agree. I've moved the discussion of Chinese food in London over to the UK board where it will be on topic and likely to attract additional replies from those who have something to add on the subject.

See London not Paris for Chinese food in the UK and Ireland board.

Robert Buxbaum

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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.

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Bernard Anthony has been written up several times of late in American food magazines, the most recent that I remember is October 2000 Gourmet.

Anthony was written up in the December 2002 edition of Food & Wine as well, in an article entitled "Cave Man". Excerpts follow:

"In cheese-obsessed France, the role of the affineur, or cheese ager, is as essential as that of the cheesemaker. 'To put it at its most basic, the cheesemaker maeks the cheese, while the affineur gives it taste,' says Bernard Anthony, the cherubic affineur for such Michelin three-star chefs as Alain Passard, Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Senderens and Alain Ducasse."

Anthony also supplies J-G Klein at L'Arnsbourg.

Anthony's disciple Pascal Vittu is also pictured in the article.

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