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High Standards


jaybee
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I think if you take Lxt's example too far, and say that price is a completely accurate assessment of value, it gets a little strained. We can all come up with loads of exceptions. Fat Guy's favorite one is the price of filet mignon being higher then strip steak while strip is a superior product. And Gavin tries to complicate it futher by showing that if we compare a peach to the theory of evolution or gravity, we can really get into trouble. But as Lxt has said, that when you are comparing like things, in this instance all peach desserts, you aren't comparing apples and oranges, er, peaches. So if you look at Jaybee's little example, why would people pay more for Peach Melba if it didn't offer something more then a plain peach? And might I add, that the thing it offers is additional complexity over just the naked peach.

Peach Melba

What is the argument against this other then "I don't like it?" Because clearly restaurants offer Peach Melba, or like dishes all of the time. They rarely offer fresh peaches unadorned, unless of course like Robert S. says you are talking about Italy. But even in Italy, unless you are in a simple tratorria it is likely your dessert will be prepared and not just fresh fruit. How can anyone say that a plain peach is "better" when the evidence shows that people aren't asking for them and are at the same time willing to pay twice as much for a prepared peach dessert?

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The comparison was between different scientific accounts of the same phenomenon.

But what is the argument:

We've offered

1. Examples where certain additional complexity clearly reduces desirability/value &c. Peach with asafoetida sorbet.

2. Examples where any additional complexity reduces desirability/value:

Perfect fruit, cheese, Pata negra ham are 3 possibles.

The fact that restaurants might/might not sell these shows what?

I would be stupid to go to a restaurant for a great peach. I have however driven across Southern Illinois looking for a great peach. Which is a greater economic cost than I would consider paying in a restaurant for dessert.

Edited by Gavin Jones (log)

Wilma squawks no more

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I would be stupid to go to a restaurant for a great peach.

Why is that?

That's the clincher to the whole argument. I don't want to go to a restaurant and have a plain, perfect peach for dessert. I can, with some care in shopping, buy a perfect peach. When I eat out, I want the restaurant to cook for me -- I want to get the perfect ingredient cooked perfectly -- isn't that the restaurant's reason for being? I want to see how they transform a perfect ingredient into something even better tasting, and all that (complexity, complementariness) is how they do it.

I once went to a Japanese restaurant where there was a little grille in the center of the table and diners were expected to cook their own raw ingredients. I was outraged. I cook at home all the time. When I go to a restaurant, I want them to cook for me, and show me all the craft they have.

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If I have a choice between buying close to direct where I can select a peach with limited transport for the peach I think I'm likely to get a better peach than one that has passed along a longer delivery system to get to the restaurant and then been selected for me.

Not impossible, of course, to get a great peach in a restaurant, but the brief nature of the maturity of the peach before descending into bruised senility means it's tricky to do well in a restaurant.

I recall Alistair Little explaining something similar about pears.

Edit: And of course Toby is completely to the point.

I should just have left my stupidity out as it doesn't clarify anything.

The point was more that the economic value of the peach is likely larger for me (An hour's drive & so on) than that of the restaurant dessert, no matter how complex.

Edited by Gavin Jones (log)

Wilma squawks no more

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During the summer I have access to great-tasting, picked-the-day-before heirloom tomatoes, and I eat them all the time; usually sliced up with a little salt and olive oil, or else just popped in my mouth (the cherry tomatoes). I had the same tomatoes, at about the same degree of freshness, in a dish at Blue Hill called Tomatoes! A variety of different colored, contrasting-flavored and textured tomatoes were sliced up along with a small scoop of watermelon sorbet and there was some citrus flavor in the dressing. It totally enhanced the deliciousness of the tomatoes, bringing out their lusciousness and perfectly balancing sweetness and acidity.

Actually, restaurants that make a point of having good suppliers usually have easier access to better ingredients than individuals do.

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A prepared dessert may be 'better' to people who prefer a prepared dessert, just as plain fruit may be 'better' to people who prefer that. We cannot say which is 'better' - we can only prefer one over the other.

Opinion is used to refer to matters of taste, belief and judgment. However, it depends on what definition of opinion you have in mind. For example, you may ask a friend about your new car to which he would reply that it is ugly. In this case, it would be foolish not to challenge his opinion, for it’s obvious that by opinion he means his personal preference. What you disregard is another use of opinion which is based on objective judgment and which forms standards that are there to follow, accept and learn from. For instance, consider when the Supreme Court has delivered its opinion in a controversial case. Obviously the justices did not state their personal preferences, their mere likes and dislikes. They stated their considered judgment at which they arrived after thorough inquiry and deliberation. Their decision was based on following certain standards, rules and regulations that allowed them to achieve a judgment that can be objectively validated.

I still haven't seen it written anywhere - and by that I mean, as a law or rule - except here on Egullet, that a prepared fruit dessert is better than plain fruit.

Do you really believe that Supreme Court justices do *not* state their personal preferences? What about the likely scenario of the overturning of Roe V. Wade - will not personal preference likely influence the decision?

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Two different things. One might want their personal preference and the eventual conclusion to reconcile. But how one gets there is an objective evaluation. The Supreme Court Justices, hopefully, use an objective analysis to reach their conclusion. When they don't, say as in Gore vs Bush, it's transparent that they have contorted the objective analysis in a way that has eliminated objectivity and nothing is left but preference. So when Toby says that the addition of those outside elements improved the heirloom tomatoes by bringing out acidity and sweetness that wouldn't be as prominent when serving simple sliced tomatoes, she is assessing it objectively. She might not even like it that way. But that doesn't change anything because she is describing the attribute, not her like/dislike of it.

But I am willing to take it a step further and say, show me an example where the value added to those tomatoes isn't considered "better" by gourmets at large. And then Lxt jumps in and says that if gourmets at large accept this premise, doesn't that validate the use of the word "better?"

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Four dimensions: context, price, value, pleasure.

perfect peach: $4.50 in restaurant: bad price/value = - pleasure.

perfect peach: $.50 from fruit stand: good pice/value= + pleasure.

peche melba: $8.50 in restaurant: good price/value = + pleasure.

peche melba made badly at home: bad price value = - pleasure.

perfect peach vs perfect peche melba: pleasure = if all other things =

Having eaten the perfect peche melba, does Yvette no longer appreciate the perfect peach? If so, shame on Yvette.

Edited by jaybee (log)
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I can't think of a single instance where something being less complex has more value or is considered better then something more complex.

Several people, including myself, have given examples of complex food combinations that are disgusting.

Several other examples spring to mind. Simple instructions for your VCR are better than complex ones. A simple design for most practical items (engines, assault rifles, blenders, etc.) is usually preferred (less likely to break down). Simple theories are preferred to complex ones in science.

Edit: I see Gavin Jones beat me to it and with greater wit.

Edited by g.johnson (log)
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All this talking about peaches, in the middle of this cold winter, has reminded me of one of my favorite passages from MFK Fisher (in The Gastronomical Me), where she writes about one of the best meals she ever had, when she was a child.

"I forgot what we ate, except for the end of the meal. It was a big round peach pie, still warm from Old Mary's oven and the ride over the desert. It was deep, with lots of juice, and bursting with ripe peaches picked that noon. Royal Albertas, Father said they were. The crust was the most perfect I have ever tasted, except perhaps once upstairs at Simpson's in London, on a hot plum tart. And there was a quart Mason jar, the old-fashioned bluish kind like Mexican glass, full of cream. It was still cold. ... Father cut the pie in three pieces and put them on white soup plates in front of us, and then spooned out the thick cream. ... And we ate the whole pie, and all the cream ... and then drove on sleepily toward Los Angeles, and none of us said anything about it for many years, but it was one of the best meals we ever ate."

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Several people, including myself, have given examples of complex food combinations that are disgusting.

You haven't given examples of complexity, you have given examples of things that are bad. There is no current use of the word complex in food or wine where it means bad. And while you might say that I am just speaking shorthand when I say that, I point out, that when you say that you are just arguing semantics. If we can't agree on the language to have this conversation, and I submit that my offering the commonly held verbiage as being acceptable language, I don't see how we will ever get past the semantics.

Nobody goes to a restaurant to have grape jam mixed with fish soup. So that example is meaningless and doesn't prove anything. And to call that pairing "complex" is sort of disingenuous. But people do eat fish soup with rouille. And some rouille is thickened with flour and some with grated boiled potato. Those two things are worth comparing and indeed, we can create a hierarchy of which one might make the rouille a better accompaniment for your soup. Tis the same for the peach/peach dessert. People go to restaurant to eat desserts and peaches in all their glory, in any configuration, are acceptable desserts so they are fodder for the discussion.

As to whether simple instructions to a VCR are preferrable over complicated instructions, I concur. But the same doesn't hold true for food and wine. Complexity, whether it is in texture or in taste or both, is the key to quality. The wine that lasts the longest, so it has time to develop tertiary flavors, and which has the longest finish, is the most valued wine. So as Lxt says, so many people agree with this (in fact almost the entire market for fine wines) that to argue that "complex" or "better" mean something other then this doesn't really make any sense. Those phrases have commonly accepted definitions.

Let me ask you, since I know you and Yvonne are both fans, isn't the reason that you like the pasta tasting menu at Babbo so much because they are more complex pasta dishes then you are usually served, or maybe that you have ever seen? Isn't the progression of textures and building flavor complexity over the meal what makes it special (mind you I've never had it but I can tell from reading people's reviews?) Why isn't Mario just serving plates of steamed penne with tomato, mozz and basil? Or spaghetti and meatballs. I love both of those dishes. Why not just serve them? Or why is the food at Babbo a certain way, at Lupa a different way, and at Otto a third way, and at the Paninotecca a different way? What distingushes those restaurants from each other? Isn't it levels of complexity?

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There is no current use of the word complex in food or wine where it means bad.

This helps me enormously. I now know that everytime I see complex written I should really just read good. (And for simplicity less good).

This makes the argument transparent - vacuously trivial, maybe - but comprehensible.

Wilma squawks no more

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That's a great quote from a great writer, Toby. The pie in question also fits into the simple/good box, as does so much of Fisher's subject.

Actually, I just love that story and all the talking about peaches reminded me of it.

But, peach pie is less simple than a plain peach. You have the contrast of the juiciness and smoothness of the peach with the buttery, flaky/crumbliness of the pastry crust, and then the contrast (same but different) of the cold cream, with its different quality of richness/fattiness than the butter (or lard) of the crust. And the cream mixes in with the juices from the peaches and the changes the texture of parts of the crust.

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Several people, including myself, have given examples of complex food combinations that are disgusting.

If we can't agree on the language to have this conversation, and I submit that my offering the commonly held verbiage as being acceptable language, I don't see how we will ever get past the semantics.

Absolutely. So lets go with the OED.

1. Consisting of or comprehending various parts united or connected together; formed by combination of different elements; composite, compound. Said of things, ideas, etc. (Opposed to simple, both here and in sense 2.)

2. Consisting of parts or elements not simply co-ordinated, but some of them involved in various degrees of subordination; complicated, involved, intricate; not easily analysed or disentangled.

So the disgusting food examples do fit the definition of complex. I am quite happy to acknowledge that complexity is often regarded as a good thing. However, it is not always a good thing.

The problem is that you wish to use complexity as an objective measure of the quality of a cuisine. But if you also insist that complexity necessarily means quality, assessment of complexity ceases to be objective. So you have two choices. Either use ‘complex’ in the dictionary sense, when it tells us nothing of the quality of the food. Or use it in your sense when it ceases to be an objective standard.

Let me ask you, since I know you and Yvonne are both fans, isn't the reason that you like the pasta tasting menu at Babbo so much because they are more complex pasta dishes then you are usually served, or maybe that you have ever seen?

Not entirely. The Batali pasta dish that Yvonne has liked most is a simple spaghetti with olive oil, black pepper and pecorino at Lupa.

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There is no current use of the word complex in food or wine where it means bad.

This helps me enormously. I now know that everytime I see complex written I should really just read good. (And for simplicity less good).

4 + 5i. A good number, I think.

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Now I'm really confused. If we all agree on what complex means, it becomes an objective standard. How do we lose objectivityy by doing that? And I asked about the pasta menu at Babbo, not Lupa. Take the pasta dish that Yvonne likes at Lupa and serve it at Babbo and then see if it is still the favorite. And let me ask the follow-up question to that, and I make no assertions about anyone by using this example. What is the difference between liking the pasta at Lupa better and not knowing that it isn't better? And I have to go out to a metting now so I'm offline for a few hours.

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But you've moved the argument away from comparing the perfect uncooked peach to a peach dessert. If you just talk about the difference between eating the peach in it's unmanipulated natural state and doing something to that peach (no matter how simple or complex), than the doing something has immediately added complexity. (In comparison to a raw peach, a peach pie is very complex.) Whether what you did to the peach is an improvement or not depends on your skill, imagination, quality of other ingredients, palate, place. We're all inspired to cook by the desire to taste what that added complexity does to the original ingredient. To get back to the original question in this thread, if the cooking and/or combining (complexity) is delicious, than I'm happy; if done poorly, then I'm not.

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The Supreme Court Justices, hopefully, use an objective analysis to reach their conclusion.

Dream on. You can't ask idealogues to be objective. It's unrealistic. Hmmmm. I wonder if the Court's process in reaching an opinion could be a metaphor for how certain people arrive at their "objective" opinions about cuisine?

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Now I'm really confused. If we all agree on what complex means, it becomes an objective standard. How do we lose objectivityy by doing that?

If we use complexity in the dictionary sense we can asses it objectively – count the number of ingredients, the number of preparations steps, etc. If, however, we use your definition, then we have to make a judgment of whether the the additional ingredients and steps improve the dish. And that is a subjective judgment.

And I asked about the pasta menu at Babbo, not Lupa. Take the pasta dish that Yvonne likes at Lupa and serve it at Babbo and then see if it is still the favorite.

Just saying that of all the pasta dishes Yvonne has had at both Babbo and Lupa, the simplest happens to be the one she has liked most.

What is the difference between liking the pasta at Lupa better and not knowing that it isn't better?

Why do you assume that the pasta at Babbo is better when it doesn't taste as good in this instance?

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