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High Standards


jaybee
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I am using "better" in the sense of Steve Plotnicki's latest post, "reasonableness" rather than "objectivity".

Congratulations to Jonathan for surgically extracting a useful idea from the inflated verbiage of this thread. Persistence has its rewards.

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

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we seek to dilute (lessen) natural flavours all the time; this is one of the principles of cooking.

Actually, Steve, I agree with LML on this one. This is a comment I had intended to post on your pasta thread, but it may fit better here.

There are flavours that are simply too intense to be enjoyed in the state in which they arrive. They need a medium over which they can be diluted. A carrier.

Last December I bought a smoked duck breast (magret fumé) from an artisanal producer at a market in Théoule. The flavour was good -- richer and deeper than the usual smoked duck -- but it was very intense and rather salty. It was simply too strong served in thin slices, as a salumi.

I ended up shaving off a number of slices, then cutting these into tiny ribbons, sort of a chiffonade, and serving this in a sauce with pasta. It was outstanding. You needed the pasta (it could have been rice, or another starch, but pasta worked well) as a vehicle over which that intense flavour could be distributed. Anchoiade (anchovies and garlic) is another example: in its natural form the tastes are too intense; they need to be spread over pizza or pasta or something like that. You can use a vegetable for this purpose -- broccoli à l'anchoiade is very good -- but sometimes a neutral carrier is better. Some tomatoes and tomato sauces are also too bright, too intense to eat on their own. This is a positive use for pasta!

in the future, some scientist will plot out what tastes good means on a piece of paper. Just like the chefs now are working on molecular gastronomy. At that time, taste will cease from being quasi-subjective to being even more objective, or inter-subjective as Jonathan says. And people who do not naturally like certain tastes will learn how to acquire them. The same way that kids who might not naturally take to geometry still learn it and pass their finals. But instead of the repitition method which Jeffrey Steingarten so humorously writes about in his book (he says if you force yourself to eat something ten times in a row you will learn to like it,) there will be methoology for teaching a hierarchy of tastes and flavors to people. Now that would be a worthwhile exercise for the Ferran Adria's of the world to undertake. The ulitmate codification of a hierarchy of flavors and how they affect us.

This is a great aspiration. And I'll take it a step further: we would have more of a common language for describing tastes, words that we can use to describe flavours, and menu composition, and the like, so that when one person writes about a meal the other has a better chance of understanding what it was like.

Intersubjectivity again. The third "i" in Plotnickiism.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Gee that's funny, I must have eaten meat something like, 5000 times in my life. I'm pretty sure that I have experienced the following;

raw meat - no natural juices, hardly any flavor

properly cooked meat - natural juices released, maximum flavor

well done meat - no natural juices as they have dried out, less flavor

Which is an object lesson on the unreliability of anecdotal evidence.

So I'll repeat; raw meat juice or serum is as you rightly say virtually tasteless. However, when the meat (muscle) is heated the fibres contract and the serum is forced out of the muscle. This serum (along with the exposed surface of the meat and fats) then undergoes a series of complex browning reactions as the proteins are denatured by the heat. Hence a moist rare steak is red and moist in the middle but well done on the surface. The flavour you describe we can put down to the browning reactions, but the moisture is serum that remains within the muscle. Now, if we continue to heat the meat more and more, eventually all the serum will escape, hence the driness of well done meat. As the serum arrives at the heat source it reacts by browning and creats yet more flavour bearing compounds. Thus, well done meat has less serum within it but much more denatured serum on its surface and as we know, protein denatured by heat is what differentiates the flavour of cooked steak from raw; quod erat demonstrandum

Edited by Lord Michael Lewis (log)
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As for individual taste, I had a friend who only liked beef extremely well done, dried out, tough, leathery, what a big waste, right? He was wrongNo, he wasn't wrong. If he likes dried out beef, he likes dried out beef (unless he's lying to you). I guess that makes him unusual, but he's not wrong. I doubt that he could persuade you or me to habituate our palates until we agreed with him  :raz:

(This has shades of the dietary restrictions argument). Your friend wasn't "wrong" if he just kept his eating overcooked dried out beef to himself. But if he influenced others (his kids for example) by telling them this is how beef should be eaten, then he is wrong. I've a good friend who is a major foodie. He was brought up in a household where the meat was cooked to a frazzle. To this day he eats his streaks at least medium and his burgers medium well. No juice, no redness or even pink. His parents did him a great injustice. His wife eats beef blood red, so one of their kids escaped the curse of the overcooker.

Dinner the other night with three eGers. One, who is of Vienese birth ordered her schnitzle very very dry. In other words, cooked to the consistency of a cracker. My veal was tender, moist and delicious. Cooking it to that degree would have ruined it for me. But that is a matter of what one is conditioned to enjoy.

However, there is no doubt that such overcooking destroys many of the flavors and tastes that are in the meat. The end result is a less than optimum taste. That is "wrong" if your goal is to get the best taste from what you are eating. Just to make sure, we're not talking morally wrong here. We're talking "mistaken, erronious, incorrect."

Isn't it wrong from a gustatory point of view if someone dumps 100g of salt on top of a dish, obliterating any taste that the food might have?

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However, there is no doubt that such overcooking destroys many of the flavors and tastes that are in the meat.  The end result is a less than optimum taste.  That is "wrong" if your goal is to get the best taste from what you are eating.  Just to make sure, we're not talking morally wrong here.  We're talking "mistaken, erronious, incorrect."

Isn't it wrong from a gustatory point of view if someone dumps 100g of salt on top of a dish, obliterating any taste that the food might have?

Isn't there a more or less codified body of instructions in French cuisine (and other cuisines, as well) on how to cook things so that they will taste "right"? -- that is, to get the best taste out of the ingredients. I understand that this can be relative in relation to cultural norms, but within each cultural group, aren't there some at least rough guidelines on how best to cook something that has been worked out through trial and error over time?

edit: If this is so, then can't we look at the people who've worked out these guidelines for some guidance as to what is right or wrong in achieving the best results for a particular ingredient?

Edited by Toby (log)
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But if he influenced others (his kids for example) by telling them this is how beef should be eaten, then he is wrong. 

Up until high-school I thought the name of the dish was steak medium well becuase that's how my father always said it. It was one word as far as I was concerned.

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Isn't it wrong from a gustatory point of view if someone dumps 100g of salt on top of a dish, obliterating any taste that the food might have?

Of course it is. But we need to avoid the error made above in comparing the $10 and $100 bottles of wine. It would be "wrong" to put that much salt on a dish, just as it would be "wrong" for a restaurant to give its customers nothing raw food and a stove and tell them to cook it themselves.

The extreme cases are easy. The difficulty lies in subtler comparisons. Is it "wrong" to order steak medium-rare? To serve a perfect peach, when this is the most suitable dessert after a complex dinner? (I don't think it would be "wrong", in either case).

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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The point  is that when we talk about right and wrong  we ALWAYS start from the automatic assumption that we are the right ones. Is anyone here pontificating about right and wrong as regards food opinion and "defective palates" and so on going to admit that in some instances THEY are the wrong ones and that THEIR palate may be "defective" in some culinary areas?

Where are you wrong and others right?

Well, here's an example:

I loathe blue cheese. Blue cheese in any form -- Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, even Cambozola, which every one else says is so mild it hardly counts. I'm not allergic to it because I can eat it when I have a bad cold and can't tatse it. But the taste, literally, makes me sick (I'll be polite here, but I mean literally). (Incindentally, everyone else in my family loves it, so it's not a learned reaction).

And yet I know, obviously, lots of people with very well trained and refined palates who like it, even love it. On other culinary matters, I agree with these people. I have come, over time, to conclude that in this matter, my palate is the one that's "off" (I won't say "defective").

The situation leaves me with the question of whether the blue cheese tastes the same to them as it does to me, and we simply disagree about the pleasurableness of that taste, or it tastes different to us. I lean toward the latter possibility because, quite frankly, I cannot conceive of anyone liking the flavor that blue cheese has for me. (To me, it tastes like vomit, and how can anyone like that?)

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Jaz your example does not alleviate my bemusement with the discussion. You say "I hate blue cheese". Why you hate it may well be of interest to you and your analyst but to anybody else it ain't too enthralling is it.

I can have two responses to you. I can either say-well I like blue cheese therefore my taste in respect of blue cheese is different to yours (we may well agree about lots of other foods).

OR I can say- well I like blue cheese---and what's more so do lots of other people whose opinion about food I respect. So I'm right and you're wrong.

I can't see how saying the latter makes me anything other than a prat.

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Not that I know what I am talking about here, but here's my 2 cents. I don't disagree with Steve Plotnick on the reasonableness and flavors relating to rare meat. But, as a person who's friends are mostly non-foodies, I had learned over the years that taste is at the end a 'subjective' matter, build and formed by each's own experiences. There was a study done many years ago that found that we are drawn to things that we are most familiar with, which became part of our 'taste'. Therefore, even if the taste is worng or unreasonable, should we make the person eat the right thing and be miserable?

Here are two examples: I recently took a friend to afternoon tea. The scones were fresh out of the oven, baked to perfection. Nice and crunchy on the outside and warm and moist on the inside. My friend hated it. "Too wet!" she complained. It then dawned on me that, having grown up with dry, stale shrinkwrapped scones from the local supermarket, she has come to think of scones as things that should be dry, tasteless and crumbly, eaten with lots of sugary jams- a concept I found utterly un-palatable, but she prefers it that way. She is probably 'wrong'. But, should she have stayed and eaten something that she didn't like?

Another time I was in Paris with a boyfriend who happen to eat a lot of chocolate, and decided to take him to Dubauve and Gallais, my favorite chocolatier on Rue Saint Pere. After sampling a few pieces, he pronunced that the chocolates were too bitter and not even half as good as his bag of Hershy's chocolate kisses and Nestles Crunch. Once again, should he have eaten the French chocolate and be miserable, simply because just about every foodie on this earth will agree that Hershey is inferior to Dubauve and Gallais?

As for the price/quality debate, I'm not sure if the market is all that efficient in food as in wine. I think a lot more goes into it such as marketing and scale. Case in point is some of these big restaurants such as Tavern on the Green or Cafe des Artiste, where my clients like to go because they heard so much about it. An entree will typically run between $20 to $35, and they are God awful. On my own, I'd prefer to go to places like Pearl or Mary's Fish Camp, where for a fraction of the price, you can have a more memorable meal.

Edited by Bond Girl (log)

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Thus, well done meat has less serum within it but much more denatured serum on its surface and as we know, protein denatured by heat is what differentiates the flavour of cooked steak from raw; quod erat demonstrandum

If there is no refutation from one or more of the members who knows absolutely everything, then lml's argument and its implications must be taken seriously and into account in this discussion.

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

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Jaz your example does not alleviate my bemusement with the discussion. You say "I hate blue cheese". Why you hate it may well be of interest to you and your analyst but to anybody else it ain't too enthralling is it.

I can have two responses to you. I can either say-well I like blue cheese therefore my taste in respect of blue cheese is different to yours (we may well agree about lots of other foods).

OR I can say- well I like blue cheese---and what's more so do lots of other people whose opinion about food I respect. So I'm right and you're wrong.

I can't see how saying the latter makes me anything other than a prat.

I think Jaz was offering an example of him being wrong and the rest of us being right. The only problem with this example is Jaz isn't pontificating about what's best and what isn't. Maybe you can't pontificate and ever ever admit to being wrong.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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I think Jaz was offering an example of him being wrong and the rest of us being right.  The only problem with this example is Jaz isn't pontificating about what's best and what isn't.  Maybe you can't pontificate and ever ever admit to being wrong.

Er....I'm not sure i understand your point here Hollywood. I've got a feeling our wires are crossed.

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Is anyone here pontificating about right and wrong as regards food opinion and "defective palates" and so on going to admit that in some instances THEY are the wrong ones and that THEIR palate may be "defective" in some culinary areas?

Where are you wrong and others right?

I wait with interest.

I think Jaz gave you an example of what you were looking for, but I don't see him pontificating. As for the psychosomatic details of being repulsed by bleu cheese...ah well.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Actually it probably isn't an example. All Jaz is saying is that he or she doesn't like blue cheese. In order to be "wrong", accordong to the right/wrong brigade, she'd have to say I prefer shrink wrapped pasteurised supermarket Cambozola to farm made organic unpasteurised Cambozola which can only be bought in very expensive cheese shops.

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Isn't it wrong from a gustatory point of view if someone dumps 100g of salt on top of a dish, obliterating any taste that the food might have?

An extreme example but even so I'd prefer to use 'eccentric' or 'ill-informed' and reserve 'wrong' for "2+2=5", "the earth is flat" and "Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo". That goes double for any less extreme example, prefering steak well done, say.

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Jaz your example does not alleviate my bemusement with the discussion. You say "I hate blue cheese". Why you hate it may well be of interest to you and your analyst but to anybody else it ain't too enthralling is it.

I can have two responses to you. I can either say-well I like blue cheese therefore my taste in respect of blue cheese is different to yours (we may well agree about lots of other foods).

OR I can say- well I like blue cheese---and what's more so do lots of other people whose opinion about food I respect. So I'm right and you're wrong.

I can't see how saying the latter makes me anything other than a prat.

I'm a little confused here. I was providing an example where I'm willing to say my palate is the one that's defective (I'm not crazy about the term, but I'll use it since it's the one you chose).

You're the one who asked for an example. I gave one.

But now you say my example is ...what, boring? Trivial? Meaningless? Not relevant?

Why did you ask for examples, then? Was it merely a rhetorical question? If it was rhetorical, what was your point?

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I see "wrong" in this context as a pragmatic shorthand, a reasonable way of explaining a broadly accepted standard for how something should be done.

Imagine yourself a novice cook, in your first week of culinary school. You are learning how to make brown stock. The chef-instructor explains that you should cook the stock at a slow bubble, so that it stays clear and so that the fat isn't emulsified into the stock. You bring the instructor a bowl of stock for evaluation. She notices that it's cloudy and that it tastes a bit scorched. "That's wrong," she says, "you cooked it over too high a flame."

Now at this point you could engage in a discussion about how you prefer your stocks cloudy or scorched and that therefore the instructor was using "wrong" in the wrong way. And from one perspective you would be justified. But you would learn more about cooking if you accepted the authority of the instructor and got on with the course.

That said, the "Smith, Jones and Wilson" problem I posed earlier is still with us. Unlike culinary school, or any institution, this is a conversation where the basis of authority is far from clear. We have no simple way to distinguish the gourmets from the non-gourmets, or to rank one gourmet above another. And there are sharp disagreements, even among the experts -- recall the long debate in Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef over the "right" way to make brown sauce.

So if we must use "right" and "wrong" here, it may lead to a more productive conversation if we put them between inverted commas.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I thought we were making progress this morning, but after attending a friend's daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and then going to the hockey game, I have returned to see you are all still mired in semantics. What I thought everyone was agreeing to this morning was that it is reasonable to use the words like "wrong" and "better" in certain instances. Here is an instance I thought we were agreeing to;

Jaz is wrong to dislike blue cheese

Now what I have just said is that she is (I was told Jaz was a she and apologies if that is erroneous) mistaken about disliking it. I haven't said she isn't entitled to dislike it. But I have said that either she lacks the palate to tell that it is good, or she has a physiological issue with being able to taste it. Whichever one it is, it is reasonable to call her wrong for the following reason. More then a sufficient number of people who I would consider knowledgable to the level of being expert about cheese like blue cheese. In fact such an overwhelming number of people like blue cheese that you won't see a cheese tray in a restaurant that does not have some kind of blue cheese on it. So the statistics are so overhwhelming in one direction that I don't see the argument that blue cheese is bad. Not that someone couldn't fashion one, but I don't see it. This is the point I believe Lxt was trying to make. The statistics on liking blue cheese are so overwhelming in one direction, it acts as an objective standard even though it isn't as perfect an equation as saying the world isn't flat and proving it.

So maybe people have misunderstood me all of this time, but I have been using words like "wrong" and "better" this way for the past year and a half. For example, a person who doesn't see that coal oven or wood burning oven pizza is a better quality product then the stuff you get at Ray's Pizza is wrong about it. And he also doesn't know anything about pizza. Pizza from a wood burning oven is just simply better then the stuff you get at Ray's. And despite the fact that what I just said isn't absolutely true, they are all reasonable ways to use those words when having a conversation among people who are knowledgeable about food. Why? Ask 100 people who are knowledgable about food about the pizzas and see what they tell you.

I just saw Jonathan's post and he has said something similar to this post. To add to that, I happen to think there are many words in food and wine that are shorthand among professionals and amateurs and we are constantly forced to argue the definitions of here. The discussion on this thread about complexity is a good example. Complexity in the food and wine industry always means better except for the rarest exceptions. The typical thing you hear is, why is wine A better then wine B? Invariably the answer will include a phrase like "has more complexity."Never will you hear anyone describe a bad wine as too complex. What they will says is it has off flavors. And to bring this full circle, isn't one of the reasons that heirloom tomatoes are considered "better" then Holland tomatoes is because they have more complexity? And if someone preferred Holland tomatoes to heirloom could they be anything but wrong about it? To me, those are all reasonable uses of those words.

Sometimes I think we try and reinvent the wheel here. There is already a rather large food and wine industry out there and they have adopted verbiage for certain reasons. For us to try and redefine a term like complexity, we better have a good reason and I don't see one. Or for us to argue things like Nestle's Quik is better chocolate then the Maison du Chocolat is absurd. But you see those arguments pop up on the board all of the time. Let's force people to prove what has already been established by the food industry. So if you want to say that a person who likes his meat cooked to the consistancy of shoe leather isn't wrong about it, you better show me a chef who thinks serving it that way delivers the best quality product. Because I dare anyone to find me a chef who prefers to serve it that way. And that is the standard that things need to be measured by. That is a reasonable standard. Saying that it is all a matter of opinion is unreasonable, because that means that Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate mix can be better then the Jacques Torres hot chocolate mix. That is simply not true.

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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Let's say that I don't like blue cheese because I don't like the taste. To some foodies, I am wrong. Let's say, however, that I don't like blue cheese because I am allergic to it. Am I suddenly not wrong, even though the outcome - I don't eat blue cheese - is the same?

And please show me the statistics that say an"overwhelming number of people like blue cheese", I'd really like to see them.

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Sure I've said them before. I am not fond of game and I don't like oysters. And I'm sure there are other things. Clearly I am missing the boat on those things aren't I? I mean how can I describe it any other way? Last week when we were at that fish stand in Lyon, I passed on eating the oysters those two guys offered us. My friend who ate two of them, went into a happy fit. Now here are three guys who are going bananas over the quality of the oysters. And from speaking to the other two, they knew their food. So what are the statistical odds that I see something about oysters (bad) that they don't see? Not very good in my book. So would it be wrong to describe me as "wrong" about oysters? I don't think so.

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I showed you the statistics. Every top restaurant has at least one blue cheese on their tray. Some have three blue cheeses on their tray. Of course that doesn't mean everyone has to like it. But then again.....

Maybe there is another issue that I haven't yet raised. I don't think there is a reason not to like any food. As long as a food is eaten by people who actually know and like food, I can't think of a reason why that food should be considered bad unless it is an isolated instance of some sort. Maybe food can be an acquired taste but, what is the argument for saying blue cheese is bad other then you don't like the taste? And that is describing preferrence?

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