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Jonathan Day

Are we likely to go the post-modernist way...

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eGullet's Vedat Milor (vmilor) proposed the following topic for discussion.

Quite a few contributors to eGullet forums have been discussing the elements of Haute Cuisine (HC)* and the relative merits of various national cuisines, especially French and Italian. In my mind, there indeed is a bifurcation in the world of HC today, but it is less along national lines than what I name Post-Modern and Renaissance schools. I believe this cleavage cuts across national borders and is also felt in major dining centers of the United States. Both of these schools can excel in what they do, and the best examples of each rightly get crowned with the maximum numbers of stars and toques. My concern is that, primarily due to economic factors, the post-modern school may gradually drive the Renaissance school out of the market or squeeze it into the margins. I would hate it if the pinnacles of HC all turn out sophisticated French "dim sum" at the expense of classic sauces (Albufera, Perigourdine and Bordelaise to name a few) and the best examples of rare game and fish dishes. Let me elaborate.

I call the first school "post-modern" because some of the more creative dishes prepared by the likes of Thomas Keller, Alain Passard, Ferran Adria, Marc Veyrat, Martin Berasategui, among others, bear very little resemblance to the dishes eaten otherwise universally, albeit, at their best, these dishes advance the limits of culinary esthetics. These dishes are often soft and creamy in texture in which flavorful mousses, gelees, ice creams (!) abound (hence pejoratively called "cuisine for the baby"). Post-modern chefs prefer to present their creations in a procession of small courses prior to the fish and meat courses. Although some final courses prepared by these chefs can be stunning in texture and titillate all sensations known to mankind (like bone marrow with caviar of Adria and baby venison chops with herbs of Passard before he earned his third star), it is not unfair to claim that the post-modern school excels more in the "pre-meat" and "pre-fish" courses than in the dishes just before cheese or dessert..

I call the second school "Renaissance" because the most gifted proponents of this cuisine, like Bernard Pacaud (L'Ambroisie in Paris), Gerard Rabaey (Pont de Brent near Montreux), Alain Ducasse, Philippe Chevrier (Chateauvieux outside Geneve), Santi Santamaria (Raco de Can Fabes outside of Barcelona), David Tanis, and Alfonso Iaccerdino (Don Alfonso near Naples) are not dogged traditionalists, but intent on subjecting traditional dishes to a rigorous re-evaluation. Some of the best dishes created by these chefs (such as Pacaud's wild duck torte, Chevrier's roasted woodcock, and Iaccerdino's fisherman's soup) look deceptively simple. But the truth is that these dishes often represent the culmination of an arduous and intelligently executed research process. The element of creativity in some of these dishes is expressed perhaps less in the main element of the dish (which is often a whole roasted meat or fish), but in the way the sides have been chosen, organ meats (kidney, heart, liver) separately cooked and artistically presented, and beautifully balanced sauces have been prepared without shortcuts. While some of the entrees prepared by these chefs (try Rabaey's frog's legs or Pacaud's raw scallops with white truffles) are mind blowing, it is fair to claim that this school excels more in the preparation of main courses.

I love both styles of cuisine and each has its place. (It is also hard to pigeonhole some chefs whose cooking combines elements of both, for instance Pierre Gagnaire and Hilario Arberaitz of Zuberoa near San Sebastian.) But it is hard to deny that the center of gravity nowadays is shifting towards Catalunya, San Sebastian, and the Haut-Savoie at the expense of more traditional places. Consequently, it is much harder for many skillful young chefs to resist the temptation of "creating" Post-Modern dishes. Economic considerations are driving this trend too. It is more profitable to concoct creative dishes based on cheaper ingredients and then top it off, say, with a frozen black truffle slice. It is also possible to name the dish after a sought after, rare ingredient, such as percebes (a barnacle fished off the Galicia coast) or abalone, and then use only a tiny bit of the rare ingredient in the final concoction and justify the practice in the name of "refinement."

The overall problem is that as more and more young chefs are imitating the market leaders of the Post-Modern school because it is more economical and a quicker road to celebrityhood, the consumers are losing in three senses of the term. First, the results are often mediocre because it is not easy to imitate the likes of Adria and Gagnaire, and superficial resemblance of textures often conceals qualitative differences. Second, we all end up paying very high prices because the chef is supposedly at the cutting edge. It is understandable to pay $500 for two at the French Laundry, but do you think your $490 at Elisabeth Daniels when you brought your own wine for the "truffle" menu that gave you some crumbs of black truffle with chi-chi dishes has been well-spent? Last but not least, are we bound to end up in a state where biting into a whole black truffle en croute with sauce Perigourdine will strike the gourmet commentators as an illicit act committed by less refined souls of the 19th century?

I am wondering if Renaissance cooking at its best will be able to hold its ground against the march of Post-Modernism. The cost of many dishes created by those chefs is simply going through the roof. Some of these time-tested dishes are very complex, and it has already been observed here that, as a matter of broad generalization, today's dishes in upscale restaurants are somehow less complicated and sauces are less ambitious compared to the gems of yesteryear. (See the thread started by Wilfrid: "Is Haute Cuisine Less Complex Than It Used to Be?" -- click here) Compounding the cost issue is the fact that some of the ambitious dishes, which require complicated sauces, can only be prepared for two or more people. Nowadays, it is getting rare even to have a couple agree on what to order. Add to this the trend towards "healthy" eating, and one may understand why many of these dishes for two or four are gradually disappearing from the menus. All in all, I am concerned that forces from different directions and industry dynamics are making it increasingly harder for the Renaissance chefs to hold their ground and prosper. For those of us how have been privileged to experience some dishes from these chefs, it would be a big loss if the most talented members of the next generation chefs all opt to go Post-Modern and do not follow the footsteps of more classic chefs. Let's hope that this will not be the case.

-----

*Three defining characteristics of HC come to my mind: "harmony," "optimality," and "flavorful." These characteristics can apply to a single dish in an exquisite meal, or to the whole meal. Harmony refers to a chef having an impeccable sense of balance and he or she strikes a good mix between different taste sensations such as sweet, acidic, salty, and so forth. Optimality refers to a certain state where if one takes away one element/ingredient in a dish (or one course in a meal), your taste buds may still be scintillating, but less so. Conversely, if one adds an element, the dish may become more "chic" but the taste may suffer. Last, flavorful refers to the quality of ingredients used and techniques utilized to bring out the best in them.


Jonathan Day

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

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It's ease of imitation and marketability that have given your Post Modernism its ubiquity. For every Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock there were hundreds who said, "I can do that".

Like it or not, Post Modernism is rooted in tradition and its best exponents are not only aware of, but have successfully produced Classic Cuisine. Unfortunately the media in general and certainly the dining public often lack this knowledge base and aren't able discern why an Adria is a genius and a Blumenthal is not. But the lack of any benchmark by which to judge them, other than a comprehensive knowledge of the classical repertoire, has provided an army of incompetent chefs with the loophole needed to surge forth and flood the dining rooms of major cities with their Cuisine of the Absurd. A similar thing happened in the eighties with Nouvelle Cuisine.

Denatured, out of season, artificiality are the hallmarks of this new breed of fashion chef. Show-offs, who can't fry an egg without separating the yolk from the white. It's all so pointless.

I hold out little hope for your Renaissance (shouldn't this be Neo Classical?) men, at least outside France, Spain and Italy. It is just not sufficiently media friendly enough. Who wants to write about doing things well, when they can write about Snail Porridge and making beetroot taste like blackberries with lots of scientific gobbledygook thrown in? I wonder if journalists will start writing about Food Technologists with the same gushing awe; after all, they've been responsible for turning natural ingredients into highly flavoured pap for years.

A recent casualty of the inexorable march of the Post Modern chefs has been London's Pierre Koffman, a shy and modest man who devoted his career to perfecting a repertoire of perhaps forty dishes and was at one stage holder of three Michelin Stars. If a chef of that calibre can't survive in a world-class city like London, what hope is there?

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While the above writings of vmilor and Lord Michael Lewis may seem applicable only to the food lovers who seek out the "Temples of Modern Gastronomy", the matters that they raise are at the heart of the present and future of restaurant-going from the mid-level up. My suspicion is that age is a factor as to how much one becomes alarmed at an impending loss of culinary heritage that is nearly universal in the western world: The demand for experiencing tried and true examples of culinary heritage is diminishing with each new generation as they pay homage to undertrained and mediocre chefs. While we have had many discussions during the past year on the state of dining that ranks higher than plebian, vmilor and Lord Michael Lewis have made me think about what is a loss of new additions to the canon of great and enduring dishes. I believe the Post-Modern chefs have contributed next to nothing in this regard, with their contributions being of the application of technique rather than those of a compositional one. Within the context of vmilor's thread, it would be interesting to hear your nominations of dishes (both savory and sweet or combination thereof) that have come from Post-Modern chefs that you think have "legs", or, if you want, argue that attempts to make specific, memorable dishes; i.e. tomorrow's classics" is no longer relevant or significant.

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Go to this news item in the Globe & Mail website and you will learn of an imminent gastrononomic development which will make this discussion irrelevant and destroy cuisine as we know it. This is not a joke, nor is it hyperbole. http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/GIS.Se...onary+molecules

(Note: to access the story John refers to, click "Next Story" once you've gone to this web page)


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Go to this news item in the Globe & Mail website and you will learn of an imminent gastrononomic development which will make this discussion irrelevant and destroy cuisine as we know it.

I don't agree with you -- This is Post Modern cuisine, as it is currently understood in the UK.

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"I don't agree with you -- This is Post Modern cuisine, as it is currently understood in the UK."

I think that you exaggerate. Much as you may dislike Blumenthal, this new molecular alteration is the road to making anything taste of anything else whatsoever -- the magic of Adria without any need for skill. We have not yet had a cuisine as totally artificial as computer graphics, but this will be it. In tandem with genetic engineering, it will not only redefine reality but also make *real* reality impossible to identify.

Of course the flavor technicians have long been at work, but this is a quantum leap.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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This seems to me a quantum leap in marketing. The article mentioned that you can add AMP to your coffee made of cheap ingredients but the aftertaste is like raw fish. So they may create the illusion for a short moment but not for long. Think of farmed fish and sterilized oysters. I don't think one needs to have eaten in great restaurants to appreciate the difference between, say, farmed sea bass and a bar from bretagne.

One still needs to address one question raised by Lord Michael: why is it that the renaissance/neo-classical school is not media friendly? Why is there little hope for the best of these neo-classical chefs outside of the mediterranean countries?

Also on a different note inspired by Robert Brown's comments. I had eaten at Chapel in 1985 and did not take notes. When I thought about it I fondly remembered all dishes but the desserts. I have eaten 3 times at El Bulli in the last 4 years and can only remember 2 dishes without looking at my notes. What is the significance of this fact?

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I don't insist that molecular alteration is by any means the most important part of this discussion, but I think one must take it more seriously. We have already reached the point where focus groups who were given real strawberries along with artificial strawberry flavor determined that the fruit "didn't taste like the real thing". I suspect that we're on the cusp of a development that will turn a difference of degree into a difference of kind.

And there I'm prepared to leave it -- until some gourmet of the future starts a "Molecular eGullet" website, in which the "e" is the alternative Latin "ex".

I had eaten at Chapel in 1985 and did not take notes. When I thought about it I fondly remembered all dishes but the desserts. I have eaten 3 times at El Bulli in the last 4 years and can only remember 2 dishes without looking at my notes. What is the significance of this fact?
Could it be because variations on the familiar are more easily remembered than the totally new?
Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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"I don't agree with you -- This is Post Modern cuisine, as it is currently understood in the UK."

I think that you exaggerate. Much as you may dislike Blumenthal, this new molecular alteration is the road to making anything taste of anything else whatsoever -- the magic of Adria without any need for skill.

This was not intended to be criticism of the individual, but rather, a criticism of the (food) culture that created him.

However, with a few minor alterations the link you posted would be indistinguishable from one of Blumenthal's Guardian columns. I would go further though and say that this particular take on post-modernism is worse than your scientists, because it does not seek to solve any particular problem. Instead, it is a pointless exercise in the means jusifying the end.

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We have not yet had a cuisine as totally artificial as computer graphics, but this will be it. In tandem with genetic engineering, it will not only redefine reality but also make *real* reality impossible to identify.

Of course the flavor technicians have long been at work, but this is a quantum leap.

I share John Whiting's concern. On the one hand, you could argue that "flawless flavour engineering" is simply the gastronomic equivalent of a CD-ROM: I can now listen to my favourite Bach concerto whenever I want it, and as many times. I don't have to wait for it to come to a concert hall, nor (going back a bit further) do I have to inhabit a stratum of society where musicians perform in camera.

Yet there is something sinister about this -- just as there is about the CD-ROM, but this seems far worse: the experience of food is divorced from any setting of care, conviviality, hungers satisfied.

Do you remember the scene in Terry Gilliam's film Brazil, where the characters ate in a fancy restaurant, looking at cards with pictures of duck, lobster, etc? Then the camera pans back to show them eating piles of green sludge. This technology opens up similar possibilities.


Jonathan Day

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

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. . .you could argue that "flawless flavour engineering" is simply the gastronomic equivalent of a CD-ROM
In more ways than one. Even in the classical world, digital editing made it possible for elderly musicians who had passed their sell-by date to be reconstructed, even with younger and more dextrous musicians playing the more difficult passages.

But that is in serious danger of going off-topic. Let me return by suggesting that more than one great chef may have had his reputation preserved by help in the kitchen from those who were actually more able than their illustrious front-man.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

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"Within the context of vmilor's thread, it would be interesting to hear your nominations of dishes (both savory and sweet or combination thereof) that have come from Post-Modern chefs that you think have "legs", or, if you want, argue that attempts to make specific, memorable dishes; i.e. tomorrow's classics" is no longer relevant or significant."

Given Robert's comments above, I re-read my post on the "21 best dishes" we had this fall in France. We went to 30 different restaurants and from that we composed a purely subjective and personal choice of what we considered the best based on the number one criteria, "Something, I would eat again in a minute."

What strikes me about the list is that most of the dishes reflect what vmilor characterizes as "Renaissance." They represent traditional dishes that have in vmilor's words undergone a rigorous re-evaluation.

The post I am referring to is reproduced below.

The dishes are presented in the order in which they were eaten i.e. they are not ranked. Also, as we ate at some restaurants three times and were able to sample many more dishes, there will be more dishes on the list from that particular restaurant.

1. Salpicon de rouget de roche and capres la wicchia, lard blanc colonnata, feuille de bar de linge mi-fume, deux variete de carottes -smoked bar underneath red mullet with bacon and carrot sauce (Gagnaire)

2. Oeuf coque a la puree de truffes - soft boiled egg topped by dark truffle mousse (Faugeron)

3. Frogs legs done beignet style on top of a parsley/garlic potato puree with garlic chips (Ledoyen)

4. Poularde de Bresse cuitre en croute de gros sel "selon Alexandre" - Bresse roasted chicken encased in a pastry shell (Georges Blanc)

5. Boeuf Charolaise Chateau au vin Fleurie et la moelle, pommes de terre a la forezienne- Charolais beef topped with beef marrow, red wine reduction sauce (Troisgros)

6. Canette de challans epicee et pickles d'eechalotes, pomme soufflees- Roast duckling, roasted shallots, "puffed" potatoes (Troisgros)

7. Lentil ragout with various vegetables with a slightly smoked poached egg surrounded by black truffles(Marcon)

8. La Brochette "Margaridou" - Croquette filled with lamb sweetbreads, morels and ham with black truffle sauce (Marcon)

9. Lamb cooked in bread dough with a small casserole of potatoes and cepes (Marcon)

10. Langoustine tempura with madras curry sauce and chutney (Rochat)

11. Rabbit cutlets served with haricot verts in a garden herb vinagrette (Rochat)

12. La Mousseline de Grenouilles - Mousse of pike filled with frogs leg meat, spinach, fine herbs in a butter cream sauce (Haeberlin)

13. Supreme of pigeon with truffles, foie gras, cabbage encased in pastry (Haeberlin)

14. Mille-feuille croquant de bricelets et d'oeuf poche sur un tartare de saumon mi-marine mi fume aux oeufs de harengs fume- a layered dish of salmon tartar, creme fraiche, a crisp, poached egg, herring eggs, a crisp (Haeberlin)

15. Mashed potatoes topped with black truffle slices (L'Arnsbourg)

16. Schniederspaetle et cuisses de grenouille oelees- frogs leg drummettes in a parsley, garlic sauce (Buerehiesel)

17. Roasted wild duck with a galette of potatoes layered with giblets (Boyer)

18. La Fameuse Truffle en Croute, avec la sauce Perigueux - a black truffle topped by foie gras encased in pastry with Perigord sauce (Boyer)

19. Filets of Rouget with cepes- crispy skin rouget with cepes duxelles mixed with a liquid mayonnaise sauce (Pacard - L'Ambrosie)

20. Lentils with black Truffles (Guy Savoy)

21. 1/2 Lobster served in its shell with vanilla sauce and black trumpet mushrooms (Passard - Arpege)

I disagree, in part, with vmilor's delineation of which chefs are "Renaissance" and which chefs are Post Modern. For example, Keller is firmly rooted in tradition. From the Soul of A Chef (Ruhlman) Keller says, "When you're trying to be inspired, where do you turn? My favorite dishes are very traditional dishes, sole Veronique, quiche Lorraine, daube of beef, the short ribs that we do." In his sole dish, Keller tries to keep "the integrity of sole Veronique, but ... given it a modern interpretation."

For me, this is what is missing in many of the "Post Modern" chefs of today - that underpinning of tradition, a respect for and knowledge of food. Too many young chefs have taken the genius of Adria and Gagnaire and become poor imitators. They seek innovation for innovation's sake or try to reproduce the technique and then think technique can overshadow taste.

I am hard pressed to come up with a similar list of "tomorrow's classics" from the avant garde chefs of today. There seems to be a succession of foams and jellies and mousses that can be pleasant or more than likely weird taste combinations that briefly flicker in your food memory bank. The excitement of cuisine, for me, will always be that first bite and then the feeling that you wish this wondrous taste would never end.

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We have not yet had a cuisine as totally artificial as computer graphics, but this will be it. In tandem with genetic engineering, it will not only redefine reality but also make *real* reality impossible to identify.

Of course the flavor technicians have long been at work, but this is a quantum leap.

I share John Whiting's concern. On the one hand, you could argue that "flawless flavour engineering" is simply the gastronomic equivalent of a CD-ROM....

Yet there is something sinister about this -- just as there is about the CD-ROM, but this seems far worse: the experience of food is divorced from any setting of care, conviviality, hungers satisfied.

I wasn't planning to add anything to this thread since I know very little about haute cuisine, post-modern, renaissance or neo-classical, but I do know something about taste buds and taste research. And I have to comment on that aspect of this thread.

This discovery is not that big a deal. Really. Researchers have been screwing about with the sweet and bitter taste pathways of rodents (and humans) for years. (They can't interfere with the salty and sour pathways, incidentally; those are too direct.) There are chemicals out there that neutralize sweet flavors as well. You can neutralize bitter flavors with salt, if you care to. You can turn your entire mouth numb and neutralize most flavors by chewing on a couple of cloves. The cyranin in artichokes makes other foods taste sweeter to many people. There's evidence that capsaicin may temporarily block our ability to taste sweet and bitter flavors. So what?

To assume that such research is the beginning of the wholesale destruction of cuisine as we know it is the quantum leap. The fact that a couple of chemicals can interfere with the cellular process that results in bitter tastes has nothing to do with "redefining reality." Taste and flavor "reality" is much, much more than a couple of neural reactions in taste cells. Our perceptions of flavor rely much more heavily on our sense of smell, which involves about a thousand receptor cells programmed by about a thousand separate genes. If you're envisioning a world in which we simply take some pills and all the sudden oatmeal will taste like coq au vin, it's not going to happen.

Here's what will happen with these newly discovered molecules: they'll be used in medicine to reduce the bitter taste and make them easier to taste. They might be used with some bitter vegetables to make them more palatable to children. And that's it. The thing is, most people who eat bitter foods like bitter flavors. I don't want my coffee free of bitterness -- that's part of its appeal. It's like drinking beer without hops -- I mean, what's the point?

Quite frankly, the development of natural and artificial flavors was much more potentially destructive to the world of cuisine than this research. (It's not like "flavor engineering" is anything new; it's been going on for decades. That's what MSG is all about, as well.) And flavor research is minor compared with the research on textures. Lots of work (and chemicals) go into making low-fat products, for example, feel like the full-fat versions.

But have artificial flavors and textures replaced real foods? Not for most of us. Everyone with moderately accurate taste perception knows the difference between artificial and real flavors, because real flavors are notoriously difficult to copy -- there are simply too many flavor molecules in anything with any complexity. And that fake sour cream might seem "creamy" for a minute, but it doesn't take long to notice the strange cloying quality it has.

If all those attempts haven't ruined cuisine, nothing will. Certainly not a molecule that blocks bitter flavors.

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The discussion is taking many unexpected turns for which I am grateful. Jaz' well informed intervention raised my hopes that maybe there are some limits to what one observer aptly named "cuisine of the absurd". At the same time I was thinking about Lord Michael Lewis' terse statements that some cultural contexts are more likely to be welcoming to denatured, absurd cuisine. He and Whiting are apparently residing in Britain, and they can talk with more authority about the situation there. As for this side of the Atlantic, perhaps Goethe was on to something in the poem "To the United States", whose opening lines read:

Amerika, Du hast es besser

Als unser Kontinent der Alte,

Hast keine verfallenen Schlosser....

America, you are better off/Than our old continent/You have no castles in ruins....

Well, of course many learned observers, including Tocqueville, cherished America for this unique historical heritage, and the thesis of what became known as "American exceptionalism" held the view that this is an exceptionally fortunate nation because of not having castles in ruins, because of coming to democracy without having to endure democratic revolutions.

But then comes a brilliant individual, Louis Hartz, whose contribution to the literature on American individualism is, according to Alfred Hirschman, (another brillant thinker) "a coup de theatre". Now I am quoting Hirschman who says that Hartz, in THE LIBERAL TRADITION IN AMERICA (1955) "....fully accepts the idea that the United States is uniquely exempt from feudal relics....His book is in effect a long lament about the many evils that have befallen the United States because of the ABSENCE of feudal remnants, relics and the like....Hartz' reasoning is basically very simple-this is why it is so powerful. Having been 'born equal' without any sustained struggle against the 'father', that is the feudal past, America is deprived of what Europe has in abundance, social and ideological diversity. But such diversity is one of the prime constituents of genuine liberty....What is still more serious, this lack of diversity stimulates the ever-present tendencies toward a 'tyranny of the majority' inspored by America's 'irrational Lockianism', or its 'colossal lIberal absolutism'."

Well, I suppose this lack of real diversity and market friendly absolutism is propitious ground for the triumph of post modernism which prides itself for its a-historical, artificial stance. It also jibes well with market economy a la American because it is scaleable, "easy to imitate and market" as M.L. put it. It will survive as long as the lights are on and the fad is in full swing.... and then in 10 years we will have something "new", possibly worse. What is more sad for me is to think that even Michelin is not immune to this influence as they picked on the most vulnerable in London (Kaufman) and possibly they are going to do the same thing in France too.

Vedat Milor

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I disagree, in part, with vmilor's delineation of which chefs are "Renaissance" and which chefs are Post Modern. For example, Keller is firmly rooted in tradition. From the Soul of A Chef (Ruhlman) Keller says, "When you're trying to be inspired, where do you turn? My favorite dishes are very traditional dishes, sole Veronique, quiche Lorraine, daube of beef, the short ribs that we do." In his sole dish, Keller tries to keep "the integrity of sole Veronique, but ... given it a modern interpretation."

Thanks Lizzie for taking the time and bringing those wonderful dishes to our attention.

May I ask who is Marcon?

Of course the best of the post-modern chef is rooted in tradition (see Lord Michael Lewis' first message in this thread). My problem is that after they become very famous, they start de-emphasizing these traditional dishes in favor of post-modern ones, like Veyrat. As for Thomas Keller, I certainly value his cuisine very highly. One problem is that you have to be a group of four in order for him to prepare his best classical dishes. Otherwise and because he is very generous, he sends two different things with each course, and if you split each dish with your spouse, you end up having one and sometimes half a bite of each dish. Of course the real problem is the cultural expectations within which the restaurant is embedded. He has to dazzle people. The typical reaction is: "I cannot remember what I ate there last night but, oh gosh, it was wonderful and so much..." On my part, both his daube de boeuf and short ribs are world class, and I wish they came earlier and in larger quantities.

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I would argue this "post-modern" is in fact "historicist" - think "Escoffier redux".

Pierre Koffmann (I think) once commented that classic haute cuisine was about turning food into something it was not in order to maximise the flavour eg purees, gelees, mousses, &tc. In contrast the postwar trend towards nouvelle cuisine and/or cuisine grand-mere was about maintaining the integrity of the ingredient, rather than turning it into something else, and making it taste as much of what it was as possible.

"Post modern" cuisine with its foams, mousses, gelees and ice-creams strikes me as a return to the principles of Escoffier rather than an attempt to do something new. Sure the flavour combinations are different, the science is more advanced but they're still trying to intensify the flavour by turning food into something it is not (eg foam)

cheerio

J


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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"Post modern" cuisine with its foams, mousses, gelees and ice-creams strikes me as a return to the principles of Escoffier rather than an attempt to do something new.  Sure the flavour combinations are different, the science is more advanced but they're still trying to intensify the flavour by turning food into something it is not (eg foam)

Nouvelle Cuisine was a reaction against the restrictive legacy of Escoffier, and in which the creative role of the chef was recovered. In fact, "post-modernist" Ferran Adria firmly roots his own cuisine in the ideals of this culinary seed-change; Los Secretos de El Bulli, p37; Altaya '97.

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. . . America is deprived of what Europe has in abundance, social and ideological diversity. But such diversity  is one of the prime constituents of genuine liberty....What is still more serious, this lack of diversity stimulates the ever-present tendencies toward a 'tyranny of the majority' inspored by America's 'irrational Lockianism', or its 'colossal liberal absolutism'.". . .

Vedat Milor

You've put the modern dichotomy within a more distant, inclusive perspective which, I think, makes the detail of this discussion sharper rather than blurring it. As Levi-Strauss demonstrated, even primitive societies have a complexity beyond that of "invented" modern social structures. Or as Oscar Wilde put into the mouth of a character commanded to deliver the truth, pure and simple: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple."


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Just a thought on the term “postmodern haute cuisine”: I find it curious that the chefs (for examples, Adria and Blumenthal) associated with that school are inclined to use scientists in their work. The postmodern literature I’ve read often criticizes the “traditional paradigm” crudely characterized as being scientific, quantitative and used to maintain the status quo. The postmodern approach is frequently aligned with an “alternative paradigm (hate the word)” which leans towards qualitative, and unscientific (in the traditional sense) ways of knowing. So, the juxtaposition of postmodern and scientific here stood out for me. Not sure what the implications are, if any.

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Yvonne, it is true that Adria and Blumenthal use metaphors of the "laboratory" and have worked with food scientists such as Hervé This. But what about pomo chefs like Michel Bras, who seems to emphasise his connections with the land and intuitive methods in his cooking (in discussing preparation of soft-boiled eggs, he insists that you have to simply have to proceed by trial and error until you get the right timing for this particular egg in this particular pot of water) and says little about food science? See his website, www.michel-bras.com.

Clearly there is more in your question than I've replied to -- I think you are making a broader point -- and I await Vedat's reply with interest.


Jonathan Day

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

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Yvonne points out a very interesting paradox of post-modern cuisine that I had not thought of. Thanks Yvonne. Bras may not fit the bill but I have not been there so I cannot comment.

When I coined the term I was trying to draw attention to the following aspects of PM cuisine: 1. It is a-historical, not bound with conventions. 2. It is quite denatured and not terribly interested in seasonal variations. 3. It emphasizes the "theatrical" nature of the dining experience and conceives of eating out as a ritualized play. The most stunning and blatant illustration of this last point was Jacques Maximin who had a failed restaurant in Nice designed like a theater where the stage was the kitchen and the spectators (clients) were in the auditorium, surrounded by the busts of deities (great chefs). This was meant as a joke of course, and Maximin himself is not a PM chef, but his message was loud and clear and unfortunately prescient.

I can see that in social science post modernism may be mistakenly considered anti status-quo. My own view is that the supposedly radical aspect of PMism is skin deep because it refuses to have an objective benchmark against which to critique the positivist paradigm. Radical subjectivism is more like the mirror image of narrowminded empiricism. I have to think little bit how to translate this metaphor into cuisine. But perhaps the mirror image of Blumenthal is the tired old brasseries who turn out insipid dishes.

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Vedat, you've sketched an outline of post-modernist cuisine which, with very little alteration, could be a summary of the ethos and the modus operandi of the TV commercial. It is, perhaps, an illustration of the degree to which TV ads have permeated and altered the way we think about and react to daily experience -- and ultimately to life itself.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Vedat, you've sketched an outline of post-modernist cuisine which, with very little alteration, could be a summary of the ethos and the modus operandi of the TV commercial. It is, perhaps, an illustration of the degree to which TV ads have permeated and altered the way we think about and react to daily experience -- and ultimately to life itself.

Fair, with a slight disagreement on nuance. I think this outline cum ideal type model is symptomatic of a "rigorous" social science and law training in an overworked and inattentive society. You learn to attach labels to things(even if everybody knows what those things are)so that people can remember easily. Moreover, you learn to classify and compare. Some people call this being analytic. It certainly is effective if at times unfair. TV adds are part and parcel of this same rationalization process, but they are the epiphenomenon and not the driving force. Looked at from the vantage point of a humanist comp. lit. training in Berkeley the whole thing may look quite silly and I sympathize with that.

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TV ads are part and parcel of this same rationalization process, but they are the epiphenomenon and not the driving force.
In the education of succeeding generations of children, they have indeed become the driving force. TV advertisers have taken over the modus operandi of the Jesuits: "Give me a child until the age of six . . ."
Looked at from the vantage point of a humanist comp. lit. training in Berkeley the whole thing may look quite silly and I sympathize with that.
Are you speaking of your own vantage point or, through some curiously acquired inside information, of mine?

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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      Later that night, after service, Grant joined Nick and his guests at their table. The men chatted about a variety of topics and in the '14 wines' haze of the late evening, they discussed Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure, Joseph Wechsberg's gastronomic memoir. The next day, Grant emailed Nick to ask again about the title of the book they had discussed. Not only did Nick remind him, but, within a few days, sent Grant a copy of Wechsberg's book. A friendship was born.
      Shortly thereafter, Grant sentNick his business plan for Alinea, sending an email after evening service. By the following morning Nick had read it and replied with his own enthusiastic amendments. With a burgeoning friendship already in place, trust developing between the two men and proof they could work together crystallizing before their eyes, it became clear that they would become a team. Says Grant, "I think most people, in a lot of ways, look for themselves in other people in order to match with and I think to a large degree, the reason why we get along so well is that our personalities align very well."
       
      Nick felt the same way. "It's one of those situations where everything just lined up right. I had the interest, I'd started a number of different businesses and I felt like it would be an opportunity to work with someone who I'd get along with very well. I wouldn't want to build a restaurant just to build a restaurant and I doubt I'll ever develop some other restaurant. I think this is the right situation at the right time."
       
      Grant adds, "I think we're both very driven and passionate people. So for me, it was about finding someone I could trust, someone that I knew was going to think like me, be as motivated or more motivated than me. Those things were very, very important--and something I hadn't seen--or something I didn't believe in--that I saw in Nick." Nick continues, "I think a lot people come to a chef with their pre-existing vision of the restaurant they want to build. I didn't even want to build a restaurant before I saw his vision, so it wasn't like I was saying 'I'm building this restaurant and I want you to be my chef' -- it was more like 'I think you should build a restaurant, what can I do to help you build it?'" Grant would have the additional supportive backing he'd need and Nick would have another venture -- and one he solidly believed in -- in which to direct his business acumen.
       
      It's All About The Container
      Anyone who's eaten Grant's cuisine at Trio knows that he is intensely concerned with food and the optimal ways to prepare and serve it. His dishes innovate in flavor; they challenge, tease and delight the senses. But Grant is also driven to innovate in service and technique, constantly seeking new vehicles to deliver sensations to the diner. He works closely with a trusted collaborator, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail in San Diego, CA to create original service pieces for many of his dishes. And as Grant has searched for additional ways to expand the continuity of the dining experience, it has become clear to him that it starts before the diner even gets to the restaurant's front door.
       
      According to Grant, "You can pull it back as far as you want. The experience is going to start before someone even picks up the phone to make a reservation to this restaurant. It's going to be about their perceptions; why are they picking up the phone to make a reservation? What did they see? What did they read? What's leading them up to that point? They call to make a reservation, that's another experience. The drive to get to this neighborhood is another experience. The minute they open their door and take one step out of their car, now they're surrounded by another experience."
       
      Advancing the functional elements of how food is served is an innate part of the cooking process for Grant, who seeks to render the traditional boundaries of dining obsolete. When asked what he will be able to accomplish at Alinea that he couldn't accomplish at Trio, Grant says, "the obvious is to create the container in which we create the experience. I think that's the very exciting thing for me that I've never been able to have a part in." For Grant, a restaurant's physical space represents the ultimate container and the ultimate personal challenge. The result should break new ground in the world of fine dining.   Grant and Nick are intense and competitive. In both their minds, "crafting a complete experience" is the primary focus of Alinea. According to Nick, "the whole idea is to produce an experience where the food lines up with the décor, which lines up with the flow through the restaurant and from the moment you get, literally, to the front door of the place and you walk in, your experience should mirror in some respects--and complement in others--the whole process you're going to go through when you start eating." Grant takes it a step further. "It's about having a central beacon from which everything else emanates and therefore, it's seamless. The whole experience is crafted on one finite point and if everything emanates from that point, then there's no chance that the experience can be interrupted."
       
      The search for Alinea's space further reflects not only their shared philosophy but also their separate intensities. Says Nick, "One of the things we felt really strongly about, and we both came to it, was that we wanted it to be a 'stand alone' building because if you're in something else you can't help but take on some of that identity. And it's really difficult to find the right size building in the right kind of location, with the right kind of construction that was suitable for the identity of Alinea."
      Nick and Grant drove down every street within a chosen geographical band, armed with a giant map and a set of green, yellow and red markers. Once they had found a set of acceptable streets, they asked a realtor to show them every space available on them.
       
      "Once we did find the building," says Grant, "whichever space we would have chosen, we would have analyzed and considered each different aspect to provoke a certain emotion, a very controlled emotion depending on how we wanted it arranged. But I also think that we wanted the neighborhood to feel a certain way, the street to feel a certain way. Is it like Michigan Avenue where I have people 4-deep, walking straight down the sidewalk, non-stop, all day and all night or is it more of a tranquil environment outside? All those things were spinning around and once you identify the golden egg, then you have to go find it."
      While they would probably never admit it, each innovation, each step they take together in building their venture serves as yet another a opportunity for the Alinea team to challenge the restaurant's competitors. Their attention to all the details provides countless opportunities to distinguish Alinea from other restaurants.
       
      Here the two men can share in the creation, combining their diverse skills and experiences into a unified and shared vision. Alinea will be their baby. They want it to be the best --not just the best food -- but the best everything. They even want the experience of calling for a reservation to be a memorable one.
       
      The Path From Here
      In that spirit, the Alinea food lab opens this week. Grant refuses to promote even one of his legendary creations to 'signature dish' status. Instead of populating Alinea's menu with previous favorites from Trio or 'trial' dishes that have been only roughly tested, Grant and his team will take six months to devise, develop and perfect the dishes and delivery modes that will appear on Alinea's opening menu. When the idea of maintaining a kitchen staff for six months before the restaurant's opening was presented to its investors, in spite of the additional expense, "it seemed like a no-brainer" according to Nick. Grant is an equity partner--a true chef/owner--in the venture and there is a solid consensus among all the backers about the priority of his vision.
      * * * * *
      In addition to being one of today's foremost chefs and culinary innovators, Grant Achatz is a long-time member of eGullet, and a lively, provocative contributor to our discussion forums. Read his March, 2003 eGullet Q&A here.
      Photos courtesy Alinea
       
      eGullet member, yellow_truffle, also contributed to this report
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