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Good Food or over the top?


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I read this in another thread:

a magisterial tarte tatin (for 2), one of the best I've ever sampled. It came with good ice cream, and a tasty but superfluous garlic, cinnamon and bay leaf foam.

To my mind Tarte Tatin is one of the world's great desserts. It should be served with no more than cream or a good ice cream. Simple and an outstanding dessert. Why do chefs, presumably encouraged by the food critics, presume to mess about trying to show off - creating something for the sake of creating it.

In the world of design there is a saying that "there is no longer anything new". I am inclined to believe this is largely true of good food. It has all been done before in one way or another. What is wrong in repeating a great dish - just because it originated somewhere else does not make the chef any less great in his skills. He is still to be admired.

Menus with a dish described like I have quoted above would send me running a mile. Does the chef need to tell you what is served with the tarte tatin - is he trying to impress by the description? Won't a great dish speak for itself?

I blame Fusion food for all this messing around which has led to a competition to see who can write the weirdest and longest sounding menu.

These menus can only be for food snobs!

Let the great chefs stand up and be counted - simple descriptions with the food doing the talking. That would show who was great and who wasn't!

:laugh:

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This area has been very well covered on this thread on the Heartland board. However, we could have a bash at it in terms of the British restaurant scene if you like.

Tarte Tatin is an interesting example. Where would you draw the line with it? I know a chef that feels there is something fundamentaly incorrect about any tatin not made with apples. However, if that were true, it would mean that Phil Howard at the Square is wrong to serve Tarte Tatin of Pears with Vanilla and Star Anise and praline ice cream. But I happen to know that that dessert is wonderful. So, without having tasted the version with the foam (relevant thread here), how do you know its not good, that it doesn't add a certain something?

Are we simply too conservative in the UK when it comes to "the new cuisine"?

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If I added something to my Tarte Tatin such as cinnamon it would be to enhance or change the flavour. In the true sense it would no longer be Tarte Tatin but what we are actually trying to say is that we creating a dessert in the "Tarte Tatin style" - it can only be Tarte Tatin if the original recipe is adhered to.

I think the Tarte Tatin style dessert or savoury dish is very worthwhile creating with diffrerent ingredients (which reminds me I must make some more savoury ones to serve cold now the warmer weather has arrived).

What I find pretentious is the attempt to add to a dish by adding to the menu description with

garlic, cinnamon and bay leaf foam

Describe it as the Chef's interpretation of Tarte Tatin served with ice cream and leave it at that. If a diner asks what it was served with that enhanced the taste then by all means say so and bask in the glory - don't be pretentious and arrogant before the dish is judged.

A lot of very poor eating establishments now justify their chefs and their prices merely by the menu description - Sirloin of Beef served with Jus de Boeuf - my God, its beef with gravy!

Whether the Foam adds to or not (in this case) is not the issue. The issue is the use of such pompous descriptions.

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I can't agree in this instance that the description is pompous, its how the dish was served and I would certainly want to know about a garlic flavoured foam when ordering a dessert. I think the arguement is whether it is appropriate or simply presumptuous or even misguided to be offering garlic foam with an apple pudding.

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I think you are probably right - I would want to know about it being served with a garlic foam. I could then upset the chef by asking it to be served without the Foam!

I think perhaps I have chosen a bad example to try and illsutrate the point I was trying to make or the two points.

The first point is that more restaurants should concentrate on a range of simpler dishes.

The second point is that more and more food etsablishments are employing copywriters instead of talented chefs.

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The thing that interested me about Midsummer House (where I took in said tarte tatin) was that the use of different terminology for the carte and the tasting menu, so 'honey glazed pork belly with seared scallops and truffled crushed potatoes' (or whatever it was) on the carte was described on the tasting menu simply as 'pork belly', and a freebie not on the carte but described by the waiter as 'coffee jelly with foam of ceps' was listed on the menu as 'coffee and ceps'. As I think was mentioned on the original thread, the restaurant is the midst of attempting a transition from more traditional cuisine to one more open to the influence of 'molecular gastronomy', and a certain embarrassment (is that the right word?) was evident both in the service and the menu descriptions.

The foam with the tarte tatin didn't strike me as pretentiously described on the menu as such, but I did think that the chef should have had the confidence in the main component not to feel it needed its 'avant garde' accompaniment (which added nothing at all to the dish)...I guess that is an example of pretentiousness, yes...

There is a whole question about how far you have to go if you are going to offer supposedly 'daring' food...if you are going to present a basically classical dish with an unusual twist, it had better make sense in classical terms, eg Pierre Koffman's venison with chocolate and raspberry vinegar sauce, and not be incongruous in its overall effect, eg Midsummer House salmon with white chocolate and caviar...I think??

Edited by Vivian Mallinson (log)
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Is there any distinction between courses? i.e. I find I'm more receptive to fiddly starters more than fiddly puddings....

... Maybe because by the end you're too veloute-ed, foam-ed and generally cute but pointless-pastilla-on-the-side-ed to want anything by horlicks and bed.

... Or maybe its just because deserts haven't progressed as much as starters, and could actually DO with a bit of tarting up (why ARE people shocked at a fifteen quid pudding while they're perfectly happy to pay twenty quid for a couple of langoustines and a puddle of truffle gloop for a starter?)

... Or maybe its because puddings are inherently simpler. Very difficult to beat a perfectly ripe fruit salad, a great coupe of ice-creams or a simple made tatin (viz. Gordon Ramsay). Very different with savouries - try serving pigs trotter au natrel and see the reaction!

???

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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It is an interesting point, the disparity between the dessert course and other courses.

Maybe it is the lack of genuinely expensive, rare, luxury dessert ingredients. I can't really think of any equivalent to truffles, caviar,foie gras etc on the dessert menu.

So for a restaurant trying to 'Add value' to a dish, or to supply (or at least be seen to be supplying) something special to a dish, something removed from homestyle cooking then it must add the bells and whistles.

On saying that, why is a 'Frozen suspension of egg, cream and vanilla pod' deemed to be a more fitting and simpler accompaniment to a garlic, bay leaf and cinnamon foam? One is more traditional, yes (Or is it? Did Normandy Farmhouses have ice cream makers?) but should restaurants just stick to what is traditional?

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Interestingly, the last time I ate at La Tante Claire, M Koffmann was offering a truffle soufflé for dessert...the one dish of his I ever tried that I didn't enjoy :blink:

Jon's point about being overloaded by the time you get to the dessert course is an apt one for me...also perhaps with traditional patisserie we are more used to a strict set of rules and a limited palette of flavours, so blue/wrong notes jar more ?

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Bravo Hub-UK2! I completely agree. My fundamental problem with most chefs is that they are trying to use inventive ideas to mask their flawed techniques. Simply prepared food (roast chicken is a perfect example) can be divine, but the technique must be flawless. I think most chefs try to doll up their dishes to avoid scrutiny of their most basic cooking techniques, and as a result, we are faced with countless meals of fancy recipies that are poorly executed.

I believe that this very point is why NYC's Gramery Tavern endures, and earns praise not only from the general public but the food community as well -- Chef Tom lays himself bare every night, turning out recipies that depend entirely on perfect execution in the kitchen, rather than on a melange of ingredients.

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more and more food etsablishments are employing copywriters instead of talented chefs.

I think it's unfair to characterise modern chefs as lacking in talent, but perhaps they may tend to be over ambitious and more interested in laying claim to signature dishes and establishing a reputation in the media than dishing up good grub. But on the other hand, do you really want to see the same limited repertoire replicated up and down the country?

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But on the other hand, do you really want to see the same limited repertoire replicated up and down the country?

Obviously not, but more emphasis needs to be put on perfecting technique -- no matter how original the dish, if it is poorly executed it will fail.

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I think it's unfair to characterise modern chefs as lacking in talent, but perhaps they may tend to be over ambitious and more interested in laying claim to signature dishes and establishing a reputation in the media than dishing up good grub. But on the other hand, do you really want to see the same limited repertoire replicated up and down the country?

What is been said is the complete opposite - bad chefs, lacking in talent, who misguidedly think they are great and have just been overlooked by the media, are hiding behind their menus.

It only works once of course because if you have had a bad meal you will not reuturn.

A good chef does not gain by his menu description, he gains by word of mouth. The best publicity for any chef is a satisfied customer and what will that custome say to friends and associates:

" You really ought to try Chef Xyz's tarte tatin - it's out of this world" or does he say "You really ought to try Chef Xyz's tarte tatin with a garlic, bay leaf and cinnamon foam - it's out of this world".

I think it would be the former. The chef is remembered and recommended for the main part of the dish and this is how it becomes a signature dish needing no frills just the initial words "Chef Xyz's so-and-so dish"

One of the famous design sayings is that "Less is more" - this to my mind is true of food. Enjoy good food well prepared and presented and you need no frills.

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What is been said is the complete opposite - bad chefs, lacking in talent, who misguidedly think they are great and have just been overlooked by the media, are hiding behind their menus.

I think we need to talk specifics for this arguement to make any sense. In your experience, who would you say these bad chefs are and what dishes have you found to be disappointing and why? I think you may very well have a good point here, but I wouldn't like us to be painting all chefs with the same brush.

LML - a good point well made, I would offer Shaun Hill as an illustrative example of a talented chef with a relatively limited repetoire of dishes done well and that also includes original ideas. He is someone who is not afraid to experiement to a certain degree with cooking techniques, but for the purposes of problem solving rather than for its own sake.

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LML - a good point well made, I would offer Shaun Hill as an illustrative example of a talented chef with a relatively limited repetoire of dishes done well and that also includes original ideas. He is someone who is not afraid to experiement to a certain degree with cooking techniques, but for the purposes of problem solving rather than for its own sake.

Brilliantly said, and giftedly put. Shaun Hill is arguably the best chef cooking in the U.K.

The question is though; why is no one imitating him?

I think I know the answer.

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Shaun Hill is arguably the best chef cooking in the U.K.

The question is though; why is no one imitating him?

I think I know the answer.

Is it because they can't or is there some other reason.

Does Shaun Hill not train many young chefs?

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Its just Shaun by himself at The Merchant House, but he has headed brigades in the past at Gidleigh Park, The Capital Hotel and The Lygon Arms amongst others. Paul Kitching at Juniper worked with Shaun as did Martin Hadden whose wonderful but short lived Priory House restaurant had something of The Merchant House about it.

I ended my report on The Merchant House on UKGourmet with this :

"He's not copying anyone, and although chef's travel from far and wide to eat his food, no one is copying him. In a world of lettuce fondue, foie gras veloute and tortellini of whatever, perhaps they find the food too stark to put on their own fancy pants menus. Or maybe it's just that they know that no one can cook quite like Shaun Hill. "

So thats what I think, but maybe LML has a different view?

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"He's not copying anyone, and although chef's travel from far and wide to eat his food, no one is copying him. In a world of lettuce fondue, foie gras veloute and tortellini of whatever, perhaps they find the food too stark to put on their own fancy pants menus. Or maybe it's just that they know that no one can cook quite like Shaun Hill. "

So thats what I think, but maybe LML has a different view?

Agree.

He's not copied because:

a). It's easier to hide shortcomings amongst a plethora of improbable garnishes.

And,

b). Because improbable garnishes get extensive media coverage.

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So are you saying that Shaun Hill keeps his dishes and his menus simple?

If you are doesn't this (in view of your collective opinion of him) bear out the argument.

On a slightly different tack but I think still relevant to this argument I remember coming across Charlie Trotter's book Desserts eighteen months ago. I thought it was so over the top that I couldn't believe that any restaurant would seriously serve a dessert of such size and complexity. Furthermore the combinations did not appeal to my particular taste - I don't know about anyone elses!

Priced at $50 dollars it perhaps reflects the cost of trying to create any of these pompous desserts. A celebrity chef cashing in on his name by just being different for the sake of being different?

One purchaser of the book wrote:

"Visually stunning, would be great if only . . .

When I recieved this book I was very excited. Looking through it the photography and presentation of the desserts is magnificent. Unfortunatly after numerous attempts on at least 3 recipes I have decided to put this book on my coffee table and not my cookbook shelf. I found the recipes to lack clarity and some just don't turn out right even with following the directions to the letter. I have used it only as picture reference since the last fiasco. A beautiful book but a sad dissapointment as a cookbook. "

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So are you saying that Shaun Hill keeps his dishes and his menus simple?

If you are doesn't this (in view of your collective opinion of him) bear out the argument.

Well, sort of. What you have is an example of chef who refuses to over-dress his food or menu language. But what would you make of his signature Scallops with Lentils and Coriander? If Shaun had resolutley stuck to the classical repertoire he would not have created this dish, so again, where do you draw the line?

You have also not yet provided any examples of the bad chefs who lack talent that hide behind menus you mentioned above. That is quite an accusation to make and in my view you need to back your arguement up with some evidence.

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I am sure it takes as much skill to create a GOOD version of any tarted up recipe as it does to perfectly roast a chicken, or make a lemon tart.

The difference is that while you have had Roast Chicken 100's of times, and can be super critical, it probably the first time you have tried pigs trotter stuffed with eel, foie gras and whelk poached in verjuice. You might actually be tasting a second rate version, but a second rate version of something which is good, still tastes good, just as although perfect roast chicken is heavenly, a half decent one is still pretty damn good.

Carl

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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