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Steve Plotnicki

French vs American vs Modern British

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That is a good question, and I will think about it later.  I just wanted to note that the Time Out restaurant guide to London used to attempt to divide Modern British, Traditional British and French with hilariously arbitrary results.  Not easy.

As far as the Modern British/French distinction goes, my first thought is that a Modern british restaurant ought to have at least some dishes on the menu recognizably derived from traditional British cuisine: obvious examples would be Gary Rhodes faggots stuffed with foie gras or Richard Corrigan's pork dishes featuring black sausage and crubbeens (spelling?).  But that certainly doesn't rule out "French" technique being used, either in those very dishes, or elsewhere on the menu.

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LOL, not another of those surely  ;)

I just want to dive in early and say that :-

a) I'm not convinced there is a rational answer to the question(s)

b) Even if there is, I for one don't care so long as I like the food

c) Why isn't Italian included in the list, because I'd love someone to try and explain to me why Babbo is Italian rather than American  :D

I will, as always, enjoy reading the next 147 posts in this thread, which will no doubt move on to such diverse topics as British mediaeval conjugal rites, why the French Foreign Legion sing funny songs, and the American heritage of candle-making. I shall enjoy  :)

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Wilfrid-Well I didn't say it was going to be easy. In fact, in some ways it's harder to pick apart Modern British from French than American from French. Obviously when we are discussing dishes that are derivitive of traditional British cuisine it's easy. But something I've noticed about MB cuisine is that it incorporates Mittleeuropa cooking styles and technique to a greater extent than French cuisine does. But don't ask me for any examples as I can't think of any offhand.

Macrosan-You are too aged to be acting is this disruptive a manner. I will have to straighten you out at dinner next week. But just for the record, nobody asked anyone to create a hierarchy as to the three cuisines in question. Just to point out what makes them different from each other. But as to that issue, I am almost finished reading Paul Richardson's book, "Cornucopia, A gastronomic tour of Britain" and I will post a review of it. Wait until I start that thread. Then there will be ample space to pillage the cuisine of your homeland. In the meanwhile, hold onto your bangers.

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I look forward to your review.  I have just finished reading the sections of Peter Ackroyd's London - A Biography which deal with historic eating habits in the city.  Very interesting.  And I have just picked up Rebecca Spang's book on the creation of restaurants and restaurant culture in eighteenth century France.

The downside is, I am also fantastically busy at work, so analysis will have to wait.

But let me shoot off a couple of questions.  I recall reading that Jeremiah Towers was heavily influenced by Escoffier and the like when creating his early menus at Chez Panisse.  Did Chez Panisse start as a French restaurant and change or slowly evolve into something more American?

Secondly, and just to orient the discussion - other than An American Place, what would be examples of contemporary American restaurants. Gramercy Tavern, I assume.  Craft?

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Difficult and interesting, this one, and I have been doing some inconclusive research over lunch.  I am sure there is not a single right answer to the question, but there is certainly scope for some rational investigation, since we do use and understand these terms.

I have been looking only at the Modern British/French distinction (I hope someone else will post about American/French).  One view I am inclining towards is that it isn't a question of technique.  Many of the chefs at Modern British restaurants have at least been trained (at some point) either by a French chef, or a French-trained chef, even if they haven't worked in France.  I don't know much about catering colleges in the UK, but if they don't teach basic French techniques, I would be astonished.

I thought it would be interesting to post links to some Modern British menus and analyse them, but I am having no luck with my surfing.  I did happen upon a brief description of Richard Corrigan (Irish not British, but very much associated with the modern treatment of food of "the Isles") - and what three typical dishes do I find listed as representative of his cuisine?  Monkfish choucroute, ginger parfait, spiced madeleines.  I also read some recent reviews of Gary Rhodes' work.  I see he's now putting pigeon in his faggots, rather than squab; a technique one can readily imagine being used in a Parisian restaurant to smarten up caillettes or crepinettes (one is reminded, of course, of Daniel Boulud's famous burger).   So, I think one is going to find French themes in the cooking and menus of just about any restaurant described (or self-described) as Modern British.

One contemporary chef who perhaps uses few classic French techniques is Fergus Henderson.  But then, the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to consider his food "Traditional" rather than Modern British.  Not that it isn't trendy and, er, funky, but I would say he's presenting a kind of punk version of Wilton's or Rule's - traditional British for the under-fifties.  Roasts, game, savouries, potted shrimp, and so on.

So I looked elsewhere for a plausible "squiggly line".  The best I can come up with so far is that a restaurant is Modern British to the extent that at least some of its dishes are both recognizably from the British tradition, and also in some way updated, elaborated or modernized (as opposed to stripped down a la Henderson).  I found real life examples in the Rhodes review (source http://www.dine-online.co.uk/rhodesq.htm):

Ham and pea soup has become "ham consommé with pea pancakes".  Faggots, as I mentioned, are now "rich pigeon faggot on a potato cake with mustard cabbage".  Two classic British dishes inform the "fillet of smoked haddock glazed with welsh rarebit on a tomato and chive salad."  But there's nothing exclusively British about Rhodes approach:  he also mucks about with Lobster Thermidor, turning into a "Lobster Thermidor omlette."

Contrast the haddock/welsh rarebit dish with what I take to be Fergus Henderson's approach.  Henderson would served the smoked haddock with a simple poached egg or mashed potato accompaniment.  You can order the welsh rabbit separately, as a savoury.  No messing about.  Henderson appears radical because his traditionalism is so stark.

Well, that's the best I can do.  Now, if only I could find a Gordon Ramsey menu for purposes of comparison.

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Why this obsession to pigeon-hole everything?

I mean, even if you could define one of these hyponyms, what possible use could it have?

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I am not sure that these are hyponyms, as far as I can construe that term, but one might regard "Modern British", at least, as an unnecessary supplementary term which adds little to one's understanding of a restaurant's cuisine.  As far as what possible use such terms can have, I guess that's the question.  Because they are used all the time, sprinkled freely throughout restaurant guides and reviews.  And I do wonder how much they tell us.

What I will readily concede is the empirical result that - so far at least - only Old Plotters and I seem to find them interesting.

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As I mentioned on the Romania thread of all places, I'm also reading Paul Richardson's, "Cornucopia: A gastronomic tour of Britain". Steve, I look forward to your review, as obviously Richardson finds some good food in Britain. Shock. :o

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Why this obsession to pigeon-hole everything?

I mean, even if you could define one of these hyponyms, what possible use could it have?

Here, here!

Haven't we ridden this particular hippo into the ground? Have we learned so little? Look, it is all rather simple. French food is "Magical" (like Montrachet). Any American or English cooking that is also Magical is therefore French-American or Anglo-French cooking. Any cooking that is lacking in magic (like St. Veran) in America or England is therefore, native cooking! ;) Or at the very least French-Syrian or Anglo-Syrian cooking.

As, Monsieur Merlan pointed out in his comments about "Fushion" cuisine, it is all a continuum. :)

Still, if we could start up another meta-discussion I would be very happy.

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I am not sure that these are hyponyms, as far as I can construe that term[.]

Whoops! Pissed again.

I should have written hypernyms. I wanted to use this term precisely because of its empirical nature.

Animal is a hypernym of dog and dog is a hypernym of Rottweiler. The point is that animals and dogs only exist for purposes of categorization. What count are the hyponyms, unless of course you are an obsessive taxonomist.

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OK, I don't know if this is allowed, but I AGREE WITH LML. This thread is an example of OOPS (Overtly Obsessive Pigeonhole Syndrome) which in turn is a hyponym of FAGS (Fanatical Attention to Gamebird Syndrome) which in turn is a hyponym of GAS (Gravitas in the Aviary Syndrome).

Wilfrid suggests "Because they are used all the time, sprinkled freely throughout restaurant guides and reviews" as a justification for discussion, but even he sounds less than his usual convincing self. The reality is that they are nor sprinkled "freely", they appear very infrequently in the type of guide and review that he wouldn't be seen dead reading  :p

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Gee, one would think that people would be polite enough to not get involved in a thread if they don't have anything to contribute to it. But to jump in in a way that ends up discouraging the conversation prior to the debate being joined isn't fair to those who want to participate in earnest. Some of the best points made on this board come through long and detailed discussion. Quite often the point isn't made until well into the thread but you have both done your best to make sure that isn't going to happen.

I guess the British have more than just bad food, it runs to bad manners too with certain people. I am going to delete this thread and start over. Please do not join in unless you want to dicusss the topic, not your egos.

Wilfrid-If you can just paste your replies in I will try and put together a response to your questions of yesterday.

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Gee, one would think that people would be polite enough to not get involved in a thread if they don't have anything to contribute to it. But to jump in in a way that ends up discouraging the conversation prior to the debate being joined isn't fair to those who want to participate in earnest. Some of the best points made on this board come through long and detailed discussion. Quite often the point isn't made until well into the thread but you have both done your best to make sure that isn't going to happen.

I guess the British have more than just bad food, it runs to bad manners too with certain people. I am going to delete this thread and start over. Please do not join in unless you want to dicusss the topic, not your egos.

Wilfrid-If you can just paste your replies in I will try and put together a response to your questions of yesterday.

Steve, I thought Macrosan 'contributed' to this thread with tongue in cheek humor. It may not have been what you wanted to read but many threads take on many twists and turns.  The way I understand it, eGullet does not censor or delete threads like other sites; i.e. Chowhound. Frankly, I don't believe you want to start sounding like Jim Leff, do you?

I've found many of your posts interesting but there's no reason IMHO to insult anyone's manners because you happen not to like their humor and tell them to join in or not to join in. eGullet is a free speech zone. Hope you take this in the kind spirit it is meant.  :)

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Oh, let's not all get the hump with each other, let alone the right hump.  I cannot carp at Macrosan and Michael Lewis (i am with you now Michael, I read "hyponyms" as "under words", and was puzzled), because the various threads on water drive me crazy, but I still can't resist posting disruptively on them.

Steve, I want to take a look at the Gordon Ramsey menu when I get some time.  Why not just copy and paste any of my stuff you want to respond to onto the other thread, and I'll post there next time.   I think these categories are fairly ubiquitous (Time Out and Zagat both use them) and they are worth looking at.

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Ruby-Gee I don't think I asked anyone to censor this thread. But please respect my decision not to participate in a thread (retroactively if need be) where people are in my opinion acting in a way that diminishes the level of discourse on the board.

I'm sorry if you don't like this answer but, my ability to be critical of whomever, in the manner I choose to voice that criticism, should be afforded the same free speech protection you are seeking for the people who might be being disruptive.

Would you feel differently about it if you knew there were people who were interested in joining in the discussion who were put off by the responses? Not that I'm saying that it absolutely applies in this instance, but it easily could apply if this strain of the conversation got out of hand.

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Did Chez Panisse start as a French restaurant and change or slowly evolve into something more American?
With most of March's files in a state of amnesia, I can't remember whether I've posted this before but, for a summary of Chez Panisse's origins which Alice has vetted and approved, see my article The Green Gourmets

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Steve P -- Please don't berate me based on your perceptions of contribution, but . . .  

:p

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Steve, I responded because of what you said - I put certain capital letters on your words for emphasis:

1) "Gee, one would think that people would be polite enough to NOT GET INVOLVED in a thread if they don't have anything to contribute to it.

2) I am going to DELETE THIS THREAD and start over. PLEASE DO NOT JOIN IN unless you want to discuss the topic, not your egos."

Some of the posts I've started have digressed wildly from my original points and have taken on a new life of their own but I cannot and would not want to tell other posters to not get involved.

So much human misery/horror is taking place in this world that sometimes a little humor helps even when it doesn't 'fit' the subject.

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Ruby-Look, as I have said on this board and many other boards in the past, and I have heard many a moderator say the same thing, if you have nothing to add to a thread, move on. Point number 2. LML is a bright guy. He knows very well the discussion wasn't about the words that describe the three cuisines, but about the actual differences in the cuisines. To shift the pea the way he did isn't intended to make the discussion digress down another path, it is intended to make the discussion fall off a cliff.

As for the human misery and horror in the world, I'm sorry to tell you that I didn't find the humor in question sufficient to make me forget about it.

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Secondly, and just to orient the discussion - other than An American Place, what would be examples of contemporary American restaurants. Gramercy Tavern, I assume.  Craft?

For me, contemporary American restaurants in NYC would include: Gramercy Tavern, Gotham Bar & Grill, Union Square Cafe, Judson Grill, Park Avenue Cafe and JoJo.  I'm still considering why those restaurants come readily to mind. One factor I'm considering is how sauces are utilized, at least with respect to differences from a French restaurant.

There is some overlap with the Zagat "Cuisine" categorization, which I looked at afterwards. Among the top 40-Food-Rating Zagat restaurants, the following are, for me, appropriately listed as American or New American: Gramercy Tavern, Gotham Bar & Grill, Union Square Cafe, 71 Clinton Fresh Food, and Aureole.  Restaurants so listed that are close calls and difficult to categorize for me are: Union Pacific and Eleven Madison Park.  Arguably inappropriately listed as American or New American for me are: March, Oceana, and Tabla (which is listed as American (New), Indian). I have never been to Veritas or Pearl Oyster Bar, also listed as a top-40 restaurant that is American.  (Note I do not attribute much weight to Zagat, but it has the American cuisine categorization)  ;)

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Must this noble experiment in cooperative journalism go the way of other utopian societies, both corporeal and virtual? Let us rise above our petty differences, to the greater glory of gluttony and gastronomy!

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