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Fat Guy

The Future of Cuisine

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Marcus Samuelsson, the chef at New York's Aquavit restaurant, is quoted in this month's Food Arts:

"Food is becoming less country-driven and more and more flavor-driven, with each chef interpreting his or her vision."

True? False? Good? Bad?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think this is probably true in the great metropolises, which isn't surprising. But there are always restaurants who, far from the pressure of a jaded, often ignorant and wealthy populous, are able to maintain their bonds with earth and culture. And it is from this rich compost that greatness springs not from the the flashy, look-at-me, multi-million $$ businesses of the big cities.

Any chef who uses the terms: theory or vision, should be automatically rejected for playing to the techno-zeitgeist gallery.

Theory = Anything goes no matter how wildly improbable and unpleasant.

Vision = The chef's vision of self as the first to adorn Time magazine.

Of course the reality will be different. Chefs now occupy the archetypal niche of pop-stars for the adoration of the affluent middle-class, middle-aged and middle-educated. A group who seem to feel that, having parted with the annual wages of a Colombian family for a two hour meal, they can then post on e-gullet and say how bad it was.

A really, really sorry state of affairs, but like Doc Frankenstein only they can kill this monster of their own creation.

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And why prey are you Lord Lewis wasting your breath amongst us middle-educated folk on egullet?  You seem so good at pointing out the failures of  the middle-class, the middle-aged and the middle-educated, perhaps you should look for a higher or lower forum where you can be more at ease.  And your elevated sentiment more appropriate and better understood.

One should not associate in places where one cannot be happy about getting involved. It is sad to see someone spend so much time in a place and yet find so much not correct with that place and its core.  I would hate to see that happen with your association with this site.  You seem to carry a frustration about most that we read, chew and discuss here.  You can make it easier by reading, chewing and discussing amongst those that you are more at ease with.  I am sure most all would be happy, seeing you happier.  While each guest brings much to any forum, there are times, when one has to think about the guests own needs.  I for one would certainly understand your moving on to higher, bigger and better places.  While your loss would be felt in the beginning, we will cope with it, as we middle-class people know best to do.

Or, perhaps you really do love the site, and are only saying things that you really do not mean, but say to make a dialogue.  There are more successful ways of doing that.  But I would still recognize your way as being fine, if that is what you are attempting to do.

We all have our own style.  And since you come with an entitled titled name, you may not know what it is to only be middle-class, middle-aged, and middle-educated.  

We have worked hard to be who we are.  And that does entitle us to form our own opinion and in our middle-world, it is considered correct to aspire for the higher, have visions and create and work around theories.  We need these to live.  Since our lives depend on ourselves.  We have no middle-men giving us living expenses that are owed us for the title we have.

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I do also speak in middle-pitch and write middle sorry mediocre, but I think I still am able to have my understood by most middle-people.

Perhaps if you do read my post again, middle-speed, not to slow or too fast, you will get the gist of my post.

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Any chef who uses the terms: theory or vision, should be automatically rejected for playing to the techno-zeitgeist gallery.

Theory = Anything goes no matter how wildly improbable and unpleasant.

Vision = The chef's vision of self as the first to adorn Time magazine.

Of course the reality will be different. Chefs now occupy the archetypal niche of pop-stars for the adoration of the affluent middle-class, middle-aged and middle-educated. A group who seem to feel that, having parted with the annual wages of a Colombian family for a two hour meal, they can then post on e-gullet and say how bad it was.

I do agree with you that Chef Samuelsson's quote is a bit pretentious. However, why clump everybody into one pot? I do not consider myself 'affluent middle-class, middle-aged and middle-educated.' (What's so wrong with that anyway?) One thing I do know: I work very hard for the money and if I decide I'm going to a restaurant--whether it's a splurge on an expensive dinner or a burger in a diner-- there's no reason for anyone else to get judgmental about it. I also figure I'm helping the New York economy which is hurting badly now.

Additionally, I never got the impression that e-Gullet is a complaint board for the affluent or otherwise. People do share good and bad dining experiences so that perhaps others won't go someplace that's mediocre. We're serious about food and it's also fun to write about it.

So, Lord Nelson, what say we all relax and have fun?

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Ruby, you are very good in supporting the economy in NYC today.  It needs it and also helps t he many immigrant workers who have lost loved ones on 9/11 but are getting little if any federal or charitable assistance as they fear being deported to countries they came from.

These restaurants not only entertain our senses, and us but also provide some support to this very acutely hit part of our rich and diverse NYC population.

You were very eloquent in your posting.  I too work hard for every meal I enjoy outside my home.  And like you, I am not middle-aged, middle-class or middle-educated. And am not worried though to be middle-aged.  I am actually looking forward to seeing it happen as it does.  

And cal me daft, but I love how inspiring the conversations and dialogues are at egullet.  Some are so honest and bold; they almost make me wonder how we can share it with more people.  Without losing the very rich and intelligent quality of text one sees on this site.

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Michael.The only way not to become middle aged is to die young.And since you celebrated your 43rd recently,as noted on eGullet,it would appear you have every intention of getting there-and good luck to you.

The affluent classes in Western cities  have been spending large  sums of money eating  and drinking out(and doubtless moaning about it) since the turn of the industrial revolution.The number who can afford to do it now is  far greater than at any time before(whether that makes them "middle class and middle educated" or not,I don't know) and our communications systems mean more get to hear and read and write about it than ever before.

So there will be a "zeitgeist" and fashions in food will come and go,and chefs will rise and fall,and people will moan and praise and hey-ho so what?

Whether there is a place elsewhere where restaurants "bond with earth and culture" is a matter for debate,but make no mistake-they need they need the likes of us and our money

just as much.

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I know what Samuelsson means, but just because a cuisine is rooted in a particular area doesn't mean that flavour is not a priority. Take for instance the cooking of the South West of France, all duck, foie gras and garlic. It may have a limited palette of flavours and ingredients to draw from compared to the metropolitan fusion chef, but it still tastes wonderful.  All good cooking is flavour driven.

Many chefs to not have there own vision, but are simply interpreting anothers, or adopting the current fashion, which is why, particularly in London you see the same dishes everywhere. Their vision often extends only as far as the next door restaurants menu.

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Whether there is a place elsewhere where restaurants "bond with earth and culture" is a matter for debate,but make no mistake-they need they need the likes of us and our money

just as much.

Wrong unfortunately. Rural, often family run places are not subject to the huge financial pressures and outlays that metropolitan ventures almost always incur. Why do you think so many London ventures go under?

It's a fickle game and especially so in London, successful chefs are no longer born to it Like the Rouxs, rather they are motivated by ambition and publicity and an ability to play the game well. The net result is that our cuisine is based on vagaries of a fashion concious herd, and not on an expression of cultural heritage. Whilst playing host to many excellent places to eat, London's top end restaurants are now a void of named-chefs, superficial gimmickery and obscene expense.

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You seem to believe that there was a past golden age when it wasn't ever thus-a middle aged person's indulgence if ever there was one.

When and where was this time? Having ambition and courting publicity are not sins in themselves.Which restaurants do you hold up as ones that square the most with your values?

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You seem to believe that there was a past golden age...

No I don't. But there was balance.

Having ambition is okay, but when the goal of that ambition is fame it ruins everything. Why isn't it ambition enough to be very good at and admired for what you do?

A very very few chefs approach artistry. And it's these that the ambitious and pretentious artisans who share their aspirations but not their talent seek to copy. It's also these artisans who form the bulk of named-chefs.

I like my chefs discreet, modest and confident enough to let the food on the plate do all the talking.

Places that correspond to my stringent criteria:

The Merchant House.

Zuberoa.

Michel Bras.

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Lord Lewis,

I must say you do make far more middle lever sense in this last post.  I have to agree with most all you say.  I understand what you say.  

Thanks for speaking in a language I can understand.  I agree with you about life not being just about fame.  We need a good balance between fame and substance  And around the globe, that has been a diminishing balance, since many are very quick to jump and approve passing fads and flukes as great achievements.  

A true talented artisan can outdo the race of time itself.  Those are the artists who work lives long after ther own physical death.  We need more of those to leave behind as a legacy of our own times.

So, I am in agreement with that sentiment of yours.

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Suvir, Ruby and Tony - I'm sorry you got sucked into LML's prism. While it seems he has much to contribute to the substance of this thread, he prefers to change this thread into a discussion about the appropriateness of his response. If you just ignore him and refuse to play that game, he will decide whether he wants to participate in earnest. And I'm sure I will shortly have one of his trademark tirades against my person for pointing this out.

As for Samuelson's quote, I think he is right. That's what globalization means. It is starting to be that I have more in common with people in other countries who happen to be in the same socio-economic group I'm in, or share the same interests I do than other New Yorkers. That's why there can be a Nobu in every country and it can be successful. It transcends borders, which is I believe Samuelson's point. And if Nobu is able to bring the cuisine to a new level, it won't be driven by any one nationality. It will be driven by the totality of his customer base.

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I'm sorry you got sucked into LML's prism.

I am curious to know why you feel the need to apologise for my prism sucking activities?

I'd also be interested to know why you feel that Tony Finch, Ruby and Suvir Saran need you to step in and blow the scales from their eyes. From their posts it seems that they are quite able and adult enough to have their own opinions. Really, isn't it time that you that you limited your comments to own opinions and stopped patronising others by pompously imagining yourself as the voice of the right-minded?

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Steve,I REALLY don't need you to tell me who or how to respond to anybody or anything.I'm sorry that you're sorry that I and others responded to LML but there you go.S'funny,but I don't FEEL that I've been sucked into a "prism" right now.Maybe I'll realise in the morning and my whole world will have turned bad......

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Okaaay.... Who'd like some nice grilled cheese sandwiches?


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Tony-Sorry. I wan't trying to be critical of you. But this was a nice topic that has gone astray because of a certain response which is intended to divert the conversation away from the topic. Tis a shame that someone has the power to do that if you ask me.

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Marcus Samuelsson, quoted in Food Arts:

"Food is becoming less country-driven and more and more flavor-driven, with each chef interpreting his or her vision."

Fat Guy: True? False? Good? Bad?

"Globalization," as Plonicki notes. Does anyone doubt this part? McDonald's and Ducasse have global empires or at least international ones and more are to come.

Whether it's good or bad may depend on your view. We had this conversation about fast food franchises. Lots of people like standardization and they like to know they will find food they understand as they travel. I'd like to discover differences as I travel and I like to taste the differences. Worse than having a guy like Ducasse running the best restaurant in every town on my intinerary would be to have a dozen guys running a dozen different restaurants, but all cooking the same food in the same style. Will that really happen? I suspect not. What is more likely to happen is that differences will arise again. We may see regional preferences remain or regain the fore, but I suspect Samuelsson is correct that a lot of the differentiation will be the result of local chefs' visions at least at the top restaurants. Will I still be able to travel for the food. Perhaps as long as there are great restaurants. People travel for art. They don't eschew the northern painters at the Prado, nor are they disappointed by the Italian painters in the Louvre just because they're not local products.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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A very very few chefs approach artistry. And it's these that the ambitious and pretentious artisans who share their aspirations but not their talent seek to copy. It's also these artisans who form the bulk of named-chefs.

I like my chefs discreet, modest and confident enough to let the food on the plate do all the talking.

Places that correspond to my stringent criteria:

The Merchant House.

Zuberoa.

Michel Bras.

LML -- There are indeed few chefs that, for me, can approach artistry (my list, while containing different establishments, would be equally short). However, many of the other chefs should not be faulted for trying, and at least certain of them are no doubt motivated by the desire to please their clients and offer up an inspired cuisine (even if they don't succeed in my mind in doing so).  :wink: It is likely that certain chefs in the UK would fall into the "attempt with genuineness" category; many French chefs in France would.

On whether chefs should articulate a vision, if a chef can rise to the level of artistry for some meaningful group of informed diners, I wouldn't consider it inappropriate for the chef to speak of his vision (even if I didn't consider the particular chef's cuisine to be laudatory). Also, for that type of chef, while the cuisine should be the primary vehicle through which the vision is communicated, it need not be the exclusive vehicle. I would say that for most chefs, indications regarding vision are premature and ungrounded in their capabilities, though.

Over the weekend, I read in Gault-Millau magazine an article on Pascal Barbot of L'Astrance (whom I would categorize in the artistry category, by the way  :wink: ). Here's a quote: The young people who are well brought up [culinary-wise, to be clear], less worried about apperances, very adventurous . . . . Emmanuel Renaut (Flocons de Sel, Megeve), Gilles Chonkroune (Le Cafe des Delices, Paris), Jerome Bartoletti (L'Ecusson, Montpellier), Claude Bosi (Hibiscus, Ludlow) and still others, participate, within different styles and context, in a profound renewal of the [French] cuisine of today.  More accessible to a larger number of diners. . . ."  (Note the listed chefs are not all "Grands de Demain", or Great Chefs of Tomorrow, like Barbot.)

Have members sampled the cuisines of the listed chefs, other than Barbot?  For example, Bosi in Ludlow for UK members?

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I like my chefs discreet, modest and confident enough to let the food on the plate do all the talking.

Places that correspond to my stringent criteria:

The Merchant House.

Zuberoa.

Michel Bras.

LML - I couldn't agree more with your sentiment and the first choice on your list (I haven't had the opportunity to visit the other 2 as yet).

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Whenever I am in Ludlow, I always eat at The Merchant House. I walk pass Hibiscus on my way there from the B&B, read the menu, think it sounds great and determine to eat there the next time, then never do!

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A group who seem to feel that, having parted with the annual wages of a Colombian family for a two hour meal, they can then post on e-gullet and say how bad it was.

Such observations are easily made, but I am always at a loss as to what moral precepts to draw from them.

I can think of two plausible inferences:

1.  If you spend an amount equal to the annual wages of a Colombian family on a meal, then regardless of whether the meal is good or bad, you should say it is good.

2.  You should never spend an amount equal to the annual wages of a Colombian family on a meal.

Perhaps we are enjoined to adopt 1. above in the belief that restraint in the expression of critical judgments in such circumstances is a mark of sympathy and respect for those less fortunate than ourselves.  But since neither the hypothetical Columbian family, nor any surrogates we might postulate, are likely ever to know what the diners thought of the meal - and certainly they derive no practical benefits from the diners' circumspection - the proposal seems at best ineffectual and at worst self-indulgent.  

Inference 2. simply begs the question - why not?  As I observed in a different thread, massive inequities in the distribution of the world's goods are not to be rectified by individual decisions as to which bottle of wine to open or whether to eat both cheese and a pudding.  And of course, both 1. and 2. beg a further question: what is the threshhold at which it is morally unimpeachable either to eat the dinner or to express a negative opinion about it?  A Colombian family's monthly wage?  A Haitian family's weekly wage?   Or is the conclusion that we are morally culpable if we enjoy any meal which is not equally affordable by everyone?

The Australian philosopher Peter Singer has advanced arguments along such lines, but they are fallacious and politically naive.

Of course, Michael Lewis may mean something quite different from any of this - but if so, I haven't a clue what it is.

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Of course the reality will be different. Chefs now occupy the archetypal niche of pop-stars for the adoration of the affluent middle-class, middle-aged and middle-educated. A group who seem to feel that, having parted with the annual wages of a Colombian family for a two hour meal, they can then post on e-gullet and say how bad it was.

FYI, the Gross National Income for Colombia is just over $2000 per capita. Now that's per capita not per family. So, let's assume four people to a family, so $8000 per family annual income, which is a low estimate. I don't know any "middle-class, middle-aged and middle-educated" who could afford to spend that on a single meal. Colombia is considered a Lower Middle Income country.

Now if you had used a different country, perhaps your argument would hold water. Wait, no it wouldn't. I had to search though a lot of South & Central American countries to find one considered a Low Income county (most of them are Lower Middle). The lowest I could find was Nicaragua, with a per capita income of about $420. Using our 4x calculation, that would make a family income of $1680. Now, I'm hardly saying that this is a lot of money or anything, but come on, very few of us have spent that kind of money on a meal. I know I never have and I'm pretty sure I would be considered upper-middle class.

Marcus Samuelsson, the chef at New York's Aquavit restaurant, is quoted in this month's Food Arts:

"Food is becoming less country-driven and more and more flavor-driven, with each chef interpreting his or her vision."

True? False? Good? Bad?

I pretty much dissagree with this assessment. I think Samuelsson has been very influenced by his time in NYC. I feel that in this city that quote is 99% true. But for must other geographic areas it is less true. There may be a few examples out there of world cuisine, but the primary restaurant cuisine in most countries will be that of the country itself. Any fusion/world/chef driven cuisine will always be a distant second or third.

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