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Fusion Food- Profoundly Dishonest? - Discuss


Simon Majumdar
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Hoffman believes (and I agree with this), that he was using it [curry powder] to appear modern.
Curry powder has been in the repertoire of French cooks since I've been eating in France (1960) and perhaps much longer. It is less alien a flavor than basil or many other products from neighboring European countries. What I said in the France thread can be repeated here.
To state that restaurants needed to use curry to keep their cuisine current, and that it was a poor ingredient to apply French cooking technique to, is to ignore it's long usage. Julia Child had two recipes for curry sauces in her first Mastering the art of French Cooking. I see Elizabeth David noted in 1960 that curry crops up in unexpected places in French cookery. I find recipes using curry all over the place in old men's recipes in the sixties. Raymond Oliver has 8 in his La Cuisine © 1967. Louis Diat's French cookbook for Gourmet published in the early sixties lists 6 curry dishes. It's disingenuous to suggest there is anything "current" about curry in the 90s or that it's even foreign.
I think Hoffman had to assume that Pacaud was unaware of the long history of usage dating back generations before l'Ambroisie or that Hoffman was unaware of the same usage. My suspicion is that Hoffman with the weight of his recent introduction to the ways of curry in India blinded by his recent knowledge and unable to see the full picture. That he could take on a much more accomplished chef and use this chef's use of an ingredient as it's been traditionally used in France to indict the cooking of France took great chutzpah, however.

Suvir, I suspect that most western use of curry would not please your tastes. I'm not sure you would or should find it offensive, but I suspect at best you'e find it strange and incomplete or just missing something in the same way that I've found western food unappealing in Japan.

And while we're on the subject of fusion, misuse of curry and other Asian lands, (I brought up Japan) what do we all think of say, Japanese and Chinese use of curry as a seasoning in their countries. I've found it most curious that the only times I've seen a potato appear in a Chinese dish, it's been a Chinese curry. In Japan, I have the impression that curry sauce is always served on noodles. Neither of these uses seem remotely close to a fathful use by Indian terms. When does a country acquire the right to appropriate a foreign flavor or produce in their own cuisines. Can Native Americans criticise the French fried potato and look in askance at the way Italians use tomatoes?

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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The point is why the revolution in food today is occuring outside of France? And all Hoffman does is point out one example of how France is falling behind in cooking technique.

The point that started this in the other board was whether Hoffman was pointing at the symbol of a problem or if he merely, struck by his own recent interest and learning in the theory of curry, mistook a traditional French usage that was an affront to his newly acquired knowledge and blindly took it as a sign of something else. That he felt was able to point the finger towards France's falling behind by pointing at an accomplished chef producing superb dishes makes me wonder if he wasn't wrong somehow or somewhere. And he will be wrong even if someone else proves that elsewhere there exist signs that France is no longer the center of western gastronomy.

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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Bux I also think that, as in fields ranging from anthropology to quantum physics, one cannot overlook the effect of the observer on the observed. Someone like Suvir (not that there are many people like Suvir!) who is intimately familiar with Indian cuisine both regionally and internationally, has a tremendous advantage over someone like me in that he has tasted a million different spice mixtures (we'll call them curry mixtures for convenience, even though that's a hot-button word) in multiple contexts and can discern nuances that I just wouldn't pick up. But I have an advantage over Suvir too: I've hardly tasted any of these things. So he brings to the table experience, and I bring to the table a lack of preconceptions. So who is more fit to judge curry used out of context? Probably still Suvir, because he's both open minded and expert, but in judging the cuisine served at a Western restaurant that tries to incorporate some Indian elements I'd trust my opinion over the average Indian's precisely because I've got a more impartial palate.

By the way, I have it on good authority that Native Americans routinely ridicule French fries.

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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Bux--we'd still be having the same discussion about an American chef mistakenly making assumptions and missing the big picture if Pacaud had sprinkled Chinese Five Spice powder on langoustines instead of curry powder.  (Assuming Hoffman had just read Barbara Tropp instead of Madhur Jaffrey.) And just fyi, going back even earlier than your sources, Escoffier had codified curry sauces at the turn of the century--and how they needed to be adapted from true Indian curry in order to suit Western tastes.  So, one might be able to argue more persuasively that Pacaud was looking backward in his use of curry powder, rather than trying to "appear modern."

That is if one even recognized the validity of the point, which I do not.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Bux,  I am not offended or amused or even find incomplete the use of curry (if we have to use that word) in western cooking.  Actually, I am fine with the idea.  For curry does not mean anything to me.  Curry to me means a lot of things very different from what we talk about here.  Gravy maybe, a green herb is another thing that comes to mind.  

Also there is no comparison between the Japanese not liking western foods and an Indian not liking Curry in western dishes.  Those are two very separate and unrelated occurrences.  Nothing similar in them to justify comparison. Maybe you could compare how Indians respond to western food and compare that to the Japanese reaction to western food.  That would be an accurate and correct comparison.  

Secondly, Indians are amused at best not insulted or outraged or upset.  Personally, I give little credit to a chef that finds ingredients that are from India and uses them in their food, and after all that effort, has to still resort to a word as poor as Curry to define their great creation.  It shows very little understanding of food and life and culture and inspiration on the part of the chef and little respect for their own art.  It would be sad if I were a painter and did oil painting, learned how to do water color from a great artist and then came back to my country and told people I am using new paints to work with.  If I could not even remember the name for those paints - water colors in this instance, it shows how little I cared to learn.  That perhaps I was simply doing something for show.  One  that cares, will be more conscientious.  And with that understanding, that chef would create food that will live upto what it is.  

Do not forget, China and Japan have very old ties with India. Buddha took his way of living to those countries.  In the chant Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo you will find words from different languages.  And with the religion traveling to these other countries, so did the food and its many subtleties.  While Chinese and Japanese foods have maintained their original form and character, they have an old tradition of knowing the wisdom of spices and how they were used by those that relied on them for pleasures more  than just culinary.  I am sure when these exotic spices came to these two countries, it must have been very disturbing at first, but with time and practice, they evolved into a part of their lives.  

Noodles are a part of Indian food in many forms.  We have papadums that are used in Rajasthan as pasta or noodles are used in Italy and China.  These rice and lentil noodles or pasta, whatever we call them, are used in that part of India as a starch.  Tomato based sauces are used today and in these the papadums are cooked like a pasta would.  So it is not too exotic for an Indian to fathom that.  And actually, the Chinese do a great job with what they call curry.  They have understood the secret well.  It is all in cooking the spices and bringing out the essential oils that will give layers of complexity to the dish.

While we talk about noodles and curry, you will find many similar dishes in the foods of Southern India and even Sri Lanka.  These make many different kinds of noodle and pasta like starches, which are eaten, with the many Indian sauces.  So, again, noodles with curry are not exotic to Indians.

And Steven from your last post, I can perhaps claim that I would be a better judge of western cooking.   So maybe my edict on foods in France and the US would have more weight than yours.  For I carry less bias in the reverse situation.  For I am a mere Eastern newbe living in the western world.… hmm…..that is exciting to know.  Thanks for giving me such power.

But really, I do not think that is the case.  But there is some sense to what you say.  I certainly will not go as far to accept the reverse of your post.  Since it certainly makes me very uncomfortable.  But I will remember this thought when I want to oppose your undue dismissal or love of any chef or restaurant. It is a weapon I now have at my disposal.  Thanks.

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"The proof is still in the pudding, not in the intention. And though I sing Beatles songs operatically in the shower, I don't record them."

Steve Shaw-I disagree with that. You might like the way Pacaud's curry dish tastes, and you might also like the way Pavarotti sings My Way. But the fact that you like them has no bearing on why Pacaud used curry or why Pavarotti sang a pop song. Those examples might not offend you (they don't offend me either), but they do offend many people and I can understand why and how they are offended. In this instance, even though I haven't tasted the dish Hoffman is complaining about, mu gut tells me that Pacaud had it all wrong because of the sprinkling. I've never seen curry applied to a dish. But maybe I'm wrong. But certainly Hoffman is entitled to feel that way about it isn't he?

Bux-You keep wanting the standard to be that curry has been used in French cuisine for an entire century. And again that isn't the standard. Hoffman is complaining that Pacaud applied it to the dish and didn't integrate it properly. Again, Hoffman is entitled to feel that way about it isn't he? You want to say it is superb and Hoffman thinks it isn't. I ate at L'Ambroisie last year and found it pretty average. In fact I had a dish with curry and I can tell you the curry sauce at Union Pacific was ten times better than what Pacaud served me. If I blindfolded ten people and served them DiSpirito's Monkfish in a curry sauce and one of Pacaud's curried dishes I bet you that a vast majority of them would say Rocco's was more delicious. But if I served them with the blindfold off, I bet the numbers would change because my god, how could one of the world's greatest chefs, or as you said, an accomplished chef... Hoffman was just brave enough to tell the truth. Rocco knows curry better than Pacaud.

That brings us to the real point. There has never been an instance in modern day cooking (call it the entire 20th century) where French chefs didn't dominate culinary technique. Why is it that a guy like Rocco can know more than Pacaud?

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Actually, Steve, if Hoffman was quoted as simply saying he didn't like the dish, that it didn't work for him, no one would have any complaint.  Your extended attempts to defend and deflect for him are admirable, really admirable, but this is what he said--and only what he was quoted as saying--in the written record:  

"it was infuriating.  It was a French dish with powder.  It was such an insular approach, as though nobody understood that curry isn't a powder that you apply cosmetically.  Nobody had read Madhur Jaffrey or really understood that curry isn't just a spice you shake but a whole technique of cooking you have to understand."

Well, no, you don't have to have read Jaffrey, you don't have to have visited India, you don't have to understand a whole technique of cooking curry, and really talented chefs sprinkle powders on dishes all the time.  Curry powder is anything a chef wants it to be at anytime--no more, no less.  It carries no inherent quasi-religious cultural baggage.  (Though a diner is of course free to bring any of his or her own baggage with them.)

It wasn't even necessarily an insular approach--Hoffman would have no idea.  Ferran Adria spinkles so many powdered and pulverized things on dishes--spices, ground dried vegetables, fruit powders--is he being insular?  is he trying to appear modern?  is he disrespecting some classical sensibility?  Hardly.

I still say it doesn't matter.  I think Bux, Steve Shaw and I view Hoffman's comments as unwise, unknowing, presumptious--and I'd add, more than a little self-serving.  And none of us would have any problem if he simply said he didn't like the dish.

I appreciate that you are sharing more thoughts from conversations you've had with Hoffman.  The fact that Hoffman feels he was accurately quoted makes this issue more clear, and clearly damning.  I suspect--just suspect--he has no idea of how elite chefs cook and create and is a prisoner of his own myopia. (Which is, interestingly, how you are trying to portray French chefs.)

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Suvir, in fact I use the word "curry" with some discomfort, especially on this board, but I use it as it's defined in most U.S. English dictionaries--a powder prepared from various spices. Time and distance do strange things to language and a sauce made from those powders.

Steve P., I've not had enough meals at either Pacaud's or DiSpirito's hands. Neither of them are on my shortest list, but I'd look forward to eating at l'Ambroisie or Union Pacific again. That's not the issue, nor is the fact that DiSpirito is the fusion chef and that I find his food more interesting, but less successful. I see you stretching the bounds of the original discussion into irrelevant areas. If you want to say DiSpirito is the better chef, I may not agree, but I'm not likely to argue the point. I am not Pacaud's champion. The way curry has been used as Klc notes for the last century is a standard and not disputable. What may be disputable is whether it's a good or bad thing. I happen to believe it is neither (or both). It doesn't matter. Hoffman's statements, as quoted by Gopnik, belie his own shortsighted view of the issues. I'm glad Klc quoted them here. I thought I had lent my copy of the book, but realize I merely gave back the copy I had borrowed. Perhaps what infuriated me the most was the implications that Hoffman knew more than Pacaud. If he had criticized 100 years of French cooking, he might actually have seemed less arrogant, but I'd still feel he needed to understand French cusine as well as he claims to understand Indian cuisine.

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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Steve - We are just not going to agree. There are three basic disagreements. One, you keep saying that Hoffman isn't qualified to be an expert on the subject. Gopnik thinks he's capable and so do I. I mean if it was Floyd Cardoz's quote, would you be happier? Madhur Jaffrey's?

You then say that it is okay for a chef to sprinkle any powder on a dish he wants. I disagree. You might be allowed to put mayonaisse on a pastrami sandwaich but you can't do it. Not unless you want to come off as a boob who doesn't understand pastrami. Or maybe we should put grated cheese on our spaghetti with clam sauce. Yes you could do it. But any chef that sent a waiter over to my table to douse my clam sauce with grated cheese would immediately go onto my "doesn't understand clam sauce" list.  

You then say that the standard should be how the dish tastes. Well I don't think that is the standard either. To use my favorite example, opera, if I have paid $250 for Dress Circle seats to see Carmen I do not expect Aretha Franklin to sing the Habanera. Even if she sounds good doing it. I came to see opera. That means I expect to see people with certain technique be proficient at applying it to an operatic repetoire.

The final point which I think you're missing isn't Hoffman's quote, but Gopnik's point in writing the article which is that the world is passing France by. In fact it's the entire point of the book. The curry quote is just one more example among countless ones where Gopnik points out that France is losing, or has lost its cultural supremacy over the western world. And the point about Pacaud (from Gopnik's perspective, not Hoffman's,) is that here is an ingredient that chefs outside of France have mastered, yet French chefs haven't seem to have mastered it. And worse, they don't see to have any desire to learn how to master it.

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"The proof is still in the pudding, not in the intention. And though I sing Beatles songs operatically in the shower, I don't record them."

Steve Shaw-I disagree with that. You might like the way Pacaud's curry dish tastes, and you might also like the way Pavarotti sings My Way. But the fact that you like them has no bearing on why Pacaud used curry or why Pavarotti sang a pop song. Those examples might not offend you (they don't offend me either), but they do offend many people and I can understand why and how they are offended. In this instance, even though I haven't tasted the dish Hoffman is complaining about, mu gut tells me that Pacaud had it all wrong because of the sprinkling. I've never seen curry applied to a dish. But maybe I'm wrong. But certainly Hoffman is entitled to feel that way about it isn't he?

Hoffman is entitled to feel any way he wants. But, Plonticki, I hold you to a higher standard. It's true, my likes or dislikes have no bearing on why Pacaud used curry, because in evaluating the end result I couldn't care less why he used curry -- I only care how he used it. And it's true that some are offended by Pacaud's particular use of curry, but how pray tell is Pacaud's intention relevant to that judgment? If he used it well, he used it well. If he used it poorly, he used it poorly. Just as good intentions don't compensate for bad food, bad intentions don't diminish good food. So maybe Pacaud's curry dish is lousy (I don't think it is, and I'm pretty sure I've had the one under discussion -- I'd be happy to go more in depth on it if that's of even remote interest to anyone), but if it's lousy it's lousy because it tastes bad, not because Pacaud intended one thing or another while creating the dish. Logic dictates that the person who thinks a dish actually tastes -- tastes! -- better or worse because of what the chef was thinking while creating it is one of two things: Telepathic or delusional. Now, I'm the first person to say, "Hey, this dish is awful, what was the chef thinking?" But I care about the answer only from the standpoint of intellectual curiosity. The answer would have to be pretty darn compelling to change my mind about the dish -- I'm not even sure the possibility exists.

In your subsequent message, you say: "To use my favorite example, opera, if I have paid $250 for Dress Circle seats to see Carmen I do not expect Aretha Franklin to sing the Habanera. Even if she sounds good doing it. I came to see opera. That means I expect to see people with certain technique be proficient at applying it to an operatic repetoire."

Well sure you expect that, but there's a lot of room for maneuver within the bounds of what can be reasonably expected by an audience. Operas, ballets, and classical music performances have been integrating foreign elements since the beginnings of those forms. It's not uncommon for ballets to include some form or another of adapted folk dancing at some point. But opera and such are also much more predictable by nature than restaurant dining, at least in the sense that the acceptable range of variation tends to be stylistic rather than fundamental. The libretto, the music, these are all pretty much set and you can check them out in a bookstore the day before and expect them to unfold in a predictable manner in most cases. There are a million variations and shades of meaning -- significant enough to make or break a performance -- within the mission of executing the classics, but it's all occurring within a circumscribed framework that is not analogous to what you have in a modern restaurant. In other words, the vast majority of opera performances are like restaurants that serve classic repertoire cuisine. There isn't much of an operatic equivalent of Ambroisie or Union Pacific -- perhaps the closest thing would be a debut performance of a post-modern opera. In any event, I'm not comfortable enough with the music analogies to make a good argument -- it's easier if we talk about food when we're talking about food. And on that front I suggest that anybody who is surprised to see Eastern influences in Western restaurants should go back under his rock and reconsider.

+++

Now, Suvir, I could see you laughing maniacally there while deconstructing my argument to its most absurd logical conclusion. But here's what I'm trying to say: Let's take Plotnicki's example of putting grated parmesan cheese on seafood pasta. This is a big no-no in Italy, and among Italophiles like Plotnicki. It's kind of like ordering cappuccino for dessert or putting mayonnaise on pastrami -- it brands you as an ignoramus among the in-the-know crowd. Now me, I like Italian food, but I don't know all that much about it at the serious regional-and-local level. I'm part Italian, I like Italian things, and I've been to Italy (but not for a long time and never on a serious gourmet expedition), but I'm not an Italophile.

Now, what does this have to do with putting parmesan cheese on seafood pasta? I like it. In fact, I think that if every Italian in the world says I'm an idiot for liking it, I still like it -- and I think all those Italians (and Plotnicki) are wrong. So now I'm on Plotnicki's list of "people who don't get clam sauce," (I shudder to think how many such lists I might be on). But I think in fact that any reasonable, unbiased person tasting two examples of linguine with clam sauce side by side -- one with grated parmesan and one without -- will choose the one with the parmesan. I have done such a taste test; has Plotnicki? Have many Italians? Probably not, because being immersed in a certain cultural milieu prevents the necessary open-mindedness in most cases. Yet as long as the amount of parmesan used is very limited such that it doesn't conflict with the subtle flavors of the seafood, I think it benefits the dish by contributing that little bit of umame kick.

Another example: Pastrami. Here's a food I know a lot about. As a New Yorker, a Jew, a fat guy, and someone who has eaten scores of pastrami sandwiches over the course of decades I can say I'm something of an authority. I know so much about pastrami that I laugh at most people's amateurish understanding of pastrami; it's painful for me even to have a pastrami discussion with most people. When I read articles about pastrami by supposed professional food writers, I usually find one or two mistakes per paragraph. I have an e-mail relationship with the people up near Albany, NY, who make the pastrami for Katz's Deli. I get phone calls from radio stations in Canada and Japan asking me to settle pastrami arguments -- I even wrote a comparison of New York pastrami and Montreal smoked meat that was so controversial it appeared on the front page of the Montreal Gazette (slow news day I guess) and inspired an editorial-page cartoon the following day. I am pastrami-sensitive in a way that only a very serious, experienced, careful eater of pastrami could be. I probably know as much about pastrami, Suvir, as you know about any given Indian dish.

But I'm also deeply prejudiced about pastrami. Like Plotnicki, I just can't take people seriously when they put mayonnaise on their pastrami. I firmly believe that the most legitimate way to eat pastrami is on rye bread with mustard. A certain kind of rye bread with a certain kind of mustard, no less. And then there is the Reuben, and pastrami with eggs, but my pastrami universe is narrowly circumscribed.

Enter some Indian chef in India who gets hold of a piece of pastrami and integrates it into an Indian dish. Believe me, Suvir, I'm the last person you want to fly over there to taste and evaluate that dish. Becasue I'd be so blinded by the chef's basic lack of pastrami knowledge that I couldn't possible make an unbiased judgment of the dish. I'd say absurd, Plotnicki-esque things like, "Well, I don't care if it's delicious because this idiot chef doesn't know a damn thing about pastrami. He's on my 'doesn't get pastrami' list, no less." That's why you'd be a better judge of the dish than I would.

The point being, when people hold a culinary item near and dear, and then they see it being taken out of context, they have this visceral, unreasonable reaction that too often they can't get past. So the uninformed outsider can in that case often be a better judge. I'm talking specifically about someone with a good palate, an open mind, and a lot of culinary experience -- just not with the particular item in question. This person's impressions are potentially quite valuable. Now let's say I brought that person to New York and inducted him into the cult of pastrami, and let him spend time with my extended Jewish happy family, and gave him a great New York Jewish experience that made him forever into a Sienfeld-rerun-watching phylo-Semite perhaps even with a Jewish wife that he picked up on his visit, and he got to the point where he said, "I get the jokes in Woody Allen's movies now! And do you have any idea how hard it is to find a good shrink in Calcutta?" He might at that point really understand pastrami as I understand it. I wonder if that would make him a better or worse judge of that dish we were talking about in the first place.

Judging so-called fusion cuisine -- what I'd rather call flavor-driven cuisine, as Marcus Samuelsson does -- requires impartiality and a certain amount of shaking-off of cultural baggage. Sometimes the outsider is better able to do this than the insider.

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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Shaw-I guess there's a reason that some people become lawyers and some people become media moguls. Let me 'splain this to you.

There is nothing wrong with Aretha singing Habanera providing you didn't pay your good money to see someone sing in the style of Leontyne Price. That's exactly what Hoffman says. He went to L'Ambroisie to experience "classical" French cuisine. And when he had the hare he actually experienced it. But the captain talked him into the curry dish and he was angry about it because *to him*, that dish isn't representative of what "classic" French cuisine is about. To him, classic French cuisine means that the chef has technical mastery over his ingredients. He didn't feel Pacaud had that when he tasted that dish.

Now you might disagree with that and feel Pacaud indeed is a curry expert. Or in your case and Steve KlC's, it doesn't matter. If it tastes good then it flies. But that isn't Hoffman's standard. He thinks it's a misuse. And to a reader who hasn't been there, the example stresses the point of the article which is that for the century that France had cultural dominance over cooking, they were able to synthesize outside influences into their cuisine. It was perfectly fine for it to be French cuisine with foreign accents. But the point the book is trying to make is that due to the informational flow of the modern age because of air travel and things like faxes and the Internet, mere accents in cooking aren't good enough any more.

"Well sure you expect that, but there's a lot of room for maneuver within the bounds of what can be reasonably expected by an audience. Operas, ballets, and classical music performances have been integrating foreign elements since the beginnings of those forms."

Well that's not the real issue. Had R & B not been invented, Aretha might well have tried to become an opera singer. But her particluar skills are better applied to R & B than opera. And when I say that I wouldn't want to see Aretha sing the Habanera (or Pacaud use curry,) it implies that I understand that there is a better use for her voice. It has nothing to do with whether she can sing the habanera. It has to do with two things. My desire to hear opera sung by someone who is an expert in singing opera. And my desire to hear a great R & B singer sing R & B, not opera.  Hoffman's quote is exactly that. He wants to eat curry prepared by people who are expert in curry. Not by people who are expert in French cooking technique.

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Steve--you lose me--and diminish your own continued advocacy of Hoffman--the minute you say that Hoffman "went to L'Ambroisie to experience "classical" French cuisine" as if that were some valid criteria.  To me, it isn't--and relies on some unproveable contract of belief and expectation between chef and diner.  There's no such thing.

What Hoffman "wants"--what baggage and/or limitations he brings to the table--is clearly irrelevant.

And when you write that Hoffman "wants to eat curry prepared by people who are expert in curry. Not by people who are expert in French cooking technique" you only reveal his limitations as both diner and chef.

You accurately assess that we don't see this specific issue the same way Steve--but I would like to pursue the larger Gopnik "light has dimmed" hypothesis in another thread--and to go beyond the Hoffman/curry quote.  I encourage you to start a new thread--as Steve Shaw had urged--frame the issue as you see it--and let's weave our way out of India.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Shaw - When I wrote the last post I had not read your response to Suvir but it is relevent to our discussion. You are just looking at life through the lens of food. It is sort of like life imitating art. I think that is backwards. Food is an artform that is imitating life. The reason that pastrami goes best with a certain type of mustard and good rye bread is that the flavor combination reflects the Jewish experience. It is why Irish corned beef tastes different than Jewish corned beef or salt beef. It tastes of the Irish experience. I mean I know nothing about curry powder but I would bet you a Katz's pastrami sandwich that as you travel through the various regions of India, the recipe for your basic curry undergoes slight changes and it is probably at least partially because of the demography of the region. So it isn't that you can't put mayo on a pastrami sandwich. The issue is what does it mean?

If it actually meant something to somebody I'm sure it would have caught on.

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he was angry about it because *to him*, that dish isn't representative of what "classic" French cuisine is about. To him, classic French cuisine means that the chef has technical mastery over his ingredients.

But the chef's technical mastery or lack thereof is not a question of intent. A chef may have read every book there is to read about Indian spices, traveled to India, learned at the feet of Madhur Jaffrey, and graduated from the Suvir Saran culinary academy, and he may still be incompetent at using Indian spices. All his learning and good intentions don't count for squat if he can't put good food on a plate. Another chef may never have left his kitchen yet be intuitively brilliant at using those spices. What he creates is what it is; no more or less based on his intent.

Anyway, the definition you've offered up on Hoffman's behalf is not a particularly convincing definition of classic French cuisine, since all it seems to mean is that bad food can't be classic French cuisine. It's a non-definition -- you could substitute any major cuisine (Japanese, Italian, whatever) for French and the definition wouldn't change.

As a non-media-mogul (by the way, is that term Indian in derivation?), I'm now pretty much lost in the nuances of your music-and-media analogies. Analogies can be useful tools in a debate, but when the debate becomes about the analogy then they're not so useful. Where we've gone now with this discussion is into a whole area of the validity or lack thereof of the expectations of the audience (a/k/a the customer). I'll pause for a second here to reiterate that the judgment regarding whether or not those expectations have been met depends not a bit on intent but is instead purely a question of the performance or the meal before I go on to say that the reasonable expectations of a performance audience are categorically different from those of a restaurant audience.

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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You are just looking at life through the lens of food. It is sort of like life imitating art. I think that is backwards. Food is an artform that is imitating life. The reason that pastrami goes best with a certain type of mustard and good rye bread is that the flavor combination reflects the Jewish experience. It is why Irish corned beef tastes different than Jewish corned beef or salt beef. It tastes of the Irish experience.

Okay, now we're playing the leap-frogging post game. Here's my thought on this one: I think you're wrong. If a combination of meat and condiments evokes a particular cultural tradition, that's interesting but it doesn't define or affect the taste of that food. I'm not viewing life through the lens of food or food through the lens of life. I'm viewing food through the lens of food and life through the lens of life. When both food and life come into focus at the same time, that's even better. But to make one subservient to the other virtually guarantees disappointment. It also opens us up to irrelevant political concerns in our evaluation of cuisine, something I oppose strongly. And it certainly is not the future of cuisine.

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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Mogul could be from the sub-continent of India or the Indian word Moghul could be borrowed from the west.  In any case, the word itself meant something very different from what we use it as in the US today.  

But that shows the beauty of language as it fuses across cultures.  Like food.

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A plea--reiterated--let's try to keep this to the "Hoffman/curry/Pacaud/Indian fusion/other chefs using "Indian" spices/profoundly dishonest" thread--and enlarge the discussion elsewhere of the Gopnik hypothesis and any of these Steve Plotnicki tangents.  Each is a worthy discussion on their merits.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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"Steve--you lose me--and diminish your own continued advocacy of Hoffman--the minute you say that Hoffman "went to L'Ambroisie to experience "classical" French cuisine" as if that were some valid criteria."

Steve KlC- I don't understand why I lose you when I make that statment. If I said to you that I went to Honfleur to experience the light that painters who were expert in applying a technique which came to be commonly known as Impressionism painted in, would you be confused the same way? I'm really unclear as to why that wouldn't be an appropriate reason to visit Normandy. And further, if we found an Impressionist painting that was painted in a location where the light isn't anywhere near as refracted as it is in Normandy, would my comment of  "he captured the wrong light" be a valid one? Is Impressionism just a style of painting?

Or has the word come to define a certain technique applied to a specific type of light?

You see I keep using musical examples because music is replete with instances where artforms are complete in their repetoire. Nobody is able to make additions to the standard repetoire that are of real interest to people who follow the artform. As a short list, there hasn't been a great opera (I mean commercially and widely accepted) since the 1890's I believe. And there are no great swing songs like Take the A Train written anymore either. Broadway musicals? Yes if you call Lion King a musical and not a Las Vegas production and I say it's the latter. Lion King will not in my opinion become part of the standard Broadway repetoire that will be performed for at least the next few generations. Jazz? Any tenor sax palayers who have brought the instrument beyond where Coltrane brought it? In 40 years it hasn't happened.

And all Hoffman says (and I hope this is my final defense of him) is that what I have described has happened to those artforms has happened to French cooking. And he points to the use of curry as evidence. And if you don't see the use that way, and you just see it as a spice additive, well the point doesn't do it for you. And also if you see cooking as a continuum, and not as something where a new generation of chefs have broken the line of order and have bee materially influenced by chefs outside of France, you will never be able to put any weight on his statement. Which brings us right to Gopnik's point about French cooking having dimmed. So let me cook up a post on the topic.

Steve - I think you are just applying a fancy way of making the "if I like it it's good" argument. I just don't feel that way about it. To me opera is opera. It isn't R & B. And French cooking isn't the practice of making currys. When I sit down in a place like L'Ambriosie I want the French haute cuisine experience. Can curry be a part of that experience? Of course it can. Was it in the instance in Gopnik's book? It might have been. But it doesn't sound like it to me.

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I agree with Fat Guy's opinion. To reiterate - "the proof is in the pudding." It is much less subjective in the sciences. However, when a graduate student (like John Nash) comes up with an idea, he is awarded the Ph.D. Students come up with proofs to theorems while they are first year students (or even undergrads in some cases). In Nash's case, he happened to come up with a Nobel Prize winning idea in a field that was not his chosen one either (economics). So is he like an ignorant chef who chanced upon a great idea and be denied recognition for the sake of some ideological standard? I do not believe so. Same goes for musicians. Even in academics, people argue that creativity is stifled by experience. I am not endorsing either point of view. I am just saying that a good idea is good irrespective of the intent behind its origin.

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I think you are just applying a fancy way of making the "if I like it it's good" argument.

My argument may be fancy, but it's not that if I think it's good it's good. It's that goodness must be evaluated with absolutely no regard to intention. Intention doesn't make good food bad or bad food good. Context, yes, food should always be looked at in context. And I think all your examples ultimately are about context not intention even though you say they're about intention.

A Nathan's hot dog served at Ambroisie is out of context. It's out of context no matter what Pacaud was thinking when he decided to serve it. The context is determined not by Pacaud's intent, but by external factors. I don't care why he chose to serve the hot dog, only that he did. That's how I'm judging him. Now, I'm judging two different things of course: The food and the context. The hot dog may be a great hot dog. To say it isn't a great hot dog just because it was served at Ambroisie would be absurd. What I'd say is that it's a great hot dog but it probably shouldn't be served at Ambroisie. And if it's a bad hot dog, well, I'll be doubly annoyed because it's both bad and out of context. So what I'm saying is that there are several levels of analysis, all separate and of varying degrees of legitimacy: There is the chef's intent: Irrelevant. There is the food itself: The most important thing. And there is the context within which the food is presented: Important to varying degrees depending on the circumstances.

But a Nathan's hot dog at Ambroisie is categorically different than a French haute cuisine dish that incorporates this so-called curry powder. The curry powder cannot possibly come as a surprise to anyone familiar with French haute cuisine. Even in my limited experience, I've seen it on plenty of menus used in varying ways. It's not usually used well, but it's no surprise to see it. So, my objections or lack thereof to a curry-powder-seasoned dish are not contextual objections, becuase such dishes are entirely within context. They are simply judgments as to whether the dish is good or not.

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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"The curry powder cannot possibly come as a surprise to anyone familiar with French haute cuisine. Even in my limited experience, I've seen it on plenty of menus used in varying ways. It's not usually used well, but it's no surprise to see it."

Fat Guy-But all Hoffman is saying that the standard of what is acceptable has changed. French chefs historically got away with it because people didn't know any better. Now the standard has changed because literature on how to use it properly is widely distributed.

As for a hot dog at L'Ambroisie, I wouldn't find anything wrong with it. A hot dog is nothing more than a shape of a sausage.  Pacaud could make a fancy hot dog out of say lightly smoked pork and serve it with a little puree of saurkraut. In fact in Alsace that would probably pass as sufficient refinement of a peasant dish. And aside from the fact that you would probably be belching it up the rest of the meal, it might pass mustard  :biggrin: But a Nathan's hot dog could not be served. Whatever Pacaud serves, it has to taste like 3 star French technique has been applied to it. The technique applied to a Nathan's hot dog tastes like it's been applied by a person wearing a hair net.

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In this instance, even though I haven't tasted the dish Hoffman is complaining about, mu gut tells me that Pacaud had it all wrong because of the sprinkling. I've never seen curry applied to a dish. But maybe I'm wrong.

Steve -- I can't immerse myself in this debate right now, but wanted to address the very limited factual point of Pacaud's langoustine with curry dish.  When I tasted this dish in 4Q 2001 (and saw it served to a dining companion 1Q 2002), the curry was not "sprinkled" (i.e., inside the completed dish, the form of the curry was not primarily "powder" or grains or nonintegrated forms of curry). The curry was (at least most obviously) part of a medium yellow, French-consistency sauce, on which perfectly cooked langoustines were couched.  (See further observations on Pacaud and Japanese ingredients used by Troisgros under the original thread under "France"). I would appreciate confirmation from other members on the use of curry in the this dish.  :raz:

Below is an article on Pacaud and his red pepper mousse amuse-bouche. Would a chef putting so much thought and care into his red pepper mousse utilize cumin witout a genuine belief that it was appropriate to langoustines?  Excerpt from a July 31, 1988 (no typo), New York Times Article by Patricia Wells (not necessarily a reliable critic, but let's not continue to discuss that at this point):

"While other chefs jet-setted about and tinkered with exotic ingredients to draw attention to themselves, Bernard Pacaud . . . remained at the stove, slowly refining his dishes. . . . One  Pacaud  dish - a creamy  red-pepper mousse that he has been refining since he first began preparing it at Vivarois in the late 1970's . . . .

For Pacaud,  the word refinement means getting to the spare essence of an ingredient. His  red-pepper mousse  is a case in point. While working with chef  Claude Peyrot at Vivarois,  Pacaud  was presented with a crate of sweet red peppers. He chopped the raw peppers, pureed them in a food processor, whipped them together with some cream and ''created'' a  red-pepper mousse.  Over the years, every six months, he's changed the formula, updating to improve the texture, intensify the flavor. . . .

Right now, he is working on a delicate blend of 25 carefully measured spices that includes coriander, fennel, black pepper and cloves. It will be used as a thick coating for turbot, and served with a delicate jus de veau. 'Come back in

a few weeks, and taste this,' he says, as he runs his fingers through the spices."

French chefs at high levels don't need to "get away" with anything, and they were never getting away with things just because there had been less globalization, mobility and communications in the past. While the quality of the cuisine among French chefs obviously varies, at the top level the chefs are doing what they think works.  :wink:

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cabrales--steve k here, not steve p.  For me, whether the curry powder was sprinkled in the sauce and simmered or sprinkled on as an accent in that specific dish--which you have nicely explicated elsewhere--really doesn't matter to the way I see the issue.  I'd feel the same way about Hoffman's quote and I would still line up against Steve Plotnicki on this issue regardless.

It doesn't matter to me whether Pacaud had any Indian frame of reference at all nor even if he had advanced a version of a traditional French sauce with curry.

I do appreciate your addressing this point however.  I do think the last line sums up my feeling exactly--that at the highest level, chefs regardless of nationality do what they think works best according to their palate--even if that means they break, bend, ignore or create their own rules.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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