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Fine Dining vs. Cheap Eats


Fat Guy
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J.D. - The reason that people went to the Silicon Valley is that Stanford University is there. And from what I understand, as opposed to MIT and Harvard, they allowed the professors on staff to keep the patents they developed in the school labs for themselves. So indeed it was a hub. It was a place where people went to get rich. Prior to this policy a major technology hub was in the greater Boston area. Companies like Wang, Digital Equipment etc. But when Stanford implemented that policy and the industry moved west, it almost completely obliterated the high tech industry in Massachusets.

"To buy your geographic hub theory you would have to believe that if, say, Spain or Denmark had possessed a local populace enamoured with food, a system of rating and ranking restaurants, a system of rating and rewarding top chefs (Meilleur Ouvrier de France, etc.), and many of the other internal factors that enhance French cuisine and diffuse it across the world, the cuisine of those countries would NOT have spread as the French did, simply because, in crossing Europe (by train? on foot? boat?) people didn't naturally traverse those lands."

Well you are discounting the other factors. Not only was France a hub, but they were in the best position to take advantage of the information. The most important factor that none of us have raised so far is in the 20th Century, there are four distinct emanations of French cuisine. There is the Esscoffier stage, the Fernand Point stage, the Paul Bocuse stage and the Joel Robuchon stage. Of course I am leaving certain great chefs out but those names should do. There is no Spanish, Danish, or even Italian equivelent of that sort of evolution in cuisine.

You also can't raise caviar as a reply to my point about expense because it is not similar in anyway to a pappardelle with hare sauce. But the ppardelle is similar to a lievre a royale. So when it's apples to apples, it's relevent. Allard in the 6th is still there. Unfortunately the Allard family doesn't own it anymore. It's owned by the Freres Blanc who own a chain of restaurants.

Nina - Pale supermarket tomatoes are shitty. That's why they sell for .99 a pound. Beefsteak tomatoes are delicious. That's why they are going for $4.99 a pound. It ain't rocket science.

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Well you are discounting the other factors. Not only was France a hub, but they were in the best position to take advantage of the information. The most important factor that none of us have raised so far is in the 20th Century, there are four distinct emanations of French cuisine. There is the Esscoffier stage, the Fernand Point stage, the Paul Bocuse stage and the Joel Robuchon stage. Of course I am leaving certain great chefs out but those names should do. There is no Spanish, Danish, or even Italian equivelent of that sort of evolution in cuisine.

I think JD's point is just the opposite--the other factors are the cause. The geography has little or nothing to do with it.

As I indicated early on, I'm happy to concede that some travellers through France likely propagated some food knowledge. However, this was likely to have ocurred in just about every country in Europe. As a result, this factor is not something that sets France apart from other countries. I think Wilfrid made this argument quite effectively some time back.

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I agree with Steve P that French cuisine is better (because it tastes better) than any other cuisine and that is why it dominates when it does. Note the above is my subjective assessment. However, as Steve noted, among the knowledgeable dining public, there are many who harbor such subjective assessment. :wink:  I don't think Steve P provided the quoted statement for stylistic reasons. Without purporting to speak for him and based on review of his prior posts, I think he means what he stated.

I would generally and eagerly agree that French cuisine is best, but when asked why, I'd hate to base my case on it tasting better. Surely that's totally subjective and to go the step further and say that those who are knowledgeable agree it tastes better is nothing more than saying those who agree are the ones we deem knowledgeable. It cannot be proven that French food is "better" or that one thing tastes better than another without agreeing on the subjective conditions first.

While the subject is fascinating to discuss, I can see why Toby was upset by the vehemance with which some of us pursue the issue. It is as if we really expect to win these arguments on merit. That merit being our superior sense of taste and insight. It does, at times, smack of some arrogance even among friends, if the humor is lost.

For all that, I need to say that if French food is the very best for many reasons including taste, complexity, or whatever, it doesn't hold that all French food, high and low, is better than all other food. Can we prove the superiority of French cuisine over Italian by noting that French chefs have mastered risotto or by saying that Italian chefs have aped the cooking of magret de canard and now serve rare duck breast? Which is it, that the French can skillfully incorporate Italian food or that they can influence their neighbors? Perhaps it's the genius of the French that they can do both. Okay, but in what way that the Italians haven't done the same in these examples.

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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"Nina - Pale supermarket tomatoes are shitty. That's why they sell for .99 a pound. Beefsteak tomatoes are delicious. That's why they are going for $4.99 a pound. It ain't rocket science. "

You can't tell me you use price as a measure of quality. C'mon.

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I find that Picasso quote to be a bunch of hype.

Steve, I still haven't abandoned hope that your demonstrated willingness to learn in areas unfamiliar to you will outweigh your tendency to shoot from the hip out of ignorance. Not to dwell here on something off topic, but suffice it to say that Picasso's quote is a touchstone for understanding his art and the plastic arts in general in the 20th century - and for the Ramones as well.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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in what way that the Italians haven't done the same in these examples.

Quite right, Bux. I'm guessing the marriage of Catherine de Medici to Henry II resulted in some knowledge transfer on the food front, among another thing or two.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Robert - The Ramones always played like children. In fact they never learned how to play like adults. What they played was the best that they could do and to be honest about it, many children could play better than they did. Picasso learned how to paint like an adult. In fact he set the standard for adult painting. You can't compare him to the Ramones.

"You can't tell me you use price as a measure of quality"

Nina - Come on Nina, better things cost more. Are you really going to argue about that? And before you tell me that a meal at Ali's is better than a fancier meal in some swanky place in Manhattan, it all goes to the definition of better. Not as in preference, but as in an objective assessment of what goes into the food including the ingredients and preparation.

You know I went there a few weeks ago and had the soft shell crabs dipped in garlic and turmeric and sauteed. It was delcious. But as I sat their analyzing the dish, I realized that if I was eating the same dish at say Annisa, Anita Lo would have put the vegetables that the crabs were sitting on through the ringer and she would have come up with a more refined way to serve them. In other words, her version, given everything else being equal would have been "better." Ali's version as good as it was had limitations because the technique he applies to making the dish is not as evolved as Anita Lo's would be. There, that's an objective version of "better" that has nothing to do with my preferring something based on taste, but based on how much technique the chef put into making it.

The standard Chowhound argument against what I just wrote is to say, why is more refined better? Why isn't Ali's home cooking style the better of the two becaue I like it better? And to have that opinion is to deny that 100 years of cooking technique that is traditionally used to measure how well someone cooks should be thrown out the window for subjectivity.

Nisht.

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And (even) I would never compare Picasso to the Ramones, in the sense implied here.

Interestingly, though, Picasso's work is a lightning rod for the "my kid could do that!" sort of comment. Part of the burden of being head Modernist, I suppose.

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ●  Twitter    Instagram

 

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I think Wilfrid made this argument quite effectively some time back.

Bless you, Jordyn. And I think JD made it even more clearly. If Steve's point about geographical location is to have any value, he has to show it made a difference independently of the other factors, otherwise it can be erased without any loss of content or explanatory value to his theory. A lot of intelligent, well-informed people have contributed to this discussion, and have repeatedly told Steve that he's wrong on this one. The fact that he sails on blithly - "France is a hub" - is mildly annoying. But I am consoled by the fact that I probably annoy him more than he annoys me. :biggrin:

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better things cost more

I think this is the crux of your thinking on the matter. I agree in part and disagree in part. Some better things cost more, but not everything that costs more is better. In a free market, as you know, things cost what they cost because of supply and demand. And not everything people are willing to pay a lot for is better. Take oranges and grapefruits, and assume right now they are available in similar abundance, and are equally good. Now assume all of a sudden 99% of grapefruit trees die. Well grapefruits just got a whole heck of a lot more expensive than oranges, but they didn't get any better than oranges. Only a fool would argue that they've somehow become better by virtue of costing more, though there are no doubt plenty of fools who would come to believe that to be a new truth rather quickly.

The same is true of complexity. All other things being equal, complexity almost always is going to get you a higher price tag because more labor is involved. But complexity is not inherently good. If anything, I'd argue that simplicity is inherently good and that the overwhelming majority of attempts at complexity are diminutions not improvements. But yes, when complexity does represent an improvement it's a really good thing.

Likewise complexity does not inherently make for more interesting discussion. It simply makes for more discussion. The definition of interesting is not "more to talk about." All you have to do is read computer magazines to know that.

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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Steve and Robert -- thank you.  I would add that I enjoy eGullet discussions far more than argument for the sake of argument, which gets tedious, resolves nothing, threatens to become ad hominen, and takes up space that could be used for sharing genuine information.

Information as an abstract entity is limited in that it assumes one’s acceptance without questioning how accurate or complete it is. Pragmatism emphasizes the fact that some of our beliefs based on presented information turn out to be mistaken, as reality has many faces and it’s easy to be misinformed. How would one know that his perception of a “burger vs. fine cuisine” is true? True ideas are those that we can validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. The way to distinguish between the two is through induction and the scientific method, where a collection of facts is bound together. More often than not, even in our “arguments for the sake of argument,” not only do enough facts get presented to permit valid judgments, but the arguments themselves assist us in making those judgments.

I won’t argue that my explanation may not seem tedious, but could it be called “argument for the sake of argument?” :unsure:

Yes, if you can get beyond "Is so," "Is not," "Is so," "Is not."

I am happy to say, this post eventually did.

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I think Steve is barking up the wrong tree with his argument on geography as he frames it, that is, people passing through. But, geography may help explain why French cuisine is so good. It's a country that has the Mediterranean climate in the south with all the things associated with it. Olives, etc. And in the north it has a temperate climate, hence the cheeses. It is this rich mix of climate that produces the wide array of foods, that when brought together, gives the chef such a broad canvas and such variety.

Compared with Spain, Italy, Britain, Scandanavia, France has contrasting climatic zones that maybe cannot be compared.

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. . . what's there to opine about?

To me this is just one more example that the "Cheap Eats" aspect of dining not being very interesting on an analytical level. Yes information about where you can buy a great hot dog/hamburger (raw or cooked) and maybe a tip or two about how to prepare them might be helpful but, there isn't the same level of subtlety and variance when discussing them as there is when you discuss things like potato gratins or how one uses green tea.

Returning to New York and my computer after five days in the country, I found a three foot pile of New York Times, a new Architectural Digest, and at least three threads on eGullet that had grown like Jack's beanstalk. Daunting task to catch up. I'll do something dangerous and perhaps lazily, post on this subject without reading the ten pages of posts that preceed me. ( promise to read them all).

The new AD is themed something like "The world's most exotic homes." And some are, including a 240 foot sailing yacht. These are interesting articles to read, and even more interesting to see photographs of homes that cost upwards of $15 million. I wondered if I would find a magazine themed "exotic homes costing $25,000 or less" as fascinating? I doubt that the design, concepts, furnishings, landscaping and ideas inherent in the low- end houses would tickle me as much as the high-end domiciles. In one, a designer used bamboo wood to make a polished hardwood floor. The look and sense of it is spectacular. I'll remember it when time comes to redo a room or two. The use of tiles, ceramics, unusual materials are inherently interesting to me. The furnishings are wonderful, in the literal meaning of the word. To use Steve's phrase, the "level of subtelty and variance when discussing them" is far and away greater than that which could be found in a story on prefabs or "cheap" housing. NB>I'm not saying that inexpensive housing is not important, and that new ideas for such are not vital to the majority of the world's population. They are. I just am not personally interested in spending much time reading about them.

And so it goes with food. I would much rather read one of Cabrales', or Lizziee's, or Steve's descriptions of a penultimate meal than I would read about the making of hot dogs, pizza or hamburgers, even though hamburgers and hot dogs are among my most favorite things to eat. Once told by Henry Meer to try adding ground brisket to the beef for hamburger, (and I did and loved the result) I lost interest in the subject. As an amateur cook, I'll read anything that is relevant to things I cook or might want to cook. But I'd rather be over my head than regressing to a level I've long passed by.

I could probably say the same for gardening. I doubt the any designed by Lutyens and Jekyll cost less than a small fortune, but who wants to read about anything lower down on the scale of design and look?

That said, I will now go back to reading about homes I someday hope to afford.

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Fat Guy - Before I run out to dinner. You can't prove the usual by pointing out the unusual. To say that the price of grapefruts after a catastrophic event is indicative of their worth doesn't make any point.

Most things that are better cost more *because they are better.* Of course not everything that is good is popular enough to have supply and demand kick in so the market reflects it's quality. Take German wines for example. They are not popular with collectors so there is no real secondary market and the prices aren't driven up by supply in demand. However, that doesn't mean that the producers don't price the wines from the better vineyards at a higher price point. Of course they do. In Burgundy Roumier makes a Musigny, a Bonnes Mares and a Chambolle-Musigny Amoureuses and he charges in that order from best to lesser. But that doesn't mean that in odd vintages like 1999 the Amoureuses might not be the best wine and priced at or higher to the Bonnes Mares. But that doesn't mean that Musigny is not a better quality vineyard than Amoureuses. The ranking isn't subjective, it's objective according to A.O.C. standards.

So quality is quality, and rareness in the market is a different factor completely. One really has nothing to do with the other because an assessment of price equaling quality assumes that other factors that would have an impact or price like availability are equal.

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Bad analogy. You've mis-defined the category. Comparing Burgundy to Burgundy is not the same as comparing Food to Food. Of course where there is a rigorous AOC system in place the better wines within that closed system will be priced higher as a general rule (with exceptions). But that's the equivalent of saying that better beef costs more than worse beef. Of course it usually (but not always) does. But dishes are combinations of ingredients (which can be priced a million different ways for a million different reasons; which is to say the other factors that would have an impact or price like availability are not equal) paired with labor and expertise and often served in a context where the food itself is only 20% of what you're paying for.

In addition, I disagree with your understanding of supply and demand as forces in the culinary marketplace. For example, lobster, cod, and many other ingredients we take for granted as being excellent never achieved popularity among upscale consumers in North America until they became scarce. They were considered poor food. There are still people in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes who remember that when they were kids it was embarrassing to bring a lobster sandwich to school because it meant you were poor.

Now we've gone from "better things cost more" to "Most things that are better cost more *because they are better.*" [Emphasis supplied by Plotnicki.] I might be inclined to agree with the latter statement, especially if you agree that it means some things that cost less are better. And to take it a step farther, some less complex foods can be better than some more complex foods -- and more interesting to eat, write about, and read about both in the home-cooking and restaurant contexts.

When you get back from dinner you can answer the rest of my arguments.

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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For a good part of the 18th and 19th century, the British Empire was the world's most powerful, and the British upper class among the most aped. Why was there no similar development of cuisine emanating from this rich and powerful empire? The same question might be asked of Portugal, Spain or Holland in their glory years. It is an interesting question of why French cuisine was adopted as the standard among, at least, the western nations. As for popularity in the US, I would put my money on Italian over any other ethnic cuisine. And, in the last ten years, "Italian" has become elevated to the level of semi-haute cuisine as new regional variations become available in our major cities.

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As for popularity in the US, I would put my money on Italian over any other ethnic cuisine.  And, in the last ten years, "Italian" has become elevated to the level of semi-haute cuisine as new regional variations become available in our major cities.

I had considered this point earlier, but I could already hear the response--Italian food is popular, but not with those who really understand great food. As for it's rise to semi-haute cuisine, there's a similar reply that as it's learned from the French and incorporated the techniques of French haute cuisine it's come to resemble that cuisine more. The second argument has great validity in proving the dominance of French cuisine and perhaps even it's superiority in certain areas, but the first argument is just too self serving to sway opinion--it's better, well because the people with discerning taste prefer it.

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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Most things that are better cost more *because they are better.*

So quality is quality, and rareness in the market is a different factor completely. One really has nothing to do with the other because an assessment of price equaling quality assumes that other factors that would have an impact or price like availability are equal.

So, this would explain why junk cuts of meat such as flank and skirt steak, spare ribs, short ribs and chicken wings are twice as expensive or more comparitively than they were 20 years ago?

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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As for it's rise to semi-haute cuisine, there's a similar reply that as it's learned from the French and incorporated the techniques of French haute cuisine it's come to resemble that cuisine more.

I'm not one who would make that argument. My observation is that the cuisines of, say, Tuscany, Umbria, Valdostana, Piemontese, Romagna, Liguria, Campana, Puglia, etc. are emerging as specialities. As chefs develop expertise in these regions and people experience the subtleties and variations of the preparations and sauces, their opinions and appreciation of the level of the foods rise. My guess is that over the next ten years, haute-Italian will gain supremacy over French, which is becoming old-hat. (not to mention what will be a growing anti-French sentiment in the heartland of chic-America).

French cooking of today is struggling, like jazz in America, to find a new voice and level. Bop was the last big revolution in jazz, and what has come since is just a mish-mash of individual styles and cross-genre attempts. Had Miles lived longer, we might have seen a new "school" or movement, but there are no leaders now to take us there. The same might be said of French cuisine. Thai-French fusion is just a desperate attempt to inject some variation in a stagnant cuisine, (good tasting as much of it may be).

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And I've been thinking of it during this discussion, truly. Over time I have come to think, (and I speak from the MOST elementary level), more and more, not less, that true Modernism is maybe even a little reductionist, in the sense that one must judge (and have the courage to jettison) the unnecessary.

The more one sees primitive art, particularly African native art, the more one wonders how truly revolutionary the modern incarnation of this art is. Perhaps the true revolution was the adoption of Picasso's "modernism" by the cognescenti. :shock:

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This opinion completely ignores that certain trace substances being present is what make perfumes extremely valuable.

You’re confusing cost and worth. A bit nouveau, you know.

Or it is to say, that people who know nothing about perfume and don't value those substances have opinions that are just as valid as those who do.

Absolutely not. It is to say that there can be disagreements even amongst the informed.

No a kidney tastes best when it is cooked in a way that maximizes its flavor. Roast beef tastes best rare. But onglet tastes best medium rare. And so on. Of course you might like your roast beef well done. But that has nothing to do with when a hunk of prime rib exudes the most flavor, or has the best texture for chewing.

You inadvertently point out the flaw in your argument. There is no reason to suppose that the cooking method that gives the most flavor is that which produces the best texture. (I would guess that the opposite is more often the case.) Further, it is ridiculous to suppose that there is a single aspect of flavor or that all aspects of flavor will be optimized by the same cooking technique. And informed eaters can legitimately disagree on the method they prefer because it’s subjective.

This is manifestly true. If it were not every restaurant would serve identically prepared dishes.

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I note what you say about Feyerabend.  Coming from a scientist, that's scary, but doesn't mean it's wrong.

I'm not suggesting that science doesn't generate true(ish) statements about the world. I think it does. But how it does it is a bit mysterious and not at all consistent from discipline to discipline.

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For a good part of the 18th and 19th century, the British Empire was the world's most powerful, and the British upper class among the most aped. Why was there no similar development of cuisine emanating from this rich and powerful empire?
Because, as Colin Spencer has demonstrated, the roots of British culinary tradition were destroyed by a combination of the Enclosures and the Industrial Revolution. The Yoemanry (the solid prosperous peasant population) lost their homes and therefore their kitchens, where mothers taught their daughters. Those who joined the urban labor force lived in squalid conditions in which any but the most primitive cookery was out of the question.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Because, as Colin Spencer has demonstrated, the roots of British culinary tradition were destroyed by a combination of the Enclosures and the Industrial Revolution.

And the British upper class would not or did not support the establishment of an "haute-cuisine?" The french aristocracy seemed hell bent of eating well, why not the British? or did they just send out for French? (What are you doing up so late, John?)

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