The farm to table backlash has started. I've been noticing articles in the glossy food press, mentioning chef/farmer connections with derision. As in the new Food & Wine
Behind every other plate of glossy Brandywines and Cherokee Purples I'd ever been served, I could hear a chef bragging about the cool farmers he knew. All that reverence for seasonal produce got so boring after a while that I wanted to round up every heirloom-tomato salad on earth and set them all adrift on an ice floe......
Granted, it's tiresome to incessantly hear the source of ingredients. That's one of the reasons we don't trumpet that on our menu. It doesn't mean we don't know farmers or that we don't buy from them, but we do it because that's just how we think things should be done, not because it's a marketing angle.
5 or so years ago I attended a Chef's Collaborative conference at the CIA in Hyde Park. One of the bigger topics was how to get the mainstream media to focus on organics and sustainability. It appears we've succeeded all too well.
This happens to anything which garners a lot of ink. People who have no idea what they're doing jump on whatever bandwagon is being touted and the principles of the particular cuisine become cliched. Remember kiwi slices everywhere? After the cliche comes avant-garde (which may just be a return to sound principles).
Take molecular gastronomy. Many of the things are interesting, certainly edible, but I don't know about palatable.
He'd turned the sloshy, sloppy tomato salad into something taut, rigorous and new.
Taut and rigorous I like in writing, not food. Most of my life is enough of an intellectual exercise. I need dining to be a sensuous experience. Yes, these types of chefs address this with atomizers, springs of herbs entwined in the forks, changeable lighting and focused sound systems, even dining in complete darkness or eating sushi from a nude woman. Nice gimmicks, PT Barnum would be proud.
I'm not saying this movement isn't valid. My feelings about it are complicated. Good new ideas are being introduced and I do agree in essence with the following although not the execution.
"We know we can get awesome shrimp. That's not good enough for us anymore. How can we manipulate it? We're still dealing with the same ingredients, but we sit down and say, 'What's a shrimp?'"
Any chef at all should be doing this. Coaxing the best from your ingredients is your job. However, I am more interested in the definition of manipulation as "the action of touching with the hands or the skillful use of the hands" not "shrewd or devious management, especially for one's own advantage."
Where to draw the line between innovation and idiocy? Like Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . but I know it when I see it .
In the meantime I shall try to stay true to the course, whatever that is, of cooking to the best of my ability food that interests, stimulates and nourishes me which won't confound my customers.