As I’ve said before, my mother was a casserole queen. She made the most wonderful casseroles and one pot wonders. Winter in rural New Hampshire was my mom’s time to shine from a culinary standpoint. There was mac n cheese with ham, scalloped potatoes, potato and squash gratin, baked spaghetti with lardon of salt pork, fish, clam and corn chowders, lasagna, shepherds pie, rappie pie, boiled dinners, pot roast…I can just smell them now. She had her occasional flops as we all do, but even when making something out of nothing she always seemed to make it taste amazing. Mom was able to do all these dishes without ring molds, sauces a la Jackson Pollock, eight inch sprigs of rosemary, tourneed vegetables, Himalayan Pink Salt, cedar planks, plates the size of a pool table and in the shape of used silly putty on acid. Aside from pot liquor from cooking greens, pot roast jus thickened with a little cornstarch slurry, or turkey gravy on Thanksgiving…there was little to add or take away from what was delicious food. I’m the first to admit, I love the addition of a nice jus, salsa, fresh mayo, hollandaise etc… but just to add a touch of flavor or elegance to an already nice plate of food. but after that, STOP F’ING WITH IT!
I noticed on Top Chef several weeks ago (the last time I ever watch, save for the odd time when Bourdain is judging) the judges were critiquing the plates that the food was served on, the garnish on the plate, the sauce on the food, and then finally the food itself. Why are these people making food so damned complicated? It’s not just Top Chef, it’s everywhere. If I am at Le Bernardin, and I am paying several hundred dollars for dinner, I want a horse and pony show, I expect tall, fancy, ornate and delicious food…that’s why I’m there…for the experience..of course I also want to be kissed before the check arrives. Only whores don’t get kissed before they get….well whatever it is whores get….but that’s another story. That all being said, when I am at a local restaurant paying twenty bucks for a nice roast lamb dish, I don’t want pruning shears to cut the half tree of rosemary that’s skewering my lamb into the ring molded couscous, and a squeegee on top of that because there are three different sauces splashed all over the half truncated icosidodecahedron shaped plate, that is sitting atop a forty pound slab of salt from Taoudenni. Just serve the poor lamb as it was intended…simply. The other monkey business is superfluous.
The problem is, it’s not going to end there. Soon, you’ll be seeing this stuff in your local diners and sandwich shops. But Pav, Cooking is art, the chefs need to express themselves creatively. Oh, is that right?! Bullshit. chefs are cooks, they should cook the food and present it in a manner that is appealing. I can’t tell you the last time I got all weepy eyed looking at a plate of food and through trembling lips uttered “Oh the chef….he knows the joy I feel, you can see it in the log cabin he has made with his pommes frites!” Oh yeah, and unless you’re from France or Belgium, let’s just call them fries. As far as people in the culinary world being artists, I’ll concede that the pâtissier probably fits that mold, but other than that….no way. Still don’t know what I’m talking about? Let us take a look at the lowly hamburger and hot dog. For the last several years now, restaurants have been looking for new and innovative ways to take these things to new heights. Adding foie gras, truffles, gold leaf, wagyu beef….these bastions of manly American food, being made to dress up in their sisters high heels and make up, then sent out on parade for all their buddies ridicule and mock.
Innovation is fine, but the Greek aphorism, “Know Thyself” should be taken into account here. This type of food torture has taken place before in the recent past in the form of nouvelle cuisine, which was intended to simplify food, but instead turned into lemon grass tapenade avec le écureuil en crapaudine. If we aren’t careful that’s where we are headed again. I understand cooks wanting to test their limits, stretch their legs if you will. How else would we have come up with bacon ice cream?! OK, maybe that wasn’t the best example. But if you’re going to play with your food, go with things that work together. My palate should not be a playground for your version of “Chopped”…”Hey, I wonder if tripe coated with Chinese five spice dunked in tempura then deep fried and served with mango salsa would be good?!” I don’t honestly know, perhaps you should find out before you serve it to me. I’ll have the cheeseburger with a slice of American cheese on something that resembles a nice toasted bun, a little onion, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, mayo and mustard….what you do with the micro greens, foie gras and truffle oil is your business…but I can give you suggestions on where you should stick them.