About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, October 19, 2009
Fancy Chef
Letter from Your Turn in The Age supplement, Good Weekend.

'Your article on the world's best restaurants by Matt Preston (September 26) stimulated my palate. It must be an honour to travel the world tasting the likes of "strawberry rose air" or "beetroot on earth", but I don't know if my stomach could handle all those exotic dishes and there's not enough on the plate anyway. No offence, but give me a good, old fashioned baked dinner any day.'

Lea Pustetto
Malabar, NSW

It's hard for me not to have empathy with this writer's sentiments as this letter betrays my attitude towards the rarefied echelons of modern dining in its present pretty form.

What the world's best restaurants have in common is a highly technical approach to cookery with results that can only be achieved in a commercial kitchen with the most up-to-date gadgets, some of which seemingly belong in a well equipped laboratory.

Right there is where my problem lies. Some of these dishes seem more like the triumph of science over inspired culinary talent, in which a degree in food technology is more important than anything a catering college could teach an aspiring chef.

Never has the gap between top end restaurant kitchens and anything the home cook could plate up been as large as it is now. It is virtually impossible for even the most gifted home cook to attempt many of the dishes that define those restaurants at the top of the world rankings.

But what is it about those dishes offered by the best that drives us to such a frenzy that six billion or so email hopefuls apply for a mere handful of sittings at the acclaimed El Bulli? Is it anything more that the opportunity to be amazed? Is it really about the food?

Given the propensity for dishes that are barely a mouthful, it hardly seems likely. How does one get into the groove of enjoying a dish when it's gone at first bite? Could one really eat (and enjoy) flavours and textures that are either overly intense or overworked if in a larger serving, or would the palate become tired and jaded before the end was reached? If the wisp of foam was an ocean, or the dirt a mountain.

I suspect not.

Restaurants of this ilk are more about mastery of food than its inherent taste, why else would one deconsruct a pea and then make the result taste like one, what is the point?

Give me a rare steak, bearnaise sauce and chips - call me a neanderthal if you want, but I know what I like.

  posted at 8:51 pm

At 1:25 pm, Blogger Thermomixer said...

I guess for me, as I can cook a good steak and bearniase, and often better than what I am presented with in restaurants (and often with bad service to boot) - then I am happy to have the theatricals in the top restaurants. Just as long as the flavours do go together and are not insipid and lacking (as has happened in a couple of restaurants).

But when I do venture out I prefer to be amazed at what is on the plate and hate restaurants with dim lighting.

But have a majority of friends who just want bulk and don't worry about quality.

Wouldn't call you a neanderthal and admit that I love the brasserie.

At 5:27 pm, Blogger Zoe said...

I read that article, and think I remember some comments about the constrast between the egg-head culinary nerd wow-factor and the places his missus liked best ;)

I have small children, and don't eat out much as a consequence (time and money), but when I do I go for somewhere like Pulp Kitchen, which is friendly but clever and makes yummy things with techniques beyond me, including lots of offal.

At 7:44 pm, Anonymous Elliot said...

Almost anyone can dance or play a few notes on the piano but the theatre and the concert hall offer something special. It may not be to your taste. Modern haute cuisine bears some similarity. It can be really exotic and unique but it is an experience and, perhaps, the more you try it and learn about it the more you get to enjoying it.

At 8:58 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Elliot here. There is a place for these restaurant experiences as they are the height of skill, technique & discipline & of course pure theatre. Indeed they are competing for our dollar with theatre, music & art. However I think like all innovations, the immitations are not far behind, sullying the wake. Also I am beginning to detect 'an emperors new clothes' syndrome with some of the combinations as they push for ever challenging dishes. It dosn't surprise me that readers of that article are suffering from 'spherification fatigue'

At 2:02 pm, Blogger Maria@TheGourmetChallenge said...

I can see both sides of the argument here. I love simple food, and when you're hungry there's nothing better than a big old plate of something homely. But the whole excitement of something new, that I could never do myself is always appealing...maybe not everyday, or even once a week, but on the odd occasion when I want to be wowed and intrigued - top chefs where food is more like an art is where I want to be.

At 6:33 am, Blogger Katie Zeller said...

We lived within driving distance of El Bulli for 7 years... Never went. I would have liked to, just to see what all the fuss was about, not to eat so much as just to see... but I'm afraid I'm with you on the steak.
My idea of a great restaurant is when you can cut that steak with a fork...

At 4:24 pm, Blogger 3 hungry tummies said...

Well we had something like that at Fed Square (no name mentioned) a while back didn't we? I think we are all curios creatures but at the end of the day you are correct! A good piece of meat cooked to perfection is what we need :)

At 1:31 pm, Blogger WhiteTrashBBQ said...

I agree with you. I much prefer simple ingredients paired and cooked well.

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