Entries from May 2010 ↓

Dr Sister Outlaw asks, ‘do the basics matter’ and ‘what is the world coming to with these young people’?

I’m loving Australian Masterchef 2010, although it’s pretty different to the first season. Last year I didn’t watch seriously until the major personalities had emerged. Even so, it was clear that each contestant was seriously interested in a wide range of cooking styles and was a reliable all-rounder, as well as being able to demonstrate flair and insight.

But this year, night after night, I sit there tweeting (which, as Zoe and other tweeps have said, is more than half the fun of viewing) complaining about the incompetence of this lot and their constant moans (and tears): “I’ve never … [cooked Thai, filleted fish, seen a live chook, made a curry from scratch] before”. And although I initially forgave Kate for using a microwave because she made a great case for it, she was so ignorant that if she hadn’t been eliminated I would have microwaved her.

This week in the eliminations Jonathan “The Terminator” saw off “Soggy” Adele (thanks whoever tweeted that epithet). He’d also easily despatched Devon “No Nickname Necessary”. Why? Because of his technical competence. He was superb at handling eggs and had actually thought about the chemistry of tomato paste and that it does not enhance a bolognaise unless you cook it for hours. When I was discussing this with my bloke, who is learning to cook, he said “I always put tomato paste in bolognaise”, which kind of underscores my point – Adele failed because she cooks by the “always” method, rather than being analytical about what she is doing.

Home cooks like me usually have a good sense about how to dish up good tasting food, but I would argue that a chef thinks much more deeply about the ways in which the chemistry and physics of cooking affect taste. The highest expression of this is molecular gastronomy, which is iconoclastic in the way it challenges rules and understandings but does through via highly refined technique. You could say Masterchef teaches home cooks to think about chemistry and physics (certainly Gary and George try), but you can’t teach contestants how to break rules if they don’t know any rules to start with.

Then I read this Associated Press article about food snobbery. Apparently wee young things have not got a clue about cooking technique because they don’t read cookbooks any more but source their info from teh internetz:

“The twentysomethings right now are probably one of the most educated food generations ever. And by that I mean they can talk to you about foie gras or cooking sous vide or the flavor profile of a Bordeaux,” said Cheryl Brown, editorial director of the popular website Slashfood.

“But what they can’t do is truss a chicken or cook a pot roast. So there’s this funny balance of having an amazing breadth of food knowledge but not having the kitchen basics to back it up,” she said.

Hmmm. I’m not Gen Y but I don’t think we can blame teh internetz. For one thing, the web is full of people showing off their technique (I’ll often google when I am stumped about how to do something I’ve not done before). But if the current Masterchef contestants are any guide, this article may be bang on the mark.

But who or what can we blame for this problem? Maybe Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson (who I love, btw), for dumbing food down to reliable combinations? Maybe providore types, for telling us that only the most exclusive items from the most rarefied locations can be considered edible? Or is this just another Gen Y bashing exercise, and the truth is there is no problem at all?

An open thread, on whatever you feel like saying about food, technique, Masterchef, the contestants’ obvious hatred of Jonathan, Gen Y and food knowledge.

Two takes on Molecular Gastronomy

I am in love with a blog I’ve just found called resistance is fertile, and am working my way through the archives, finding joys like this take on “101 quick meals”and this, which involves chocolate and poetry, and is beautiful.

Lagusta is an anarchist chef living in upstate New York who runs businesses delivering home cooked vegan meals and making chocolates, including one called a Furious Vulva. And she thinks that all vegans should go to Alinea, the famed Chicago restaurant of Grant Achatz recently ranked the best restaurant in North America, and the seventh best restaurant in the world:

vegans should be embracing this molecular gastronomy business. It’s so vegan friendly. It uses tools we’ve been using forever (agar, kuzu, flax seeds, various powders and elixirs), but it uses them unapologetically, not as “replacements,” but as interesting elements of a dish on their own merit.

Several world aways is Oliver Peyton, an Irish-born art lover and restauranteur. He seems much more straight-laced than Lagusta, but is apparently known for running off at the gob sometimes.

I was looking for Luke Ngyuen videos on the SBS food site, when I stumbled across Peyton’s “Eating Art“, an examination of the antecedents of molecular gastronomy in modernist art.

The show has some painful sequences of Peyton striding around in picturesque international locations, but starts to fly when he asks fancy New York chef Sam Mason to interpret Cezanne’s still life Apples and Oranges (1899). Mason (re)constructs sharp-edged boxes of intense appley-ness, that nod at both Cezanne’s determination to see and capture structure and his urge to move his craft forward

Wylie Dufresne of wd-50, gets the altogether more grim Juan Gris’ Bottle of Rum and a Newspaper and constructs an octopus terrine eaten with a toasted saffron cake, pickled ginger and pine nuts that have had very, very, very elaborate things done to them. It looks amazing.

And finally, at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Northern Italy, a three course Futurist fancy including a fake roast ham (cooked sous vide, blow-torched for colour and complete with atomised aromas); then a thin square of freshly hand minced raw beef, laid with a path of salty flavour.

It concludes with a triumph of nostalgia. Foie gras is infused with milk and cherrywood smoke and cooked sous vide. A stick is inserted, then it’s injected with the local Modena balsamic and rolled in roasted almond and hazlenut. I couldn’t manage a screenshot even as shabby as the two above, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they totally made a Golden Gaytime. In proper Marinetti-fashion, it is served accompanied by a large Italian man booming avant-garde poetry.

Emica faces up to Continental corporate catering: vitello tonnato versus cheese’n'mayo sarnies

Conferences are usually surprisingly good for me: the food is so completely appallingly inedible that I live on the bananas in the fruit bowl. There’s something so depressing about leaving a tedious presentation for a lunch spread of beige foods. Cold deep fried reconstituted chicken ‘goujons’ and a variety of mayonnaise-based curling sandwiches.

I’m just back from a work trip to Maastricht in the Netherlands. Our super urbane host organised a series of excellent restaurants for us. Dinner of day one was vitello tonnato followed by slow roast lamb and a ferrero rocher flavour profiterole. Lunch on day two was at a hip theatre cafe with roast tomato soup and a great selection of rolls (cheese heavy, it’s the Netherlands…). Dinner on the second night was four courses of charcuterie, risotto, then more veal and I can’t remember what for dessert, probably because of the wine.

I think it’s only fair that I get one good batch of conference food cos I’ve had some total rubbish over the years. Thank god for packet biscuits.

So, what were your best and worst corporate catering experiences?


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