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Posts tagged ‘restaurant review’

Food Links, 15.08.2012

Food security in India.

The milk blockade and corporate greed.

Drought in the US may push up food prices.

The link between obesity and poverty in the US.

How to cook if you’re an amputee.

Do foodies care about workers?

The amazing Jeffrey Pilcher on the politics of tacos.

Murree Brewery, which makes beer in…Pakistan.

An end to food self-righteousness. (Thanks, David!)

What is Pad Thai?

Why do we consume mainly cows’ milk?

Could chicken be banned on television in Iran?

How Andy Warhol ate. (Thanks, Mum!)

Inside MAD Camp.

How to make your own mozzarella.

How to smoke salmon at home.

A new blog about cooking in a very, very small kitchen. (Thanks, Pamela!)

This is, really, the anti-restaurant review.

How ‘scientific’ are sports drinks?

What we eat in Ukraine.

Does Mexico have a national cuisine?

Food and sex.

The food and amazing produce of Brazil.

A great chicken scene.

Spag in a bag.

Marilyn Monroe’s recipe for stuffing.

A review of cycling cafes.

Mark Bittman on dairy.

Everything – everything – you’d ever want to know about canelés de Bordeaux.

Taste memory.

A brief history of sliced bread. (Thanks, Justin!)

Street food in Colombia.

On rooibos tea.

New ideas for identifying the ripeness of avocados.

A history of tequila in the Karoo.

Modernism, Postmodernism, Authenticism?

I’m not entirely sure what it says about me, but the first article I read in the Observer is always Jay Rayner’s restaurant review. (In fact, I started reading the Observer in high school because of Jay Rayner’s reviews – it came as a pleasant surprise that there was a really good newspaper organised around them.) Last week’s was on Viajante in Bethnal Green, which seems to specialise in a kind of sub-Adrià-esque complicated, miniaturised cuisine. Rayner was not impressed:

In its eagerness to be so very now and forward thinking, the food at Viajante manages at times to feel curiously dated; it recalls the first flush of Hestomania, when even he has moved on and is now cooking up big platefuls of heartiness at Dinner.

Modern techniques are great. They’re brilliant. If you want to cook my steak by banging it round the Large Hadron Collider, be my guest. Dehydrate my pig cheeks. Spherify my nuts. But only do so if the result tastes nicer. At Viajante deliciousness is too often forced to give way to cleverness.

Rayner’s point is that the modernist cooking presented by Viajante is beginning to feel old hat. Even if – as he’s admitted – restaurant critics are ‘rampant neophiliacs,’ it does seem that enthusiasm for the molecular gastronomy espoused most famously by Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià has peaked. Or that, rather, it’s become so integrated into the repertoires of high-end chefs that it no longer seems to be so very experimental.

I was surprised when I first heard molecular gastronomy described as ‘modernist cuisine’ – a term now probably forever associated with Nathan Myhrvold and Chris Young’s five volume tome Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. This was published last year – long after what most people would agree to be the end of literary and cultural modernism in the 1950s and 1960s. (I wonder how we should define the cuisine of the modernist movement during the early twentieth century? I tend to think of Virginia Woolf’s descriptions of feasts in To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own.)

If anything, this should be postmodern cuisine. The purpose of molecular gastronomy is to reconsider the processes which underpin cooking: to understand them, and then reconfigure them. It’s all fairly similar to Derrida’s deconstruction – and Adrià has described his technique in precisely the same terms.

When I was in London at the end of last year, I went with a friend to the V&A’s exhibition, ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-1990’. It was a strange exhibition: in an attempt to include all that could be considered postmodern in design and architecture, it had a scattergun approach as to what it included. It felt curiously empty – but I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the curator, or of the movement itself.

One of the oddest features of the exhibition was a strange preponderance of teapots. It was a pity that this was as far as the V&A got to thinking about postmodernism and food – because nouvelle cuisine, the food of the postmodern moment, was so design heavy. Even if the point of nouvelle cuisine was to liberate high-end cuisine from the heavy, meaty, and flour-based-sauce cooking of the 1960s and 1970s, it was also characterised by incredibly careful plating and presentation. In many ways, garnishes were as important as the food itself.

There are strong links, I think, between nouvelle cuisine and molecular gastronomy. Both disregard the orthodoxy established by classic French cooking and experiment with ideas and ingredients from other culinary traditions – best exemplified by the late 90s enthusiasm for ‘fusion food’, done well by Peter Gordon, done badly by legions of others – and the techniques of cooking itself. Other than the fact that molecular gastronomy is underpinned by the work of scientists Hervé This and Nicholas Kurti, it also differs from nouvelle cuisine in its playfulness – its refusal to take itself seriously, something which places it firmly within the postmodern moment. But, as Rayner suggests, it would seem that molecular gastronomy has had its day: Adrià has transformed El Bulli into a foundation, and Blumenthal is serving hearty, historical meals at Dinner.

Two years ago I taught an introduction to historiography at Goldsmiths in London, and was struck by how dated postmodern theory felt. When I studied it a decade ago – crucially, pre-9/11 – it seemed, even then, to be an exciting and useful way of understanding the world, particularly because of its emphasis on the relationship between language and power. I didn’t – and still don’t – agree with the critiques of history offered up by Hayden White and Keith Jenkins, but they were thought-provoking.

After the events of 11 September 2011, the War on Terror, the 2008 economic crash, and the Arab Spring, postmodernism appears even more the product of its time: of the prosperous, confident 1980s and 1990s, when the end of communism seemed to signal Francis Fukuyama’s end of history. I find it easier to take seriously the postmodernism and poststructuralism of the 1970s and earlier – when philosophers, linguists, and theorists were attempting to find a new way of thinking reality – partly by emphasising the extent to which narratives and discourses are contingent and rooted in their particular contexts. Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979) is still an arrestingly original document.

This act of de-privileging dominant discourses – or indeed any discourse – has also been its undoing, as Edward Docx argues in a recent article for Prospect:

by removing all criteria, we are left with nothing but the market. The opposite of what postmodernism originally intended. … If we de-privilege all positions, we can assert no position, we cannot therefore participate in society or the collective and so, in effect, an aggressive postmodernism becomes, in the real world, indistinguishable from an odd species of inert conservatism.

So what follows postmodernism? Docx suggests that it is something he dubs ‘authenticism’. He explains:

we can detect this growing desire for authenticity all around us. We can see it in the specificity of the local food movement or the repeated use of the word ‘proper; on gastropub menus. We can hear it in the use of the word ‘legend’ as applied to anyone who has actually achieved something in the real world. … We can identify it in the way brands are trying to hold on to, or take up, an interest in ethics, or in a particular ethos. … Values are important once more…

…we can see a growing reverence and appreciation for the man or woman who can make objects well. We note a new celebration of meticulousness…. We uncover a new emphasis on design through making…. Gradually we hear more and more affirmation for those who can render expertly, the sculptor who can sculpt, the ceramist, the jeweller, even the novelist who can actually write.

It’s telling that the various manifestation of the new, global food movement – from Occupy Food to the hundreds of local campaigns for small-scale agriculture and unadulterated food – tend to refer to themselves as ‘real food’ (as opposed to Big Food – or the plastic, ‘Frankenstein’ food it produces).

This is a good way of understanding the recent trend in food – which Docx identifies – for the artisanal (whatever we may mean by that), the handmade, the local, the ‘old-fashioned’ (again, this is open to debate and redefinition), and the ethical. It says a great deal that the chef of the moment is René Redzepi, the Danish chef and owner of Noma, who sees himself as much as a cook as a food activist. This demand for ‘authentic’ food is, strange as it may seem, political: it’s a refusal to buy into the advertising and branding of the food industry, even if it’s an act that only a very small proportion of people can afford to do. But it’s a beginning, and a welcome one.

Creative Commons License Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 26.10.2011

The truth about right wing politics and cupcakes.

If you read any of these links, please make it this one: why being vegetarian is not a political choice.

The worst recipes ever.

Baking + the Tube = genius.

A history of pineapples in London.

Ferran Adrià has written a recipe book for families.

On the food served at festivals in India. And what do you eat at Diwali?

Interesting ice cream flavours.

The origins of anti-margarine laws in the US.

The psychology of yogurt.

Is a burrito a sandwich?

The appeal of novelty carrots.

On cooking from the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

Fifty of the world’s best breakfasts. (Thanks, Sarang!)

Occupy the pasture.

These five links are courtesy of my eagle-eyed Mum:

On food as inspiration for fashion.

Moments of Zen in Sam Sifton’s restaurant reviews.

Bolognese Machiavelli.

How to make apple-free apple pie.

On TV dinners and the making of an American identity.

Foodie Pseudery (5)

I wish I could say that this is a hoax, but it isn’t. Behold: possibly the most pretentious restaurant review ever written:

The perfumed neck by my side gives off that familiar lemony scent, and suggestions of sandalwood climb past the Scandinavian landscapes that have already come alive against the white-washed walls. I want steak, and a large portion of it – recommended medium-rare with the incredibly smooth Malbec Catena Zapata perhaps? ‘It will blow-your-mind’ Vincenzo says, a curiosity he picks out from Co-owner Xavier Rousset’s almost endless international wine list. He leaves us (or her) with a winning smile, and two shots of cold watercress soup and diced apple puree (offered as a pre-starter).

Table-stalking as I always am, I noticed a Sorority-type girl lean across the table and give her man – a gentle man, I should say, and one of great elegance and remarkable seriousness – a considered kiss. The kiss simmers, and the lights dim and I hear the high notes of Tchaikovsky move in from the Champagne bar (a worthy destination in its own right). The girl draws back mysteriously, provocatively even, and her mouth opens again as she pushes something towards the gentleman, his eyes ablaze now with that half-bottle of Riesling Auslese 2001. ‘It must be the Varlhona white chocoloate mousse with ice cream, dill and cucumber’ I think, and smile at my starter of well-tamed pinkish beetroots, oats, Mizuna and powdered goat’s cheese.

Foodie Pseudery (1)

This is a new occasional post devoted to gems of foodie pseudery. It’s partly a homage to the Pseuds’ Corner column in the satirical magazine Private Eye, which lists the best (worst?) examples of pretentious writing in the British press. Here, though, I’m focussing of the reams of bad copy produced by foodies, in blogs and – less forgivably – in the established media.

Why? Well, it’s endlessly amusing. And also out of an objection to food snobbery – foodie-ism – which mystifies and rarefies food, cooking, and eating. It seeks to render good food the preserve of those who believe that they possess the knowledge, sensitivity, and good connections fully to appreciate it.

All contributions welcome (sarahemilyduff [at] gmail [dot] com).

And we begin with this review of Roberta’s in the New York Times:

These are extremely beautiful plates of food, artfully designed. The cuttlefish, in particular, would not look out of place on a starched tablecloth at Per Se. They are delicate of flavor, free of excess fats or salts, as pure an expression of new American cuisine as you are likely to find anywhere. It is shocking, and wonderful, to eat them in this cinder-block garage space six stops into Brooklyn on the L, a ratty old ski lodge built for bums interested in food rather than powder.

There are no cloth napkins or tablecloths at Roberta’s, no comfortable seats. Christmas lights provide mood lighting, and urban detritus and flea-market finds the art on the walls. … Roberta’s may appear an unlikely cathedral to such culinary excellence. It is no less a cathedral for that.

Food Links, 25.05.2011

I think Lorraine Pascale is utterly fantastic.

Michael Pollan adds a few more food rules.

‘The world would be a better, safer place, freer and more democratic, if our cheese and onion crisps tasted better.’ Yes, well: on the science of tasting food.

Harriet Deacon writes about food nominations to the Intangible Heritage Convention.

The world’s top 50 restaurants were announced recently. This is an incredible video about the restaurant ranked 28 – Combal Zero in Italy.

The loquat harvest is about to begin in Los Angeles.

It’s lambing season in the northern hemisphere.

AA Gill talks about eating and reviewing food.