Guests are impressed and sometimes more interested in the social aspects and the event; being seen, seeing, dressing up, and showing off. Many restaurant foods are meant to impress clients foolish enough to be blinded by the event and not by the process. Even sometimes process is exaggerated by silliness of a chef’s menu, and there’s total confusion. A good example is Denis Martin, an interesting chef in Switzerland who uses molecular techniques to impress his clients. These techniques become an event, and more important than process itself and the end result is absurdity.
For many clients their modus operandi is instant satisfaction, or simple convenience, a bowl of pasta to satisfy the carbohydrate surge, or a sweet dessert and a sugar rush. It becomes understandable that taste preferences influences choice, and while it’s true a restaurant must deliver popular taste, too many clients remain blinded.
A Japanese apprenticeship used to be 10 years, and then asking permission to open on your own was the norm. Your lineage was as important as your skill, and if you lacked skill, you did not move up the ladder while doing your apprenticeship.
Before the actual invention of the refrigerator, cooks used ice, caves, and cellars. Without a disciplined approach, many foods would have spoiled. Cooks were forced to develop technique, hence they preserved, smoked or cooked. The challenge to any chef without a refrigerator was enormous in comparison to today and there was less emphasis on the stylizing foods and more on keeping ingredients.
In some continents food design was always very important and mostly based on tradition, without any emphasis placed on modern-day refrigeration. Each culture had their own way of keeping their foods cool and preserved, and the ability to preserve foods was very important. That’s not to say that food design wasn’t important in many cultures because food was the basis for sustenance and religious beliefs. These cooks thought in terms of complementarity and understood the importance of symbols. Ise Shrine’s shin-no-mihashira would thus be the survival of symbolism from a very primitive symbolism to the present day.
The design of Yūsoku, stylized imperial cuisine that has gradually faded over time. A traditional culinary form using symbols was an essential part of the chef’s training. It included ritual, technique, and Shinto customs. The chef would dissect a fish without touching it. It was an offering and purification, and certainly this ritual helped develop the strong connection between nature, man and his idea of aesthetics.
However the development of order, and form in food in the Asia continent isn’t something new. Food in Japan is often a reflection of tradition developed over thousands of years. That’s perhaps why many Japanese foods are so elegant, refreshing and made with a the purest raw materials chef’s perfection.
The Japanese phrase “ichi-jū-sansai” is best used to describe order and hierarchy in cuisine, and helps define the importance of order. This order isn’t about the complexity of the recipe itself. The ingredients are simple, the recipe is straight forward, but the combination of foods in a specific order supports a traditional way of thinking. This is based on the importance of food combinations, a military discipline and diet that later was transformed into a classical cuisine served to court nobles and royal families.
It becomes obvious that food is much more than a tool for survival, it’s also a source of aesthetics, pleasure, tradition, belief and status. It plays an important role in everyday life. Many tastes we know and enjoy today would have been impossible had cave people not discovered fire. Survival for cavemen was about foraging, staying alive, and most cooking was without pots and pans. Now think about the importance of fire, water, and how it has been transformed our modern-day tools and our kitchen today.
On this topic, the Japanese clearly understood that visual thinking was more important than a written menu, hence plastic foods in windows. This leads me to a think about a discussion I once had with a French 3 star Michelin chef in Paris; he said, “sushi isn’t food” probably because he was impatient, or simply blinded by his own tradition.
I think what he was saying is, ‘sushi isn’t comparable to my French food’. While he was correct by saying sushi isn’t a comparable food, he was wrong because sushi isn’t food. It is obviously a fantastic traditional food. Sushi has highly evolved and is sophisticated, perhaps in some ways much more than a French recipe. Developed by the virtue of excellent scientific understanding, it was by no surprise that the Japanese use wasabi with fish, or pickled ginger.
This conversation led me to begin thinking more about Japanese cuisine. If you take sushi, it is a simple food and straightforward food, at least from the outside looking in. Looking from the inside, it is certainly as complex as the haute cuisine. Perhaps the preparation is more straightforward, however the complexities are very much the same in any food preparation that require a deep sense of understanding, and or sophistication – not silly sophistication but accurate technique.
When it comes to raw foods, there can be no mistakes, while you can take a poor cut of meat and add a creamy pepper sauce. The hierarchy in sushi becomes easy to understand if you think of it in terms of order. If you’ve eaten sushi you would know that the variations are limited. This is the influence of tradition, and food pairing has not become a matter of interest because the cuisine is made of well-defined building blocks. Unless you introduce foreign raw materials there is little room to change, and change isn’t a prerequisite.
Do not become confused by your own personal preferences because people mostly enjoy what is familiar. Now think of food in another way: take the micro and macro world and ask yourself, which do you prefer.
While the steps are simple, they are driven by a complex tradition including a detailed process. In the west we do not fully comprehend the degree of complexity involved. Sushi is based on a sophisticated tradition that has been developed over centuries.
Fresh fish preserved, specially engineered knives, seaweed, and rice the single most important form of food source in all of Asia rice. Think about sushi, not the sushi popularized, but the sushi that has the basic connection to a single discipline, the sea. The preparations combined are multifarious, technically sophisticated yet it looks so simple many overlook the efforts involved. But never under-estimate the structural thinking behind it.
Sushi is the ultimate raw seafood, and isn’t comparable to the cooking style of haute French cuisine. The processes are very divergent and its true that foods are not always comparable because of the different processes used. We compare preferences to help us distinguish what we prefer but without some well-defined criteria (hierarchy), we cannot not clearly understand how to judge.
This is one of the problems with comparing foods from all over the globe and trying to rank restaurants. It also demonstrates that when you compare foods, it’s most often based on personal preferences. This is how people distinguish; even separate foods classes from one another. But that’s not enough, and from my view it becomes obvious that it isn’t just about personal preferences, and it isn’t only subjective when judging. Take McDonalds, we all know it’s fast food, borderline junk besides being one of the most popular restaurants chains on the globe.
All foods belong in a system, a hierarchy, which involves a layering. Foods become characterized by both their importance and use in forming a recipe or dish. The components of a food are the hierarchy itself, and the chef uses them as tools to build, construct and develop a dish. There is brilliant process and building depends on the chef’s level of intuitive skill and intelligence coupled with a sensitivity and understanding. Take the hamburger by modernist cuisine, it isn’t the hamburger, it’s the re-construction that makes it interesting. This demonstrates the sophistication and layering is part of the process. I truly think that Ferran was searching and building order, he was one of the most important composers in the food universe.
Without any order all food preparations would be considered to be the identical. This notion was sparked by one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve had in a longtime. It was about the complexity of preparing an Indian curry with Indian gentlemen. He argued that his mothers curry preparation/technique is as sophisticated as French haute cuisine.
While in original traditional curry requires a precise selection of spices and is a matter of regional tradition, and preference, and it’s not the same thing. This is a good example of how a person is easily confused about the differences between personal ideas, taste preferences and lack of true food knowledge. I think what he was saying is, ‘Indian food has many layers and to construct a curry takes a certain sensitivity, know-how and patience. But frankly speaking spicy food should not be compared to non spicy foods.
Curry is relatively simple in terms of ingredients and complexity; it’s a commonplace dish, a universal dish made by millions of people. In France, many cook, but few home chefs would venture the culinary challenge of haute cuisine. It’s a class of food that ranks amongst the top in the world. But not everyone can make haute cuisine even if they have a recipe. It requires some formal training in classical techniques and plenty of practice. French cuisine is challenging, not to mention the complexities, process and understanding it takes.
The relationship between eating and emotion, human behavior and education is key in our connection with food. This relationship varies according to the particular characteristics of the individual, and according to the specific emotional state, or level of understanding and experience. There are both psychological and physiological factors that dictate the relationship we have between food, emotions and satisfaction.
Food’s necessary to maintain life but beyond that it is routinely connected with our idea of a social being. The brain releases b-endorphins, when we eat our favorite foods. The simplest example is Nobu’s use of Jalapeno peppers on raw fish wow a sensational dish I detest. In Japanese culture it would forbid the use of excess spice on fresh raw fish, or for that matter any traditional food. But in the end what we eat isn’t as important as the fact that we love eating it. The social aspects of food has always played an important role and will always as long as people respect the very nature of their roots. In the past the hierarchy of food was mostly based on tradition. Today food has been elevated to more of a superficial social status – hence the food awards and they are good for business.
In old cultures food was much more than to fill the stomach. Because of its crucial necessity for survival it took on so many more meanings, especially religious meaning, which in old cultures is the same as science and philosophy for us. Food is so basic that the Mehinaku Brazilian bush people, use the same word for food and intercourse with slight variation. Meaning food is life is nature. Old cultures were not compartmentalized like ours but holistic. They considered themselves truly as part of nature.
Finally when we look deeper into tradition and science we learn more about process. There is no arguing that science changed the 21st Century kitchen, modernized it, shorted processes and gave rise to the importance of visual ideas, e.g. food design has become one of the single most important impetus in professional kitchens. A physical twist to food design, too many people appreciates food as an event, when food making is not an event, but a process and understanding tradition is key in any good food design.