Whatever happened to food? In an effort to be hip, chic, “cutting edge,” different, attention-getting, and yes, even pretentious, restaurants and recipes now proudly present their mondo bizarro ideas of new cuisine. Their mantra now seems to be: “If you can concoct it and give it a fancy name, they will eat it.” And, pay outrageous amounts for it. I’m reminded of a fight between Niles and Daphne on Frasier – where Daphne accused Niles of being pretentious: “You’d eat a worm if I gave it a French name!” Gotta love Niles, he made that show.
“Would mademoiselle care to begin with our house specialty appetizer, Vers de terre pochés served with a reduction of l’eau des marais?” Poached earthworms served with a swamp water reduction. It’s getting out of hand, I tell you.
The new rage is evident in what can best be called Transparent Pumpkin Pie. Basically, it’s clear, pumpkin-flavored Jell-O made into tiny pies. They claim to get the pumpkin flavor from its essence. Yes, it’s essence. The essence, or distillate if you will, is extracted in a thing called a rotary evaporator. Usually used in chemistry labs, a kitchen version of one will only set you back a few thousand dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of miniature, transparent pumpkin pies.
When I see certain words on menus or in recipes, I feel that Western Cuisine is in a tailspin. Here are a few of them:
- Deconstructed – What do they do to the entrée, disassemble it? Why yes, yes, they do. My deconstructed pizza had the green pepper and mushrooms neatly peeled off and stacked on a bed of farm fresh arugula.
- Essence – I guess this means that they didn’t have enough of something to put it into the meal, so they just waved it over the plate to get that waft of…whatever.
- Foraged – For example, foraged morel mushrooms…I’m sorry, but I simply don’t envision the chef crawling around in the woods on all fours to find the mushrooms he put on my morel and asparagus salad.
- Hand Selected – As opposed to robot or cockroach selected. Seriously though, this one is most confusing of all, because if it’s not hand selected, what is it??
- Artisanal – “Made with loving care by a professional.” If that’s true, this is an artisanal blog! But really, when you think about it, aren’t all recipes artisanal? I mean, they should be unless they’re made by a machine…which I guess is to be expected in mass-produced items, but restaurants, especially of the swanky variety? Not so much.
- Foam – I’ve seen this in offerings ranging from new-age drinks to toppings for savory entrees to dessert. Personally, I’ve always thought it was the stuff I spray on my legs to shave them, not a deconstructed essence of foraged lime shot out of an aerosol can.
New restaurants, to remain popular (and open) need to come up with more and more outlandish foods to keep their target audience intrigued. Much of it is driven by two words that I never thought would have any connection to food: Molecular Gastronomy. It is science, chemistry, and physics combined to find new ways to prepare food. Because these types of dishes can take a long time to prepare, they usually come with two things: small portions – as in elf-size portions and high prices.
As cool as the whole process is – from a chemistry-set loving perspective, I’m not sure that I would be happy with a meal of ginger-orange gelatin sheets, pearls made from balsamic vinegar, avocado mousse with soy sauce jelly, a spoonful of tomato water spherification with basil oil infusion, and faux-caviar made from olive oil and ingredients I can’t pronounce that you’d be more likely to find in a science classroom. Evil things are being done to food to make these dishes, I tell you.
I know, I know. Some people don’t mind paying $250 to $500 for a meal of these things…wine extra. As for me, just give me some plain ol’ kick-ass eggplant parmesan and chocolate molten lava cake and I’m in heaven.