Any intelligent and reasonably well coordinated individual can follow a recipe, but it takes a lot of experience to know exactly how and when to add ingredients to the pot or pan, at what temperature to cook, for how long, and what to do if and when the process goes wrong. By definition cooking means application of heat to food. It makes food more tender, palatable and digestible.
Nouvelle cuisine invented by Paul Bocuse, attempted to use less fat, light textured foods, freshness of all ingredients and introduced the notion of small portions. Presentation was emphasized. It attempted to address the needs of modern life. Fewer calories are needed to day as most perform sedentary jobs and have little time to exercise.
Nouvelle cuisine, at least in North America, failed because restaurant patrons felt cheated when small, but artistically arranged plates were served at high prices. Their “eyes” were bigger than normal stomachs. Big portions had enlarged their stomachs beyond normal.
Then, the talented chef Michel Guerard invented the cuisine minceur, using very little fat and low calorie ingredients, emphasizing presentation, but overly reducing portion size. This sort of cooking also failed to find many enthusiasts in North America. Surprisingly Europeans are still at it, and frequent Michel Guerrad’s famous spa Eugenie Les Bains in droves.
American celebrity chefs, never shy to miss an opportunity to promote themselves, invented fusions cuisine “borrowing” ingredients from two or more cuisines and “fusing” them in a recipe. Some were successful; others consisted of ingredients with tastes so disparate that people rejected them out-of-hand.
Modern chefs are celebrates for their individuality, style of cooking and plate presentation. Sound cooking technique is more than ever neglected and serving tasty food that tastes as it should, seems to be less important.
In conservative nations, food preparation techniques and ingredients have not changed in centuries, but in North America food trends come and go. Once carrot cakes or carrot muffins were all the rage, then came the croissant which was used for everything except its original purpose – for breakfast. Then modern pizzas dominated the scene. Smart marketers noticed a total lack of “coffee culture” and decided to promote quality, eventually ending up with the notion of single estate coffee beans, along the lines of single vineyard wine.
Not to be outdone, Mediterranean nations quietly but effectively introduced the notion off healthy diet emphasizing olive oil and vegetables. In reality, Mediterranean diet is healthy because the environment naturally produces compatible ingredients and people consume seasonal, fresh foods. People eat whatever grows around them, and around the Mediterranean, the foods available are healthier and more diverse than in, most other places for geographic reasons.
The freshness of food is important and must be considered. Fresh fish means fish caught early in the morning and served at lunch. In North America, this is only possible on either the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean coast. Elsewhere, the fish will be, regardless of transportation mode, one or two days old. Frozen fish never tastes as delicious as fresh. Chefs know well that you cannot produce fine food from poor ingredients, but you can end up with disasters with the best ingredients if you do not know how to cook.
Before refrigeration was invented, the sea was the “refrigerator” of human beings for seafood.
Innovative cooking means applying time honoured and proven techniques to food. Using compatible ingredients is fundamental to successful cooking. Creating appealing taste sensations by using exotic herbs and spices depends on the genius of the cook. Subtlety is the hallmark of an innovative cook.
Skilful cooks know intuitively what cooking technique is best to use for a particular ingredient or meat cut. A delicate fillet of sole tastes better when sautéed than grilled. On the other hand, a fat fillet of salmon tastes better grilled, barbecued or roasted. Take game; stewing tough cuts and roasting of the tender parts are decisions cooks must make to draw the best flavour.
Over spicing or using too many herbs in cooking any dish, displays poor culinary judgement
By definition gastronomy means to make ingredients palatable, easy to digest and present plates attractively in pleasing environments. Service and availability of appropriate beverages also constitute important parts of gastronomy.
Restaurateurs, must be observant and detail minded, care about the well-being of their “guests” and be appreciative of their patronage.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu