[personal profile] learnedax
I'm somewhat intrigued, and somewhat disturbed, by this Wall Street Journal article about trendy chefs embracing historical recipes as their next big thing.

Having been involved in quite a bit of amateur reconstruction of historical cuisine, I'm interested in what these chefs may produce. Most of them have better resources for obtaining exotic ingredients, and better kitchen facilities, than most of our medieval cookery, so in principle they have some advantages... and yet so many of their comments seem like the same naïve things I've heard said by others new to medieval cooking that I am a bit dubious about what they'll produce. Several of them comment about how of course lots of things need to be updated in these quaint old recipes, or how they've substituted pigs and rabbits for songbirds, which no one would want to eat of course. The worst, though, is this comment - admittedly about 19th century food rather than medieval: '"Cooking was very bland back then," says Robyn Stern, culinary research assistant for Think Food Group. [...] "Meats were either roasted or boiled, and a lot of the same spices were repeated."'

I also cannot help but chuckle at the chef in Evanston doing a 10-course menu from Apicius - if we'd charged $140 when we did that I don't think we would have gotten many takers.

Old is New Again!

Date: 2011-10-12 07:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] komos.livejournal.com
I think the author, and not the chefs, mentioned songbirds as unappetizing. The biggest problem with ingredients like songbirds or dormice isn't that people won't eat them (keep in mind that chefery and the responsible eating front just recently re-popularized offal of all sorts), it's that it's not legal to sell them in a most jurisdictions, and unlike, say, foie gras, the preparations are simply not practical or cost effective enough to risk breaking code.

What amuses me most about the article is that it's talking about a "new" trend that has already been in the works for a long while. Leaving aside years of snout to tail preparations, in-house preserving and foraged ingredients, even crazy-edgy modernists like Grant Achatz of Alinea have been mining sources like Escoffier for inspiration. Hell, there's nothing on Blumenthal's historical menu that Fergus Henderson hasn't been serving for years, albeit without the handy-dandy years of origin.

And yes, I'm still jaded.

Re: Old is New Again!

Date: 2011-10-12 09:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] learnedax.livejournal.com
Huh! Thanks for the better-informed perspective.

Although the article conflates all of history into one source, I think there are pretty big distinctions to be drawn between someone like Escoffier and really ancient or medieval sources. Do you have a sense for how prevalent the earlier sources have been?

Re: Old is New Again!

Date: 2011-10-12 11:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] komos.livejournal.com
Conflation is really where the article's weakness lies. Between "historical food is historical" and "even though I'm citing 19th C. haute cuisine early, I'm going to dismiss 19th C. cuisine as bland," it's really difficult to know where to begin. It feels like the movement is an attempt to give stories to dishes that have either endured in some cuisine or that have returned quietly without citation, but since I know far more about foods of the 18th and 19th C than anything previous to say for certain. I know that there are restaurants in Oregon wine country that have been cooking with verjus for some time, but I have no idea if they claim any sort of authenticity to their approaches.

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learnedax

November 2011

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