August 2, 2004
“Grilled Doneless Pork Chips in AMex Spicy Saucy”. I hope and pray that this special advertised at a local eatery was merely the result of a poor command of the English language. If it isn’t, the trend towards “creative” cookery has just gone way ’round the bend. The image of thinly sliced, undercooked bacon with bits of credit card and chilies piled on a plate doesn’t do much for my appetite.
Now, I’m all for experimentation in the kitchen. I do it all the time. We all do. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. Sometimes you open the refrigerator and there’s a jar of olives, some left over fried chicken, and an apple, and we say “oh, what the hell…” We don’t tell anyone we ate them together. Over day old rice left from the Chinese food.
But there’s a trend out there in the world that makes me uneasy. The current shining light is a Spanish gentleman by the name of Ferran Adria. He is touted by many as a slightly mad genius – turning food into foams and essences, powders and leathers. I’ve never eaten at his restaurant, and am unlikely ever to do so. I can’t say that it wouldn’t be an interesting experience. I can say it’s not really the way I want to experience dinner.
He’s not the only one. Every major dining city now has it’s dean of “deconstruction”. Yes, deconstruction is the term used for turning a perfectly delectable melange of flavors into an awkward experience of its components. Two of my favorite writers from the New York Times recently hosted a dinner party where they experimented with the concept. I enjoyed reading about their experience, it would have been fun to attend, but they also approached it with a “just what the hell is this all about” attitude. And you can bet the next day dinner was a bit more, well, put-together.
I’ve had dinner at a couple of those kinds of places, one in New York, one in Florence. My experiences at both were of the “this kind of stuff will be liked by people who like this kind of stuff” variety. Or, as one of my best friends phrased it, “blender food”. Lacking in a bit of substance to sink your teeth into. Air, foam, essence. Not dinner. I haven’t been back to either place.
And, by the way, it’s been done. There’s a packet of orange powder inside the famous blue box alongside the macaroni. Let’s see one of these temples of dining experience line that up with a pat of butter and splash of milk… Now that’s a cheese plate.
I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.