Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Old food, new food

In this time of economic meltdown, Rita has seen fit to turn to her archive of Womens Weekly liftout recipe booklets from the 70’s.

One entitled “Best Budget Recipes to help you beat the high cost of eating” from 23rd July 1975 has some rippers of recipes, but bear the warning “Prices are based on those prevailing for ingredients when the feature was prepared” thus accounting for the fact that the flathead in the Fish Provencal recipe are noted as having cost 75 cents for the four fish used!

Notwithstanding the fact that the prices are totally out of synch with the way you would have predicted they would be in comparison of now to then, some of the recipes give rise to interesting suggestions of ways to economise.

Amongst them there are a Tuna-Rice Slice, homemade Garlic Sausage and a Savoury Neck Chops Casserole recipe. It interests me greatly how food fashions alter, but also stay the same in many ways.

On ‘Sunrise’ this morning came the message that the good old Prawn Cocktail is back. Well, let me be the first to tell them that actually it never went out. Despite what any modern restaurant menu contains, there are some old standards that never loose popularity, like the Prawn Cocktail, or Peppered Steak, or Beef Stroganoff, or Garlic Bread, or a roast, or Apple Crumble.

You may well want to knock the socks off your dinner guests with fancy, schmanzy contemporary food, but serve up a helping of a good Stroganoff to a guest of any age and you’re guaranteed to have them worshipping at your culinary feet for ever more! I’ve spent weeks and days preparing wonderful topical food for an upcoming dinner party, and the same with those older alternate recipes. As people’s enjoyment levels ultimately come down to a combination of the food they ate mixed with the ‘time’ they had, I’ve found that it didn’t really matter what I served up as long as they enjoyed it, and this can just as easily be with the old tried and tested menu equally as with whatever currently takes your fancy to make from today’s many food options.
Posted on by Rita


Anonymous said...

speaking of food to satisfy, i had quite an ordinary meal at piccolo the other day. the menu was quite simple and sounded great,but fell quite short in delivery. it's only new,but
it's hard to get tiramisu wrong.

Anonymous said...

Ah the memories- deep fried camembert with cranberry sauce and bombe alaska...

the Gobbler said...

What I get personally Rita is that good food is never in or out of fashion.
Interestingly. the glossy mags preoccupation of 're-discovering' these dishes usually follows a canny restaurant trying to capture the zeitgeist of the times by putting on some 'interpreted' classics.
Where the restaurants often get it wrong though is that they try to 're-interpret' these classic dishes by adding, subtracting or embellishing certain elements.
This then leaves the buying public a bit confused when they are served something that is not entirely recognizable. The moral of the story is, to quote an old school chef that I once worked for whom once said when discussing the regimens of a particular dish, 'You dont fuck with the classics!
My footnote to this piece of culinary advice is that people(read mainly older women who once cooked ALL the time) are not impressed if a dish that they know back to front is 'reinterpreted' by some upstart.
These people KNOW what good food is and have their BULLSHIT monitiors on high!

Tom said...

I agree Gobbler. What a mockery it is when years of training, eating, creativity and experimentaion leads a chef to the point of 'deconstruction'! The more you do to 're-interpret' a classic the further the result will be from the original.
I ate a 'deconstructed' Nicoise salad recently - I don't know what I was thinking when I ordered it. It's a bloody salad...it doesn't need deconstructing. Anyway, what turned up was a plate with all the components of a classic Nicoise, 're-interpreted' and lined up next to each other on a rectangular plate. Tuna sashimi, green olive paste, deep fried egg...that sort of thing. Nicoise Salad - it was neither!
You are a chef, can you shed any light on this kind of behaviour? Is it the pressure of having to be constantly creative (surely an unnatural state of being)?
I recently attended a big swanky (silent 's') dinner at a big swanky place where the chef took one of my cheeses (a batch that I had been carefully maturing to the point of perfection especially for this function) and 're-interpreted' the sacrosanct cheese course by serving my cheese in the form of an ice cream!
What is going on Gobbler!?

the Gobbler said...

Hi Tom.
Good question. From my perspective there are a few things at play.

The percieved need of the chef or restaurant to offer something new & innovative in order to attract custom.

The assumption (wrong in my opinion) that a new generation of diners are not aware of the ingredients that make up a 'classic' dish which then in turn gives them the green light to alter it.

Ego. Adding, subtracting or embellishing like some sort of Daubist would do to a recognized atwork, hus giving it their 'finishing touch'.

Personally, I glaze over when I see anything 'deconstructed' on a manu. Its such a boysie chef peroccupation & one that I think you would be hard pressed to see being embraced by a female chef.
In this vein I think it says more about the chefs needs to control, master, dominate or divide & conquer the individual ingredients than it does about the wonderful combination that they make together.

I respect the technical ability that many chefs have over me & am the first to admit that the food I tend toward might be viewed as 'too simple'. However as I get older I am just not interested in tricks, gadgets or culinary slight of hand.

recently I saw a recipe on how to make a perfect sphere of olive juice that resembles an olive. The elaborate process which took hours resulted in a perfect orb of oliveness that apparently tasted exactly like an olive. Can you see wher I am heading with this?
I was left thinking,'Why not just eat the oilve?'

As to your cheese story. Surely anyone wanting to savour a piece of cheees just wants the cheese?

There is a theory that restauarnats are competing with the theatre, the movies, opera etc for your discretionry dollar so they are resorting to ever dramatic ways in which to attract you. be it the decor, the wackiness of the food, the accoutrements of serving or even the pantomime theatrics of the wait staff who might be Euro Disney Italian or Fauxx French.

Dont get me wrong, the market can handle all these points of difference & ultimately will decide who goes broke or succeeds.
I also value that many of these 'cutting edge' places lift the bar for all of us in many ways, in fact they do enthuse & invigorate many of us that are beginning to dull with the demands of hospitality with their self beleif, energy, ideas & passion.

I know I might sound like a broken down record but for me its all about the context in which you are eating out. I feel that country food is best translated in the country.
City places doing rustic food dont cut it with me, as they usually attach city prices which kind of defeats the whole point.

I prefer not to mess too much with the ingredients myself & hopefully wont fuck them up too much! Also if you have had a hand in growing or rearing the fiood you are serving it really does affect you. You cant help but treat it differently. For me this is so much more meaningfull a way to do things rather than tiredly deivering a list of ingredients to an answering machine to be magically delivered the next day by an unknown.

Anon2 said...

Thanks gobbler for some of the most insightful comment seen on this blog for a long time

Anonymous said...

The thing is if I wanted something my mum used to make or something I could make I'd stay home and save myself some cash. I go out to get things I couldn't do in my humble domestic kitchen. I think there are some chefs who need to master the simple things, like cooking a steak, first. But for those who are past that the re-interpretation of classics keeps life interesting for the chef and the diner.

sir grumpy said...

You don't always go out for something you can't do at home.
There are also reasons such as:
Treating yourself and others.
Getting fed without the mess and labour.
Also,many classics are already things the non-cook can't do.
Sop the skill is there, don't go messing with classics.
Sure,experiment, but call it something else so the customer has a fighting chance of knowing to expect tsomething different.
By the way, TOM, I'm sure that cheese would have been better as it was. Maybe the chef thought he was paying you a compliment.
But it seems such a waste.

Anonymous said...

gobbler i follow your line of thinking but go one step further - I believe the real art in chef ing is bringing though the very delicate flavors in the products used. While saucers are great flavor bringers , it is much (technically) harder to blend and maintain the natural flavor of each product.
In this age of snip and serve it is all to easy to smother the meal in a nice tasting and named product.
And yes ... why try and re invent the olive - minimalism or de construction cuisine smacks of re inventing the original !!!

Spinach from the garden (minus the snails) steamed with just a drop or two of lemon juice. Now thats a taste sensation !!!!!!!!

Cool room

Anonymous said...

Or pinkeyes boiled in their skins with butter and parsley.
Sir G

Anonymous said...

or leopards foreskin with a confit of scrotum and chungkiang vinegar.


Anonymous said...

You can't get decent leopards foreskin (or aftskin) these days. And the scrotums are just a load of balls.
Sir G

Anon2 said...

It seems to me that food that looks pretty and is served by pretty people in pretty surroundings means more to many diners than the quality of what is on the plate. While presentation is of course important, I'm really sick of being served a little stack of "stuff" on huge white platters often with a lot of shubbery.
One of the worst deconstructions I've had was a so-called caesar salad last year at Kafe Kara.It consisted of large pieces of lettuce with large soft rashes of bacon topped with slices of soft "toasted" foccaccia - an awful mess. Whatever it was, it definitely wasn't a caesar salad. I was politely informed that it was their version of caesar salad and was very popular with their clientele!

sir grumpy said...

That was you told then, Anon2.
The TV program on Tuesday featuring two restaurants in competition (forget what its called) had a great example of a stack.
The immodest ``chef'' piled it high and prided herself on her presentation.
What a heap of nonsense that was. And by the way stacking or vertical food presentation is soooo 2003.