People Who Insist That Cuisine Needs to Be Representative Should Get Over it Already
Over the past few years, I have found myself in the midst of more than one argument about whether cuisine needs to be representative in order to have any value. Putting that it in simple terms, does food have to actually taste good in order to be considered good cuisine? It's a question that my friend Gary Allen Fine often asks. But then again, he's a sociologist so he is prone to asking those types of questions. But the truth is it's a valid question. Since the standard used by most food writers use is conclusory, meaning they base their review on the final taste of a dish, there is little room in their analysis for deconstructing a dish into its various parts in order to offer a more nuanced analysis. But this is not the case in other forms of criticism. How often do you see a review of a film where the writer lauds a single aspect of a film like the plot or the cinematography in the context of giving a film a mediocre, or even a bad review?
A dish that has the potential to inspire this debate in cuisine is Wylie Dufresne's foie gras knots. It's a simple enough concept. You take foie gras and add an enzyme that allows it to become flexible so you can cut it into long strands and tie it into knots. Those who insist on viewing cuisine though a lens of tradition would quickly dismiss the dish because the focus isn't on the quality of the ingredients, but on the effect caused by what has been added to the ingredient. And while I understand why people lodge that particular complaint (In fact I've offered it myself,) it's also wrongheaded to dismiss on that basis alone as the does make an aesthetic statement. In fact, my friend Gary and the other sociologists who are reading this post would say that the fact that Dufresne's dish has in part caused this discussion, is proof in and of itself of its aesthetic value.