Food and Fine Dining – Philosophy (Interlude)

In recent economic good times, I have noticed some dining behaviour that I can only classify as…perplexing. What I have noticed in many discussions regarding food is that a large contigent of people believe that if they eat something expensive at a fine dining restaurant, it must be good. This issue drives me crazy.

Let’s break this issue down from the roots. Let’s start with the definition of fine dining. There is no clear cut definition – in fact, if you think about it, the term itself is a bit pretentious. What is fine dining? I have no idea. To me, it conjures up images of fancy decor, and a “higher level” of execution. But this is just a label. Anyone can use it. And really, there is no real meaning. Let’s throw the term out.

I have a personal issue with “fine dining” as well. Lately, most fine dining establishments copy techniques and flavours that other “fine dining” restaurants have had success with. They feel they are bringing haute cuisine, a higher level of “food” culture to the masses. Fancy ingredients. Time intensive techniques. And they copy them verbatim. Forget seasonality. Forget about local ingredients that did not have to be picked green, and ripened in a gas-controlled storage facility. It’s like taste has become secondary to technique. But isnt the point of technique to maximize the taste? Shouldn’t the first technique be “use the best ingredients you can get”? Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against those who innovate. But to blindly copy another chef’s technique for nothing more than financial success is cheating the diner.

When did people start to forget about taste? Sea-salt foam. “Mmmm, it’s the essence of sea salt”. Great! I could drink out of the ocean, or lick an Alberta road in winter, and i could get the very same essence. What is good about that? Does it nourish? Excite?  Soothe? Does it invoke any feelings or passions? Calm you when you’re upset? Make you happy when you’re blue? Or is this the same as the interpretative dance that you don’t understand, but pretend to like because it is the cultured thing to do?

Look, my point is really simple. Eat what you like. What tastes good. Think of the evolution of food – from sustenance, to enjoyment. We’re at a place where food serves both purposes – we enjoy it, and it nourishes us. Don’t be afraid to like something, or dislike something, for what it is.

On a Calgary-based blog,  Foodosophy commenter JM wrote an interesting post on how he discovered it was ok to recognize, AND like Ginger Beef for what it is – non-authentic Chinese. While my personal feelings regarding Ginger Beef don’t follow his predilection, I think the opinion is sound. Taste what you are eating. If you like it, there’s nothing wrong with that. From the humble KD, to Ginger Beef, to McDonalds’ french fries, there are many things we “shouldn’t” like, but we do.

In an old episode of Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay started a marketing campaign for a pub – the campaign for “Real Gravy”. While I won’t go as far as to campaign for “Real Food”, I would like to petition you all to really taste that ceviche-style, uzu-marintaed black cod with fleur de sel foam and faux caviar. If you like it, great. But if you find it to be mediocre, you leave the restaurant $50 poorer, and having to stop for a burger on the way home, it’s ok to say “I got cheated”. Don’t like it because it was expensive, and fancy. Like it, or dislike it, because of how it tastes.