People Only Cook What They Know

Certain cities have certain restaurants and these businesses offer a range of delicious foods.

In places like Tokyo, the traditional way of doing things exists alongside super modern restaurants.  Either way, it’s a lucky combination of reasons that makes dining there so darn good: Access to first rate ingredients, few homes with ovens, inexpensive options for eating, fierce competition among restaurants, and a cultural desire to assuage sadness and fear through silent eating or noisy drinking.

But let’s look at chefs for a moment.

I go to many restaurants and find huge imbalances in the menu and in the level of service.  Let’s stick to the menu for now.

If a chef knows what he or she knows from studying it in school or working brutally hard for years in one place, the result when he or she cooks can be focused and precise and deeply flavorful.

But it also can exclude flavors from other experiences.

One of David Chang’s great achievements was to denounce Escoffier and urge chefs to look at the flavors of China, Japan, Korea, and the nations of Southeast Asia.  He is kind of like the Junot Diaz of the culinary world.  Diaz is quoted in tomorrow’s NYT magazine in a piece about the very great Toni Morrison–Diaz speaks of, “the unbearable whiteness of American literature.”

You can apply the same thinking to what happens in many professional American kitchens.

Take a look at the restaurants that have have opened recently in certain cities: High fat foods, huge plates, tasting menus that are very inconsistent, and either a Western mix of flavors or some hodgepodge, half-baked attempt to integrate a flavor from Asia.

Little emphasis on vegetables, little use of steaming, little use of broths, little use of noodles.

It’s tough, but if chefs traveled more and inculcated what they taste while on the road maybe the food would taste better.  At least it would taste different.


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