Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Traditional Food

I am wondering if the average gastro tourist coming to Italy is looking for traditional restaurants or Super Chefs? As I read food forums like eGullet it seems as though the majority are in pursuit of the latter.

I find myself at a culinary crossroads. While I am interested in the creative new cutting-edge creations from world renowned chefs, I am also fascinated by the traditional preparations which have evolved over centuries, handed down from generation to generation and continually adjusted and perfected. The aromas emitted from the kitchen windows of my village make my mouth water so overwhelmingly fast, that it is hard for me to imagine how starred chefs can eclipse this.

Perhaps I'm giving the impression that the starred chefs have nothing to offer, but in fact I am very interested in the inventions of all chefs, famous and obscure, cutting edge and traditional. No one who loves food could not be. What I mean to say is that traditionally prepared food is equally as interesting and equally worth pursuing. In fact the type of cooking that I am trying to describe does not really exist in restaurants. I am speaking of preparations requiring hours and hours of hand work and equal time cooking. This type of food is not economical for a restaurant to make but is often practiced in homes, mostly by loving mothers for their family or for a special feast or wedding. In most cases food like this can't be bought and the recipes are either memorized or closely guarded. This is the food I covet and I look for restaurants that try to practice this.

Traditional foods and ancient ingredients have gotten pushed to the way-side in most modern restaurants and many of us have no idea how complex and layered their flavors and aromas can be. Classical cuisines are based on hundreds, if not thousands of years of method, technique and ingredients and offer us an amazing array of flavors and textures.

For me, experimental cuisine means using a rice like Favorito which, even though it has been grown locally for hundreds of years, it is now almost extinct and very hard to find and as you might have guessed, it makes mind-blowing risotto.

I can't help wondering if we are not gravitating towards traditional food because we are fleeing something else? In all things artistic there have been revolutions for the simple. In the 18th century formal French gardens were dug up to make the more natural looking English gardens. In art we see how artist’s styles became increasingly looser and more natural over the centuries.

In the past 20 years, fine food has become increasingly fussed-over and contrived in order to garner more fame and revenue for the author and I find that the restaurants that serve these “creations” are usually uptight and uncomfortable, even the wait staff propagate this ostentatious funk. To me, traditional food, comfort food and regional food all represent a departure from our modern attempts to glorify food.

"Simple pleasures are always the last refuge of the complex." - Oscar Wilde


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