This has been one of those headers that we’ve had in the back of our minds for a while now and we always seem to find a way to bump it along the chain. Finally, I’m pulling on my flak vest (I can only assume there will be massive out-cry here!) and try to explain what it is that ACTUALLY creates something from nothing by turning the mundane in nature to insane through nurture…
Imagine a world where we as chefs had one job to do; create food that is delicious. That would be the life wouldn’t it? Oh let’s put this with this and that with that. Taste everything. Make sure it’s balanced. Re-taste with the kitchen team. Serve to guests. That sounds like a reasonable expectation right?! Well, sadly, that’s not been the case in cooking for a VERY long time, and I mean pre-instagram (yes children, there were ways to share food before twitter and instagram!). Chef Marie-Antoine Carȇme was probably the biggest exponent of elaborately presented food that was created to wow the European nobility in the early 1800’s. From day 1 of Culinary school it had already been hinted at us that “to succeed as a chef you’ve got to have a gimmick”. That makes sense, right?! Not to me, sorry guys.
Please don’t take this the wrong way – I’m not trying to bitch or troll those chefs or concepts that have hit a veritable gold-mine through one-dish wonders, but more expand your horizons. With that being said, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH DOING ONE THING AND DOING IT WELL (I put that in caps so you can hear me loud and clear!). This isn’t a war on great and delicious food or a campaign against successful projects; I just want you, as a reader of this small/meaningless blog to really take another look at some of the places you frequent and give them more than just the passing thought that THAT “perfect one bite” might give you.
The way different chefs come up with a new dish varies immensely from Heston’s desire to wow/shock/amaze/create drama to Michel Roux’s firm-stance on highlighting the beauty of the classics. The key thought to bear in mind is intent. Are these dishes INTENDED to counteract the chef/restaurant/stand’s current menu? Does it make sense with everything else you are being served and at the end of the day is the intent to be delicious or to….!!?
A and myself go back and forth all the time trying to figure out whether we should just come up with that one killer Street Food item or polarizing dessert, but we always come back to the same thing: does it make sense with where we are now and where we intend to take our concept with our future restaurant-endeavours! We take photos of the food we eat and we share it via social media to do anything we can to get anyone watching to join us as we enjoy some of THE most delicious and interesting food out there. We wax lyrical about Bleecker St. Burger (introduced to us by Allthingsmeaty) and Babelle’s Canelés not just because they are friends but because they are making something MORE delicious than everyone else out there.
I remember back in 2010, during my early days at Craigie on Main, what came to be known as the “craigie burger” to the general public hit the “foodie” headlines in the US by first being on the cover of Bon Appétit magazine as “The World’s best Burger”. That summer was crazy with Chef Maw’s burger selling like hot-cakes every night (I’m talking 37 burgers a night here!). This was being served alongside tasting menus and a regular a la carte dinner menu. By November that year, Food & Wine magazine had included the Chef’s creation in the “25 Best Burgers in US” (no small feat!). Great result right? Well, it turned out that was never the goal of the burger, at least as far as I was aware, and a decision was made to limit the number being sold to just 16 juicy patties per night. Staff and space were maxed out and suppliers were strained….something had to give! Why create something that is going to be hyped JUST to limit the sales after a short while? Think back to what I said earlier….it’s all about intent. The INTENTION here was to create something DELICIOUS, not to turn his James Beard Award-Winning restaurant (that just so happened to have an incredible bar program) into a burger-shack…leave that to the pros!
So at the end of all of this what do you think? Do we, as chefs, create the latest trends in food OR do they, somehow, manage to just find their own way into our minds as if by the powers of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Inception (AMAZING film!)? I’ll leave that for you to decide, although all of a sudden I now find myself craving one of Joe Beef’s [infamous] foie gras double-downs as the “addition” to the highly-sensitive world of food-trends.
So let’s now leave you with 2 things to go home and think about: 1) If something has boomed so much that it seems like everyone wants it (I’m talking to you rainbow-bagels) always take a second thought. 2) Trends- we’d love to know what your favourites have been and which probably should have been left off the team sheet?! R.
The Craigie Burger: Bon Appetit (September 2010 Table of Contents)