Guest author: French chocolatier Frank Richard of Philippe’s Chocolates
I love talking to Frank Richard about food, and in particular about his experiences working at the cutting edge of gastronomy in top restaurants around the world. I was delighted when he agreed to contribute to this blog. Enjoy his thought-provoking post and leave a comment or question for Frank at the end.
Fashion in food – the great debate
By Frank Richard, chocolatier
A little while ago Sue launched a great topic about whether fashion was an asset or a parasite to that amazing source of pleasure named food.
In contrast to our author, I consider fashion in food to be essentially a positive thing: even though fashion is held as a symbol of inconsistency and superficiality, food has to be the vital and essential pleasure of life.
So what is it that I find so positive about that union?
And why is there fashion in food?
It all begins in the “crème de la crème” of gastronomy or, should I say, its customers. Many of those people spend an increasing amount of time in fine dining restaurants around the world and, as a consequence, to keep them interested chefs had to adapt from gradual evolution of gastronomy to a speed level called fashion.
The great thing about it is the buzz and dynamism it generates and how it stimulates the creativity of all these taste geniuses…
Each of them not only creates, but also gets inspired by what his fellow creators come up with, leading him to the next step, new flavours, new textures, new sensations, new sources of inspiration for others…
No, we’re not talking wired incoherent flavors here; we’re talking copper pot virtuosos!
The problem comes later, since there has to be one, on the long journey leading the original creation to our humble plates.
Just like most organisations it’s a pyramid from the one who creates a concept which then broadens to more and more people who get inspired by, or copy, the original. The thing is we are not all equal when it comes to creating. If I were to rearrange a song it would end up making Justin Bieber’s “tune” even worse than it is. (Imagine the sacrilege if I rearranged Pink Floyd!)
Same goes for food: how often do I see what used to be a great dish absolutely slaughtered by so-called “inspired chefs” who radically push a concept much further than its originator dared to.
As an example, one of the world’s top chefs, Heston Blumenthal, made headlines with his smoked bacon and scrambled egg ice cream in 1992. By the late 1990s many chefs felt that if it was a good idea to make one particular savoury ice cream then making any flavor, the weirder the better, would make them stand out as uncompromising geniuses.
This how we ended up with anchovies, charcoal, chocolate bacon, silk, squid gut, breast milk and such like in our ice cream. Of course when you come across that, your justified reaction is “Chefs – if it’s never been done before, stop and ask yourself if there’s a reason for that.”
Just teasing you Sue, it’s a legitimate call, even if I don’t like the sound of it. The fact that it’s never been done is actually a good enough reason to give it a go, but certainly not good enough to call it great no matter what.
Even when it comes to simply copying, many will get it wrong.
A real life example of this occurred to me about 3 days ago:
Seeking inspiration I found a “Macaroon truffle” on Pierre Herme’s website: nice concept with layers of macaroon and ganache cut square, dipped to perfection in dark chocolate and featuring an equally perfect micro macaroon as a garnish.
I showed the photo to my colleague only to hear “oh yeah, it’s been tried here before you arrived. It never picked up… Pretty bad, you know: just one of those weird ideas…”
Am I wrong to speculate that the failure was probably due to the chocolate being a very poor copy of the original work?
So what does food fashion do for us here in New Zealand?
Well, pretty much everything. The majority of what we are cooking was invented by a great chef searching for something new one day.
Today it brings inspiration to both that nice little restaurant you have fallen in love with, hidden down a narrow street, and to you.
Yes you. You too can have your share of undiluted, state-of-the-art food creations through the web and in quality magazines. (We don’t exchange our ideas and tricks through an obscure 1800-bit secured secret network you know!)
It’s all just there in the (real) gastronomy magazines, the blogs and simply on the online menus of the great chefs: read, get inspired, search for the relevant recipes and tricks, and experiment!
That’s what food fashion has on offer for you and for all: inspiration.