I recently listened to the audio version of Anthony Bourdain’s book “Medium Raw”. A great read/listen if you enjoy Bourdain, but even my 16 year old son mentioned that it has too much swearing for his liking. Definitely an acquired taste – but always interesting and I love the adventures that he takes me on. One particular chapter left me thinking. He was discussing the concept of “tasting menus” in reference to such restaurants as elBulli, The French laundry, and Alinea, where you are literally entertained for several hours (5 hours in once case) while chefs prepare upwards of 20 courses for you to sample. Which in some ways would be a ton of fun! But the part that got me was the continuous use of the word “perfect”. There are still hundreds of restaurants in the world who expect perfection from their chefs. Every morsel diced or chopped perfectly. Meat cut uniformly and precisely. The notion of consistency taken to an entirely different dimension. Now don’t get me wrong, when I am in a 5 star restaurant I expect things to be flawless. But I know that my definition of flawless is different from that of Thomas Keller’s, Bourdain’s or Ramsay’s. I am looking for consistent flavour, consistency in the way a piece of meat is cooked, consistent presentation and service. But there are people in this world that are paid full time salaries, with benefits, to ensure that every piece of fish that goes on a plate is exactly 4 oz., and exactly the same sized rectangle portion. For 8 hours. Every single day.
Now while that is very interesting, and part of me would love to experience it just for pure reverence to the history of Culinary Arts and ideals of perfection, the rest of me loves a more casual, rustic yet flavourful Italian Ragu. Rustic Cuisine from any country exemplifies everything I love about the culinary world. Fresh ingredients, rich sauces, passion, earthiness. Take homemade gnocchi or dumplings – yes they should be consistent, but I would never expect someone to measure every little piece!!! Bourdain himself talks about how he loves Asian food, street vendors, and “real” cooking. You can bet they are not measuring every piece of fish that they toss in a pan! Getting together with great friends, enjoying amazing flavours and appreciating the effort that goes into preparing a 5 star meal is priceless. But perfection? Culinary perfection for me is simply not defined by the perfectly proportioned cube of carrot on my plate, but by the overall experience and the stimulation of my senses through a wonderfully prepared meal.