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Food and Restaurant Digest #34, 23 March 2018 
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What does "avant-garde" mean in the dining world?


In the 1930s, Italian “Futurist” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti ) probably embodied that era’s version of "avant-garde" (defined as "an intelligentsia that develops new or experimental concepts" by Merriam-Webster) in the dining world, what with his controversial ideas about abolishing the tradition of eating pasta in Italy (as he's pictured doing here, image courtesy of Estorick Collection). Amongst other things, he claimed that eating pasta both made people “heavy, brutish … skeptical, slow, pessimistic” and also harmed Italy’s rice industry by supporting the import of the foreign grain crucial to the production of the national staple.
 
Almost a century later, René Redzepi of the acclaimed noma restaurant in Copenhagen – listed four times as top of the San Pellegrino “50 Best Restaurants in the World” list – might be Marinetti’s modern counterpart, credited with "re-inventing Nordic cuisine" and operating at the "cutting edge of gourmet cuisine, combining an unrelenting creativity and a remarkable level of craftsmanship with an inimitable and innate knowledge of the produce of his Nordic terroir", thanks in no small part to his insistence on only using "locally sourced, seasonal produce" (no Italian olive oil on these Scandi tables!).
 
After sojourns in Japan and Mexico, noma has recently re-opened in a new location in Copenhagen as “noma 2.0”. While the critical acclaim has generally been overwhelmingly positive, not everyone is buying it, like one critic who claimed that "outside of the bubble of fine dining, generations of rural communities around the world have not regarded eating local as a movement nor as a cool new thing to try out: It is simply a question of necessity. Far from offering a whole new outlook on cooking, Noma has spent the last 10 years repackaging pre-existing approaches, making them more comprehensible or fashionable (and therefore more palatable) to an urban Western audience drawn to third-wave coffee shop aesthetics and chef-bro tattoos."

It’s a provocative stance to take in a global food scene mostly populated by chefs, restaurants or other food personalities who become media darlings by virtue of a fashionable philosophy presented as the “next big thing”, many of which are admittedly exactly the right thing to be popularising, like more sustainable and ethical practices when it comes to kitchen suppliers and behaviours. But this (rare) critique of one of those media darlings also reminds us that it’s also worth stopping to consider, once in a while, whether the praise is merited without question, just as someone else recently did about David Chang’s new Netflix show, Ugly Delicious (which we highly recommend, by the way), suggesting that the erstwhile “rebel” chef has just become mainstream.

Then again, mainstream needn't be anything to be ashamed of, and "avant-garde" surely shouldn't be something to be chased for the sake of being ahead of the pack - whether making affordable food "for the masses" or producing exclusive tasting menus for the relative few who can afford a trip to Copenhagen, hopefully the thinking behind menus is simply delivering a meal that's worth your time, money, and experience as a diner.
 

Latest from our site   

In his latest Pinch of Salt column, chef Pete Goffe-Wood has a good old-fashioned rant about the pretentiousness of many modern menus, where a salad Niçoise might be presented as “48-hour cold smoked organically farmed, hand-reared, pole-caught Monrovian yellowfin tuna, compressed cucumber, sous-vide heirloom tomatoes, air-dried fennel, Kalamata espuma, lemon granita, green bean emulsion, confit of new season’s potatoes, and anchovy soil.”  ("Between you and me," he adds,  "I don’t care if my cucumbers are compressed, depressed or just having a bad day and I certainly don’t want to eat anchovies (or any ingredient for that matter) that have soiled themselves." He counters that ridiculousness with a few snaps of his favourite plates from a recent visit to London, including these delicious-looking English muffins with Cornish crab from the 1 Michelin-starred Harwood Arms



Talking about doing the right thing, Jean-Pierre discovers a fantastic initiative for taking sustainable seafood seriously during lunch at Steenberg's BistroSixteen82, which involves placing "a carved wooden fish on the table with a QR-coded tag. This tag, once scanned, brings up information about the day’s fresh fish offering – info on what kind of fish it is, who caught it, where it was caught and even the boat used. It’s a service provided by Abalobi (isiXhosa for 'small scale fisher'), geared to transforming the governance of small-scale fisheries 'from hook to cook', and 'born out of brainstorming sessions between the University of Cape Town researchers, the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and several small-scale fisher community representatives, following discussions on implementation of the Small Scale Fisheries Policy and United Nations FAO Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries'." 
Bits and Bites
Sacrilegious pizza: A pizza chef in Naples has recently come under fire for daring to produce a "healthy" version of that dish using "whole grains and cereals", as reported by The Independent, which goes on to detail that the chef he "put his alternative 'crunchy' recipe, featuring petal shapes of mozzarella and a heavy tomato sauce, on the menu of his restaurant in the smart Victor Emanuel Gallery in the Italian business capital of Milan, charging as much as €16 (£12,50). But his delicate tweaks of the original recipe was met with disdain in the proud southern city of Naples, the birthplace of the margherita. The Neapolitan writer Angelo Forgione spearheaded the criticism, quipping that the new gastronomic creation was nothing more than 'a cracked pizza'." Tut tut.

Better wine in hotel rooms: We all know the problem (right?) of being in a hotel room and requiring a glass of wine but not wanting to pay the ridiculous prices for the whole bottle in the minibar. Enter the Plum machine, which "preserves two opened bottles of wine for weeks at the perfect serving temperature and allows you to draw off a glass with one touch". It's so far only in the US, and confronts the problem that most guests don't use it because it looks too much like an air-purifier, but let's hope it catches on to the local hotel offerings!



Iconic food pictures: Most of us have probably seen this one of Marco Pierre White (who also graces the walls of Rare Grill, 2017 Winner of the Steakhunter Championships), but here's a collection of iconic food(ie) pics that Food & Wine claim "changed the way we eat" (probably a slightly overblown claim, but some great photos nevertheless). 
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