Keep it simple
We all know of the KISS principle. I’m sure you’ve heard many uses for the acronym; I like mine to mean Keep it Short and Simple. This principle applies to many aspects of our lives, but here it applies to food preparation and taste (of course you say, it’s a food blog after all…).
We’ve all participated in the latest food trends: foams, gels, powders, bubbles, etc. that taste like the food they were derived from but are not. For example, when I was in culinary school in NYC last year, there were two very famous Michelin starred Italian chefs that performed a demo for us students. They made a mortadella foam, put it on a piece of fish and served it to us. Now, it was a cool idea making a foam out of mortadella (Italian bologna for those that don’t know), but the application was terrible. It did taste like mortadella, but it was foam; there was nothing to chew on, there were no pistachios or pieces of fat. Eating the foam made me want a real piece of mortadella! I’ve seen chefs make bacon powder and sprinkle it on food….again, it tastes like bacon, but it isn’t and eating it only makes me want the real thing.
I recently talked to an acquaintance of mine who ate an upscale restaurant where the chef is known for technical food preparation and presentation. The acquaintance said that it was fun to go to that restaurant once as it was a special occasion, but most likely would not go back as everyone in the party left hungry. What this tells me is that there is novelty and ‘wow’ factor in this style of cooking, but no real substance. It takes hours to transform these ingredients into the foams and powders and chemicals are used in some cases to perform the flavor extraction. So, when your plate arrives with things that don’t look like how they taste, you say wow! Once the wow is over, then what?
I recently cooked for two weddings, both relatively small (less than 50 people) and both buffet-style. The first one had an Italian-style menu and the other was a bit more eclectic. Everyone at both weddings loved the food and gave Bruce & I many nice compliments. The interesting thing about both was how much they RAVED about the simple and comforting dishes. At the first wedding, I made authentic fettucine alfredo which is nothing more that cooked fettucine, Parmesan cheese, butter, and pasta water. I lost count of how many people came up to us and said ‘everything was delicious, but that fettucine was amazing’. At the second wedding I made macaroni and cheese with Italian sausage (a request from the bride) in it and topped with Parmesan cheese. It was supposed to be the ‘kid’ food, but I made a big tray because I figured the adults would want to try some too. Again, we heard ‘everything was delicious, but that mac’n’cheese was amazing.’
One last story: at a life-celebration back in April, we made an appetizer called Bagna Cauda (means hot bath in Italian) that’s made with garlic, anchovy, olive oil, salt & pepper. It’s traditionally served with raw veggies, but I saw some fingerling potatoes at the store and though they would go well with the dip. I only bought a few lbs. because there was already lots of veggies for this appetizer. I roasted them whole in olive oil, salt, and pepper and served them warm with the dip. Well, there were people standing over the bowl eating those potatoes like they were potato chips—they were gone in less than 30 minutes—and for the rest of the day we kept being asked if there were any more of those potatoes. ‘Everything was delicious, but those potatoes were amazing!’
What all of this means is that people like food to be simple and comforting and probably don’t know it. They come to the realization when they have a lot of choices in front of them and their favorite is the one that didn’t stand out as a ‘wow’ in the beginning.
It’s very important to use quality ingredients when preparing simple dishes, because the dish is standing on those few ingredients and can easily fail if one is inferior. I explained that to one of the wedding guests in regard to the fettucine alfredo. In Italy, it’s more about the pasta; most sauces are simple and the pasta is very lightly dressed so you can taste the noodle along with the sauce. Here in America it’s about the sauce, and the noodle is merely the landing place for it; it’s almost always overcooked, wet, and flavorless. That guest loved the alfredo, because the fettucine was cooked properly, dressed lightly, and had a delicious nutty taste on its own that married beautifully with the cheese and the butter. What could be more simple?
I leave you with the recipe for the real fettucine alfredo compliments of Saveur magazine. Make it tonight! You won’t miss the cream and you won’t want any foam…. A Presto!