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Fine Dining.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 1:14 pm    Post subject: Fine Dining. Reply with quote

I'm certainly in a minority amongst the people I know - but I'm a sucker for food being presented artistically and in [relatively] small quantities on the plate. The fashion first came into notice with the 'nouvelle cusine' of what, the ninety's and since then has morphed into the more generic term of 'fine dinning'.

I have this thing where I believe that at it's top end, eating a meal can match the sensory experience of say seeing a Mozart opera, reading a Shakespear play or viewing a Picasso or a Monet. All of these can lead to experiences of the sublime, and in my view the gastronomic experience is of no less value [bad word] than the others.

It's not easy to experience the 'perfect meal' [I've never suceeded yet], but the first thing [for me at least and next to the actual food quality] is the amont of food and the way it is presented. I think if you can't make a selection from each section of the menue [and any selection] ie starter, main course and dessert, and eat all of each one and still have room for the remainder of the courses, then they have got it wrong. Nothing is worse to me thn having a shovell full of food that I could prepare better myself, so rule 1. is that quantity does not equall quality. What you want is small courses perfectly presented.

Next thing is the taste. If it looks perfect on the plate - then it has to exeed this in the effect of putting it in your mouth. It's got to be good, good, good - and just to make things even harder, every course has to be better than the last. The dessert must be a triumphant finale. Too many flavours on a plate is a hard trick to pull off - and so is too few. Both can be done - but rarely so [I'm reminded of the London Chef who, when told his food was both fantastic and simple, answered drily that it should be; it took ten chef's twelve hours a day to get it that simple.] Next comes timing; too long between courses and it get's difficult to maintain the easy flow of the meal, too short and you feel rushed. Again this is really hard to pull off, but a gap of about 5 minutes (ish) between dishes is about right.

Now to the staff themselves. They should be pretty much invisible. They are there to help choose, to advise where asked, to attend to additional requests as they come - but they are a necessary evil, no more. They are not part of the meal and the moment their presence becomes intrusive above the point that is signalled by the dinners the relaxing effect of the meal is lost. The staff must be able to read these signals and respond to them. What suits one table will not please another. Polite distance is by far the best tactic and much easier to get right than familiarity. They should always be near when wanted, but never over-present or 'in your lap'.

Decor is a thing thats pretty much a personal taste but it helps if the decor of the restaurant fits with the type of food being served. The company you keep in enjoying your perfect meal is entierly your own responsibility - I only ever eat in the presence of my wife and step-daughter [on the same table]. Drink appropriate wines for the food you are eating and not to excess [one wine type rarely fits all courses of a fine dinning meal] and be prepared to 'spring' for a flight of wines in the best places. Dress in accordance with the type of place you are eating in - it shows respect for the house and it's efforts to provide you with a superlative dinning experience. You should have time [and space] to relax over a coffe or a digestif before leaving the restaurant satisfied but not stuffed. Paying the cheque should never be 'haggled' over between dinners - do the division afterwards away from the venue - and on the restaurants part should be made easy for the customer with respect to requesting and paying the bill [It has to be done but shouldn't interfere with the two hours spent achieving a trancendental sensation of 'all rightness' with the world.]

It's a rare thing when nearly all of the elements that make up the perfect dinning experience come together at the same time, but when it happens you know it. You will always leave the restaurant feeling that you have just experienced the 'best dinning experience of your life' and given that we eat three meals a day for seventy years thats a feeling worth paying for! Wink
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 6:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like grilled cheese sandwiches. so I guess you perfect meal seems like too much work for me.

as a cook I just want to get people fed.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 9:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Peter, I think this might have been a good example of what you are getting at.

Sarge, I understand your perspective as someone who is mass-producing food for those who are not always the most appreciative or discerning about what is offered them...but you are also an artist in other media than food. If you were to bring your artistic sensibility to cooking and had an audience that was capable and willing to consider the merits thereof, would you not want to create greater works than a croque-monsieur?
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 12:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm all in favor of a fine dinning most of the time, though it gives my wife migraines.
I'm not sure what it has to do with the rest of the post, which seems to have something to do with food.
Though I will admit on certain holidays with family, the kitchen can be the source of some extravagant and enjoyable din.
Big Grin

Anyway...I appreciate the artistry of presentation. But too often in my recent experience places charge way to much counting on presentation and atmosphere while the food is basically meh.
I find that highly annoying.
Someday I swear I'm gonna drop in on Vader, though...he seems to have both the vision and flavor at his command from his posts here.
I agree on service, my wife not so much. I want them there only when I want them there...she appreciates the occasional random check-in by the server if brief, friendly and efficient.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 12:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In America the usual practice at your average restaurant is heapin' helpin's. Even your run of the mill nice restaurant in a medium size town is going to be portion heavy, considering the service a'la russe standards you are applying, peter. I think that is why, on occasion, the wife and I gravitate towards dinner in the tapas style, which has become quite popular. Though the food is usually shared, the leisurely pace, small portions, live jazz guitarist, and pleasant cafe atmosphere makes for an enjoyable, if typically alcohol-soaked dining experience. Normally we will share about 5 or 6 small courses, not counting drinks, which may include an aperitif on arrival, champagne, a medium bodied red wine, a full bodied red wine, and a digestif typically involving coffee. Perhaps you may have surmised that we progress through cheese, salad, lobster, lamb, then beef courses followed by dessert. I haven't yet figured out how to fit a soup or bisque in there without becoming overfull.

Someday we'll have to dine in a traditional French restaurant and have that experience.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vraith wrote:
I'm all in favor of a fine dinning most of the time, though it gives my wife migraines.
I'm not sure what it has to do with the rest of the post, which seems to have something to do with food.
Though I will admit on certain holidays with family, the kitchen can be the source of some extravagant and enjoyable din.
Big Grin

Anyway...I appreciate the artistry of presentation. But too often in my recent experience places charge way to much counting on presentation and atmosphere while the food is basically meh.
I find that highly annoying.
Someday I swear I'm gonna drop in on Vader, though...he seems to have both the vision and flavor at his command from his posts here.
I agree on service, my wife not so much. I want them there only when I want them there...she appreciates the occasional random check-in by the server if brief, friendly and efficient.


Europeans in general seem to be much better servers than Americans -- they actually take the job seriously.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 5:23 am    Post subject: Re: Fine Dinning. Reply with quote

peter wrote:
'nouvelle cusine'


Nah. I'm all for nice presentation. But don't give me a single medallion with a bit of garnish and drizzle and expect me to call it a main course.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 3:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just to put things in perspective, I think the best thing possible to put in your mouth is a bacon sandwich. Running with butter and oozing english mustard the crispy bacon and granary bread gives a hit of 'umami' that no other culinary alchemy can come close to. But this is not what I am talking here. I'm talking dinning elevated to art as Savor Dam correctly points out. This is really, really difficult and when a restaurant comes even close you have to expect to cough up for it. Mongnihlio's - no, f**k it, I prefer Don - Don's observation about 'tapas' size protions is getting there, though maybe going a bit too far for me. It's no coincidence that Ferran Adria's el Buli [San Pellegrino 'Best Restaurant in the World' six years running] was essentially a tapas restaurant in Spain. Here you could see Gastronomy elevated to operatic levels where 'molecular' tecniques were used to present a thirty course symphony of tastes, sounds and smells, for which two million or so people a year tried to secure one of the ten thousand or so placings. [Check it out on u-tube.] Now the baton has been handed over to Copenhagen's Noma who prepare dishes that are as soft on the eye as any Monet or Manet ever was.

Auguste Escoffier noted that we eat as much with our eyes as with our mouth's and the great french food writer Brillat-Savarin noted [in the eighteenth C.] that the creation of a new dish adds more to the sum of human happiness than does the disovery of a new star. Here's a case in point. In my own town a few years ago a man opened up a small eatery serving around twenty covers a night. I went purely out of interest - it was cheap[ish], close to home and informal. The man served up a limited menue on which was the dish Monkfish in Red Wine Sauce. Now this shouldn't be possible - but he pulled it off and he made me very, very happy. He could serve three courses plus a cheese platter and never drop a stitch. And something else he could do; he could serve you something that you ate three times a week every week and make it taste like the first time you had eaten it. [Did this with Spring Asparagus in a simple chive sauce for me] These men are masters at their trade; they are Artists and deserve to be recognised as such. The link below is a restaurant I have eaten in a couple of times and has a great picture of what is [to my mind] a 'beautiful' plate of food.

http://www.gidleigh.com/restaurant/menus

It's not 'classical french' [le Gavroche in London do that better than any place in France that is not a private home half way up a mountain] but it's preety damn good!
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vraith wrote:
Someday I swear I'm gonna drop in on Vader, though...he seems to have both the vision and flavor at his command from his posts here.

Agreed about Doc and his posts.

Speaking of which. Has anyone espied him lately? I haven't even seen him on FB recently.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 4:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

peter wrote:
I'm talking dinning elevated to art


Emphasis mine, and:
Really?! All the trouble I went to to point a [metaphorical] big red arrow, and you go and do it again?

I despair.

Anyway:
I'm going to look up that tube thing, at some point.
How can one not love it when a sentence can contain the words gastronomy, operatic, and molecular and still make sense?
When you say "molecular," is it related to the stuff done on the TV show [on SYFY channel, in U.S. anyway] called "Quantum Kitchen?"
[I know...I'll know the answer when I look on u-tube. But you'll probably post here before I look there.]

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 17, 2013 10:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Embarassed Oops - Sorry V. Sometimes when I read a series of posts I forget whats in the earlier ones and then get the bit between my teeth when I start posting! Whip

el Buli opens [or I should say opened - it was closed down last year I think because it never made any money, but now runs as a cookery school] ....el Buli opened it's phone lines for bookings on one day a year only, when it would take reservations for the following years sittings. It is estimated that 2 million people would apply for the 8,000 sittings available in each year. The lucky applicants were allocated a table, and then 'entertained' with a series of dishes that involved all of the senses [tapes of the sea while eating a scoop of oyster favoured ice-cream, the essence of one hundred olives concentrated down into one 'spherified' liquid globule that would dissapear on being placed in the mouth, wafts of wood smoke accompanying truffled chantrelles, but presented in a micro-wooland scene in the bowl of one spoon etc] and every tase being a glorious tribute to the effort put into the dishes preparation. The whole came together in a three hour extravaganza of dinning elevated to the art of ...well...art. How did I miss this. How did I miss this. I only hope that when el Bulli once again opens it's doors in 2014 as a center for the creative arts [check out it's wikipedia entry nb spelling is el bulli not el buli as I used earlier] they will still have gastronomy at the core of their philosophy.

[Edit; added the following day]

The following may prove interesting to 'foodies'.

The great Auguste Escoffier [inventor of the 'brigade system' of kitchen management and [I believe] introducer of the first use of 'courses' following a menue set pattern] was the first to realise that how we see and experience the food in front of us actually effects the way we taste it. Neurological studies have subsequently corroborated this by demonstrating that the neural activity in the 'taste perception' parts of the brain are diferent for say fish and chips served in a newspaper than fish and chips served on a plate. Similarly tea in a bone china cup compared to tea in a mug. Now the following wants emphasising. It's not just that you think the taste is different - it actually is different. And this does not just stop at the plate in front of you. It extends to the entire surroundings, the company, the ambiance, everything about when where and how the food is consumed. It all effects the taste. For this reason Escoffier's first Paris restaurant used only the best crystal and bone china. His silverware was of the top quality and the decor considered the height for the day. This was his genius as much as in the kitchen - he knew that no matter how good the dishes he prepared, he could make them better - actually better - by the way and manner of their presentation.

This is the reason that sandwich's made at midnight from the fridge, or breakfast's cooked over a camp fire or beautifully presented meal's in beautifull surroundings taste the way they do - better!
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2013 8:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hope someone is still with me here - I just added an edit to the above post that I really think is worth knowing [even if you dissagree or 'aint interested in the rest]. Forgive the double posting please Mod's but I thought the edit might get lost if I didn't Wink.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 5:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not sure if I'm in favour of molecular gastronomy either... Laughing

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On their own no Av - but as they gradually get pulled into the mainstream [along with the fads for 'forraging' and presenting every dish as though it is a Kew garden exhibit] it's starting to have an invigorating effect. Fine dining evolves just the same as any other art form. But a dish of foam accompanied by a whiff of smoke - Razz !
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 9:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Creative cooking is art. It's all about composing and arranging and such. And just as visual arts come in all different forms and presentations, culinary art is not different from that. You can have "form follows function" meals, baroque meals, classical or even abstract meals. Esthetics are highly individual.

Eating as such can be seen in different ways as well. You can go to a restaurant just to get rid of your hunger, you can go there to satisfy the craving for a certain flavor or food item, you can go there as a social happening or you could go there because of the "total package".

I tend to think that if a restaurant - and I'm not talking about take-outs or diners at the corner - if a real restaurant doesn't show love and passion for their food by taking pride in how to present it - how ambitiuous can they be cooking the meals?

Taste of course is most important if it comes to food. It's like the inner values of a person. But honestly, would you kiss a person with great inner values that hasn't taken a bath or brushed their teeth in months?

In Germany we have a saying that goes like "you also eat with your eyes" - or as SRD would have put it "Taste is in the eye of the beholder".

HOWEVER, plating should support the taste, not distract from it (especially not ruining it by spending too much time assembling the dish so it is cold when it reaches your table.)

As a home cook I try to make my meals look attractive, simply out of respect for the people I serve it and out of respect for the ingredients, though I'm far from being a real plating master. I'm usually rather rustic than filigree. I don't cook haute cuisine dishes anyway. At home I'd never spend more time plating then cooking the dish. Which is understandable - at home I'm alone in the kitchen.

If I had a restaurant I probably have staff just being responsible for plating. But then I'd feel obliged (a question of honor) to deliver.

So in a nut shell, if we talk about fine dinning (still not sure if it shouldn't be dining) and not just ordinary dining, the complete package counts. Candle lights, evening dress, waiters in tuxedos with white gloves, discreet music, different sets of cutlery and glasses for each meal and some attractive chi-chi on the plate garnishing your food.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's perfectly possible to make your plate attractive without sacrificing my meal on the altar of the chef's vanity. Wink

For me, taste is first and foremost. If it looks good, that's a bonus. But I'll forgive anything for sublime taste combined with a decent portion.

Garnish by all means. But don't serve me just garnish. Wink

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 5:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

...and while elaborate plating can be just gilding the lily, a plate that looks like a dog's breakfast must get some style points deducted,

Yes, taste is the prime determinant...but the Germans are right that the eyes also taste.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 5:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

the title of the thread reminds that at work they have labeled one of drink cambro "dinning room."

I keep meaning to use the mistake in a song.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Question Sorry guys - I'm not getting this Question

[ Shifty Cross Fingers ]
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 8:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Avatar wrote:
Garnish by all means. But don't serve me just garnish. Wink


There is this German TV cooking show, probably adopted from some US/UK format. A professional (TV) chef has to cook a complete meal, each of the five courses against another amateur.

The amateurs have chosen their dish weeks before and have time to practice cooking it with a professional coach. The chef only learns what to cook right on the show. Sometimes those amateurs are b or even c-list celebs who have no friggin clue about cooking but just want to appear on TV to promote another useless movie or TV show.

Anyway, there are three food critics who judge over the food and award points. One of them - a famous German hotel and food critic - always says when being served dishes garnished with twigs of herb, "The German forest doesn't belong on the plate". He adores Escoffier, loves sophisticated food and is all for presentation, however doesn't like inedible decorations, like thick stems of rosemary and such.
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