Thursday, June 13, 2013

"It's taken on an international flavour, much like myself."

My dearest friend among suborder
Serpentes, the Mexican Black King Snake.
Someone on the Facebooks pointed out, after reading my culinary artist's statement, that the general tone of the document suggested I should stick to the traditional foods of the area in which I am. I'm pretty sure I actually said the opposite in the body text, but in case it was missed or I imagined it, I meant quite the opposite.

I live in an area that doesn't really have its own cuisine. A few minor delicacies, but for the most part, our foods are cribbed from French cuisine (in formal dining) and a smattering of UK and other Western European cuisines. Much like in the US, our Chinese is Americanized, our Italian is pathetic (seriously, Vitos is the worst excuse for Italian and Greek I've ever tasted), and pretty much everyone else is misrepresented - only our Japanese and our Indian is really all that authentic, at least in the city in which I live.

Home cooking, for a truly disappointing number of the locals, is Meat and Potatoes, plus whatever fast-mix "ethnic" foods might be conjured from the supermarket aisles.

Pretty early in my life and right through the bulk of high school, I developed a fascination with Japanese culture that really only broke when I stopped dreaming of going there to teach English - a dream that broke when I met the girl worth fighting for and decided to stay. During that time, I developed quite an appreciation for a number of facets of the culture, up to and including the food.

During my first year at NBCC I did what I could to incorporate that fascination into my learning - mostly by watching Japanese chefs do their thing and coming to understand the composition of traditional Japanese meals. In the end, I haven't learned that many Japanese recpies - about the only thing I can prepare from memory is my zushi rice and the only other recipe I have written down that's authentically Japanese is the batter I use for tempura. More importantly, I've learned techniques and customs, which can be used in nearly any other form of cuisine - in essence, when I cook Japanese I often use a western flavour pallet. I also learned the ethic of leaving the flavour of the ingredients as untouched as possible - seasonings have a place on stage, but as the backup chorus and not the chief tenor.

During my second year, my interests turned to Italian. Like me, my mother trained in the culinary arts in her youth (a dream I screwed up, as I understand it. XD), and I had the good fortune to have my household menu be rather broad. Italian spoke to me. Many of my mom's best recipes are at least Italian in essence, such as her Lasagna, and one of the earliest savoury dishes I learned to prepare was a nice, hearty Bolognese sauce. Again, I didn't lock down recipes as much as I locked down techniques - pasta making being something of a skill focus for my entire second year.

The only other thing I learned that year was the importance of an understanding of ingredients - this one time, I got Chef Ritter to order in eight different types of Mushrooms so that I could spend a whole week working with them and learning the difference between the different types.

I haven't met a Mushroom I don't like... yet. Anyway, the fact of the matter remains that I don't believe in borders in cuisine. My favourite tool for plating will always be chopsticks, my favourite seasoning will probably always be garlic, and my preferred cooking oil will certainly be clarified butter. My point was that, before we start messing around with the cutting-edge trendy techniques more akin to hardware stores and medical supplies, we should ground ourselves in authentic, traditional techniques.

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