I maintain a belief that individual creativity erodes a planned concept. And this has proven to be true over time. Essentially, one person’s creative touches can slowly whittle away at a concept if that creativity does not compliment the over all plan.
The shortcuts and detours people often take, alleviating small steps, make a big difference, and can alter a well thought out concept over night.
This is particularly true with restaurant chefs.
In the October issue of Gourmet Magazine, Editor Ruth Reichl had the opportunity to write of a fantasy adventure where she and a host of other guests could spend $1000.00 on meals of choice. One of her stops was at David Chang’s Momofuku. For those familiar with Chang he has a flare for the kitchen comparable to that of a scientist in a lab. Like so any chef’s he lives to combine, marry, add, subtract and experiment, continually with ingredients.
But like the students and professors in Bunsen burner filled labs, some are geniuses while others are dangerous. One misstep with an unqualified lab partner over open flame and friends could be referring to the projectile as Rocket Man. The same holds true with menus.
In Reichl’s fantasy culinary trek she enjoyed a Chang masterpiece that few would have dared to create: sea urchin in whipped tofu with scallions, in beet tapioca. Now this is a long way from the meat and potato crowd of the 60’s and 70’s. And, I am sure, will garner a compound reaction from other chefs who once thought purple potatoes were adventuresome, yet in today’s culinary world Chang’s Momofuku is cutting edge.
A problem that exists is that an inexperienced culinary chef who considers himself a scientist will turn down the experimental highway, concoct a creation and slip it on the menu while nobody is looking. And that is a kiss of sure fire death in the art of infusions, coulis, ragouts, and of late, benedicts.
Over the holidays I had the opportunity to take a few close friends out to brunch. We chose
Well, pretty weird. The chef had grabbed something as simple and traditional as eggs Benedict and turned it into a mystery of sorts. It was Benedict erved with Chicken Gray rather than Hollandaise sauce. When I asked the waitress if Hollandaise ever appeared in the kitchen she looked at me as though I had just asked for something out of the ordinary, say Sea Urchin in Whipped tofu. One thing I know for sure, the worst Eggs Benedict in the world is better than eggs Benedict with chicken Gravy.
I am not faulting the Social Club for their new found or possibly ancient creation of Eggs Benedict with Chicken Gravy. (Possibly, they are attempting to emulate the ancient menus of WWII.) However, I am suggesting chefs and owners to pay attention to what customers are used to and add experimental dishes slowly, as a technique, rather than introducing them on an already limited menu.
Experimentation and creativity is as much as the food culture as it is the world of canvas and oil. Plates are merely vessels used by culinary artists to display their work. And that should be the colorful foundation for all experiments. If it looks good on the plate, it might just taste good. If it looks bad on the plate, do not serve it as we eat with out eyes before we ever raise a fork to our mouths.
There is nothing pretty about chicken gravy slathered over poached eggs. Fortunately, we ordered it with the gravy off the plate. It worked well that way. An, that dish may be a possibility for future experimentation.
The problem arising from culinary exploration is what may be found at the end of the creation. A flop. A disaster. It happens all the time. And when it does, call in the staff, offer them a taste, or a plate of the creation and move on to other ingredients that will make your chef, your restaurant and your menu star material.
So when it comes to the ingredient, creativity, use it sparingly, dashes and pinches will do. More than that could ruin the stew.
In the meantime, can someone pass the Biscuits and Hollandaise? And, could I get a side of Beet Tapioca?