General Discussion

The Primacy of Ingredients


General Discussion 46

The Primacy of Ingredients

Jim Leff | Aug 3, 2000 04:10 PM

Howler wrote (in a thread on the Manhattan board):

"I'd disagree rather strongly with "True talent is to stand aside, and let the quality and freshness of the ingredients be the star." there are geniuses creating masterpieces with everyday, boringly normal, averagely fresh ingredients, and they do this by investing everything they do with a particle of their souls. would you deny them 'true talent'? "

Yes, Howler, that's a good point (although Steve's point could have encompassed it with a slight change of wording).

But I'd like to add that those working (and doing great work) with less wondrous ingredients aren't necessarily doing so out of deprivation.

First of all, ANY good chef hopes to imbue his food with soul, by whatever method. Whether by letting ingredients shine or by doing lots of stuff. Either way, it ain't to extol if it ain't cooked with soul.

But, that said....everytime I hear a chef talking about the utter necessity of using the finest ingredients, I think of pambazos, the Mexican snack of chorizo, grilled with potatoes, and served on a torta roll that's been fried with the sausage (so it's red and crunchy) with cheese and crema.

When done right, it's one of the most intrinsically delicious things you can eat. But if you used GOOD chorizo, it wouldn't work. If you used excellent parmigiana cheese, it wouldn't work. If you got the roll from Ecce Panis, it wouldn't work.

Fancy ingredients, like fancy restaurants, have their place, and can be exquisite in the right context (or not). But just as a restaurant needn't have linen tablecloths and fine china to be worth our complete respect, there are times when humbler ingrededients are the best choice to provide optimal deliciousness; they're not necessarily consolation prizes.

Just as it'd be a shame for us, as chowhounds, to miss deliciousness because of stubborn concepts of what is or isn't Proper Food (from either a snob or a reverse-snob point of view), it's a shame when chefs limit their palette by their ingredient snobberies (not picking on you here, Steve...I'm just riffing in general!).


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