A while ago, in one of those bored moods sitting in front of the monitor googling old school peers, ex-lovers, ex-wish-they’d-been-lovers, distant family relations etc, I thought I’d drop in on my old mate Matt from abstractgourmet. Many moons ago, we enjoyed an “exchange” in the Comments thread of my post And the Boomtown Rap Silver Spoon Best Perth Food Critic Award goes to… . I was out of inspiration for further aimless stone-turning on the web, so why not pay ol’ Matt a visit and see what he was up to, I asked myself. Go on, Self urged in glad response. So I did.
Firstly, I was glad to see the dear lad had taken note of my sage advice to lose the trophyist yuppie kitchen fashion accessories pic parade he used to have plastered across his About Me page (Le Creuset, Wursthoff et al – the usual suspects ). Further, he had dropped his ‘List of Things I Can’t Live Without’, including the Murray River Pink Salt that had been the subject of a gentle chiding from diplomatic, well-meaning moi in our Comments discourse. And I note in a recent post he is singing the praises of down-home Indian-Malaysian fare at a little restaurant in Inglewood. I urged him to get himself to Malaysia to experience REAL gourmet food straight off the street…Inglewood’s a start. It’s gratifying to know that one’s advice is respected and acted upon. (I still wax lyrical reminiscing over the brilliant curries at the Pak Putra Restoranin in Melaka – the best curry feast of my life, including during 3 months in India, and at $5 per head this hawker made nonsense of the effete offerings for $150 per head in some of Perth’s “fine-dining” joints).
For a short while I was feeling I may have been a little harsh on Mr Abstractgourmet. Then I came across this page, the first of several blog posts in which the poor lad whinges on about missing out on qualifying as a finalist in MasterChef Australia. On checking out the dish he presented to the judges, I was prompted to post some observations on the comments thread, which to my vast surprise were promptly deleted. I went to some trouble to stay polite (no mean feat), but for some folk the merest criticism or dissent is taken as a direct personal slight. Censorship is the obvious fallback for fragile egos, I guess. Goes against the very principles of blogging in my view, but there ya go…
Why did I bother offering my views where I knew they would not be welcome? Partly out of deference to my compulsive shit-stirring urge. Mostly out of a need to take a stand against the sort of precious ego-soaked foodie wank that, for me, is epitomized by the abstractgourmet site – and the self-righteousness, self-importance and ego-projection that goes with it.
Fashion, hipness and celebrity have hijacked food in the West, and glam vampires masquerading as “foodies” and/or self-styled cooking experts abound. As a food freak from the beginning of time, I declare myself outside the petty dictates of food fashion, and mission-bound to drive a stake of satire and ridicule into the collective heart of this new breed of food poseurs and kitchen dandies. Don’t think you can hide, ye hunted. The sign shall be your compulsion to crow that you are “passionate about food” from every bump in the landscape.
Harrumph. Now where was I? Ah, my philanthropic abstractgourmet Comments post. Essentially, I suggested that expensive, hard-to-get ingredients like the marron ol’ Matt had had rushed to him all the way from Corrigin were not, in themselves, any measure of a cook’s worth – no matter how fine the ingredients, they need to be appropriately combined and treated with suss.
Our man had bunged the marron in the middle of a lake of salmorejo – an aesthetically odd arrangement, to say the least. Worse though, I contended, the concoction was way out of balance: the robust peasant flavour combos that make up salmorejo would have overpowered the marron. It is no accident, I pointed out, that the Spanish serve salmorejo with jamon – which can hold its own in the personality wars – rather than with delicate crustaceans or seafood. Further, salmorejo is thick and bready, already substantial – dumping a big lump of crustacean in it is culinary autism, texturally jarring, just plain wrong. Regional specialties deserve a little respect! Messing with traditional combos beyond tweaking to personal preference is perilous for the best of cooks, let alone the pretenders.
Marron is such a gorgeous, delicate flavour, I ventured, that there is simply no better way to serve it than with utmost simplicity, allowing its qualities free reign without the interference of big flavoured sauces, spices, etc.
Cooked quickly in lightly salted boiling water, sprinkled with fresh lemon juice, lightly seasoned, and perhaps with a little herb and garlic infused butter sauce – that’s the way to go. Oh, and served with a simple green salad with herbs and fresh dressing and some fresh crusty peasanty bread. Impossible to better that. Let delicate, exquisite flavours speak for themselves ferchissake!
The secret of great cooking is to be found in the traditions of regional cooking – and particularly in domestic kitchens – the world over. It is not in exotic for the sake of exotic, or expensive for the sake of impressing.
My bet is that for every “master chef” who actually succeeds as a bona fide culinary artist – and I’m including pro chefs here – there are 100 ego-bloated pretenders who fool many of the stupid hip-conscious foodies out there with grandiose productions built hollow.
The hawkers in SE Asia, the street stalls and peoples’ restaurants of India, the provinces of the great food regions of Europe, the Middle-East and Morocco – that’s where you’d find me if I was monied and free to roam the world tasting and tippling, not in Michelin star restaurants inhabited by celebs and foodie wankers. The hottest yum zones on the planet are where it’s cheap enough for the locals, where the dishes are locally and seasonally orientated, and where fresh combos of quality ingredients are expertly prepared and informed by tradition and the tweaks of generations.
Great food is nothing to do with fancy “foodie” fare tangled up in arty excess.
Interestingly, the very same points I’ve laboured over above and presented in my fast-deleted comments on abstractgourmet were articulated in the actions of the judges in the first episode of MasterChef Australia, when they declined to sample an elaborate creation engineered to teetering heights by a Malaysian contestant, sending her off to return with one of her favourite Chinese-Malay dishes made regularly by her mother in the family home.
An episode later, they made a similar request of a Lebanese contestant.
It’s a relief, heartening in fact, to see that the judges have their attitudes in the right place – and you’d expect nothing less of food pros like these guys.
That’s not to assign any cred to MasterChef Australia, however. It’s reality TV through and through, and of course, manipulated. The aim is to win ratings, not discover the country’s top amateur cooking talent. Beats me why anyone would want to be on a show like this in the first place – cooks being the new celebs, it’s fame I suppose (it’s certainly nothin’ to do with securing a career in food – there are other well-beaten paths to that destination). Yep, there’s never been a shortage of spotlight chasers. These days, if they don’t trill into a mike, they wear chefs aprons.
And what brings in ratings? Drama and conflict – STORY – which in the case of reality TV shows is staged or fashioned by creatively editing countless mundane hours of shooting. Oh, and “personalities”! Reality TV shows are looking for stereotypes their viewing demographic will recognise without too much effort. I concluded with this point in the censored comment I posted on the abstractgourmet thread, and added some predictions on the contestants. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to re-publish them here in advance of the coming episodes of MasterChef Australia. I might be miles off the mark, but then again, the formulae for these shows is nothing if not predictable, and it don’t take no Einstein to see that…anyway, here’s my list:
1. Some spunky gals and guys with good ogle value.
2. Some outrageous personality types – ie: fucking poseurs with outsized egos and an acting or TV career as a sub-agenda.
3. A token gay or two.
4. A token ethnic or two.
5. Maybe one old fart for the young things to resent and conspire against.
6. A pain in the ‘community’ arse to bring out the bitchiness like salt brings moisture outta eggplant.
Oh, and if I’m wrong, or anyone takes exception to the content of this post, don’t hesitate to express yourself here. Censorship is against the ethos of this site. I might disagree with you, but I’ll sure as hell leave your comments up, no matter how hostile or strongly worded.