The Antithesis for Foodies

Another attempt to blame it on the French Revolution (but which trencherman would not, with Woody Allen, prefer the Napoleon to Beef Wellington?):

“A retrospective examination that goes from today back to the Middle ages immediately reveals that our notion of cooking, the system of flavors that seem to us ‘naturally’ desirable, is significantly different from the one that for ages—not only during the Middle ages, but even a few centuries ago as well—people considered good and looked for in foods. Contemporary cooking (in Italy and other european countries) has a primarily analytic character that tends to separate sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy, reserving for each one an autonomous place, both in individual foods and in the order of the meal. This kind of practice is allied with the idea that cooking must respect, insofar as possible, the natural flavor of each food, different and particular from one time to the next, and for that reason keep each one separate from others. But these simple rules do not constitute a universal archetype of cooking that always existed and was always the same. They are the result of a minor revolution that took place in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. . . . Renaissance cooking, medieval cooking, and, going back even further, ancient Roman cooking had evolved a model based principally on the idea of artificiality and the mingling of flavors. The preparation of a single foodstuff, as well as its position within the meal, corresponded to a synthetic rather than an analytic logic: to keep together rather than separate.”

This was not merely a philosophy of cooking. Medieval cooking was “a cuisine of contrast that is in search of balance, the ground zero where distances between flavors are abridged.” Cooking aimed for that balance of contrasts not only for culinary reasons, but for moral and ethical reasons: Diet was embedded in a notion of the soul as well as of the body.

I’m not sure these guys have been watching Chopped.


9 thoughts on “The Antithesis for Foodies

  1. Say what you will, but no main dish is comparable to a well prepared Beef Wellington (except maybe Chicken Kiev, oozing with garlic). That pic alone has me salivating. Good thing I’m doing marinated pork chops on the grill tonight.


  2. Gosh, I’ve been on a cooking binge since about last week. Did a couple venison meals (fajitas, pan-seared heart) and some pork chops that I’ve been pretty proud of.

    Hard for me to watch a cooking show proper, but MeatEater on Sportsman channel has given me more inspiration for meals than any.


  3. Generally when I read Leithart, I’m left wondering what he’s smoking. Maybe I should have asked what he’s eating. Special brownies?


  4. So, I guess Leithart is saying that I should prefer Hamburger Helper (a synthetic concoction) to a filet mignon (an analytic concoction). Sorry, I’ll stick with analytic foods.


  5. DGH – I looked up the recipe for BW. Seems pretty complicated! You sure you want to try this at home? Years ago there used to be a restaurant located in Old Town (I think) in Chicago called “The Bakery” that was famous for this dish. I recall eating a BW there ca. 1975 and thoroughly enjoying it.


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