Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Great Debate: Decline of Western Food Civilization?

I have begun reading United States of Arugula (Thanks to Tyrone, yet again) and the introduction got me to thinking about some things.

In recent years we've seen a rise of European chefs once again, namely in England and Spain. I've pondered for awhile if this is just due to our never ending fascination with all things "Old World" or perhaps its because America is starting to slip as the top "Culinary Giant".

Quality, consistency, and perfection are what herald the top chefs and restaurants/hotels to their star-studded lists. Has America begun to slip? Have we gorged ourselves silly on Happy-Homemaker-Cuisine that Das (Food)Netwerk would have us consume? or is there some sinister plot for revenge from our old world masters at play?

While none of these are really correct ass-u-me-ptions about the return of splendor to the old country, I can't help but wonder what others think.

So, with this I return a long absent section to The Foodist blog, The Great Debate. Feel free to comment on your thoughts, plots, and questions. The poll can be found to the right.

Thanks, and happy eating!


tyronebcookin said...

In short, I think media has picked up on the 'greats' (here in the US) that it wants to promote...or call giants, but they are quickly fading and getting boring...

But hidden beneath our exterior (in the US) we are still a culinary giant, but some of us/them, regardless of what people think, do not care one bit about getting their name out...

And they happily plug along gladly knowing that as long as no one finds out, or exploits them (or ruins them with greed and selfishness)...they continue by leaps and bounds.

And they don't care one bit whats happening anywhere else! (more or less the next county over)

Uhum, excuse me...just speaking for the greats that I feel I know or have bumped into or passed over that you will never probably find written down anywhere...or you might have seen them get in a nasty pickup truck on the way to the bayou, backwoods, or lakes and ponds of America 'grocery shopping' so to speak.

but, then again...thats my opinion.

Sara said...

I'm so glad this book is getting read! I just finished it a couple of weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. I do question your categorization of the US as a "culinary giant". What is our role in the global culinary scene? Obviously we've had a bit of history in this area, but as I think the book accurately portays, most of our culinary leaders were taking "old world" food traditions and bringing them here. What, exactly, is American cuisine? We don't exactly have a long standing food tradition like Europe has. I only bring this up because I think it's an issue that deserves some conversation.

The Foodist said...


Your correction in believing that the "Greats" exsist even outside of the professional setting. Its a lot of those mom and pop, hole in the wall, family owned joints that often have the best food, best service and best feel to them. At least I think so...

But what of those who dont really care about having their names in books or stories written about them, The Thomas Kellers, the Charlie Trotters (which Im sure a small part of them want to be famous but who doesnt) The ones that push the high end to its limits?


This is an issue Ive addressed before and am still addressing to this day. To say America has a cuisine all its own would be a far stretch. Sure there are regional classics, ie New England Clam Chowder, Cajin, Creole...but even those are modifications of old world dishes or cuisine.

I guess the question Im trying to ask is Are American Chefs, not transplants from Europe into America, but blue blooded American Chefs falling to a push from overseas?

tyronebcookin said...

Describe what you mean by 'falling to a push from overseas'? then maybe I will have a little bit better way to respond.

(and to be nitpicky for a moment) I would say america has long standing traditions that are just not recognized...before the British ever arrived we had Indians, Inca, Myans, etc...a lot of early settlers were re-schooled by the Indians in order to survive here (thus eventually thanksgiving) so even they had to get an American twist on their original food and farming in order to survive in America...and that is hardly ever considered (but I can see why after how the Indians later got treated)

The Americas were already populated and farmed before anyone showed up (and I don't mean it was heavily populated, just already containing people).

When the slaves came over they had their own long standing food traditions that had to change and tranformed to the new life and availability of food, new foods and/or creations of 'American' foods in order to be able to adapt, also escape slaves that migrated to central america and the caribbean (sometimes called Garifuna) that further gave increased variety in foods and tradition...these also never came from the British. Which morphed into all other kinds of food we have today that never originated with Europe.

BUT if you are talking about the more popular side of media about such topics I felt that recently (last ten years or so) with the US infiltrating all kinds of 'food olympics' and international contests taking away some of the TOP awards that Europe now looked to us because of taking food (culinary speaking) past the point anyone else could because of their 'style, technique, and traditional' restraints...albeit just a mental block that can be overcome.

But now I feel some 'international' peoples have looked at what we are doing and snobishly rebuked our work as bad derivatives of their original work and have publically start to 'poo poo' and reject us saying we are a country without true food 'roots'. No pun intended, but it works.

But I think thats a child jealousy response, afraid they will get left behind and not to be continually 'noticed' or deemed the originator.

I think the 'claim to faim' is rapidly diminishing as the rest of the world starts showing their traditions and foods that were no way influenced by the French or anyone else for that matter...

Its just that it was steeped (French/British food, technique, traditions...)over here in the states for so long...And that we are a Giant in everything else we do (non culinary)because we have the means and power to do it.

not to toot Americas/US horn) but we give quite a few countries an envy complex that DOES NOT work in our favor.

Just to take it a bit further than probably need be...where did France/British food originate? Italy gets all the credit for pasta's and such things, but didn't they really get it from ASIA?(China to be more precise)

Alright, I digress back to my usual troll.

Scotty said...

I have been mulling your question for over 24 hours. My first reaction was how do you compare. Is Hestom Blumenthal quantitatively a better cook than Thomas Keller, or is his publicist just better?

My second angle was that we were a younger place with less of a Tradition of food. Tyrone beat me to that one. It's just not true. There are plenty of people here who respect food as much as old Europe.

My final answer came in a dinner conversation not too long ago -- If you could have a meal in any restaurant anywhere in the world, where would it be. The answer was neither in North America nor in old Europe. It's in Australia, run by a Japanese immigrant named Tetsuya Wakuda.

The question is moot -- the world is too small. A good thing for food, don't you think? :-)

The Foodist said...


Its a great thing the world is small! how else could we have so much good food now?!

I guess what Im trying to dig at is this normal pattern? everything goes through stages, and nothing is ever really new... it just makes circles and reappears from time to time. So is it just Americas time to bow out till next time or are we doing the normal capitalist thing and running the popular/fad into the dirt till it no longer interests us?

I focus on America because its the place I can speak most informed on. To lessen the work of other chefs in other countries is nothing I would ever do... I died when friends of mine told me they were dining at the chefs table at Gordon Ramsey at Claridge.

I wouldnt even call it being "Better" either. Public interest seems to be waining from US chefs (From what I can see) back to European (English and Spanish mostly) chefs now.

So I guess really the question is... Is American food culture doing something to cause it?


Good Golly Miss Molly! lol I seem to have hit a nerve for you! Ill take a little more time and read your comment carefully before I respond, theres a lot to digest!

tyronebcookin said...

Ok, now that I am not at work and my computer actually allows me to comment...

Let me just say that I hope if the U.S. is slipping backward as a culinary giant, please, please, can we stay out of Europe and move on to another continent? LOL

I don't know why it would move back to them, because I haven't noticed that they are doing anything new, or trendy.

Actually we must STILL be the Culinary Giants because now we have Ramsey and others who just HAVE TO HAVE a restaurant in the U.S., or more specifically New York.