What is post modern cuisine? I guess it’s a very futuristic sounding phrase that signifies that a movement is coming. When it comes to the new movement in cuisine, I am kind of like an old dog that is challenged to be taught a new trick. I could say that I am a purist at heart or that I am protecting the traditions of the old guard. And there may be some truth to this. The fact remains that I am fascinated by the movement and believe that it is more than a passing trend. I have fit some of these trends into my kitchen. I have been very impressed by my experiences at Alinea and Avenues. I also very much enjoy seeing what Laurent Gras is up to on his L20 Blog. Across the pond, El Bulli and the Fat Duck are numbers 1 & 2 on my restaurant wish list. Still, it will be a cold day in hell that I call up a company that makes instant hollandaise and ask them where they are getting their emulsifiers so I can use them in a new wave presentation. I enjoy doing things outside of the box, but I do draw limits.
Still, old school restaurants that refuse change are a dying breed. There was a time that Le Francais in Wheeling was far and away the best fine dining meal of my life… perfection in every morsel. In New York, Lutece was unlike anything else and set the bar for years. If surviving old school institutions don’t make some strides to renew themselves, like the aforementioned, they too will be memories as their older regulars either die off or are admitted into convalescent homes.
There are simply too many new and exciting options for the young generation to choose from for them to visit relics of a bygone era. Many of the great restaurants are re-defining themselves. From Daniel, to Le Bernardin, to the French Laundry, an updated kitchen and infusion of youth have been introduced in small doses at a time. It is good business, but it’s also about tweaking who you are and what you’re about without blowing it up. You can’t forget how you got to the top in the 1st place. Keeping the food honest and simple is still a good policy and will not go away. Forcing trends into a repertoire for the sake of itself is not an answer. If doing something cutting edge does not begin in simplicity of concept and precision of execution, it will likely never develop into anything more. It is no coincidence that Grant spent so much time honing his skills with the French Laundry.
When it comes to the creative process in this little corner of the Culinary Kingdom, I first come up with an idea and let Jens kick it around. By the time we get ready to attack it, he has frequently added a unique component. Usually from there I pull in the reins a little based on practicality and my confidence in our team’s ability to produce the presentation consistently. Then by the time it comes around again, the idea is still a challenge, but also solid. I generally do not delve too deep into the laboratory as I haven’t the patience or am simply not bred for this. I am learning, but slowly. That is a reason I am grateful for this ambition he brings to the kitchen. Any future sous chef of mine will also need to possess a grasp on this or the next wave. I believe I am an assertive leader in the kitchen, have very good ideas, and a deep rooted love for my craft. Still, one of my greatest assets is knowing my strengths and weaknesses. Dealing in minute quantities of sodium alginate, xanathan gum and maltodextrin is not one of the strengths… yet.
What I really hope to avoid throughout my career is not to be stuck in yesterday or dream too much about tomorrow. Instead, I try to be pragmatic and keep a healthy balance of both. This is easier said than done as life can frequently run by so fast that it doesn’t leave you with much time for honest reflection. As John Lennon sang, ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.’ I have a policy in my kitchen to allow young cooks to try and work out their ideas. Frequently it will not fit into my concept. But once in a while it will hit the mark. And when it does, the whole kitchen is infused with an injection of youthfulness and optimism that is contagious… call it evolution.