Thursday, October 28, 2010

Foraging Frenzy

Luis Melendez, Still Life with Gherkins and Tomatoes
 October is Food Festival month in Sydney which means an orgy of chefs and restaurants strutting their stuff. This year the highlights included a presentation by René Redzepi at the Sydney Opera House. Over the preceding weeks and indeed subsequently there has been much written about Mr Redzepi, his restaurant and his food philosophies. So although I haven't actually met the man I would have to say that I feel reasonably well acquainted with him. He is a pleasant enough young man, he speaks well, he has some interesting things to say and he has a sense of humour, something which few others appear to have noticed.
How else would you explain the fact that he gets away with foraging for bits and pieces in the forests, fiddles with them in the kitchen, charges a fortune for them and gets called the greatest chef in the world? I had thought that I was perhaps the only person who had seen the irony in taking wild raw materials, torturing them a bit (quite literally in the case of the live shrimp he dishes up), serving it on a warm rock and then suggesting to the consumer that they were in some way communing with nature. Many of his dishes take hours if not days to prepare, how can he suggest that he is keeping the link from origin to plate as unbroken as possible? Can he be serious in suggesting that anything you eat in a restaurant  is likely to bring you close to the forces of nature? So it was with a sense of joy and relief that I read Keith Austin's piece on his experience sitting at the feet of the great man - here.
Don't get me wrong - I find the Redzepi approach fascinating and I wish the man well but doesn't it  make you stop and ask  'Que?'
The big disappointment is that Mr. Redzepi's visit does not seem to have engendered any on-going interest in some of the bigger questions about our fascination with restaurants (why we go out to eat, what we expect from the experience ) and with celebrity. The media has however taken up the cause of indigenous ingredients and why we don't use them or even appreciate them (see Carli Ratcliff here) which gets us back to the old problem of culture and cuisine. If, as Mr. Redzepi affirms, cuisine is 'a palatable experience of your culture' then what do our palatable experiences tell us about our culture?

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