Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bastardization

I am not really a traditionalist.

Many people either find that tradition should be preserved and many others believe tradition is made to be broken.  I sit right on the fence with this one.  From many perspectives, I treasure the existence, history and proper execution of tradition – but sometimes, I can just as easily renounce, mock and argue many of the antiquated processes of tradition. 

But I will honestly say that I am rooted in the belief of tradition – or rather the romanticism and the tenets behind tradition.  I do not think that tradition is necessarily sacred, but I believe that if someone makes the choice to break tradition, they must only do so in a way that preserves its core principles. 

For myself, the process is sometimes quite simple:

1. I have a clear thought about a certain traditional dish, combination or technique.

2. I try to internalize and analyze its ingredients, its techniques, its components and its execution.  Sometimes there may be gaping holes in the theory process, sometimes there is not.

3. Research.  Confirm your theory.  Execute.

4. Approach.  Is it replication, modernization, localization, interpretation or deconstruction that I am looking to do?

5. Test ingredients, test techniques, test components, test execution.  Depending on your approach, your set of variables are either confined to a tiny subset (localization, replication) or may end up being infinite (interpretation, deconstruction).

6.  Completion.  Record information. 

Somewhere between step 4 and 5, you will need to come to a very logical question: why?  As in, why the hell am I doing this?  If the lucid answer never came to you during the thought process of step 1-3 then you might as well stop what you are doing because the difference between honoring tradition (which exists even when you choose to break tradition) and bastardizing it pretty much lives in this answer. 

Case and point: Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection with Fish & Chips.

 

Everything you wanted to know about fish and chips.

For many people, this may be a little too geeky in terms of food, but I am a little tired of people consistently apologizing for being too smart on important subjects.  I like to have beers with the common man, but I trust my food, country and beer to the more intelligent man.

With all this said, here are some of the worst examples of bastardized food:

 

1. Sushi Rolls: Indiscriminate burrito sized rice rolls with 6 different types of fish and 3 different sauces. 

“I just love how all the flavors mix with one and another until it all just tastes like sweet mushy fishy rice with seaweed.”

 

2. Pu Pu Platter – When something is named after the same words designated for fecal matter, only then do you know that you are working with a masterpiece.

 

Yes, there have been a ton of stupid racist Jeremy Lin jokes out there, but nothing says I’m borderline racist to thousands of years of Chinese culinary tradition like a good Pu Pu Platter on your menu.

 

3.  Hot sauce

I enjoy food with heat and I like very balanced hot sauces and chili oils.  However, more often than not, there are two things that are very wrong with dishes that are hot.  One of them involves the dish itself.  Any dish that is simply overwhelmed with heat offers almost nothing in terms of flavor, nuance or subtlety.  The other issue is the reception – why is it a technical marvel that something has a lot of chili in it? 

I once spent 10 hours making a chili oil that negated 80% of the full heat of the chili to highlight the actual subtlety in the flavor – sadly nobody really seemed to think it was a chili oil, but it had a very elegant flavor.  Yes, the actual flavor of peppers is not just the spiciness.  And this ridiculous craze over finding hot dishes in different places is actually pretty stupid. 

“Dude, my tongue is totally numb.  This chicken is awesome.”

“Dude, we’re actually eating deer testicles, but with all this hot sauce – it totally tastes like chicken.”

“YAY!”

 

4. The word and genre of fusion.  Ugh, the ultimate f-word.  Using Asian ingredients does not mean its fusion.  Using local Western ingredients with Asian recipes does not make it fusion.  Misguidedly chasing after a generalized pseudo genre of food named fusion because of the narrow limited insight of certain writers, THAT is what is called fusion. 

There are a few things I hate more than the word fusion – one of them happens to be when people see that I am Asian (relatively obvious) and assume that what I probably cook is some form of fusion.

Here is a sample basic conversation:

Person: “Oh, you cook [professionally]?”

Me: “Yeah, I do cook.  It’s tough, but that’s what I want to do, so it’s a blessing.”

Person: “What kind of food do you like cooking, like what’s your favorite dish?”

Me: “Oh, I don’t really have favorite things, I like to work with a bunch of different and try a lot of new things too.”

Person: “Cool, so you cook like…what… fusion?”

Me: “Um, no.”

Seriously, this shit happens all the time.  Every time the conversation comes to a grating halt – and even worse when it involves someone I’m hitting on.  The word fusion is quite possibly the most denigrating and counter-evolutionary word to happen to Asian cuisine since the fucking Pu Pu Platter.

 

Here is how I would hope the conversation could go:

Person: “Oh, you cook [professionally]?”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

Person: “Wow, that’s cool.  How do you feel about the Ferran Adria’s decision to close El Bulli in relationship with the possible sunset of what some people call the molecular gastronomy movement?”

Me: “Well… (long intriguing, charming, well thought-out and articulated answer).”

Person: “You know, I never really saw it that way, but … (interesting response with personal diner’s perspective )”

 

Here is how I would fantasize the conversation would go:

Gorgeous Female Person: “Oh, you cook [professionally]?

Me: “Yes, I do.”

GFP: “Wow, that’s so sexy.”

Me: “Noo…, really?”

GFP: “It totally is.  Let me tell you why.”

 

Here is how my brain wants to answer most of the time:

Person:  Oh, you cook [professionally]?”

Me: “Yeah, I do cook. It’s tough, but that’s what I want to do, so it’s a blessing.  I beg you, ask me anything, but please don’t ask me what my favorite dish to cook is.”

Person: “What kind of food do you like cooking, like what’s your favorite dish?”

Me: “Thank you for asking me my 2nd least favorite question of all-time.  By the way, I like to cook whatever your momma likes to eat.”

Person: “Cool, so you cook like…what… fusion?”

Me: “Um, no.  Please leave me alone.”

5.  The American Omelette

I’m sure not all omelettes fall into this category, but the omelette is now classically known to be overscrambled eggs poured and cooked into thin dry brown sheet on a griddle and then filled with a load of random shit.  An exemplary omelette is beaten with fresh eggs to order and cooked to have a hearty fluffy thickness over a light blend of cohesive meats, cheese or vegetables.  And, the French Omelette or the rolled omelette has some important rules that make it so much better than the standard diner omelette (like the fluffiness, the scramble technique, the rolling and the color).  It’s almost as if nobody ever learned how to make a great omelette and just decided to pass on a shitty one from place to place to place.  To this day, the last time I ordered an omelette was at my college dining hall almost 10 years ago. 

   

Now that you know some of the bastardized things that drive me a little crazy, you can come up your own set of culinary neuroses. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Picks

Small talk typically sucks, but with coworkers and some other acquaintances, you tend to get past that and eventually people start to realize certain things about each other.  One of those weird quirky things is how much I love Cinema.  I’m one of those ridiculous people that still think the cinema-and-theater going experience will always be special. 

When the topics of the Oscars come up with friends/coworkers – and it does at some point, I usually tell them who I’m picking to win, etc etc.  Back at college, some roommates and others fellow movie buffs (dorks such as myself) always had an Oscar pool, but sadly those days are gone.  And now that we’re all scattered, busy, and can’t hold long conversations due to our time zones, we haven’t exchanged picks or movie talk in a long time.

So to indulge my joy for the Oscars and my “I told you so” syndrome, I am doing something completely non-food related.  I am submitting my Oscar picks! 

Yes, I do happen to have other interests not related to food.

“The Oscar Goes To”

Picture: The Artist – only movie that also has a chance is The Descendants, but some people just don’t like Alexander Payne’s humor.  Personally, I wish it was Midnight In Paris.

Director: Hanazavicius for The Artist – long stretch for Payne, less so for Scorcese to win, but he won, so the Oscars sometimes are annoying self righteous to let him win again so soon.

Actor: Clooney – not surprised if Dujardin does it, but Clooney is one of the few mofos living on this planet more charming than that French dude.  It’s not about the looks because being good looking is great, but being a charming mofo pretty much means that you can get away with murder.  Here is the list of most charming actors in the history of the world that I would trade anything to be for a day:

1. Clark Gable – the quintessential ladies man

Clark Gable gets mobbed by a bunch of women.  Too bad this isn’t in HQ, it’s EPIC.

2. George Clooney – all I gotta say is people still liked him after Batman and Robin

3. Javier Bardem – I’m fully convinced this man can pull shit like this all day

4. Vincent Cassel – landed the most beautiful woman on the face of the planet, Monica Bellucci without even being a good looking dude

5. Tony Leung – dude, “you're 5 foot nothin', 100 and nothin', and you have barely a speck of athletic ability…”

 

Actress: Streep – she’s like a machine.   

Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, though seriously Melissa McCarthy should have had this.

Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer – I think he’s still trying to make us forget about his role in Sound of Music all these years later…

 

Onto the categories nobody cares that much about:

Original Screenplay: Midnight In Paris

Adapted Screenplay: Descendants

Editing: Artist

Cinematography: Tree of Life

Art Direction: The Artist

Sound Mix: Hugo

Sound Edit: Hugo

Song:Man or Muppet

Costume: Artist

Score: Artist

Foreign Film: A Separation

Animated: Rango

Makeup: Harry Potter

Visual Effects: Hugo

Documentary: Hell and Back

Documentary Short: Tsunami and Cherry Blossom

Animated Short: Fantastic Flying Books of

Live Action Short: Raju