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Battle Garlic: Sorry, Chris, but your food looks revolting.

Just saw the Iron Chef "Battle Garlic" -- or was it "Allium"?, although it’s apparently been around a while. So you've got Mario Batali up against Chris Cosentino, the offal specialist and exec. chef at Incanto in San Francisco. Sorry I don't remember all the dishes, but there's one I really wish I could forget: Cosentino made some sort of roasted half-squab thing, that had the squab's head still attached, split lengthwise (to display the brain, I guess), and with the claw clutching a clove of beautifully roasted garlic. My GF used the words “gruesome” and “creepy”, and that pretty well covers it.

From what I’ve read about the guy, apparently Cosentino wants people to think about their food, and where it comes from. I might think about that squab, but I sure wouldn’t eat it, and might not eat much else after seeing something like that on my plate. I’m well aware that meat comes from animals, and really don’t need Chris to plate the less-attractive parts of an animal to “remind” me. What’s next, french-fried pig anus?

Chris seemed to go out of his way to make grayish, unappetizing food. On the other hand, I would have gladly eaten anything Mario served up on that show.

Don’t get me wrong – Chris seems to be a nice enough guy, and I really like some of the stuff he sells at his shop Boccalone (“Tasty Salted Pig Parts!”), although I guess I won’t ask what specific parts his products are made from. Never much liked the idea of eating filter organs.

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    1. i thought that dish looked really interesting and wanted to try it pretty badly actually. i dont think that he was just going for a shock factor here, it sounded like the judges really thought it was a delicious dish. the head and claw served as more than just a reminder than the meat comes from a bird, they were meant to be eaten and enjoyed.

      1. I remember that dish and thought it looked really good and quite interesting. Then again I'm a fan of offal.

        1. Yes. I've also no problem with anyone eating meat, filter organs or not, and even with making a show of its bloody end. Fine. We're talking ethical differences here, not issues of style. I just bristle a bit when the new carnivore-locavore elites feel they have to make some kind of "teachable moment" of slaughter and "remind" us where that pig belly came from. As if. I much prefer the old French school of snout to tail--just eat the damn thing and enjoy it in lip-smacking silence. Frankly, in the interests of balance, I propose that we be reminded of everything related to what's placed in front of us--like a copy of the pay stub of the the migrant worker who picked or processed that heritage tomato.

          11 Replies
          1. re: bob96

            the "snout to tail" is much more cosentinos style than the actual butchering. i remember seeing a show once ("at a table with" maybe?) about him and im fairly certain he has only actually SLAUGHTERED an animal once, and it had such a strong effect on him that he didnt want to anymore. but it did teach him how important using as much of the animal as possible is. i love chefs like that and i love that attitude in general. most parts of most animals i have never tried, but i am always willing to try something that is prepared by someone who knows how to prepare it right!

            1. re: mattstolz

              So am I, except that I'm a vegetarian, and that's another argument entirely. What bothers me is the grandstanding about simple things that characterizes some of the, for lack of a better term, hipster farmhouse food movement. Want to have an all bacon meal, fine. But enough with the
              self-serving blather about how your eating a dead pig is somehow more noble because you knew its face. Or something like that.

              1. re: bob96

                i think you're missing the point - nose to tail eating is about utilizing all of the parts of the animal and respecting it for having given its life for our consumption.

                1. re: selenster

                  Wait just a darn minute here,,,,,,,,," respecting it for having given its life for our consumption."????? The animal had a choice???

                  1. re: mucho gordo

                    semantics!

                    no, it didn't, but if we're going to eat animals (and many of us do), we should respect it in its life and its after life by using all of it, not just hacking off the "prime" cuts and then discarding the rest.

                    1. re: selenster

                      Well, I must be ok then, although I think it's more compassion than 'respect' . I love animals and I love meat, including some parts most people turn away from. However, there's no way I could ever kill an animal or cut it up after someone else does the slaughtering. For that reason I could never be a chef.

                      1. re: mucho gordo

                        i could never slaughter an animal. heck, even when watching the F word, and gordon sends that season's animal charges to the abattoir, i have to change the channel or leave the room. but i respect the understanding that some animals are raised for feeding purposes, and that we cannot suddenly see them as "cute possible pets."

                2. re: bob96

                  Thank you for expressing exactly how I feel about this subject!

              2. re: bob96

                I think when you say his aim in serving the dish that way was to teach you something you're assuming facts not in evidence. Just because that's the way you perceived it doesn't mean that was his intent.

                I don't think he was trying to teach anything. I've had squab in Vietnamese restaurants that was served with both the head and the feet: that's a traditional way of serving it, as other people have noted. Some people (although not me), would eat either or both, and the head is undoubtedly easier to eat if it's cracked open.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Ruth, how do you know he wasn't? He's a very visible, opinionated, media-savvy chef, with a certain macho style, so I think it's more than possible he served the squab as he did for a reason. How likely would it be to find a squab, or any other fowl, served without comment this way in a place that clearly does not display have a cultural context for it?

                  You may well be right, but my larger point was to call into question what I see as the salvific
                  pretenses of those who need to show us all the "respect" we should have for the animal we're about to eat. Just eat it already without apology, and stop trying to convince the rest us of that just because you ate brains you're a different kind of carnivore than the dumb bloke who just eats chuck steak.

              3. How is Cosentino's dish different than the whole squab (duck, chicken, etc) in the windows of every Chinese BBQ joint in town? Do you find those places gruesome and creepy, or is it only when the bird's being served in a "gourmet" setting that the beak and feet are offensive?

                7 Replies
                1. re: alanbarnes

                  The difference is this: I view the Chinese BBQ windows as being just a matter-of-fact display, especially since displaying/serving animals that way is a pretty traditional Asian method. Cosentino’s presentation, with the lengthwise split head, subsequent brain display, and claw-clutching-the-garlic-clove, seems more of an in-your-face, “I’m making a point here” kind of thing. Context does matter.

                  1. re: Steve Green

                    But the "matter-of-fact" display you refer to is of food that is intended to be eaten in the "traditional Asian method." Beaks and feet and all.

                    Would it be different if Consentino were Chinese? What about iIf he didn't suggest that the judges eat the brains? If the feet were served demurely in dim sum dishes, would they be okay?

                    I don't disagree that the dish pushed the envelope in terms of what the average diner expects at an Italian restaurant. And those who are appalled by the notion of being challenged can always dine at Applebee's. Maybe that's the point.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      “I don't disagree that the dish pushed the envelope in terms of what the average diner expects at an Italian restaurant.”

                      Pretty much what I was saying. As for invoking Applebee’s, isn’t that the Chowhound equivalent of Godwin’s Law?

                      1. re: Steve Green

                        The Applebee's reference was intended to be a reductio ad absurdum, not a flame. In my experience, Chowhounds are looking for new and different food experiences. But each of us has limits as to just how "new and different" we want our food to be.

                        I'm not casting aspersions at those who find Cosentino's schtick to be over the top, just pointing out reasons that others might disagree. It doesn't bother me, but neither am I planning on sucking down any pigeon brains in the near future.

                        More than anything else, I appreciate the fact that people like Cosentino stimulate discussions like these. And regardless of which side any of us ultimately comes down on, discussion leads to more nuanced and well-thought-out opinions.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Couldn't agree more about the need for intelligent and informed discussions about what we eat and why. But sometimes pushing the envelope threatens to trump things. As much as I respect (if not always embrace) those who push the envelope with care and skill and integrity, I also pay great respect to those seek out and who do traditional things as well as they can be done--often without much notice.

                      2. re: alanbarnes

                        I agree that in the end it does not matter ethically (or for the animal) whether or not or how feet and beaks are eaten, simply that they are. Same result. But Cosentinto was just not playing within a tradition where these things are commonplace. He was out to make a "point" to his diners, and I can't imagine he's not smart enough to know his move would be distasteful or troubling to some of them. Edginess, and all. I also resent the implication that those of us who might object to Cosentino's shtick deserve are unable to be "challenged" or moved by something new and can only find comfort in Applebees. Please.

                      3. re: Steve Green

                        "seems more of an in-your-face, 'im making a point here' kind of thing"

                        i think the only point he was trying to make is HEY AMERICA, YOU CAN EAT THESE PARTS OF THE BIRD TOO AND THEYRE DELICIOUS

                        and based on the judges reactions, he was right.

                    2. I went to Incanto a couple nights after the Battle aired and sat at the bar and had the 6 courses Chris served on the show. every single one was amazing. They werent the flashiest dishes ever, but they tasted amazing so who cares? I think describing them as grey is a bit excessive. Judging food by what it looks like is like basing your opinion of a restaurant on the ambiance.

                      1. Perhaps you should consider trying some of these things. Squab for example is quite good.