HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >

Discussion

Can a spice lover really appreciate more subtle but well done cuisine?

I recently went to Per Se for the first time in my life. I was absolutely blown away by the service, and the food was delicious and beautifully presented. They even altered the menu for my personal preferences. However, as much as I loved it, I had been to Cafe Mogador in the city that morning... and during my extraordinary meal at Per Se, I found myself yearning for my spicy middle eastern eggs with harissa. I didn't ask for pepper because I thought it would ruin the delicate flavors of the meal. I guess at the end of the day I just like spicy food:} I just feel bad because that was a freakishly pricey meal! (I did sincerely enjoy it though- I just would'nt have minded a bit more zip:} )

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
      1. re: NicoleFriedman

        sure. i LOVE spicy hot food, and my tolerance is up with the best of them (e.g. had thai people, in thailand, say i was eating food spicier than they ever would)

        but i do not need every morsel in my mouth at every meal to have a great deal of picante spice to it.

        Eg, sticking with the OP, I never felt a lack of favor when i went to per se for my birthday last fall.
        I enjoyed the subtley and nuance i was given. I did yearn for the food to be something other than what it was. ANd it isn't that i'm uncritical - i have been to many great places where i felt one dish or another did not live up to its potential. But never because i wish my french food was sri lankan food instead

        1. re: NicoleFriedman

          i'm not one for delicate flavors, but there's a lot to be done without heat. sherry and beef, tossed with bell peppers and homegrown tomatoes... throw in some onion and a pinch of garlic... Spanish Heaven. ;-)

      2. I'm also a heatseeker and tend to prefer cuisines that favor spice and heat in their authentic preparations, but when I eat meals like that (which is rare), I try to prepare myself to frame and appreciate the food in its own context and remember that the food was likely very thoughtfully conceived and that the chef probably also appreciates spice in certain contexts but chooses for good reason to keep it out of the dish set before me.

        But I definitely know what you're talking about. I kinda sorta liken the experience to eating steak at a really good steakhouse where you're supposed to feel ashamed for wanting anything more than salt and pepper on what is a perfect, choice, and sublime cut of meat but you get halfway through it, having fully appreciated its standalone greatness, and just need a little extra something to enjoy the rest.

        13 Replies
        1. re: inaplasticcup

          That's exactly what my experience at Per Se was like. I recognized the quality of what I was eating and did enjoy the taste.... but I felt guilty for wanting "a little extra something". My hubby already knows that the next time he splurges on some insanely expensive meal that it should be a bit more ethnic based. At least he knows that he will never share a chateaubriand with me; after a couple of bites of steak I'm done- it's not worth the price to me.

          1. re: NicoleFriedman

            ethnic based? what does that mean? i know its my personal bugaboo, but all food is ethnic food. ethic is not a synonym for non-european

            1. re: thew

              Well, I understand what she means. I think of ethnic food more like ethnic dishes or meals more culturally specific. Poached chicken is not an ethnic food, but chicken fried rice, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken soup with matzo balls, chicken taco...are...and they might all use poached chicken. Poached chicken by itself would not be my fav but the other "ethnic" style dishes in using them would be. It is not the specific ingredient but more of how it is prepared that is culturally or regionally specific that makes it ethnic.

              Usually those types of dishes rise to the top of the pile (for my tastes) because they have great flavor, not by being subtle or artistically put together on my plate. I prefer them more than generic "non ethnic dishes" that are developed by a chef because the flavors compliment each other, they look pretty together, the texture is interesting, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but there is a distinction in my mind.

              1. re: sedimental

                poached chicken is an ingredient, they you describe it, not a dish.

                are there non-ethnic dishes? i don;t think there are. look:
                eth·nic   
                [eth-nik]
                –adjective
                1.
                pertaining to or characteristic of a people, especially a group (ethnic group) sharing a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like.

                is there a food that did not come from some culture or another\? people here often use ethnic as a code word for "asian" or "brown people" or "not white people" or something. American is a culture (with many subcultures) so american food is ethnic. italian food is ethnic. jewish food is ethnic. soul food is ethnic.

                but this subthread has been rehashed so often even I'm bored with my opinion on it

                1. re: thew

                  Sorry, I was just replying to your question.

                  I think there is non ethnic food- I would call it "chef-nic" food. Food that is prepared and arranged by chefs that have nothing to do with a "people, culture or group with common characteristics" such as the 9 course, beautifully presented meals at many restaurants like Per Se. I have been to many of them. I like the food and appreciate the effort- but I agree with the OP to an extent. Most of the time the dishes are very subtle and (to me) can seem a bit "strained". I can find the "chef-nic dishes" lacking sometimes. YMMV.

                  1. re: sedimental

                    those dishes usually have a european provenance - they don't come from nowhere.

                    i would say any sort of dish can be lacking sometimes - i've had insipid "ethnic" food too....

                    1. re: thew

                      Well, that is just NOT my experience.

                      However, I didn't take the OP's comment about ethnic food to be some sort of "code word" for anything other than a preference for spicier cultural flavor profiles as opposed to the dishes from Per Se. I can understand that concept -and have had the same feeling sometimes.

                  2. re: sedimental

                    Notwithstanding the technical definition of *ethnic*, of which most of us are aware, I also understand exactly what she means.

                  3. re: thew

                    Obviously if you take it literally ethnic can mean anything. However in the context I was writing about, I thought it was self explanatory that ethnic =more spices/heat.

                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                      but that is exactly my complaint about the word as used here. words have meanings. people use ethnic as a shorthand for not-white-people food. it's a way to try to sound less racist - but it doesn't to me. italian is just as ethnic as thai.

                      1. re: thew

                        I agree with thew that it's better if we say (in this case write) what we mean. It avoids adding threads to threads. I understand that this was not the OP's intention, but nevertheless the same effect has transpired.

                  4. re: NicoleFriedman

                    No, you need food that is more damn tasty. Elegant and refined is fine, but it shoudln't equal lack of flavor, which is often the case.

                    Food that harkens or echoes Asian, Latino, and other influences is usually a poor sister to the real thing. The difficulty is in finding a creative chef that is not afraid of bold flavor.

                2. Yes, you can enjoy the delicacy of a 'refined' meal, but once you have access to the overwhelming deliciousness that can be accomplished with heat, it's harder to be impressed with all the other stuff.

                  I'll also add that I never take expensive restaurant recs from people who can't eat the spicy stuff. It's like they've got blinders on.

                  1. "Spicy" and "more subtle but well done" are not mutually exclusive.

                    1. Back when I ate very hot food regularly, I enjoyed dishes that later when i didn't eat very hot food regularly I found to be way too hot. I concluded it must be a tolerance thing. I don't know how much the"hot food" part of one's palate overlaps with the rest but if it does I suspect the answer would be yes.

                      1. Of course.

                        It is like asking if a lamb lover can appreciate chicken.

                        That said, the OP's mention of harissa makes me think that she is equating "spice" with "heat". Not something I would do - even in middle eastern cuisine which, IMO, always accommodates a wide range of spices delicately and carefully used.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Harters

                          Heat by itself does nothing for me. However heat with intense flavor (such as harissa) I absolutely love.

                        2. What is "subtle but well done cuisine"?

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: DPGood

                            I took it as non spicy- more delicate flavored food. The opposite of big and bold food.

                            I value all food, but more often take the "big and bold flavored " approach to my own cooking. I find that when I get an actual *craving* for something- it is not usually for something delicate.

                            1. re: sedimental

                              The subtle cuisine I have a problem with is Cantonese, or at least the Cantonese I've been served lately by Chinese friends. Compared to Szechuan or Hunan, I find it bland and fairly flavorless though that may just be the dishes I've been served.

                              1. re: escondido123

                                No doubt Szechuan can be very zippy indeed. I joke with my spouse that I love all food with naturally red colored ingredients!

                                1. re: escondido123

                                  That's too bad. I guess you should stick with Szechuan and Hunan cuisine only, then, when you eat "Chinese".

                              2. re: DPGood

                                That's how I was describing the food at Per Se which technically is a medley of French and continental. They used fresh market ingredients and french techniques. Expertly made... subtle flavors, but almost no spices. (For the record this was exactly what I was expecting so no surprises here).

                                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                  and I'm hearing this as french food without the garlic, which seems like a frickkin' shame. ;-)
                                  may be misreading.

                                  1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                    there was little heat, but many spices - just in very small amounts

                                2. I generally like things spicy.
                                  I think you can appreciate subtle cuisines, but you may simply prefer bolder foods. I would venture that its also an exposure thing - if you eat stronger flavored food most of the time, more delicate items might take longer to appreciate.
                                  I remember making wine or sausage or tomatoes with an older Italian friend. He'd ask the wife and I to stay for supper. Mrs. Porker and I would exchange wide eyed anxious looks in anticipation: its not everyday we get invited to a home cooked meal by an old-fashioned, old-school Italian couple.
                                  We were underwhelmed the first few times, expecting bold, exciting flavors. Instead it was very simple, rustic fare. Hand rolled gnocci with barely a coloring of tomato sauce. The sauce itself, was little more than his ground tomatoes from last year, heated with a couple of basil leaves. Also on the table was bread, cheese, and plenty of homemade wine. Sometimes there'd be a lentil dish, sometimes sausage. But it was always modest and unpretentious.
                                  After awhile, we began to appreciate it for exactly what it was.
                                  The gentleman has since passed on and those golden moments are no more. Mrs. Porker and I still talk about it every once in awhile, missing some of the best meals of our lives.

                                  So yeah you can appreciate more subtle cuisine.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: porker

                                    So much of what we ate in Italy was variations on roast pork and potatoes which tended to be the dominant main course at rustic places from Rome northward. We usually would find something more flavorful and interesting in the pastas and appetizers, but it was rarely spicy.

                                    1. re: escondido123

                                      I have friends who like bold, spicy, strong-flavored food as well as their own home-cooked culturally-derived food. (They are white folks) They hated "Northern Italian" cuisine, as sampled in Northern Italy (including in 'fine restaurants'), finding it tasteless and repulsive, other than the breads and patisseries which they liked.

                                    2. re: porker

                                      Great story. I grew on spicy foods myself (note, spicy does not mean hot). I used to think the more stuff you added to a dish the better its flavor would be. But it took me a while to understand that freshness, quality ingredients, and good technique were in fact the key to great flavor. Italian cuisine is a good example of food that's not really spicy but is still full of flavor as it executes these key elements very well.

                                    3. You should enjoy whatever food you enjoy--without guilt or whatever. That said, it is nice if someone can also appreciate more subtle flavors and not just explosions in the mouth. Also, it seems to me that American food--as a sort of ethnic food--is pretty much about big bold powerful flavors. It's usually Americans I find who are really into the hot and spicy flavors.

                                      38 Replies
                                      1. re: Wawsanham

                                        "It's usually Americans I find who are really into the hot and spicy flavors."

                                        If you are ignoring much of Asia, Africa, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America, then I guess you're right.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          I would say those cuisines like heat, but they don't seem so into trying to see if they can put so much heat on a dish it makes them throw up---that is not about taste, it's about macho.

                                          1. re: escondido123

                                            most americans i know who are into heat dare into it for taste, not machismo

                                            1. re: thew

                                              Guess you and I have had different experiences. When I've asked young men why they smother virtually anything in Sriracha--the latest take on catsup--they say it's for the heat.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                Interesting anecdote, but seriously those 'young men' did not invent Sriracha. It was invented outside of America, and the per capita consumption of hot peppers in many guises is probably ten times greater in many parts of Asia, Africa, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America then in the US - macho guys or not. In many of these places it's not an occasional dare but part of a way of life.

                                                1. re: Steve

                                                  Gee, I didn't say they "invented" it or that it was part of a "dare." For them it is the go-to condiment, they put it on anything they like or don't like because the heat and strong flavor makes anything palatable. As I did say, it seems to be the new catsup in some parts of the US...oh and when I offered them "Sriracha" they had no idea what I was talking about, when I held up the bottle they all said "Rooster Sauce."

                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                    I simply found it amusing that you think Americans are more into major levels of spice than others. As evidence, you pointed to Sriricha sauce, which is hardly a homegrown product.

                                                    Anyway, anecdotes are always interesting to hear, but can be woefully misleading.

                                                    I put much more faith into the idea that anytime I walk into an Asian or Hispanic immigrant supermarket, the shelves and produce aisles are packed with so many more ways to spice up the food. That's not just an anecdote about fratboy mentality. That's hundreds upon hundreds of people making shopping decisions every day.

                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      Steve, I was not the person who said that "Americans are more into major levels of spice than others." Growing up in SoCal, and then the East Coast, I remember when there were very few choices of spicy hot foods and condiments--Tabasco was maybe the most common. Now no matter the grocery store I go to there are all sorts of hot and spicy--some seem to go for the "burn" while others truly provide a wonderful mix of flavors and heat. And when it comes to hot sauce as condiment in my neck of the woods it's a toss up between Sriracha and a panoply of Mexican sauces, with chipotle remaining a favorite.

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        Have you tried Malaysian/Indonesian/other SE Asian chili sauces?

                                                        1. re: escondido123

                                                          I know someone who drinks entire bottles of tabasco straight. (he also drinks black samurais).

                                                  2. re: escondido123

                                                    they like the heat - but that does not say if it is because of the flavor and feeling, or because it makes them feel macho.

                                                    i eat sriracha for the heat too. because i like the taste - i have no need to prove my manliness (if you need to prove it, you probably lack something)

                                                    1. re: thew

                                                      Thew, since your are someone who likes and uses Sriracha, I'd be interested in knowing when you choose to use it. The guys I've seen--mainly Southern Californians for whom Mexican and Vietnamese food are standards though they are otherwise nonadventurous eaters--tend to douse everything with it. At my house it was put on prime rib once. I probably also should have offered it to them when another guest brought chicken liver pate--which they looked at like we were serving mud. Thanks for your input on this.

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        Actually, I think the popularity of sriracha is very much due to its balance of heat and flavor. Scoville measurements aside, it is a tasty condiment.

                                                        If you're looking for macho in a bottle, it's better found in Satan's Blood or even Dave's...

                                                        1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                          I'm definitely not looking for heat, but the flavor of Sriracha does nothing for me--I feel the same way about tabasco. Glad it's something you enjoy.

                                                          1. re: escondido123

                                                            inaplasticcup and escondido123,

                                                            It's interesting about Sriracha. I don't find it hot, as much as salty and pungent. Even more true with Tobasco. And I like Sriracha and Tobasco, but not because they are "spicy".

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              ipse, I too find it on the lower end of the heat spectrum, but I suspect that we both probably have a higher than average tolerance for heat.

                                                              I think the success of Huy Fong sriracha, which at least in CA is easily the most popular brand of sriracha out there, is that it hits a lot of notes - spicy, slightly tangy and sweet, and just enough heat for most people to enjoy a little bit of the piquancy of chilies.

                                                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                Agreed.

                                                                It sort of reminds me of Taco Bell Red Sauce mixed with some Tobasco.

                                                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                  Huy Fong sriracha is diferent from the Thai version (original) of sriracha.

                                                                  I rarely use "sriracha" sauce or Rooster sauce, whatever - I use CHILI sauces of different compositions, origins etc, depending on the food I am eating; or make my own concoctions.

                                                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  Good point. It's not even so much a hot sauce. Although I understand the idea that a few people are using it like ketchup - not that I've met anyone- I still don't see it on the shelves of my nearest Safeway nor do I see many pale faces shopping at the Korean market around the corner to stock up.

                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                    i see both those things 'round here

                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      Sriracha is everywhere, Steve.

                                                                      Ralphs, Vons, Whole Foods, liquor stores and even places like Hooters have them now (upon request).

                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                        "Although I understand the idea that a few people are using it like ketchup"
                                                                        --------
                                                                        So you agree that what escondido says has merit?

                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                          If someone says they use hot sauce just to prove they can take it, then who am I to argue? I don't doubt there are people like that. But I can't make the leap to previous statements like:

                                                                          "It's usually Americans I find who are really into the hot and spicy flavors"

                                                                          Or to take from this the idea that Americans use sriracha more than Asians or like their food hotter. A few bottles on the shelf of my local Safeway is inconsequential.

                                                                3. re: escondido123

                                                                  I've used it many ways - from somewhat traditional, i.e. in pho and as a spice added to SE asian flavors, to mixing it to sauces for a touch of heat, to squirting directly onto pretzels

                                                        2. re: Steve

                                                          "It's usually Americans I find who are really into the hot and spicy flavors." I absolutely stand by this statement.
                                                          I won't say that East and South Asians don't tend to like spicy food--they probably do--I don't really know as I've never been there. But, I have been to the US (Idon't live there; I live in South America) and I see spicy food virtually everywhere, and it being eaten. Also, people I have travelled with in the US from South America find US food to be on the spicy--also heavy and overpowering side.

                                                          I can say that South American food is generally NOT spicy. Spicy food is certainly less prevalent than in the US--I can vouch for Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Costa Rica (OK,not South America). Also food from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands is generally not spicy--flavorful, yes--though an American "chilihead" would be really disappointed in those countries.
                                                          What I am saying is anecdotal, I suppose--based on personal experience. I know a Chilean woman in California who sells a Chilean hot sauce. She has to spice it up for American tastes as the original, authentic Chilean version would be considered far too mild.
                                                          It is true that in many parts of Latin America the people think of certain dishes as spicy and discribe them as such--but this is a relative term. In the US they would be described as mild or even bland.
                                                          I can go on. I've heard similar comments from Italians about Italian food in the US--too spicy and garlicky.

                                                          1. re: Wawsanham

                                                            you generalize from south america to the world. and it doesn't stick.

                                                            1. re: thew

                                                              Of course, I am only talking about one region. I never said I would talk about the world. Only the US and then S America. In comparison the with S America, the US is a land of spicy food.

                                                              1. re: Wawsanham

                                                                There are regional cookeries in the US that pack some spice (e.g. Cajun)—and regional cookeries that don't (e.g. New England).

                                                                1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                  Most of what we think of as New England food should probably be called English Yankee cooking--what my father in law grew up with. But since the late 1800s there has been one group that brought spicy food to New England--the Portuguese who brought us linguica.

                                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                                    True that, good point. (Not to mention awesome pastries.)

                                                              2. re: thew

                                                                You seem to be generalizing America (I presume you mean the US) to mean the world.

                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                      um - where in that post do i do that?

                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                        Well, you seemed to be responding to Wawsanhams's post where he talked about South American cuisines and contrasting it with stuff he ate/experienced in the US (and not Canada or Mexico etc for that matter), while also carefully saying that he didn't know for sure about food in South and East Asia as he had never been there. However, you then charged him with generalizing from "south america to the world".

                                                                        Ehh, I'm sure you didn't mean to.

                                                              3. re: Wawsanham

                                                                think OP meant spicy, not hot. and Puerto rican food always seems spicy to me. (I was in a guatemalan restaurant once, and that felt more... sweet).

                                                          2. Gonna say, no, sorry. I just had dinner at one of the best restaurants in LA, Japanese-tinged seafood. It was good, but I wouldn't go back. Service was great, and the food was technically perfect and creative. But it just didn't make my mouth that happy. I don't even really like spicy, I just like BOLD, lots of strong flavors going on. That dinner kind of ruined me, since now I feel like there are no "fine" restaurants that I want to go to anymore.

                                                            11 Replies
                                                            1. re: jaykayen

                                                              What is "Japanese-tinged seafood"?

                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                eyesight over taste, presumably. japanese didn't have many ingredients, so their court food was mostly about presentation.

                                                                1. re: Chowrin

                                                                  Uhh, I still don't know what TINGED means and what he wants to describe - again, what is "Japanese-TINGED" seafood?

                                                                  I'm not persuaded that the Japanese didn't have many ingredients, nor that the court food was *mostly* about presentation. I would have thought that the taste of the ingredients, as opposed to spices or seasonings; an appreciation for various forms of aesthetics etc, many highly developed; were and are innate parts of the culture.

                                                                  This is not to say that they have a monopoly on these aspects of cuisine or culture, of course.

                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                    yuzu. soysauce. onion. daikon. green onion. buckwheat. seaweed. fish, pork.
                                                                    compare with thai, or hunan chinese -- there are entire flavor dimensions missing from the Japanese... (this is not to say that those dimensions are not missing from other cultures...)

                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...
                                                                      I don't think that list is complete either. They have a lot of stuff of great variety derived from the waters. Other cuisines do not. They may have less ingredients of one sort or another, compared with other cuisines, e.g. your examples of Thai or Hunan. I am not saying that they have the most, not by any means. I am saying that i am not persuaded that any *relative* scarcity of ingredients by comparison with Cantonese cuisine, to use another example, is *necessarily* the cause of their food (court food or otherwise) being mainly about the presentation. I am saying that the aesthetics and attributes of the culture is probably part and parcel of how the cuisine tastes, is prepared and is presented.

                                                                      I'm sure other posters may have something to say about "Japanese cuisine ingredients". :-)

                                                                      Oh, since you included condiments in your list, here's a list of them:
                                                                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...
                                                                      One should follow the sublinks to the referenced pages, too - e.g. the "Soy Sauce" page includes 13 types of Japanese soy sauces. ;-)

                                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                                        bad kat also forgot to mention tofu. and sour plums. bad kat go back in corner. ;-)

                                                                    2. re: huiray

                                                                      Japanese ingredients, some technique, and also presentation.

                                                                      Like soy sauce dehydrated to powder, braised daikon, sesame seeds, etc...

                                                                      1. re: jaykayen

                                                                        I'm not sure what you are trying to say or add, about either the cuisine or the ingredients...

                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                          I am trying to articulate that the dinner I had was slightly Japanese-influenced seafood, as opposed to Thai influenced seafood, or Sicilian influenced seafood.

                                                                          1. re: jaykayen

                                                                            Ah! Thanks for the clarification.

                                                                            I thought you were responding to this post (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7971...) rather than, as it turned out, the earlier one (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7971...).

                                                                  2. re: huiray

                                                                    I'm gonna guess it's seafood prepared with/inspired by Japanese ingredients and flavor profiles but not quite authentically.

                                                                2. I think the answer is yes. It's possible to appreciate both three Michelin star food and the spiciest Asian food. I don't have much of a preference, though I do crave one or the other at certain times.

                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                  1. re: sushigirlie

                                                                    Yes and let's not forget who's actually doing most of the cooking in these establishments

                                                                    1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                      not that that has ANY influence (nor should it) on the cuisine in which the restaurant specializes. a mexican cook will probably not decide to add some chipotle peppers into the foie gras terrine at >insert fine dining place<, lest they'd like to get fired.

                                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                                        What you are saying is right but my point was they (the cooks) appreciate "well done cuisine" if that means "non-ethnic" as per op's intended definition.

                                                                      2. re: crowmuncher

                                                                        Most cooks in starred places are white.

                                                                        1. re: jaykayen

                                                                          If you didnt mean 'chefs' could you please name a few starred places to back up what you wrote. I'd be very interested to see that-thx!

                                                                          1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                            to : jaykayen again- sorry replied to myself by accident...
                                                                            also, by starred you mean Michelin stars? i actually had to do a search after i replied to you cuz I'm not that familiar with and don't follow rating systems. the michelin guide site makes no mention of South FL area- which says a lot about us. I'm not sure where you are but that's where I am. I know that here most cooks are not "non-hispanic white" for lack of a better term. There are many "white" (again for lack of a better word) chefs though in high-end restaurants here. A know a chef (a "white" one) who told me that the cooks even sometimes come up with the recipes- and the Chef takes the credit. So Puerto Rican cook's mofongo dish becomes the Chef's latest creation, for ex. In sofla this is how we roll according to this chef so excuse my ignorance if I have no idea what I'm talking about, but I'm eager to learn if I was wrong...I've also read that chefs (not just in sofla) prefer to hire immigrant cooks because they feel that they're easier to work with (don't complain as much, etc.) but that these cooks don't get the credit, sometimes even because they are undocumented.

                                                                            1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                              Yes, I meant Michelin stars, as Per Se, the restaurant in the OP, has three stars. In my personal experience, most of the cooks are white; I am in Los Angeles, I've worked with them. I also mean regular line cooks, not chefs. I have a good friend who works at a two-star restaurant in Las Vegas, and he said the cooks are all white, save for him and a couple of other Asians. Even when working in the high-end bistro settings in LA, the cooks tend to be white. If you read some cookbooks, like Eric Ripert's "On the Line," or Ruhlman's Soul/Making of a Chef (which tends to follow a lot of French Laundry people) the people in them are mostly white.

                                                                              And, at the end of the day, when the chef calls everyone together to talk about tomorrow's menu, it does not mean that it is time for the multi-cultural staff to pitch creative ideas.

                                                                              1. re: jaykayen

                                                                                i have no idea what a cooks ethnicity has to do with the food s/he cooks

                                                                                1. re: jaykayen

                                                                                  thank you for your examples jay...

                                                                                  I know it's a long thread and I'm not sure why you mentioned that "when the chef calls everyone together to talk about tomorrow's menu, it does not mean that it is time for the multi-cultural staff to pitch creative ideas"?- but in case it was in response to something I wrote, I only mentioned the line cooks because I know there are many kitchens where "non-hispanic white" cooks are the majority and I think they- as people who have first hand experience in cooking this "well-done cuisine" would have an appreciation for it since it is their profession (just as I wrote to Linguafood earlier in thread)

                                                                                  As far as books written on the subject of "well done cuisine" I'm not so convinced that undocumented workers would be recognized very much, but if you've worked with some of these people (I haven't) you should know better than me I guess...

                                                                              2. re: jaykayen

                                                                                not in NYC. A plurality, if not majority, of line cooks in NYC are mexicans and ecuadorians

                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                  thanks, I read that somewhere too...

                                                                          2. Appreciate, yes. Enjoy as much, no. One can appreciate the vision and craft of a piece of work and still end up disliking it. And, there's nothing wrong with that since we have our personal preferences.

                                                                            A couple of examples I use often are stream of consciousness in literature and abstract expressionism in art. I have no issue if one claims that "Ulysses" is the greatest piece of literature written. I may just agree with it. But, I hate the book. I hate that it took me a couple of years to go through it and I don't like anything that forces you to repeatedly go over its work. A little is nice, but too much is just being elitist/annoying.

                                                                            Something like molecular gastronomy is nice. I like how creative chefs can be with its tools/techniques and the final product can be a wonder. But, I really don't like it all that much because it doesn't make the food taste better. Good for the chef for making a burger using a long water bath, liquid nitrogen and a bunch of thickeners. But, one can probably make a better one with a simple, old fashioned charcoal grill. So, while I can appreciate all the work that went into the thing, I don't have to like the thing.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: ediblover

                                                                              Nicely put, ediblover.

                                                                              I feel the same way. Sometimes, it's like an academic exercise. You certainly end up enlightened and enriched and so ultimately better off as a foodophile for having experienced it, but the enjoyment is just not the same.

                                                                              1. re: ediblover

                                                                                I like your analogy! I feel the same way about Shakespeare and most classical music:}

                                                                                1. Face it, many people derive pleasure from fewer things/experiences then some others. At bottom, it's just the way their brains and bodies interact. Does it make them lesser than me because they cannot derive the same amount of pleasure from an unadorned slice of sashimi that they do from a bowl of curry? From Joyce as they do Shakespeare? Of course not, there are a lot of other factors that are also responsible for that.

                                                                                  1. Another aspect for consideration -- relative, not absolute, levels of spices.

                                                                                    Spicing food (chilli heat as well as various spices such as paprika, clove lemongrass etc) also involves balance, and I think that's something that many food lovers (and spice lovers) enjoy even if they haven't articulated it. Some folks like their Thai food with lots of chilli heat, because it balances the sweetness in the dishes. Reduce the chilli, without tweaking the sugar, and the dish feels too sweet. Ditto the balance of various spices for seasoning the range of dishes across continents, e.g. the sauces in various regional Indian dishes.

                                                                                    That balance does require a a certain level of subtlety and nuance in tweaking the relative levels of different spices. One "simple" example being a numbing, cool sensations from sichuan peppercorn to balance the chilli heat in various fiery sichuan dishes. The most successful examples imho balance those sensations with suitable application of the relevant spices.

                                                                                    1. I know from my life experience that members of traditional North Indian and Pakistani households have a tough time adjusting to "subtler" cuisine. In most households, flavor is far more important than cooking technique. The important part of the OP's title, however, is "well done". I can usually convert my Indian Subcontintental freinds and family with well executed subtler food, but it's a lot of effort. I have to source excellent ingredients from farmers markets, use very fresh meat, and there's no margin for error when cooking. They'll eat it, usually mystified that it tastes, well, good. Recently, I cooked a whole fish that was caught that same morning. My father starts eating it little by little and keeps going, not exactly sure why he likes it. Finally he remarks, "Can you imagine how this would've tasted if marinated in heat and spices overnight?" To which I'm thinking, "A day old and completely masking the delicate flavor of the fish (and way overcooked if you cook it.)" :P

                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                        "...(he) keeps going, not exactly sure why he likes it."

                                                                                        I love that. :)

                                                                                        1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                          I've been told or read that when Indians adopt foreign food, they tend to adopt the form and/or method, but use the familiar spicing. Thus pizza may look Italian (or American) but flavorings are likely to include garam masala.

                                                                                        2. I love spicy high flavour foods - Thai, Mexican, Sechuan, and so on, and have a high tolerance for strong flavours (I eat lime wedges dipped in a mixture of chili powder and salt as a snack and love things like durian, blue cheese, natto and stinky tofu).

                                                                                          I also like subtly flavoured cuisines. I've had Cantonese food (Hong-Kong, not American) that was delicate and subtle and emphasized high quality ingredients that was absolutely amazing, and I love the subtle flavours of sushi, going so far as to skip the soy and wasabi for some of my favourites (scallops, salmon roe) so as to not obscure the flavour. I also enjoy the flavour and texture of good quality silken tofu.

                                                                                          What I *don't* like is food that is spicy but not flavourful, where your total experience is heat, or food that is bland and boring

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                                            "Flavorful" versus merely "spicy"—bingo. Thread accomplished.

                                                                                          2. I'm a total spice fiend but I must say, Per Se came close to ruining food for me. It totally and unequivocally blew me away.