Reality Bites

Authentic cuisine requires trust, vigilance...and a trip overseas

The battle is one of authenticity vs. cost. The Spanish version of prosciutto sells at half the price of the real thing. It's also one of fresh vs. frozen or preserved. "You compromise the product by the packaging required," Garza asserts. "I've never seen any mechanism that doesn't compromise seafood at some level. There's nothing wrong with frozen; it's a good product. But it's just not the same."

Yet the drive for authenticity prevails, and the assurance of authenticity depends on knowledge and trust. Chefs are often approached by people offering everything from cheese to Copper River salmon at much reduced prices. "You have to deal with reputable vendors," Rodriguez says. That means checking their references, testing their product and maintaining a certain amount of vigilance. McMillan approaches new vendors with a healthy amount of caution. "If someone has a rare product, I wonder, 'Why do you have it?' A quality vendor is the biggest thing." Jeffery Hobbs, executive chef at Il Sole, occasionally visits producers. Mostly, however, he relies on basic sleuthing. "You do a lot of phone-calling and taste-testing products," he says. "It takes time."

As experts, chefs in fine dining restaurants must learn to distinguish variations. "If you've never tasted the source of something before, you must develop that first point of reference," Garza explains. "There are taste differences between Northern Italian olive oil and Southern Italian olive oil, and you need to know them." Ask Rodriguez about beluga caviar and he eases into a lecture on size and source, the differences between Iranian and Russian caviar, pollution, overfishing and so on. "It requires a certain amount of product knowledge," McMillan confirms. "Truffles are a good example. An Oregon truffle and an Italian truffle, there's no comparison."

Location Info

Map

Nana (in the Hilton Anatole Hotel)

2201 Stemmons Frwy
Dallas, TX 75207

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

Pappas Brothers Steakhouse

10477 Lombardy Lane
Dallas, TX 75220

Category: Restaurant > Fine Dining

Region: Northwest Dallas

Al Biernat's

4217 Oak Lawn Ave.
Dallas, TX 75219

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

Suze Restaurant

4345 W. NW Highway, 270
Dallas, TX 75220

Category: Restaurant > Greek

Region: Northwest Dallas

Il Sole

4514 Travis St.
Dallas, TX 75205

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Park Cities

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Mention truffles in a conversation with a Bennigan's line cook and you might receive a Whitman's Sampler.

Considering that sales at the almost 300 Bennigan's nationwide must outpace chef-driven restaurants by a whopping margin and that most diners rarely stray beyond the most basic menu items, one again wonders why chefs spend an inordinate amount of time tracking down lamb from Colorado, lobster from Australia or foie gras from France.

"You start using good product from the beginning and it's hard to go to lesser stuff," Garza replies. "It impacts the way you feel about the food you create, and that's not worth the price."

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