Earlier this year, James Beard-winning food scribe Josh Ozersky penned an essay detailing a serious problem facing the culinary world. Tired of over-composed plates that were assembled more than they were sautéed, he called out modern young chefs on their menus. Pointing to a hypothetical dish that contained three dominoes of duck with a little dollop of emulsion, some lovage and five sea beans, all tweezed in place, Ozersky was exasperated. "Nobody is cooking anymore," he wrote.
Ozersky pointed out the problem, but GQ's Alan Richman offers a more refined take, and goes on to suggest the root of this new evil: youth and bravado. He calls much of this ego-based cooking simultaneously intelligent and awful, and notes that a big issue is that many of these chefs are seldom told when they're wrong. Richman's piece started showing up on the Facebook feeds of Dallas chefs earlier this week, and if you follow any you'll likely see it often.
Certainly some of this new-school cuisine is worth celebrating, and both authors point to examples of brilliant restaurants and dishes that don't fit the mold. They also do lot of bitching that sounds like grandpa pining for the old days when car doors slammed with a satisfying thud. You have to wonder: Is this two epicurean professionals with a legitimate complaint about the state of present day dining, or is this just another bunch if grumpy old men bitching about the millennials, only this time with immersion circulators and chef knifes?
Neither author uses the M-word, but it's buried in each essay. Millennials are described by many as materialistic, and it's undoubtable that this generation of chef has an unprecedented fetish for kitchen gadgetry. Workhorse cutlery is out and Japanese steel is in. And why would you pan roast anything when you can stuff it in a bag and circulate it, to perfect results every time. Besides, convection ovens are so booooring.
Millennials are also tech natives, which holds true with chefs that cast off the egg and the whisk for emulsifiers, immersion blenders and essence of tree bark. You need a chemistry degree to get through some of these recipes, which is impressive, but without the understanding and art of marrying complimentary flavors and textures the dish will still suck.
It's awesome that Millennials need their lives to be meaningful because that's great for innovation, but it's terrible when young cooks and chefs are not willing to partake in more menial kitchen tasks. It's even more terrible when they feel their chosen purpose is, at the tender age of 27, to reteach diners their understanding of the meaning of their food.
If you're noticing a lot more popcorn on menus, take it as a sign that Millennials still haven't grown up. You might see a little more caramel, and you'll definitely see a lot of bacon. Screw it, you'll see all three, often with ice cream. This is probably the best trait this generation brings to our tables, but it also needs tempering.
And Millennials, of course, are allegedly the Me Generation. Richman describes chefs cooking for themselves, while the job of the customer is to eat and applaud is disturbing.
Every generation bitches about how subsequent generations are definitely going to screw everything up forever, yet decade after decade everything turns out fine. Still, maybe we cab all dust off our copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or maybe the The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. No matter what happens in the world of modernist cuisine, the essentials will always be timeless. And cooked with discipline they'll always be delicious.
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