Down to the Last Cream Puff

Steven Shapin

  • BuyAu Revoir to All That: The Rise and Fall of French Cuisine by Michael Steinberger
    Bloomsbury, 248 pp, £8.99, July 2010, ISBN 978 1 4088 0136 9

The winner of a horse race is the fastest animal, but in a dog show the best of breed isn’t the fastest, or the biggest, or the hairiest, but the truest to type. The top beagle is reckoned to be the essence of beagleness, and the best dog in show is the animal that is more true to its type than any other is to its. So where – among these and other economies of merit – do we find notions like the best dish, the best chef, the best restaurant, or even the best national cuisine? And what kind of sense does it make to say that one national cuisine has lost the race for excellence to another?

Different people have their own opinions about good stuff to eat and our official Masters of Taste don’t speak for all of us. The search for robust standards in these sorts of thing is itself an acquired taste, and not everyone sees much point in it. There is a natural disposition for people to find their own national dishes the tastiest and to prefer the way mother used to cook. The perfect miso ramen doesn’t move Germans the way it does Japanese, and in Juzo Itami’s film Tampopo the search for noodle soup perfection isn’t about innovation but integrity, getting at the essence of stock, noodles, pork, seaweed and spring onions, and achieving the perfect balance between them. If you’ve got an appetite, and enormous chunks of red meat are what you like, then search out a Brazilian churrascaria. If searing heat and a lesson in umami is your cup of tea, then you’ll probably go for Korean food. If you want a restaurant to amaze you and expand your sense of the culinary possible, go to Moto in Chicago or, if it ever opens again, elBulli in Catalonia. And if you want a terrific plate of Umbrian salumi, try Ristorante Granaro del Monte in Norcia… Read More>>

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