The Bresson of Bisque, Liebowitz of Linguine

June 27, 2008 at 4:31 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Momofuku KoImage borrowed from http://www.seriouseats.com

Momofuku Ko sounds like an awesome restaurant. Chef David Chang is a 2007 James Beard Award winner, a 2006 “Best New Chef” from Food & Wine and the 2007 “Chef of the Year” according to Bon Appetit. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to eat dinner there. Momofuku Ko has only 12 seats, and all meals are by reservation only. Reservations can only be made online at 10am for dinner the next day. No scalped reservations, no planning ahead. If you’re insanely lucky, you get a seat–if not, you’re stuck using your imagination like the rest of us.

Fortunately, aiding your mouthwatering imagination are countless blogs devoted to discussing and celebrating fantastic food. Eager to document their rare opportunity, foodies have been bringing their digital cameras to Ko and posting pictures online (1,2,3), giving the less fortunate a better idea of what they’re missing. This practice became so common (and apparently intrusive) that last week Chef Chang had to take the extraordinary step of banning photography in his restaurant.

Predictably, this ruling caused a big reaction in the food blog community. It also prompted comment and debate on the practice in the chef community. I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I understand a diner’s urge to chronicle and celebrate their meal with a photo, and I understand a chef’s interest in controlling what goes on in the dining room.  The debate over whether an artist can control how the audience experiences their work is a long one, and one I don’t have particularly well-articulated thoughts on.

What I do believe strongly about is that appreciating fine cuisine is a lot like trying to find a date–it’s best done in person, but if necessary the internet is a surprisingly useful tool. Yes, it would be best if I visited Schwa, Moto, Alinea et. al. multiple times a month to hone my palate and appreciation for excellent food. Yes, it would be best if my single friends joined spin class, took improv classes at Second City or did whatever it is that single people do to meet people nowadays.

Unfortunately we can’t always follow our passions directly and instead find ourselves searching for alternatives. For my friends that means surfing Match.com, for me that means reading about great meals more often than I eat them. Chef Chang dismisses the foodie blog craze by with his pithy quote of “It’s just food. Eat it.” He misses the point, however; fine cuisine is not just food. It can be art, anthropology or even philosophy. It can challenge more than your palate and satisfy more than your hunger. While I can’t taste food through pictures, I can learn through their study and I can live vicariously through the stories of those who were there to eat. So can others, hence the existence of countless media outlets that take food love well beyond recipes.

While I spend more time on wine sites than food ones, you have to admit that food blogs have more going for them. The dishes are often expertly plated and designed, and the endless parade of rare ingredients and exotic techniques provide fodder for endless pages of conversation. Average Joe Blogger can much more easily obtain a table at a top restaurant than he can build a world-class cellar, making it easier to give first-person accounts of what is happening in the most progressive kitchens.  For those who want to learn from and be inspired by these meals, those blogs (photos included) are a surprisingly rich source of protein.  In that vein, I can understand how a chef would want to make sure that, once seated with the meal in front them, his patrons don’t let a lens or screen get between them and an amazing dish.

Posted by Lance

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