Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On Naivete

Chefs and food lovers, by their very nature, are born optimists. After all, the thought, "I'll cook you a meal but it will probably be lousy" is not very likely to sit well with an audience, either public or private. The idea of making a commercial career out of the same sentiment can safely be consigned to the failed ideas of history.

The article that set the CC off on this reverie was a recent one in the New York Times where it was revealed with a grand flourish that "truffle oil" was far from natural; in fact, most commercial truffle oils were just "concocted by mixing olive oil with one or more compounds like 2,4-dithiapentane (the most prominent of the hundreds of aromatic molecules that make the flavor of white truffles so exciting.)"

Well, to invoke the vernacular, "DUH!"

The world doesn't produce enough truffles to satisfy the ongoing craze of "truffle oil", and most importantly, since truffles are near impossible to produce commercially (although a few entrepreneurs in Australia are trying), the logical conceit should be that it would be near impossible to ensure a steady supply year after year.

No, no, the CC was distinctly NOT shocked by that particular revelation. What took him by surprise was the surprising naivete of chefs (whom he would've expected to know better.)

“I thought that it was made from dried bits and pieces of truffles steeped in olive oil,” said Vincent Nargi of Cafe Cluny in Manhattan."

Pauvre petite!

The naivete extends to other domains.

Witness the rise of "organic" food. Or as a French friend of the CC's once said in a delightful accent, "Ze French word ees equally stoopide. Biologique! Az oppozed to what? Metallique?!?"

Stare at a label in the marketplace.

"Natural? As opposed to what? Unnatural?!?"

The CC pines to have the first taste of "unnatural" food (perhaps Twinkies qualify?) and has a similar opinion on "unnatural" thoughts (How unnatural could they be if the CC actually thought about them? They could be illegal, distasteful, or even immoral but "unnatural"? The CC thinks not!)

No, no, the CC knows that food is both natural and unnatural.

Take raw ingredients whose sole aim was Darwinian survival from predators, carry out the afore-mentioned predation (this applies to vegetables as well), subject them too all kinds of processes (boiling, baking, braising), and produce an article that ensures both survival of the species and a tickling of the senses.

What could be more unnatural than that?

Cooking, mes pauvres petites, is a deeply unnatural act.

However, there is still something distasteful about the "truffle oil".