At a subtle meal, how words and sound are important.
Last night Stewart and Karen Hoover took me (as in treated me) to dinner at Frasca one of the region’s highly acclaimed restaurants. The Northern-Italian-inspired food is fresh, direct, but subtle and I found the subtlety hugely enjoyable. The trend in many fine dining restaurants is to load the plate with flavors, lots of flavors, and the outcome, for me, is cacophonous. Frasca does in fact use various flavors in each plate but the elements are expertly studied so that the chemicals lead to a oneness when you taste. My wild sturgeon was on top of a small bed of sweet potato and then just pearl onions and Maitake Mushroom with a light bacon infusion. It was a lavish taste, but subdued — that’s really hard to do.
Karen ordered sunchoke tortelloni with bits of salsify (sal-suhf-eye ) in the sauce.The overall plate was super rich, complex and dynamic — but calm and balanced. Again, I think that’s really hard to do.
WORDS: The waiter explained each of the dishes on the menu in painstaking detail. I was losing patience with him until I remembered what Stewart, who is a Professor of media and anthropology and an expert media theoretician, had said earlier about media. He could understand how taking pictures of food and then sharing them, re-looking at them, brought on an experience of embodiment and intimacy by recalling images and memories. I don’t claim to understand this completely, and soon I hope to ask Stewart to explain it, but when I started to listen to the waiter, I realized that his words were intended to evoke images and memories! The ingredients we were about to eat came from a very specific location: cheese from cows grazing in the mountains, near the alps. The fish from those rivers, the sea in that region.
So food really is an experience that evokes images of our memories and locations.
SOUNDS: Chef Heston Blumenthal uses sound to do the same thing, evoke images and memories, when he serves seafood with sounds of the sea coming from an Ipod inside a Conch! Why? To place the diner in a location via memory and imagination.
The waiter did this through his descriptions, words, and I’m sure that the chef has coached each of the waiters to do this carefully.
I look forward to my next meal when I’ll play closer to attention to words and sounds.