Recently we visited a relatively new restaurant for the sole purpose of checking out the desserts. The pastry chef is young and has received a lot of press and we were curious. Our dessert excursion was paired with dinner at another restaurant that has been in the press recently. The evening was thought provoking in the extreme. The food at dinner was good, tasty but not what we were expecting from the hype. Dessert was intriguing and contained a few great elements, but again was not at the level we were anticipating. I think one of the reasons for that may be youth.
Food, especially in major metropolitan areas, has become vastly more competitive in the last ten years. The press is constantly looking for th next big things. Trends come and go in a flash and Chefs and Pastry Chefs are ever younger and more eclectic and experimental in their approach to food. There's nothing wrong with that. It's how food evolves over time. What has changed is how quickly these young chefs move up the ladder and into the spotlight. Although their food may be fresh and exciting in many ways, it is often unfinished. The maturity that comes with years in the kitchen has not evolved yet. So while the food may be very good, it is still just a whisper of what it may become given a bit of TLC and time to germinate.
Admittedly as a young cook I would have regarded the previous statement as blasphemy. When we are just starting out we all want to be in the spotlight and in charge as quickly as possible. Alex and I were no exceptions to that particular rule. My views have altered over the years, I know that the food coming out of our kitchen today is worlds away from what we offered when we were first starting out. I know that it's more important for me to love my food first, than it is for anyone else to love it more. I know that amazing food can be created within boundaries that will make it easy to recreate and reproduce. I know that creativity is not a substitute for flavor. I know that you have to balance the unusual with the comfortable so that people will be more receptive to your offerings. I know that everybody gives lip service to flavor, in reality a lot of the food in restaurants just doesn't taste good. I know that if I spend 15 hours a day, seven days a week in the kitchen for an indefinite period of time that the food suffers, no matter what I may tell myself to get through. I know that not everyone will enjoy every dish that I create and that's permissible as long as I do love each one. I know that sometimes you have to compromise and that as long as you hold on to the spirit of what you do, compromise can sometimes transform things for the better. I know that any cook worth their salt knows when they send something sub-standard through the kitchen doors although they may not admit it. I know that any great cook who works for me will eventually need a place of their own. I know that my tastes will change and something that I find transcendent today may never move me again. The same is true for all of my diners.
Dinner and dessert last Saturday reminded me of all of these things. Both were presented by two talented young chefs with room to grow. Dessert perhaps more so, because when I looked at the carefully constructed plates I was struck by the amount of work that went into them. There were hours of research and prep needed to create the fantasies that were set before me. I wanted to savor every bite and understand what was behind it. It was simply too much, too many elements, a myriad of interconnected ideas, too reminiscent of others that came before. I wished I could fast forward five years or even just two. I wanted to see what the creations would become. And in both cases the spark was there. There was ability and creativity, and the knowledge that one day this Chef could be amazing. I don't think young cooks need to spend more time working for other chefs, per se. I just think they need more time in their own kitchens to sharpen and to clarify their voices. To learn to edit their own ideas. That's when we'll find out who they really are and what they are truly capable of.