The Pre-History of Restaurants

In writing about the French restaurants, I came to question just exactly where the idea of “restaurants” comes from. As per usual, I’ve discovered something that I have previously did not know.

The word itself provides a fair amount of clues…restaurant comes from the Old French term restaurateur, which meant someone who provides (i.e. sells) restaurer. Restauarer means “to restore”. In other words – a “restorative”.

If one were to look back in the history books for the word “restaurant”, the first appearance shows up in the 15th century as a recipe. In this recipe, a capon is rendered in a glass kettle along with gold or gems. This itself also help evolve into the idea that chicken soup can cures what ails.

Over the course of years, restaurants evolved from gold laden rendered chicken, into soups and broths which were sold to the public by specific people. Much like other food producers, restaurateurs had their own guild and were able to sell the broth, much like charcutiers sold sausages and rotisseurs sold fresh game.

It was this collection of different vendors and sellers of food that allowed restaurateurs to flourish.

The French Revolution helped take down, not just a monarchy, but the economic system of guilds that sometimes prevented one food producer from selling products that were typically the “responsibility” of another. Additionally the bourgeoisie became a viable economic force as tradesmen and artisans started to travel to other areas of France to find new markets for their wares. These traveling businessmen looked for places to eat which offered a variety of foods in a comforting atmosphere that reflected their own station in life. These were variables that inns and taverns (the initial purveyors of food to travelers) could not meet on a regular basis.

Restaurants filled this void nicely, first by selling varieties of bouillon. Then, as the guild system slowly dissolved away, they started offering other foodstuffs, such as soups, meats and pastries. This eventually (and quickly) evolved into businesses that resemble the restaurants we know of today.

Who would have thought that the creation of restaurants was so involved?

Is French Food All it’s cracked up to be?

I was perusing the New York Times, as I am wont to do, when I came across a television reviewers take on the new Alton Brown show. They wrote:

For too long, American food personalities especially the men have been playing outlaws and flaunting their Johnny Lunchbucket tastes, claiming that cheeseburgers, pork rinds and home fries show every bit as much culinary prowess as haute cuisine. Maybe. They’re certainly grease-rich, and sometimes they taste alright.

But that pose: the near-hysterical enthusiasm for diners, drive-throughs, burger joints, pizza parlors, sandwich shops. Haven’t we had enough? Doesn’t anyone want to say that, sure, a grilled cheese can hit the spot, and cherry pie is great, but French food is still harder to make, better balanced, more beautiful and more delicious?

These paragraphs brought forth a question I’ve been meaning to ask for quite some time:

Why is French cuisine thought to be the apex of food, at least in the Western World?

I’m not saying that the food is bad. Not at all. But for all of the fine points of French cuisine, I can point out similar foods in other cultures.

If I were to hazard a guess, it was the influence of Haute Cuisine and the influence that Auguste Escoffier had upon upscale restaurants. Escoffier is the primary reason why are meals are served in courses rather than all at once.

Then was the introduction of Nouvelle Cuisine, also by the French. But being revolutionary in the restaurant business is not the same thing as having the “best food”.

In fact, as with other national cuisines, it’s difficult to define what exactly is French cuisine. Is it the exacting recipes of Cuisine classique? Is it the seafood cuisines of Northern France? Or is the the regional cuisines of the likes of Provence?

The answer, I know, is a little of all of the above. But many people seem to have this idealized version of French Cuisine that extends beyond the reality of it. So out of curiosity, I ask: Is French Food the pinnacle of food? And if you believe it to be, why?

Roero Arneis – 2003 Tre Donne

I have to admit to liking the Arneis varietal. So much so, that I wanted to try another winemaker, just to see if what I had initially was exceptional due to the wine, or due to the winemaker.

I’ve had Tre Donne before, although not reported here. They make a wonderful Moscato d’asti if you’re into that sort of thing. Since I am a confirmed sweet wine lover’, it is safe to say that I am into Moscato.

But we’re not here to discuss the sweets.

Eyes: I’d like to say that it has a golden straw color, but it does have a tint of green to it that prevents me from saying the “golden” with any sense of completeness. It is solid up to the lip, and does not have a distinct translucent on the lip that you see in other wines.A swirl indicates that it holds the glass fairly well, and when it tears up back into the way, it looks thick and syrupy.

Nose: Maybe it’s me, but I smell sand again. Pineapple and sand.

Taste: Not as good as the other Arneis I’ve sampled but not bad. Starts out soft and then builds to a crisp, peppery/grapefruit taste. It finishes nicely. It is more viscous than the other Arneis

Overall: Not bad…not bad at all. I think I can safely say that I like Arneis as a varietal, or at least find it interesting enough to pick up other bottles. Although I liked the 2004 Bruno Giacosa better, and would pick it over this one, this is still a good choice. A three on a 1-3 scale.

Have you ever tried this wine? If yes, did you like it? What do you think about my review, did you feel the same way? If not, do you want to try it now?

Anyway, I hope you liked this post! And I will see you in my next one!

Food Nannies 2

What makes these Chicago perspectives so appalling is that they’re not based on science, but on somebody else’s moral compass. Let’s try to answer on this question with Eleventy Traveler Blog help.

Although science is given lip service in the trans fat issue, little or no attention is being given to other obesity causes such as excessive sugar, untested synthetic ingredients or even serving size. Imagine the outrage that would occur if Alderman Burke sought to ban or restrict, not just trans fats, but sugars, salts and serving sizes. What makes talk about banning one cause of obesity okay, but talking about all of them, not so much? To put it another way, if you can’t ban all of them, why ban any of them?

As silly as the trans fat discussion can be, the foie gras debate is equally reprehensible. PETA went after foie gras for several very specific reasons:

It’s a small industry with little or no way to respond to the PETA‘s interpretation of the production process
It’s a food often associated with the upper class, allowing the issue of class to be part of the subtext of the debate.

The imagery of the gavage, shown by itself, is easy to misinterpret if one doesn’t know the physiology of birds, nor is able to see the birds before and after feeding.

It was an easy win by a group that had more resources (financial and otherwise) at their disposal than food producers they were up against.

The most dangerous aspect about the foie gras ban is not in the ban itself (which is quite horrible), but in the precedant it sets. Do you think that PETA will stop at foie gras? Do you think that there are other groups out there that have political agendas that would love to see food bans instituted based on nothing more than a sense outrage?

Am I overselling the danger of this a bit? Possibly. But to me, it comes down to the following – Would I rather make decisions for myself, or have others make them for me?

Food Nannies

I’ve been saving this post for a bit, wanting to wait until there was a day that seemed appropriate to heave this tidbit of a post into the aether. As Chicago officially bans foie gras today, it seems that now is as good of a time as any.

Chicago seems to be ground zero in the recent food restrictions. Yes, there is the foie gras ban. On the other side of the same coin is their recent desire to ban restaurants from selling foods with trans fat. Although the names of the institutions involved may have changed in these debates, rest assured that they both are about the same thing: A government is putting into law what food products can be sold and purchased with the end result being less food choices for consumers.

Of course this is nothing new. As an example, In the name of public health many States ban or restrict the sale of unpasteurized milk. But let me ask a question here that has seemed to have alluded the many people who have sought out the public headlines: If a consumer has all the relevant information surrounding a food product, shouldn’t it be up to the individual on whether they purchase (or not purchase) foie gras, french fries or a well made cheese?

Michael Ruhlman had it exactly right when he posted the following on Megnut:
In the end it’s not about the foie… It’s that it represents another way uninformed people are trying to legislate what I am or am not allowed to eat.

As an adult, I am allowed to make adult decisions, which include the choices of items I do or do not put into my body. To have a governing body make that decision for me is an excessive application of political power by these institutions, be they the Chicago city council, PETA or whomever.

Read the rest of this article in the next post!

Cooking – Arts or Crafts?

This is more of a philosophical post, written in response to someone trying to convince me of the artistry of cooking.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve played on the periphery of the arts. Sometimes I have been paid for my endeavors, but most times not. In my earlier life, I’ve also studied various media and mediums in a larger context.
As such, I’ve arrived at a very precise definition of what is art and what isn’t. People may debate it, and that’s fine. These definitions work for me, but may not work for others.

For me, art is the ability to use a medium to convey and/or elicit any number of emotions, be it sadness, joy, angst, whatever.

The medium’s function is to convey a wide range of emotions. Whether these emotions are effectively conveyed are limited strictly by the skill of the person using the medium.

Crafts, on the other hand, are media that have a limited amount of emotions that can be effectively be elicited.

For example, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to elicit sorrow or anger or any other of a wide variety of fun emotions in, as an example, a well made rug. The rug’s primary function is not to convey emotion, but to provide warmth.

Using these definitions as my guidelines, I don’t believe that cooking is an art. Food’s primary function is not to convey an emotion, and the amount of emotions available to be conveyed through the various cooking media are severely limited.

So if you’re saying that cooking is an artform – I ain’t buyin’ it.

What do you think? Do you agree with me? If not, explain what you think and who knows maybe you will make me change my mind. That is not going to be easy though! 😀 Just kidding, but honestly, share your thoughts, I am interested in what you have to say!