There is much to be said for the old adage ‘less is more’. We’ve seen paired down décor in all the right homes (sadly, mine is as full and as eclectic as ever) and in exorbitantly expensive homeware stores. Even the bling-bling look is somehow simple in its overt flashiness – at least you can’t miss the simple ‘look at me’ intention.
So why then does it appear to be so difficult for the bulk of chefs (there are, of course, a few exceptions) to jump on the simplicity bandwagon? It’s cost-effective – less staff needed to faff about with froths, foams, reductions, seven-layered root vegetable gateaux and the like, fewer ingredients (and thus capital) to sit in pantries and fridges and far less brain draining trying to concoct a happy relationship between foods that just aren’t meant to be together.
How can they be the only ones who seem not to have heard of the Keep It Simple campaign, not noticed how all über-trendy chefs and folk-in-the-know are scaling back, pairing down and keeping it very, very real?
There are a couple of possibilities; they don’t get out much, they’re suckers for punishment – unnecessary hard work feeds their martyr syndrome – they’re stupid or, and this is probably the root of all the evil, the only way to feed their inflated foodie egos is to complicate everything that crosses their stainlesssteel kitchen tables.
I absolutely know I speak for many a diner, restaurant critic and fellow food writer when I say a free-range, superbly cooked chicken supreme served in a puddle of its own juices on braised lentils (with maybe the odd lardon) alongside a few handpicked spring vegetables would elicit tears of joy, not just for the flavour but for its honest lack of pretension.
Or how about a simple slow-cooked lamb shank – not prepared in a bizarre and misguided take on fusion food with the likes of oyster sauce, shitake mushrooms and rice wine, but rather as it is best; in a good stock, robust wine, fresh herbs alongside a buttery dollop of mash. Only the truly confident and the genuinely talented seem brave enough to cook food this way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that all creativity should be thrown out the window and everyone should simply rehash what others have so successfully cooked for time immemorial. I’m merely saying, stop thinking that the more flavours and cooking methods combined on one plate, the more impressive the dish will be… and the more you can charge.
Forget the trio of duck. Simply master the art of the ultimate duck terrine or duck confit, serve it with good homebaked bread and a garden-fresh leaf and stand back and bask in the glory – there will be much of it.
The more complicated the dish, the more room for error. Striking a balance on a menu is no mean feat – think of your myriad diners and their tastes and mix up the offering – simple, intricate, hot, cold, funked up, paired down.
Talk to anyone (chefs included) about their most memorable meal and it’s most likely to be something like justcaught line fish eaten on the beach with heirloom tomatoes and rocket, followed by sun-warmed grapes and a perfectly aged cheese. Ask their most favourite and it’s probably roast chicken.
Okay, that’s it, bugger our dinner plans. I plan to indulge in the considerable delights of very fresh, yeasty bread with a crust that is hard enough to make a noise, piled with paper-thin slices of Parma ham and an indecent drizzle of new harvest olive oil. We’re staying home, it’s as simple as that.
Tagged Justine Drake