“Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication”
– Steve Jobs.
Here’s the scene. You’re having a celebratory meal in a restaurant, with friends and/or family, and you look around at what other people are having. Everyone begins to peruse their menus.
But how do you like your food?
I’ve always thought that’s a tough call to answer. Being somewhat ambivalent on this subject, I must however, profess to have one particular opinion. And this is? Restaurant food? It’s sometimes too complicated, thanks to show-off chefs, daft extras and too many ingredients.
I’m simply not interested in fancy food.
But strangely, “cheffed-up” dishes win Michelin stars and sell glossy cookbooks at outrageous prices. An extreme example are the recipes in Heston Blumenthal’s latest tome; requiring upwards of 30 ingredients and gadgetry such as sous-vide machines. Despite such fascination with this fancy-pants style of cooking, I need only to call some eminent witnesses to my defence.
The celebrated motto of Auguste Escoffier, known as “the king of chefs and the chef of kings”, was “faites simple” (do it simply). Quoted admiringly by Elizabeth David, it translates as “the avoidance of all unnecessary complication and elaboration”. Another, Richard Olney opines: “one the very great delicacies of the table” is described as “the softest of barely perceptible curds held in a thickly liquid, smooth, creamy suspension”. And this is? Scrambled eggs.
What’s wrong in keeping it simple and allowing food to taste of itself? Why hide it behind a sauce of concealment, serving the dish as a contrived picture on a plate? I always have deep misgivings when a plate arrives bearing a clichéd artwork of smears, foams and blobs; I wouldn’t want to hang it on my wall, so why should I eat it?
What should exist is beautiful food, made with love and wonderful, fresh produce; inducing an air of comfort and joie de vivre in the recipient. A wonderful, highly flavoursome aperitif I enjoyed years ago was a little sandwich of smoked eel with horseradish cream in grilled sourdough. Nothing could scarcely be simpler. Another of my favourites is Piedmontese pepper, where a halved red pepper acts as a perfect edible receptacle for a casserole for tomato, anchovies, garlic and olive oil. Joy.
So I’ve always had a dim view of over-complicated food in restaurants. I loathe foams, hate smears and can’t abide towers. I honestly think that there should never be more than four ingredients on a plate; laying the blame at the front door of Michelin-starred restaurants where there has always been an obsession with reinventing dishes, some of which are timeless (and should remain so) and therefore DONT need to be tampered with.
If your ingredients are simple but exceptional, you need do less to them and having a huge number of ingredients is just showing off. Just let the element of simplicity show how good a cook you are.
So in celebration of this, I’m serving a dish which is universally recognised as a culinary classic at chez Booker later; do please join me. It’s on the menu:
– Fèves au lard sur du pain grillé
Baked beans on toast to you and me. That’ll be £35.00, please. Bon appétit.