Culinary right vs. personal taste

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by koukouvagia, Apr 15, 2012.

  1. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    The eggs thread got me thinking that there are lots of rules that are standard in the culinary world.  For example, it is considered "right" that a prime steak should be served medium-rare.  But does that mean that someone who likes it well-done is wrong?  Or do they just not understand what they're missing?  This applies to lots of foods like overcooking eggs, poking meat on the grill, etc.
     
  2. colin

    colin

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    It's very easy to get set in your ways, especially with everyday dishes and/or stuff we got used to as kids.  I have an emotional attachment to techniques and rules I learned form my Dad.  (Among those rules, that a well-done steak is a crime against nature.)

    The other thing you realize from these threads is that two people may eat the same thing and have very different experiences of it.  
     
  3. siduri

    siduri

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    I think "like" can't be wrong.  Any more than "feeling cold" or "being sad" can be wrong.  There may not be any reason that someone knows for why he feels sad but he does.  I may feel cold but actually BE hot because i have a fever, but i still FEEL cold. Nobody can say that's false or wrong.   And i can LIKE something because i like it and there is no reason or rule for that.  And i like lots of "wrong" things like cheese on fish,  or cappuccino after lunch. How silly people can be to try to dictate taste.
     
  4. teamfat

    teamfat

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    I was talking to a fellow once who had always ordered steaks well done, just the way he had them growing up at home  One day they accidently brought him one medium rare and he loved it.  He was surprised at what he had been missing all those years.

    I like my scrambled eggs on the soft side.  My wife will put the eggs in the pan, then go put in a load of laundry, brush the cats, check on her eggs, go through some mail, check on her eggs.  What is interesting is when I cook them for her she claims they are better.   Hmmm..

    What people grow up with is a strong influence on their tastes.  I've mentioned several times how my wife's family would celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving with way overdone turkey, canned veggies, instant potatoes, packet gravy, basic seasonings no where to be found.  I'm happy to say I've had some influence over the years on the holiday dinners.  Now if I can just get them to keep their knives sharp...

    A lot of people eat crap because they don't know what real, good food is like.  They know nothing of culinary "rules"   They aren't going to be posting on a food forum about whether or not an omelet should have any brown on it or if there are serious differences in stocks versus broths.  Each person's taste buds are the ultimate judge.  If you like catsup on your scrambled eggs than you like catsup on your scrambled eggs.  So be it.

    mjb.
     
  5. siduri

    siduri

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    Just an interesting question, Teamfat, do you do the laundry?  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif
     
  6. chefross

    chefross

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    Isn't taste subjective?  When a cook replicates a recipe and adds a little more seasoning, that recipe is no longer valid.

    When a student re-creates Beef Wellington but makes a filling from something other than mushroom Duxelle  or Foi Gras is it still Beef Wellington?

    My job is a perfect example of this thread.  Many of the "written in stone" recipes from the classics I have to "tweek" because the people who pay my salary want it this way.

    It doesn't matter that the years of knowledge and experience flies face first into this strange concoction that i just made.

    They want it, they're paying me to do it so that's what they get.

    The cookbooks at work are filled with handwritten notes of added ingredients, lower (or higher) oven temperatures, etc.....

    In another thread we were talking about stock and my comment about mine needing more flavor is because of my need at work. At work my chicken stock should taste like chicken soup.

    Many Chefs disagree with this but it doesn't matter cause those Chefs aren't cooking for my boss.
     
  7. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    On the one hand I can understand why someone would not want any blood in their meat, my mother won't touch meat if it's slightly undercooked.  But life is not just about learning things, most of the time it's about unlearning or relearning.  But teamfat, you're right.  Most people simply don't care to know much.  There are only a few of us who carefully rework our cooking techniques.  Making a good scrambled egg gives me great satisfaction whereas someone else might think "it's just an egg, who cares?"

    Most of the time I have unfortunately found out that the people who know the least about something have the strongest convictions about it.  I was waiting by the grill at a bbq yesterday, the souvlakis were almost done and I wanted a hot one.  The person cooking it was greek so I knew that if I waited for him to give it to me cooked to his standards it would be burnt so I watched the cooking and asked for the stick when I knew it was cooked to my liking - medium well.  He said "no, you can't eat pork unless it's very well done or you'll get sick because pigs have cancer because they eat garbage."  How can I argue with that?

    Siduri, I won't tell anyone about your cappuccino infraction.  But as an Italian you can get away with breaking a few rules.  If I did that as a tourist in Italy I would be laughed at you know.
     
  8. onepiece

    onepiece

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    I think certain things are right for a reason.  There is a reason you preheat the oven, and don't hold the Chef's Knife in a fist grip. 

    Many things are according to taste, and I won't call it "wrong" if a person likes their food a certain way.  

    Most recent example would be the Sushi I have been working on, Alton Brown states that it would be wrong to put the rice in the fridge, and it would cause the grains to be rather hard.  Personally in all the rolls I have done, I prefer having it in the fridge and eating it the next day rather than the day I made it (probably sacrilege).  Of course it is near air tight when put in the fridge, but the grains are by no means hard, dry, or chewy.  
     
  9. jaycobb1045

    jaycobb1045

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    Everyone's views on this question are very interesting to me, as I've thought about this a great deal, not only with food but with art, music, and writing.  All of those areas shre the same relevant characteristics - they are forms of expression which are created to be appreciated, to be taken in by some audience.  But for that audience, it is meaningless - there is no point to cooking a piece of fish or meat perfectly if it goes straight from the pan to the garbage.  So, if we accept that the audience is the goal, then the answer must be that the personal taste of your particular audience is the only "right" answer.  After all, what is "culinary right" other than an assembly of several people's personal tastes?  Granted, the people whose taste over the centuries has given us "culinary right" are more experienced, more educated, etc, but still just people, no different than the person who prefers their steak well done and served with ketchup. 

    I am particularly skeptical of the established "correct" way of doing things becuase it has always seemed to me that academics breed other academics.  In other words, those ivory tower dwelling folks who dictate what is "correct" are in many cases not even stating their own preference or opinion, but just parroting the previously established norm.  To me, the worst possible impact of all this is when you have diners who feel forced to slap a grin on their face and choke down something they don't enjoy for fear of appearing ignorant or uncultured.  That's the sort of  foodie peer pressure that the "culinary right" view can create.

    Now, I do not mean to condone closed-mindedness.  If the only reason you "prefer" well done steak with ketchup is because you've never given anything else a chance, then in my opinion, that preference is less valid.  I think one should try out the options before establishing and stating a preference.  To that end, whenever I'm learning a new technique or recipe, I try to read and find out as much as I can about the "correct" way of doing things and achieve that before tweaking to my audience's (usually just me and my wife) personal taste. 

    Having said all that, I'll admit that about 8.5 times out of 10 the "culinary right" way of doing things is also my preferred way, so maybe another way of looking at it is that if, like a restaurant chef, you do not know the particular tastes of all your diners, then the "culinary right" is just a safe way of playing the odds. 
     
  10. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    IMHO, "food" has two (2) purposes:
    • Provide sustenance (protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, etc. essential to fuel our bodies), and
    • Pleasure, taste, texture, aroma, to satisfy our senses and emotional needs.
    "Right", in the first case, is getting the best combination of nutrients into our bodies in a manner for efficient digestion, energy extraction, and maintenance.

    "Right" in the second case, is meeting the taste, texture, aroma profile of the consumer.
     
  11. thatchairlady

    thatchairlady

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    I think what you LIKE should prevail over what "they say" is right.  That being said... I think ketchup on a hot dog is just WRONG/img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif   

    A good sirloin, t-bone, rib eye, filet is SUPPOSED TO BE no more than medium rare.  A burger is SUPPOSED TO BE pink in the middle/img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif
     
  12. indygal

    indygal

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    Big food companies do taste tests, and from that figure out how much spice is enough, how much too much or too little.  But i think that if you are running a restaurant, then the people who share your passion - for anything, extra spicy, or unusual, or "home cookin'
    " will find you and become loyal customers.    My problem is every time I find a restaurant that matches my interests, they go out of business, which is a strong signal that I should NEVER open a restaurant.

    DD
     
  13. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    Food is a very subjective experience that is a culmination of genetics and life experiences as such no one is "wrong" when it comes to their "taste" preferences.  Culinary "standards" have been created over the centuries as societies have come to a concensus as to what tastes best, with each and every society choosing their own specific "standards."  But these standards are only guidelines that, while they can account for the majority of people's tastes (within that society) it can't cover all eventualities.  It helps to create order out of chaos but can only go so far.  Back to the scrambled egg example; for every 50 people that prefer their eggs cooked just to the point of being set there's that 1 person that likes them dry and slightly browned.  For every person that understands that a Prime steak is best cooked MR there is that person that will always prefer their meat well done.  As chefs it is tempting to tell them to save their money and just purchase a Select steak if they plan on ruining it any way, but it's our job to give the guest what they want even if it goes against what is culinarily "right."  It bugs me when I hear chefs that say they won't honor a guest's request because it goes against the culinary "norms" as they see them. 

    When I was in culinary school my first year wine teacher was this elegant, older French woman (the wife of the founding culinary director of the school).  She was a wonderful teacher and taught me a lot about wine and about taste.  But the one lesson I remember most vividly was one day when the discuss worked it's way around to cheap box wine, she said to us "If you like Reunite then drink Reunite.  Personally, I think it is s**t, but if it is what you enjoy than that is what you should drink.  Never drink wine, just because someone told you you should like it."  As a young cook I didn't understand the deeper implication of that statement, but as years went by it became a philosophy that I took to heart.  I stopped trying to be a force that wanted to instruct the world about how to eat properly and really focused on doing all I could to make my guests happy even if what they wanted flew in the face of conventional wisdom.  Don't get me wrong, I would make it clear that if you ordered that Prime Filet well done I wouldn't guarentee its tenderness, but I would be happy to prepare it that way if the customer so chose.
     
  14. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    I am reminded of a time when I visited a friend during my travels and decided to make spaghetti bolognese for her and her roommate.  Being away from my own kitchen I was using unfamiliar ingredients in terms of oil, salt, tomato, etc.  I politely asked her roommate who was passing by the kitchen to taste the sauce, see if it needed more seasoning.  She tastes it and says "oh yeah it just needs a little bit of this..." and proceeded to add coriander, cumin, and curry powder to my bolognese sauce.  I guess Indian people have their own "correct" version of bolognese hehe.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2012
  15. zoebisch

    zoebisch

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    Having been in this similar discussion many times on beer forums, I will offer up the way I view it.  Once you depart from the personal journey of how food should be to you, you cross into the world where your experience is being dictated by another.  If you want to compete (for a prize, renown, etc), this is one thing but at the heart of what we are discussing is that every person who breaks new ground is inspired.   Granted when we talk about technique there is "right and wrong" as prescribed by the technique, and more narrowly (I went into an excursion on this topic in another thread here) when you talk the specifics of a dish, as measured by what a particular dish should and shouldn't contain if it is a known classic then you might find a "right" or a "wrong".  This doesn't mean it can't be exceptional or perhaps even better than the original.  This comes from inspiration.

    For me there is absolutely a "right" way to cook scrambled eggs (thank you Harold! :D) and when I don't make them that way, I am disappointed because I have this fundamental belief that when you take something that can be superb and don't follow through it's a detriment to your own experience and to life itself for not honoring that food, and I mean that in every sense of the word.  Do I always hit the mark? No.  But I strive for this understanding, which will always unfold until I pass.  You will know when you hit the mark, and those eating your food in that moment will know you have hit it and they will revel in that moment.  Capture those moments, they are yours (and theirs).  This is your life and you are living it right now.

    Also, never underestimate the power of familiarity and the comfort it manifests (curry in the bolognese anyone?).  That's actually a good example that strikes the very heart of the subject.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2012
  16. jaycobb1045

    jaycobb1045

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    I think we can all agree that this thread can be summed up with a single statement.  "Riunite on ice...that's nice!"
     
  17. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    How you like it is how you like it.

    Still, you owe it to yourself to try the culinary version of correct just to educate yourself. . There's usually a very good reason (flavor) behind the correct version.

    I like my scrambled eggs stil creamy but not my omelets. I can't explain that one.
     
  18. foodpump

    foodpump

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    The thing with a med-rare steak is, if the customer finds it too "rare" he can always have it thrown back on the broiler..... 
     
  19. michaelga

    michaelga

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    Thanks everyone... one of the best threads on the inter-webs.

    No drama-llama's, bitching, bickering, bull-shitting, bullying, or babies.

    Just straight good info - thanks!

    (edit to explain - i've always been torn between the 'right-way' and the 'customers-way' and this is a ton of good info)
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2012
  20. chrisd1

    chrisd1 Banned

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    For years i've had my steaks well done as I hate the tarte taste of the undercooked middle of a rare-medium rare steak but have recently found that I now prefer my steak medium. Its all down to taste, you can still have a juicy steak cooked well-done if you rest it for the right time period and don't keep turning the steak during cooking. Same with recipes, they are there to be messed about with and customised to the taste and desire of the diner. I don't expect anyone to follow the recipes I put on here to the letter, in fact I encourage you to make it your own, thats how good food comes about.