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A blog I read got me pondering the difference between gourmet food and simple good food as well as the differences in people’s attitude to food.
The blog was titled Is the Food at Gourmet Restaurants Better?
My first reaction was ‘yes, generally speaking, it is.’
But the more I thought about it the more I figured it’s an impossible question to answer.
Andy and I think of ourselves as foodies. We’re enthusiastic cooks and experiment with recipes as well as setting ourselves challenges to create our own dishes. But we’ve had no training, apart from tuition from chefs now and again; although it’s one of our objectives to learn more.
We’ll eat anything. Snails, frog legs, ants, sea anemones, sheep’s trotters, pony… it doesn’t matter, we’ll try it. I don’t get people who say they don’t like something they haven’t tried.
We’ve also been extremely lucky enough to eat at the number one restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca, as well as at the temple of the god of chefs, Ferran Adria’s El Bulli.
That sort of sets a benchmark for every other gourmet experience. Just in case anyone thinks I’m a fawning sycophant, I went along to El Bulli expecting to find lashings of pretentiousness. Instead I was exposed to something else that changed my view of dining. It was food that not only tasted bloody marvellous, it actually managed to invoke childhood memories.
A good restaurant can serve perfectly cooked quality food, with a gourmet restaurant it’s often more of an art form. One is a traditional circus, the other is Cirque du Soleil.
Which is why it’s an impossible question to answer. It would be like asking if Raiders of the Lost Ark is better than Pan’s Labyrinth.
Sometimes I want escapism, sometimes I want food for thought. I might enjoy them equally but for differing reasons. They’re wildly different genres.
For a similar reason, a plate of steak and chips can’t really be compared to smoked eel with teriyaki mayonnaise and dried raspberry on a crispy chicken skin coca. No matter how beautifully cooked the steak is, you simply aren’t going to have a smorgasbord of flavours dancing around your mouth.
Sometime’s I want comfort food like a chunky homemade burger on a bun or cod in batter with chunky chips and Edinburgh gravy. At other times I want flavours that will dance a joyous waltz around my mouth.
Sometimes I want to taste something friendly and familiar and other times I want to be surprised and challenged.
Liking avant-garde food isn’t being a food snob, pretentious or trying to impress – which I saw suggested in one blog. It’s a love of food and everyone who loves food will appreciate all ‘genres’ just as anyone who loves movies does… or should. Liking gourmet doesn’t mean you don’t like mince and tatties.
Ironically, it can be people who view food functionally that can be most dismissive. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people who say they like their food ‘simple’ sneer at creative cuisine, calling it ‘pretentious rubbish’. That is simply nonsense. Let’s be clear here, people like that aren’t fans of food, they’re fans of familiarity. I don’t judge them for that. But I do for having a go at food that obviously is anything but rubbish.
Equally well, there can be people who come over all snooty at the mention of burgers and pizzas. These aren’t true foodies either. Ferran Adria doesn’t look down his nose at simple food. In the end there’s good food, there’s bad food and there’s mediocre food – irrespective of whether that’s gourmet or plain old meat and two veg.
If the food’s good and the ambience is right I don’t really see much of a difference between enjoying jerk chicken from a roadside drum barbecue in the Caribbean and relishing apple caviare with banana foam in a style palace in one of the world’s great cities.
If you really like food, it’s what’s going on inside your mouth that’s important.
However, saying that, more often than not gourmet food is going to excite more. It is simply the nature of the beast.
Note: Zavaroni’s chip shop was a chippie on the Scottish island I grew up on which did stonking fish and chips, especially after the pubs closed.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+