Monday, February 2, 2009

Rant in E Minor - The Raw Food Overture

At our house we've become a little obsessed with Top Chef, competition reality TV is somewhat of a shameful indulgeance of ours, add in an endless array of food ideas and inspiring dishes and we're sold. One thing that I don't understand though is some of their obsessions. Marcel from Season 2 seemed positively obsessed with foams and while they're somewhat novel and can add texture to a dish they have no part on top of a fruit tart, or hidden behind the falsely applied "molecular gastronomy" tag. Recently I've seen no less than 8 variations on a Napolean from starters to mains to shockingly dessert. Of all these though the trend that annoys me the most is their current obsession with raw food, which seems to be a current favourite among American foodies.

Australia in the 1990s came to grips with the fact that we're a lot closer to Asia than our European forebears are happy about. Today the trend continues; Starbucks Coffee houses shut down all over Australia while Easy Way Taiwanese Tea stores continued to thrive, Da Niang opened it's first restaurant in the West in Ultimo, Din Tai Fung did with Taiwanese flare what they had done with stoic Chinese efficiency and Tetsuya's continues to dominate the Australian food scene year after year. Unsurprisingly then sushi has gone from a delicacy, to a novelty, to every day eating, to takeaway food bought from the airport, 7/11 and corner outlets manned by a constant influx of foreign students. We've seen raw seafood in every form with mouth watering traditional sashimi, modern Australian and bringing raw tuna into just about every fusion dish there is. I've seen wide eyed Japanese and lip smacking locals consume a veritable ocean of freshly carved raw animals at the fish market and so putting a garnish on it and calling it avante garde smacks of lack of imagination to me.

This week's "Superbowl Sunday" episode of Top Chef main challenge of 12 dishes contained 1 crawfish crudo, 1 raw miso salmon and 2 prawn ceviches for a full 1/3 of the dishes available. Additionally there are some food choices with this trend that make me think they understand fashion more than food, crudo of scallop with vichyssoise? I have all my teeth, I'd like to use them thanks. Not to mention the warm rock shrimp ceviche and raw ahi tuna in Mexican (not to mention my childish snickering at the mention of fish tacos) just leaves in mind food left in the fishing bucket on a hot day. Leave the raw food where it belongs people and stop trying to force the fashion onto other foods.

Perusing the Chophouse menu this week I note that they have brought some of this American raw "proteins" obession with them a carpaccio, a ceviche and a tartare all appear on the starters menu, add in an oyster dish and a serving of cured meat and I wonder that they're actually cooking anything in that restaurant at all.


  1. I love carpaccio, kingfish is my favourite at the moment. I love ceviche, the Tahitian kind is perhaps my favourite, though the ones we had in Hawaii, The Cook Islands and Samoa all impressed. And tartare from Sean's Kitchen made from Angus Beef rocks.

    That said, I prefer my scallops cooked (lightly though, lightly), ditto for my prawns though Manta did a very good job at convincing me that Yamba Prawns could in fact be well treated in a ceviche recently. They however also convinced me that Atlantic scallops, which have to be frozen at sea, are not as good as their local, non frozen counterparts.

    I like lots of raw foods, but it's not the point. The cooking, ie what you do with them, determines my pleasure. The ingredients have to sing. Some do raw, some do cooked.

  2. It's a fine line between fashion and cutting edge food. I, for one, am loving the ceviche trend across Sydney at the moment, but I'm sure I'll get sick of it.

    As for tartare - BLERGH!

  3. Don't get me wrong, I eat my weight in sashimi every year and a good tartare can put me over the moon but most of the choices I've seen in the show just weren't well thought out at all and seem to be simply because raw is what people are doing.

  4. Additionally I gotta say... this weeks episode boggled me... who the hell wants to sit down to watch the football with a ceviche?

  5. You're right - they always think trendy will win. But they are trying to impress the judges. What they forget is that one thing that always impresses the judges, is the patrons being happy. Then they count the effort, and the foams. But it's rare a person who does simple well loses if the audience likes it, to a molecular geek. I am obsessed with the show too.

  6. Tartare at Sean's Kitchen, cannot recommend highly enough.