My Introduction to Gastronomy class taught by Chef Brian Briwa is really the perfect class to start your culinary education in my opinion. The course is a 3-week look at what gastronomy, or as Chef Brian puts it “an intelligent discourse on how man nourishes himself and the exploits around it”. So far, we have covered the chemical composition of food, the evolution of man in relation to food, and how man utilizes his food (digestion, currency, etc.). I have also shared with you one of the assignments I did for the course (see posting here) regarding my observations on how popular culture should dictate the path of food to a certain degree.
Currently in class, we are discussing (or will be shortly) the concept of authenticity in cuisine. Is there such a thing as an authentic cuisine? Various arguments can be had on whether Group A’s cuisine is closer to its ancestors than Group B, but in the end, does it really matter? One of the most interesting things that arose from my readings today was the notion that food is a dialogue between the cook and eater. To that end, there is never an “authentic dish” because the very nature of authenticity brings up the concept of sameness. To be authentic it nature, a dish must be experienced the same way not only by the cook but also by the receiver (the eater).
This notion has my mind reeling in the implications for what it means not only for my own cooking, but for the countless authentic experiences I have sought out in my own life through “culinary tourism”. Numerous times, I have gone to friends’ homes outside my own ethnicity seeking a taste of their culture. I have uttered the phrase “oh just cook like I am not here…” more times than I dare share. Many times, I pleaded with the cook not to “Americanize” the dish to fit my palate or leave out an ingredient because they feared it wouldn’t agree with my culinary disposition.
However, if we look at eating and cuisine as a dialogue, as I mentioned earlier, then the cook has every right to modify his/her cooking. They modify to ensure enjoyment on my part, not to rob me of some cultural experience. They modify to ensure acceptance of unfamiliar flavors and tastes. They modify to bridge the gap between my culinary ignorance and their culinary excellence…..in many ways, their modification of a dish is a verification of its authenticity and genuineness to me.
The readings this week have made me appreciate my culinary excursions that much more now. I am appreciative that today in my culinary training, I not only received food for the stomach but food for the mind and soul.