September 18th, 2009

so hungry

"could you just use bacon fat and red wine?"

Joel Robuchon appeared on Top Chef recently and I had a sudden heightened understanding of something that's nagged at me for a while. I put this in a comments thread on facebook, but I wanted to capture it here in one place.

Robuchon was tasting what a chef called "deconstructed bernaise" and was praising the dish. But he used the word "décomposée" for the sauce. It would seem that the French, who know a thing or two about Deconstruction (a Frenchman having invented the concept), use the phrase "décomposée" to refer to the action American chefs call "deconstruction," the breaking down and recomposing a dish from its elements in order to evoke both the original form and delight the diner with something different . Bryan and Mike I. did a wonderful job on the "deconstruction" (here is the recipe)

But what Everyone Else calls "deconstruction" the Chef of the Century calls "décomposée." This should Not be overlooked!

It is a significant reframing of a major culinary trend of the last several years: chefs are Not performing deconstruction, because Deconstruction is a literary and philosophical movement, not a culinary one! Deconstruction concerns itself with identifying the logocentric nature of texts (and granted they extend "text" to all corners so that a recipe Could be a text) and shearing the words off from each other as the dominant center becomes alienated from the peripheral Others.

Decomposée on the other hand does almost the Opposite of deconstruction because while it identifies a center—in last night's case Bernaise sauce—its intent is to actually reify that center through the constituent parts. Décomposée as performed by chefs reaffirms the primacy of a recipe and invokes its core emotional impact through the reframing of its ingredients. Deconstruction deliberately sets out to imbalance and overthrow the center, and is, as currently used by many cooks, inappropriate for culinary context.

I've never been able to put my finger on why "deconstructed" has felt like such an inadequate—inaccurate!—term in the mouths of chefs. Until Robuchon showed me the way by his fundamentally more accurate description using the term "décomposée."

I believe I lack the cooking skills to conceptualize how one might deconstruct a dish the way one might a literary text. I mean I barely understand basic concepts of literary deconstruction! But it would be an exercise worth considering. I'd like to eat some more foods done décomposée, but I'd also like to see someone take the dare of trying actual deconstruction.

Perhaps for starters it would be very difficult to do properly in a fine dining context because once you start the deconstruction process, you're going to rapidly run into the cultural price paid to enjoy the surroundings . . .
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