I am about to wax nostalgic and not my tan lines, for once. We all go through and experience progressions. In this instance culinary progressions. One thing that irks me to no end when it comes to food is the near absence of sauces on served plates. Less is more does not apply. As a young cook if drops of sauce appeared anywhere on any of my plates I would be extracting a crepe pan from my ear canal delivered by an angry chef. Three drops here, a line there and we have some bad handwriting at the end of a squeeze bottle for all to decode. Google is useless for this puzzle folks.
I love using squeeze bottles and have for several decades. Using them to play connect a dot with the object of making the customers guess what color the sauce is, is nuts. Let alone playing “Guess that flavor or texture”. Cutting corners in a restaurant is pragmatic when it make sense. No one is advocating swamping an entree to hide a small piece of veal or tuna.
Sauces are the backbone of fine cooking methods. This applies to all cuisines and all levels of menu price points. The French, and Italians for example have love affairs with sauces as well they should. Seated at a table with a dozen budding culinary talents at Ciel Bleu no plate made it to the dishwasher with any sauce on it. We used our bread to wipe them clean so we could savor every drop ( no roux s thank you:) that were reduced, emulsified or pureed. Sauces made well have been somewhat marginalized as of late. The focus shifting to other fads and trends in particular artistic presentation. This is not a surprise as no matter where you are in an urban setting there are always shifts in customer and restaurant focus when it comes to food.
Here is the problem for me: “Where the hell is my sauce now?” Sauces can be found in packets, supermarkets, freezers, cans, bottles, farmers markets, freeze dried bags, vacuum packed bubble packs and county fair cook offs. It’s condensed, evaporated, homogenized, brewed, pasteurized, artisan, hand crafted, smoked, strained, frozen, and award winning(always award winning).
Every Sauce label it seems boasts of winning an award somewhere at some far fetched festival. It is to the point where they all get participation trophies just for selling their product. Doesn’t anyone finish last anymore? Just once I want to see someone honestly print ” We were the best but we finished last”.
The hot sauces can be super nova hot & of course death by incineration if desired. Some people insist on reducing their melon to a piece of smoldering charcoal. Something every diner wants when eating out, no? They tout they are fiber rich, gluten free, sugar free(really?)au natural and made just like grandma made it. Trouble was if your grandma was like mine she was half in the bag by dinner………Ergo the introduction of bourbon sauces I think. I hear bourbon and corn flakes can stoke the engine in the morning but I digress.
The damn sauces are everywhere but on my plate. Even at any drive thru the packets are portioned as though we are on life support already when it comes to eating(not far from the truth). Asking for additional sauce just 10-15 years ago was looked at as gluttonous and wasteful due to portions already universally being pretty much in line with the entree/appetizer/dessert served let alone a salad. Now its not so much viewed that way because of the abstemious portions that are prevalent today.
It’s a time when the consumer has never had so many choices for sauces at home that were never an option in years past. Many restaurants have recoiled on what should be a strong suit to draw people in. A talented saucier is golden to restaurant kitchens. More than one is a wealth of culinary riches. Plates swimming in sauces are not the pinnacle of cooking. Drawing a Morse code on my plate gets no thanks from me. Maybe one less artisan bread choice in the basket and and extra ounce of a nice sauce can be brokered when balancing the food cost budget. Maybe we can lose the edible flowers hand picked by Japanese Monks during the Cherry Blossom season or the slow smoked ostrich beaks when garnishing plates. I vote for a reduced duck stock sauce made with fresh raspberry puree and Framboise. I vote nay to free range possum quills added for that “oaky” aroma.
I don’t want my sauces squeezed from packets, re sealed in bottles, re constituted, thawed or new and improved dripped or scrawled. I would like them to be made & served smartly by skilled culinary talent when I dine in restaurants and served in a quantity that I can savor. Which will entice me to return.
I guess the next time I order a five peppercorn sauce with my chicken I will ask if there are only five peppercorns in total on my plate when its served. Or, does Fitz Willie the spice cook adamantly refuse to go over the portion limit for anyone dammit! That’s an extra up charge pal! Dedication does come in all forms.
The real shame is too many crappy sauces are available to us in variations un-imagined as currently as the 90’s. Which in culinary history is almost last week. Many cuisines, styles and compositions too many to name. It’s a good thing to expand the boundaries and ease cooking times at home. Its a bad thing because no jarred or mass produced sauce can match a skilled cook or chef’s sauce making expertise when they have access to what they need. Instant hollandaise should be illegal! Why are no politicians bringing this up? Most of the issues we hear from them are just as irrelevant to reality. At least we can all agree that more sauce rules.
Next time you have the opportunity no matter the venue to really indulge in your meal with a skilled culinary talent making sauces for your pleasure, INDULGE and ask for seconds! The chef’s won’t be offended. Its a great compliment, not a culinary hack. Don’t just settle for bottled sauces because they did not exist not so long ago. I can give you examples of culinary hacks but for sure I’ll be sued……………………….until then stay frosty.