Don’t Deconstruct My Meal

by Chef Judi Gallagher & Marsha Fottler.

Forgive the rant. You see, I (Judi) am of the chef school where we actually prepare foods. We were taught to match flavor profiles and blend exotic tastes before roasting, searing or grilling at the exact temperature to ensure the ingredients created a near perfect dish. We practiced the five mother sauces until our master-chef instructors deemed it correct and ready to blend into a magical dish of steak diane or jumbo lump crab cakes with béarnaise sauce.

Deconstructed Food!

At a breakfast buffet I will patiently wait to have a chef skillfully create a classic western omelet. I love watching it all come together. So, now comes some oxymoron style of cooking – the deconstructed meal. It’s been a fad for a few years and it needs to go away.

Basically, deconstruction separates the parts or ingredients from the whole recipe and puts them on the plate in a way that is supposed to make the diner appreciate the sum of the recipe by experiencing its various elements. To me, that’s not a meal just a dodge.

If I wanted to mix my own food on my dinner plate at some restaurant, I would have stayed home and opened up a can of tuna and arranged it in a clump next to a nest of chopped onion and a mound of mayonnaise and two slices of bread. Would that be considered food art? Or a sandwich? Please, stop this madness. Next, some restaurant will charge extra to have diners scale their own fish.

I asked my co-publisher and fellow restaurant reviewer, Marsha Fottler to chime in on this ridiculous trend. Marsha, is this whole explosion really our fault? Wasn’t it our generation that first separated the Oreo cookie, eating the white filling before dunking the chocolate cookie into our milk?

I’m with you, Chef Judi, I think the fad has played out and the great chefs of America and Europe need to move on. The deconstruction food trend can be laid at the doorstep of the El Buli restaurant in Roses, Spain. Deconstruction is the passion of (arguably) the world’s most famous chef, Ferran Adria, who looks at food as one big chemistry experiment. Molecular gastronomy is his calling, and in America many highly respected chefs such as Tom Colicchio and Wylie Dufrresne have heard Adria loud and clear. In America deconstruction tends to be an innovative plating style and a way for a chef to bring a highly personalized interpretation to a common recipe.

At its most instructive, deconstruction forces a diner to contemplate the parts that go into the whole of a recipe. We should ask, does deconstruction command new respect for authenticity and the integrity of ingredients? Does deconstruction compel a new appreciation of how ingredients can be reworked to form a riff on a classic? Maybe for some, not for me. When I’m paying for lunch or dinner in a restaurant I love, I want the meal composed and constructed in the kitchen by a chef. I’ll respect what he or she has done with the ingredients when I take the first bite.

I thought deconstruction was just an annoying fad and that it was on its way out the back door of restaurant kitchens across Europe and America. But, recently Ferran Adria closed his famous restaurant in Spain for good (not his traditional annual six month hiatus) in favor of opening a global workshop where young chefs can come and experiment with the chemistry of food.

And recently I opened one of my beloved shelter magazines to see that my favorite celebrity chef, Ina Garten, has deconstructed strawberry shortcake for a change-of-pace dessert we all might like to try at home. I so hope she was being satirical.

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