Perfection is overrated.
Sometimes the reminder is right there in front of you.
This is from the Market Outlet shop in the Strip District. Everything in the place, apparently, is returnable except for Steelers gear. More of a commitment needed than for 79-cent ham, I guess.
The entire place is a reminder that presentation isn’t everything. So what if the candy’s a little melted if it’s still good? The best meals can come from a country general store with a slanted floor. Or in a falling-apart wood shack on a pier. Or in a corrugated three-walled lean-to with a smoker out back. A nice plate and a cloth napkin won’t make ribs or tacos taste any better.
But then I’m the kind of guy who thinks the word “toothsome” isn’t real and should be banned from all food writing.
I don’t discount presentation entirely. There’s no way I would have spent $5 across Smallman buying a thing of Aelea red Hawaiian salt at the Pittsburgh Public Market if that were true. The money to support live Irish music as one considers the elk sausage or the artisinal jams has to come from somewhere.
But as with anything on a plate or in a glass, there should be a reason behind it. Not reason, simply, but a reason.
A reason can be irrational. Maybe even a little dangerous or crazy. Great that the Godiva martini comes with a rasher of chocolate-glazed bacon as a garnish, or more basically that an order of seared scallops comes with rich dots of infused oil that combine on the fork into a sauce. But why not just make a Godiva martini? A sauce in the kitchen and be done with it?
Depends on the place, the chef, maybe the owner’s budget, what the eater is supposed to get out of the experience. I’d rather eat something that tasted good and looked frighteningly awful than the other way around. The truly sublime is something only sealed on the palate.
There are too many jobs that offer no creative challenge, no technical challenge beyond that. Cooking shouldn’t be one of them. What I want is food that accomplishes something for its maker and its eater. Brilliance is never rote.
There is always room for whimsy and extravagance. Of course there is. As long as there is also purpose beyond ego.