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November 17, 2014

Everything Old is Nouvelle Cuisine

Small PlateTo be au courant these days, look no further than those restaurants that specialize in “small plates,” or “shared plates.”  If you want your own food, forget about it. At a recent visit to a hot new restaurant, we nearly took off someone’s arm wrestling for that last mouthful of a thumb-size crab cake.

The dishes at shared plates restaurants are meticulously prepared. Instead of spooning a sauce over the dish, it might be dolloped on the plate in a decorative swirl. The chef gets to exercise his or her creativity and the diner gets a one-bite beignet with slivers of mushroom artfully placed, or as a friend likes to call it, “tweezer food.”

But the idea of the small precious food perfectly plated is hardly a new one.

Back in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, several French chefs started a movement away from traditional French fare to lighter dishes using pureed sauces rather than heavy cream. This nouvelle cuisine featured dishes that were a perfect combination of flavors, lovingly presented, but the portions would have suited a shrinking Alice in Wonderland—tiny bites on giant plates. The idea was that big flavors meant full tummies. And the prices for such edible art—let’s just say it was a pretty penny.

Nouvelle cuisine had a short shelf life. Why? The cuisine became caught up in its own French pretentiousness and chefs refused to acknowledge or incorporate the global influences that were knocking on the restaurant door. What’s more, the food itself wasn’t always delicious. Knowing blue from green and emulating the technique doesn’t always make us Picasso. And the same was true for chefs. Just because they knew their paring knife from their butcher knife did not necessarily produce four star cuisine. Especially as nouvelle cuisine spread to other shores (read: America), chefs prepared what they thought were tasty bites of flavor—but kiwi sauce on a sliver of flank steak didn’t cut it. In the hands of less competent chefs, nouvelle cuisine became the equivalent of eating overpriced library paste with a sprinkle of microgreens.

Nouvelle cuisine did bring some lasting changes to the menu, though, such as fresh ingredients and healthier sauces. But as diners hungered for more food at more reasonable prices, nouvelle cuisine became just another passing fad.

Today, while we do love a small plate—in fact a savory pork belly macaron amuse bouche we tasted at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago will always retain a special place in our hearts—we remind ourselves it’s experience food. You go to a small-plate restaurant to indulge in different and innovative flavors and to enjoy a leisurely night out with friends—not necessarily to inhale a big pile of comfort food, which also has its time and place.

But that’s the fun of dining out anyway, right? Taking and evening or afternoon to embrace something different and delicious, and to find a new favorite.

 

Comments

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I really like this cuisine.Food is my favorite and I am foody.I try to taste different kinds of food from all over the world.This is one of my favorite cuisines.The spooning a sauce over the dish, it might be dolloped on the plate in a decorative swirl is looking very beautiful.

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