Thanks but I couldn’t eat another micro herb
Some years ago an exotic dance venue in Adelaide by the name of Checkmates hit upon a novel lunch promotion. It was called schnitz ‘n tits.
While in this enlightened era most of us embrace the principles of feminism, it still seems a shame that schnitz ‘n tits is no more, as it was without a doubt the most hilariously stupid marketing concept of all time.
Checkmates was something of an institution in Adelaide. Not that I would know as stripping is not my cup of tea, nor is the idea of tucking into a parmy while a young lady called Trixie flashes her bosoms about the place while asking if you’d like regular salt or chicken salt on your chips.
You can chalk up the demise of schnitz ‘n tits as a victory in the battle against the objectification of women. You can also hail it as confirmation of the seriousness and pretentiousness which now surrounds the once simple business of eating. It wouldn’t be surprising if the people at Checkmates have abandoned the parmigiana for molecular gastronomy, or are going after that niche market of people who subscribe both to Gourmet Traveller and Hustler, offering an all-nude degustation with matching wines.
Other stupid dining experiences have fallen by the wayside. There was a pub in the Hills which for years ran a contest called “Parmageddon” where if you managed to eat a schnitzel the size of a Monopoly board you would be presented with a trophy before collapsing in the corner. That too is no more.
In this post-Masterchef era, when chefs are talked about in the same laudatory tones as movie stars, fussiness and showiness are the defining features of so-called high-end cooking. And I am not sure what is sillier - Parmageddon, or the tiny piece of kangaroo fillet I paid a small fortune for at a flash restaurant recently, which came served with a shot glass of perfumed smoke which added little to the dining experience, save for feeling like you were eating your main while lying under the exhaust pipe of an old Torana.
Such culinary theatrics are rife across the restaurant industry and confirm Elizabeth David’s excellent point, made back in the 1970s when the scourge of nouvelle cuisine was sweeping the planet, that the fad had less to do with the enjoyment of food than portion control.
There are several things which highlight the trend towards food wankery. Even in the domestic setting people talk not about serving food but “plating up”. People now spend more on coffee machines than they did on their first car. Most of us know what a cloche is, which is handy if you want to lend a dramatic quality to serving the Easy Tuna Pasta Bake you tore out of Super Food Ideas. The amuse-bouche is creeping out of the restaurant and into the home.
Much modern cooking pays scant regard to seasonality and fails to recognise that classic dishes are classics for a reason, in that they have been cooked for centuries because they marry simple and seasonal ingredients to delicious effect. So many modern recipes are just about showing off, piling disparate and ponsy ingredients together – micro herbs, anyone? – to show the diner that the chef is a genius. It’s for this reason that the second-tier family-run ethnic restaurants are often so much more relaxing and rewarding than the fancy joints.
The most fun I have had at a restaurant this year was at a Japanese place called Komachi in Sydney at a family dinner on the last school holidays. The meal combined simple, quality food with some unexpected and welcome stupidity. As we tucked into some top-notch sashimi, the proprietor came out and tied a kamikaze headband around a young diner who had decided to take what is called “The Ramen Challenge”, a massive 2 litre bowl of ramen pork noodles which if consumed within an hour entitles you to a refund and a $50 voucher.
As all this was happening the theme from Rocky started to blare out over the stereo, just to let everyone know the contest was underway. Brilliant stuff, and certainly not the kind of thing you’d find at El Bulli or The Fat Duck.
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