BY CHEF DEZ
There are people who feel that their food preferences or knowledge may not reflect what is correct or up-to-date in the culinary world. This is completely understandable as there is always an endless supply of information and techniques. This does not commensurate however that one should be ashamed, or be denied of the right, to express their passion for this necessity in our lives.
One of the many things that I love about food and food preparation is that I never stop learning. One can never know everything in this industry and I consider it to be one of ‘the arts’ like music or painting. Never can every musical note and lyric, colour and design, or food flavour combination be ‘used up’. It is literally impossible. No matter how much or little you know, chances are you have preferences in your appreciation of this medium that is both an essential and an indulgent part of our lives. This individuality not only guides you to determine likes or dislikes, but defines you as who you are.
Carving a baron of beef in a buffet line-up at a hotel many years ago, I was approached by and elderly woman with an empty plate. As always, I asked the level of doneness preferred. Looking nervous, she whispered, “I know it’s not the right way, but I prefer an extra well-done piece.” So I asked her, “What do you enjoy?” and she repeated, “Extra well-done” with a sense of bewilderment. “If that’s what you enjoy,” I stated to her, “How is that the wrong way?”
Many people lose site of this and in the meantime get blackballed, bullied even, by a definition governed by the culinary world. The ‘textbook’ doneness for red meat is medium-rare for optimal flavour, juiciness and tenderness. This is merely guideline however, and not meant to overrule one’s preferences. If you don’t enjoy red meat medium-rare, then it is not the right way for you.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rare steak, but I also know it is not the doneness of choice by everyone. I am certain that my opinion stated in this column will not be agreed upon by everyone, but I also know that it will be highly regarded by many who have been criticized in the past for their preferences.
As long as one continues to seize opportunities to try new foods and preparation techniques, and keep testing their boundaries, then there should be nothing wrong with their final individual evaluation. The culinary world is full of guidelines, but the sooner people realize that these ‘guidelines’ are not necessarily ‘laws’, the better off everyone will be.
Dear Chef Dez:
Recently I went to a restaurant and ordered a well-done steak. The server advised me the chef in the kitchen refused to cook my steak of choice to that degree of doneness. What is your opinion on this?
Depending on the cut of steak, most restaurants will fulfill your request. Some however feel that for a top grade cut of beef, cooking it well-done is a waste. It just dries out the optimal flavour and tenderness that a choice cut is expected to offer the consumer.
I think the situation should have been handled differently. You should have been advised that the kitchen doesn’t recommend ‘well-done’ for the selection of steak you made, and offer you a different cut. If at this point you still insisted on your original choice, then your request should have been honoured.
I feel as professionals it is our obligation to educate people on the culinary guidelines that we are trained in and to make appropriate suggestions. If, however, the consumer still chooses otherwise, their wish should be respected and their individuality recognized.
Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary travel host and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com.