Cheers to tradition

Written by Magandeep Singh | Magandeep Singh | Updated: Jan 30 2011, 05:43am hrs
I am writing this from one of Europes biggest gastronomic conferences, and what I am eating is of no importance or relevance. Suffice to say that it is the stuff jealousy is composed of. But more than the food, it is the food for thought that has given a lot to digest.

There was a time when food and wine were an exercise. More than just a necessity, they were an everyday challenge. Wine protected us, as an antiseptic, something that water, being easy to contaminate, couldnt always promise. To preserve wine then was an even more arduous task.

Food was not just rare and lacking in variety, it was also hard to store and serve. As a result, our quotidian issues were seemingly simple yet more life and death.

Today, serving food and wine not only gives us all sorts of options, it is barely a task at all. From cooking to reheating, procuring to just dialling it in, nothing is so incredible about feeding ourselves anymore. Food and wine are finally a banal boring reality of our existence.

This is where I start enjoying whatever it is I do and lets, for sake of ridiculous argument, call it my job. Attending this convention with all the wise chefs and all the wise wine-men has shown that people realise this ennui and trying hard to remove it.

Take food for example; what else is molecular gastronomy if not an effort to redefine our dining experiences, to play with our senses, tantalise and taunt, tease and tempt, all in an effort to bring that magical spark back. And sommeliers too, try to resuscitate, trying to heighten our sensorial high, so to speak. All are like specialists, doing the best they can to make it all come back. Much like an old marriage really, come to think of it.

Ideally it should work. Restaurants like El Bulli have been serving to a packed house since over a decade. Well they barely have 25 covers, so maybe not the best case in point, but I can mention many others that are larger and yet impossible to find a table at. Wine companies, too, have done good to see increased sales. New fangled concepts of food are quite the norm: from peach-flavoured mango leaves to beer foams, from algae-wraps to textural changes in the same ingredientall is possible.

What was strange then was that, last evening at a meal when they brought out little morsels of what looked like meats all in the name of food, it all seemed a tad strange, and not just to me. Finally, when the main course came and it looked like a slab of something juicy and flavourful, we all relished it. In short, while we enjoyed being played around with the small gimmickyseeming bites, it was good old solid food that brought us true joy. Similarly with wine, serving cider is great, and it can be qualitative, but it still doesnt match what a good wine does to food.

The lesson for me was simple. While playing and toying and experimenting is great and must be encouraged, and even lauded, it can never replace tradition. And tradition is never boring. Ask yourselves when was the last time you had well-made butter chicken and didnt entirely relish it, and for a minute, leave the greasy guilt-pangs out of it.

While the chefs did a fantabulous job, in the end, it was good old food, the filling kind, that won our hearts, and palates, and stomachs. Experimental food is good once in a while, to see how and where the imagination is flowing in this day and age, but tradition is the yard-stick to measure all things to come.

The chefs who wish to be imaginative can dig deep back into tradition and find innovation galore to enthral us all. Winemakers are always finding old ways to make wine, to preserve and enhance flavour. All is needed is adaptability so that traditions are preserved in an up-to-date manner.

Be it in wine, or in food, or clothing, housing, travel, or any other aspect of livingno matter how far we explore, tradition is where it was always at and tradition is where it will always somehow stay rooted.

The writer is a sommelier