UPDATE: please find the reaction to this post here.
Melbourne is a city in the grip of a culinary phenomenon where any new “so hot right now” restaurant seems to have a cuisine angle. Specifically, offering dishes and cuisines which are foreign to most Australian palates. “Real” Mexican food has enjoyed a huge resurgence of late and it appears the next progression is cashing in on American comfort foods, such as the New England inspired lobster roll served at Golden Fields, or the PoBoy which is cropping up on sophisticated menus around the city, despite being a cheap and (literally) poor man’s sandwich.
The thing that really bothers me about this proliferation is the “emperors new clothes” element. I feel as though many chefs are just seeking new ways to claim or describe their dishes to set them apart, without caring if they are in fact staying true to the item’s namesake. I am all for reinterpretation of food and recipes, but there is a responsibility when there is little or no local knowledge of the original dish to honor rather than exploit it.
For example – the PoBoy is a traditional New Orleans sandwich served in a specialised baguette-style loaf. It nearly always contains deep fried seafood, but sometimes has roast meats instead. CBD based eatery The Bottom End are currently serving a sandwich which is described on their menu as a PoBoy, and contains cold cooked shrimp, chorizo and egg. Not one element of their version actually fits the traditional profile of a PoBoy, but apparently simply calling it a sandwich didn’t fit their “Americana” themed menu, so they improvised.
The most recent newcomer to the scene is My Mexican Cousin (MMC), who have touted themselves as a Creole eatery. Creole is an umbrella term for a broad variety of worldwide cuisines (Haitan, Mauritian, New Orleans etc), generally united by a history of slave culture and cooking. It seems MMC have decided to lump all these highly individual cuisines in one basket under the trendy guise of a food style not previously offered in Melbourne. The mere fact that each of these unique food cultures have been carelessly amalgamated into one convenient restaurant is a diservice in itself.
I have little to no experience with Caribbean and African based Creole foods, but I do have a fairly decent understanding of New Orleans Creole. When press releases for MMC started hitting inboxes, the #creolerage began. The most basic misnomer of New Orleans Creole cooking is that it is spicy. While some dishes can be, it’s generally Cajun food that brings the spice, whereas the refined Creole dishes from New Orleans are rich rather than fiery, with a strong French influence particularly evident in the sauces and preparation techniques. While other Creole foods from around the world may be characterised by their spice, this definition does not fit or accurately represent NOLA Creole.
Let me explain using one solitary dish how I developed #creolerage and why I will not be visiting My Mexican Cousin:
A share item on the menu is advertised as ” ‘boudin’ chicken drumsticks”.
– Louisiana Boudin is a 100% Cajun not Creole food. They are two completely separate cuisines with different characteristics and dishes, and attempting to use them interchangeably is ignorant.
– Boudin is a sausage that is made from pork and rice, and can be either Boudin Blanc or, with the addition of pigs blood, Boudin Noir.
– I was completely perplexed as to how they intended to put sausage inside a chicken drumstick, and what exactly their understanding of Boudin was. When asked, the waiter explained that Boudin was a white sauce with a chicken stock base. They could not offer an explanation of the provenance of this dish, despite the menu reading like an encyclopedia of culinary terms and origins. I took to Google trying to find if one of the other Creole cuisines was the originator of this mysterious sauce ‘Boudin’, attempting to give MMC the benefit of the doubt, but to no avail. Of the hundreds of thousands of results, the only definition and references for Boudin were to a variety of sausage. Even the various Caribbean versions of Boudin are all a type of black pudding/blood sausage. So let me break it down. MMC are trying to serve you a white sauce coated chicken drumstick, and naming the dish after a pork, rice and blood sausage. Yeah, that’s not making a fool of themselves or their diners at all.
– If you really want to see me get snarky, MMC may also want to inform their waitstaff that it’s pronounced “boo-dan” not “boo-don”. It’s Cajun French, chef.
I have no interest in eating in a restaurant with such a high pedigree of chefs and owners who are making such erroneous menu claims. I appreciate that this may in fact be a delicious and well executed dish, but Creole it is not. Melbourne’s discerning diners deserve to be aware of this.
Really, I feel like Melbourne is under attack from the adult-version of theme restaurants, punctuated by menus which require a glossary. Perhaps soon someone will be confident enough to open a restaurant with excellent food that speaks for itself, without having to rely on the gimmick of exploiting a theme.