So remember that time I wrote that blog post on that “creole” restaurant that opened up in Melbourne which led to a huge debate over authenticity? Yeah well, I’m kinda floored by how far the debate over food authenticity in this city has gone.
I’m not arrogant enough to assume my little post was the starting point of any such dialogue within the food community here, but for my own journey it was the beginning, and an interesting exchange on Twitter this week has me again thinking about the issue of “authenticity”.
When I wrote many months ago about My Mexican Cousin, the purpose was not to demonstrate my knowledge of Louisiana cuisine as being superior to theirs, or even to scoff from lofty heights of food snobbery. The number one reason I was driven to write the open letter was because (at the time) out of 15+ menu items, only one dish had any sort of connection to Louisiana Creole food. They’d advertised their fare as being Louisiana Creole, yet been developing their recipes from a Caribbean cookbook.
I thought then, and still believe now, that such an enormous discrepancy warranted a correction. This wasn’t interpretation gone awry, but rather an actual miscommunication of the brief between owners, management and chef, which the restaurant later attempted to correct.
So yeah, seems reasonable in my mind that the dining public should at least be made aware that (at the time) they were not eating something even similar to the cuisine that the restaurant was advertising.
Flash forward a couple of months, and the question of authenticity within the Melbourne dining scene appears to have reached preposterous heights. It seems with every new foreign-based-cuisine restaurant that opens, nothing is more important that how authentic it is, as though it’s the ultimate marketing objective and message.
For some eateries, the pursuit of authenticity will even surpass the importance of the food, engaging the whole “I don’t care if you like it or not, because at least it’s authentic” mentality.
Well folks, that way of thinking and the emphasis placed on authenticity has become just plain ridiculous.
Yes, I definitely think that the food needs to at least have a connection to it’s cuisine of origin. But let’s take tacos, for example. Can we all agree that a taco is in fact a taco so long as it is made with a tortilla (flour OR corn!) and has some kind of filling? And can we then simply judge said taco on how good it is, or how much we enjoyed it, rather than how authentic it is?
Yesterday, a chef decided to grace myself and Red River BBQ with his esteemed opinions on our cuisine. This American, who has a truly impressive resume of work in acclaimed kitchens, argued (in 140 characters or less) that we had no right to call our food Texas BBQ, because only BBQ made in Texas, from Texan cows (and presumably by Texans) can be considered Texas BBQ.
Despite an interjection from Daniel Vaughn (a veritable Texas BBQ authority) who weighed in on the conversation of his own accord to correct some of the chef’s misconceptions, this chef continued to argue that even something like the terroir of the cows and microbes in the water determine authentic Texas BBQ.
Sparing you the rest of the exchange, the logic behind the chef’s argument was that no cuisine can be deemed authentic outside of the parent country. So by the same reasoning, any restaurant attempting anything other than Australian or innovative cuisine apparently now needs to have the word “style” in it’s name.
So when it comes to the issue of authenticity, who is setting the standards? What are the guidelines? And most importantly, does it actually matter?
Posted on Jul 18, 2012