Saturday, January 26, 2008

Culinary Crimes, Part One (One Man's Crusade Against Evil)

Somewhere along the line, paprika became the culinary equivalent of teal in the late 80's: a gaudy, vulgar, embarrassing affectation mistaken by the hopelessly middle-class for some mark of sophistication and upper-class élan. How did this happen? What cook came up with the idea of finishing off his dish at the Middle Class Family Restaurant, by dumping paprika all over everything? And why did anyone ape him? Why did anyone think he knew anything?

And if dumping paprika all over dishes which have NOTHING to do with paprika wasn't unforgivable enough, not mentioning the paprika dump on the menu must be. You never know anymore when that prime rib, or veal cutlet, or three cheese omelette, or fish and chip plate, is going to show up at your table with that rotten orange powder all over everything. So now, out of a sense of justice, culinary sense (I like to imagine), and because I hate the stuff, I immediately send everything back which has the paprika dump, and then I deliver a cutting two minute speech to the manager or waiter about why they should respect paying, hungry customers by telling them ahead of time that the dish they ordered will have weird crap that totally alters the taste dumped all over it - and "why do you dump the stuff on there anyway?", etc.

Reactions vary. One guy said once, "they do that to add color". (WTH?) I'm like, "Color?! What about the TASTE? Would you spread tomato paste or blue tempera paint all over everything just for 'color'?". Another lady, at an otherwise nice Greek restaurant, said, "I don't know why the cook started doing that. And I've told them a million times to put it on the menu, but they won't". I heard something similar a few months ago here in Victoria when my perogies and sausage showed up showered in the loathsome dust. I rolled into my speech, and the waitress - SORRY, "server" - said that she had told the managers to announce it on the menu repeatedly, as more and more customers had been sending the "Paprika Surprise!" dishes back ("let us begin the revolution, comrades!"), but that they hadn't changed it yet. (In any case, they did make me up another plate of [untainted] perogies and sausage, so - deo gratias - I was able to calm down...).

But what about a high-class culinary crime? What about...(shudder)...the rejection of big, sloppy, gloriously sinful chocolate cake by high-falutin' restaurants all over the place? For going on a decade now, the chocolate "cake" these pretentious tombs serve has been getting drier, harder, denser, and tinier. It's like the Big Bang in reverse or something. (There's something really wrong when you need a STEAK KNIFE to cut a piece of your chocolate cake). Where is the AIR, people? Where is the FUN? Where is the SAUCE? Where is the MOIST, MELT IN YOUR MOUTH FROSTING? Where is the OOOOOOZE?! ("Hallelujah"). "Where is the LUSCIOUS, PEOPLE?!" ("Amen!"). "WHERE IS THE LUUUUUV IN YO' CHOCOLATE CAKE, BRUTHAS AND SISTAHS?!" ("Amen, Lawdy!").

All that stuff is gone now, not just in the high-end joints, but even in many middle class pubs and diners. We are experiencing a veritable apostacy from the one, true chocolate cake. All you can get now in most restaurants is something resembling a miniature hockey puck, which tastes vaguely like one of those little Ex-Lax wafers your grandma used to eat (and is getting to be about the same size [as the Ex-Lax wafer, not your grandma, that is]). About the only place you can still get True Chocolate Glory (TCG) anymore is at Denny's, or low-end mom and pop family restaurants which are so "out of touch" they've never even heard they're not "supposed" to be serving it anymore.

There IS hope, however. For years, mashed potatoes were abandoned by fine restaurants around North America (what idiots these people are....) Now, everyone has them. So maybe the fancy places will get their Choco-Mojo back on soon. It doesn't hurt to hope.

Please add your nominations for culinary crimes in the comments section. Together, we can destroy these monstrous expressions of evil BEFORE THEY DESTROY US.


Leonard Susskind said...

I make a legendary chocolate cake. Here is my elegantly simple recipe for chocolate frosting that will make you think your mouth just had sex:

3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1 cup any good quality cocoa powder

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (important)

1/2 cup milk, room temperature (very important)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions: Mix. Spread on cake. Eat. Orgasm. Smoke cigarette.

My vote for food crime: anything that wasn't made fresh that morning on the premises. Also, too much cultural intermixing. "Fusion dishes", they like to call them. It's starting to get outrageous. I don't want to eat "Asian Strudel", made out of pureed lychees and wonton skins, okay? I want to eat GERMAN strudel, mit Äpfel.

zalia said...

I've acquired a taste for cilantro. However, I hate it when they pour it on every dish like it's the main course.

Guinevere said...

Cheesecakes have also been going down in decadence for a while. I'm a die-hard fan of a GOOD chunk of cheesecake, and used to be able to get it from just about any restaurant. More and more the flavor just isn't there when I order a slice.

Also, I think mace should make a comeback. Sure, nutmeg works, but mace just has that extra oomph of flavor.

Lois said...

I am glad to have a forum for a true dessert list I have been cultivating for some time now. I am a bit of a purist, I will admit it, even though I am a a certifiable pastry chef.
I am very tired of seeing things like cheesecake that has been wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried. While it might taste okay and pull in at about 15,000 calories a slice, these restaurants are totally missing the point that in dessert we are 1) satisfying the sweet urge to offset the savory we have just finished and 2) recreating memories, which bring me to my point. Every restaurant needs:
1. A good, Jewish cheesecake with the thin sour cream layer on top. Not pasty dry, but dense. Sauces are all good but don't insult us with crushed oreos or things like that. Save that junk for the Dairy Queen, my friends.
2. A good apple dessert, i.e Granny's double crust apple pie. If you add raisins, I may have to draw my revolver. Stop messing up the purity of these classic desserts. This should be served with real vanilla bean ice cream made on the premises. A crumble would work, too, if people could refrain from adding cranberries and bizarre nouveau combinations that would make the French gasp in horror.
3. The Ultimate chocolate cake and I may draw criticism in admitting that Hellman's Ultimate chocolate cake gets a five star rating in EVERY category according to my sophisticated, well educated palette. Again, the house ice cream.
4. A sundae. Yeah, a sundae with real topping or on top of a real chocolate chip cookie (which by the way, does not include nuts) or on top of a brownie, real whipped cream, no gummy worms.
A fruit option, a dairy option, a frozen option, a cake option,you know. This is basic. A little something for everybody.
I extend a plea to establishments everywhere to bring back the purity of the dessert. Anything pure and classic, I will accept. Creme brulee, sorbet selection, a classic tart, the possibilities are endless but STOP with the new fangled ideas and learn from hundreds of years of culinary experience. If you don't know what that is, you can check out the Larousse Gastronomique from your local library.

Lois said...

Oh, the culinary crime. I almost forgot. Anise seed and capers. Vomitrocious!

Tal said...



Rhubarb in fruit pie. UNFORGIVABLE!

When I order a BLACKBERRY pie, I want a BLACKBERRY pie; NOT a Rhubarb and Blackberry Pie. These losers keep putting rhubarb in for "structure". Would they put in CELERY for structure? Toothpicks? Little chunks of okra? "Structure" comes from your homemade, toasty CRUST and proper treatment of the blackberries or raspberries or strawberries themselves - not from weird other vegetables. Gross!

erlybird said...

Leave the Rhubarb OUT...Yes...leave it OUT...unless...

You are making my mother's recipe for Rhubarb Torte. Just Rhubarb. Yummy, graham crackery crust on the bottm about 1/2 inch thick, then the 1/2 inch thick rhubarb layer with enough tartness to drive away the riff-raff sweet-toothers, and then to top it off, a full inch thick layer of stiff Meringue, browned by the baking on its wave-like breakers, weeping golden pearls of Meringue juice, like flotsam on a frothy sea.

But the thing that was missing, and I never knew the true tragedy of it until I was out of the house and gone down the road of aduthood...and ex-Mormonism...was the COFFEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

And, yeah, paprika sucks.

Melissah said...

Chocolate cake: put choc. Frosting in the mix. or add eggs for moisture.

I didn't realize peprikahad a flavor. ah well, now I know. Guess this was a fruitful crusade, maybe Ill-named. Not sure if it communicates your type of battle nor if paprika is truly evil, oh, I get it, that's the comedy of it all.

Some other helpful tips:
1) bread machnes make better dough.
2) when making biscuits dip each in Butter favored crisco and bake on an In skillet and use " 's" self-rising flour.
3) Everying taste better with real butter.
4) use a fruit baller to make drop cokies al the same size.
5) pepperoni doesn't make good jerky, neither does salami.
6) real Italianas don't eat bread with their pasta (i wonder if anyone told them yet).

wishiwasjane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wishiwasjane said...

Culinary crime #1 for me... raisins. Keep them out of my strudel, apple pie, turnover, cinnamon rolls, oatmeal cookies, carrot cake, etc. etc. Since when does a dried grape go with carrots? since when should a turnover have chewy bites? This also includes grapes in my chicken salad, and white grapes in my sauce or my lettuce salad. Have you people gone mad??

I also completely and totally agree with the paprika, anise (gag), capers, and cilantro overdose, I have to say that nothing wrecks bread for me like caraway seeds. (it actually wrecks everything for me)

(*note- last comment deleted because I spelled 'raisins' wrong. It wouldn't let me edit it :o)-

Guinevere said...

Although I don't mind raisins in cinnamon rolls, I generally agree with the anti-raisin/grape sentiment. I don't like finding raisins in my carrot cake, but have always figured it's a cross-over from the delicacy known as carrot-raisin salad.

One exception I found is a very delicious medieval recipe I used at Christmas that was listed under the very Seussical name, "Sauce for a Gos" but is really a general poultry stuffing, made with grapes, parsley, and a couple other things, that is cooked inside a bird, scooped out, then oh-so-medievally put in a food processor and made into thickish sauce that you put over the meat.

Tal said...

Raisins in everything SUCKS, and I HATE caraway seeds in my rye. Good call.

I'll post a new blog entry shortly, sorry for the delay.

Su said...

I believe that you'll discover the "paprika dump" is actually an homage to the infamous "paprika dump" of antiquity (specifically the 1950's and early 1960's). Even in the 1970's, I remember my mother believing that if it had paprika, it instantly turned into dinner party cuisine, as opposed to your average weekday meal. Paprika made the roast chicken, otherwise humble potato salad and the devilled egg, suddenly exotic. I am guessing that younger foodies are simply falling under the spell of the "paprika mystique"---as it's obviously so steeped in history.

As for culinary disasters---down here in Australia it would HAVE to be Asian fusions gone wrong. As shocking as this sounds, not everything tastes good when it's doused in lime juice and fish sauce.