[b]Authenticity: Seek and Ye Shall Find
Desperately Seeking AuthenticityThis post continues a discussion begun in the thread "Ixcapuzalco" on the Eating Out in Chicagoland board with this link to the article from which the above citation was drawn.
*But what would an "authentic" cookbook really look like?
By RACHEL LAUDAN, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
And that's the point. Our definition of "authentic" suits our resources, our kitchens, our prejudices and our tastes. It is our selection (and adaptation). At best, the notion is a harmless delusion. At worst it leads us to condescend to others, believing that we, not they, know the true essence of their culinary tradition.
So why keep talking about the authentic? Why not just face the fact that what we have can only truly be "our-thentic"?
While it is true that a slavish worship of the notion of authenticity can itself lead to silliness and pretension and potentially too to stultification, I very much disagree with the facile rejection of the notion of authenticity expressed by Laudan�s words cited hereabove. Indeed, Laudan�s line of thinking as so expressed strikes me as an attempt to bring the politically-correct/ selectively-all-inclusive /anti-elitist/anti-intellectual /let�s-all-feel-good -about-ourselves-no-matter- how-stupidly-we-behave- or-ignorant-we-are approach to cooking; perhaps this is a pose taken in part because it suits the medium and its audience, perhaps not.
In any event, this position I�ve encountered or witnessed many times on the old �General Board� of Chef-du-Claque Leff�s website, where people insist on their right to commit all manner of atrocities to traditional dishes and at the same time claim that theirs is an improved variant of the traditional dish in question and that, further, anyone who disagrees is a pretentious swine who surely doesn�t have the facts straight because they haven�t read the �Ethnic Cuisine for Gumbies� cookbook (a book typically written by some TV �personality�) that they swear by.
People are of course free to cook and eat what they like (within certain simple legal parameters, Mr Hammond �cannibalism is still out) but when someone changes in basic ways the composition of a dish that clearly go beyond the limits of variation conceived of as acceptable by the culture that developed the dish, this is itself an expression of a kind of conceit or arrogance and one that hardly is surpassed by the alleged pretention of those who are interested in learning as much as possible about traditional cooking. It is legitimate to say that, for example, if one wants to make dish X, one must use ingredients a, b and c, optionally also d, all treated in a certain way, but never e or g. That is no prohibition to individuals doing what they want but it is acknowledgement of a tradition and respect for the aesthetic principles which produced and guide a traditional cuisine.
One adapts as one must; some adaptations are merely necessary, some are improvements. Sometimes one experiments and even innovates. But traditions exist for good reasons and our general American inclination to despise or resent them is one of our culture�s less attractive little neuroses (all cultures have their own and this one happens to be one of ours).
�Authenticity� as an abstract and absolute ideal is perhaps not terribly useful but nor is it wholly useless. As a principle which inclines us to try to follow traditional recipes and methods as closely as possible before �kicking it up a notch�, it is what good cooking is all about and not, as Laudan would have it, at best �a harmless delusion.�
Far more deluded is the conceit that the notion of "our-thentic" will lead to anything of lasting worth.