Things to Avoid 14: Sloppiness (戒苟且)

戒單::戒苟且
凡事不宜苟且,而於飲食尤甚。廚者,皆小人下材,一日不加賞罰,則一日必生怠玩。火齊未到而姑且下嚥,則明日之菜必更加生。真味已失而含忍不言,則下次之羹必加草率。且又不止空賞空罰而已也。其佳者,必指示其所以能佳之由;其劣者,必尋求其所以致劣之故。鹹淡必適其中,不可絲毫加減;久暫必得其當,不可任意登盤。廚者偷安。吃者隨便,皆飲食之大弊。審問慎思明辨,為學之方也;隨時指點,教學相長,作師之道也。於是味何獨不然?

List of Things to Avoid::Sloppiness
Sloppiness should not be tolerated for any task, including matters of gastronomy. Cooks are uncultured people of lowly up-bringing, thus if one does not properly reward or punish them, they will begin taking short-cuts and become negligent of their culinary duties.[1] Should you willingly ingest the barely cooked vegetables you were served today, you can be sure it will be served raw to you tomorrow. If you hold your tongue when you are served ruined food, then the dishes served next time will be thrown together even more carelessly.[2] Continued tolerance of such behaviors in a cook would eventually render any future attempts at rewards and punishments useless.

Dishes that were well executed should be identified and praised. Conversely, dishes that were done poorly should be investigated and interrogated upon. The standards of flavours in a dish must be stringently upheld and deviations must not be allowed. Likewise, the length and intensity of the heat for preparing a dish must never be left to the whims of the cook but be explicitly prescribed. Cooks that take short-cuts and diners that do not care; such are the factors that are detrimental to food and cuisine.[3]

Interrogation, introspection, and understanding; these are the principles of building knowledge. Timely advice to a student and lessons that sufficiently challenging; such are principle of being a teacher.[4] Should this not also be true for cuisine?

Random notes:

[1]: The literati did not have a very high opinion of their cooks back then, a clear case of class discrimination. That being said, modern Chinese cooks had refined their shortcut taking skill to such an extent, that in the process of ruining their own cuisines, their more hideous creations eventually morphed into some of the most well known Western Chinese dishes (many examples in American Chinese cuisine and Canadian Chinese cuisine).

[2]: This is why the quality of “ethnic” foods in a town quickly go down the drain when there are not enough people of that ethnicity/culture to demand the same standards and quality. For instance, Montreal has a lot of Chinese restaurants because the local populations have demands for it. However, there are insufficient Chinese people in Montreal to demand better and many times more clientele who are willing to shovel down the fried crap sweet goopy sauce that they are served. A new Chinese restaurant in Montreal that began with serving food that examplify the clean constrasting flavour and textures found in Chinese cuisine quickly degrades to pouring out buckets of that sweet greasy mess, which many North Americans would call “Chinese food”. This process is frighteningly rapid. There was a Sichuanese restaurant that used to be on Rene Levesque across from the SNC Lavalin building that my then fiance and I loved to eat at. So much so, that we decided to book them for our wedding. Eight months later, we were served a meal that was so terrifyingly bad that it was forever etched into my mind. It would have been only slightly worse if they had just served us soy sauce and syrup mixed with grease.

[3]: Contemporary General Tso Chicken is the unholy love-child of these two factors. We need a brave chef to retransform this dish back into something edible.

[4]: I like this philosophy: The diners and critics are the teachers for the chef, providing guidance and introducing challenges to them such that they can grow and develop.

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