The next clash of civilization : those who think we can stick to a plain cheeseburger and those who think we can transform it and bring it to new heights.
Thinking again about the movie « The Menu » with Ralph Fienes starring as the famed and disillusioned chef, I realize how much it polarizes two approaches of the world to the point of opposing these visions into the next clash of the Titans. In the left corner, the let-it-all hang out, what’s the point, easy is good, trans-fatty salty sweet dopamine, in no way am I going to be labelled as a stuck-up, and in the right corner, the overrated frills seeking fad-lovers, quibbling over details, ranting over vain perfection, probably scoundrel new money arriviste with no taste, except the one given by his wallet.
Worse, there isn’t even the notion that one can have the ability to enjoy both worlds, a sloppy burger at noon and fine dining in the evening. In fact, you’re probably a traitor or an apostate if ever you have even the faintest inkling of pleasure whilst savoring in full consciousness a refined meal, seeking the various flavors that could be hidden in each bite like a treasure that begs for attention to be discovered. No, you are required to sit back and let the dopamine take over, bite in and chew mechanically.
In fact, it boils down to the century old battle between mediocrity and the accusation of how excess refinement is only another way to take power over those less prepared to investigate the subtleties of nature.
The issue is that this battle has been construed around accessibility vs. exclusivity, popular vs. upper-class, penniless vs. well-to-do, cool vs. snobby.
Certainly, those better off have more means of giving the impression of refinement, even if they are not the originators of the subtleties and recherche - mindful investigation - leading to the treasured result, be it a unique champagne, a three star meal, or the talented organization of a well orchestrated evening.
But the whole idea around gastronomy is first and foremost about effort. And effort is accessible to everyone. Whether it be effort to be curious, to be open, to test and try, to improve, to transform, be it matter or manners.
Effectively, the question is of effort. But of doing what? Transforming what? And to what extent? Erasmus the philosopher detailed proper manners in his treaty published in 1530, explaining simple things such as not serving yourself first, or not throwing your chewed bones on the floor.Transforming matter is heating ingredients, preparing a salad dressing, cutting finely or roughly a tomato.
The entire question rather is how much transformation and to what purpose. Too much transformation, whether it be an unrecognizable dish in a high-end restaurant or the industrial transformation of that cheese only serve to build up icons of a cleaved world. Indeed, keeping the burger plain and greasy allows for one group to hold up its emblem. On the other side, transforming manners excessively or meddling with substance - fresh food - to the point of losing the initial flavor boils down to another form of segregation.
Interestingly enough - and I am using the word interesting with intent as anything interesting seems suspicious to many - interestingly enough, I’ve seen these same postures in the realm of business. On one side of the ocean, this willingness to just get it done, stop fancy-thinking and get down to the point, and on the other side of the Ocean, an interminable strategic meditation, hair-splitting nitpicking, finicky detail haggling snobbyism.
And this is where true gastronomy can be a guide to the valiant manager or entrepreneur. With the meal starting at 8:00, there is no time to fuss around. This time-triggered discipline pushes toward action. On the other hand, differentiation and value can only come with a minimum of reflection, ideas and transformation. So creativity and pragmatism will have to coexist. And this is the role of people who are passionate about their craft, such as company managers or the cooks in the movie.
Unfortunately the final scene lays a wretched veil on all the effort nurtured, excellence seeking soldiers preparing the refined and thought out gastronomical opus; even though these are the people we must remember as they are the ones who toil and most likely resemble my kind auditors; because having listened so far, you have made considerable effort.
And this is where business has a lot to gain: the effort to get away from ideology or societal cleavages which push some to keep it stupid and others to make it indigestible. Action needs thought and thought needs action. Complicating a business process or a dinner just to look good or justify a salary will make for a terrible result, just as ditching in the usual feel-good ideas that do the same thing as sugar or fat: give you a buzz with no further result except an extra load of ill-transformed notions.
So as a conclusion, it is not a battle of the sleazeburger against the posh diner, it is above a battle between laziness and effort. And what the whole movie misses - aside from the lack of any gastronomical conversation at those tables - is that the effort is made for a greater ideal, not for whimsical ungrateful customers.
Featured Image : Burger by Horace Panter
The same movie but with a different take and especially an incredible overview of European burgers from Gastroillogica.
Discovered in a library in Bologna, Italy : Hamburger Gourmet by David Japy, élodie Rambaud & Victor Garnier. Now that’s what the cook should have prepared!
And for those dropping by Toulouse, France you can discover the Italian variant of the Burger