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Why does fine dining have this baffling obsession with purees, sauces and pulps?

This article first appeared in City Press.

by: Anna Trapido | 30 Apr 2017

Pity the super-rich for they are in an evolutionary crisis. I have suspected this for a while now, but a recent visit to chef Luke Dale Roberts’ restaurant at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg has confirmed my worst fears – the über affluent have lost their ability to chew.

Medical and epidemiological research would be required to establish whether it is their teeth or their jaws that have mutated, but something has gone seriously wrong with the functionality of their mouths. The unfortunate souls have had to resort to paying huge sums for supper to overcome their evolutionary shortcomings.

The Saxon’s eight-course tasting menu costs R1900 with local wine pairings and R2100 with international wines.

Everything, not just the sauces and purees, seems to have been passed through a fine sieve to ensure a silken texture. The extensive use of the sous vide technique (where food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag and cooked in a water bath or steam environment) means that even the meat can be eaten with a spoon.

From the first glossy mouthful of beef tataki with goat’s cheese and aubergine puree, through to the slither of poached langoustine with pancetta mussel velouté (a stock-based white sauce) and on to the yogurt crème with dill jelly, it all felt like eating the world’s most expensive baby food. Delicious baby food, though – the flavours offered up were exquisite. But it’s still baby food. Talk about epicurean infantilisation de luxe. Absolutely nothing went crunch all night.

The alternative explanation is that the rich do still have teeth, but they prefer not to use them. If we are what we eat, are Johannesburg’s foodies simply too refined to eat anything that has not been blended or macerated into a slurpable consistency? Is it a form of food phobia? Is it like an elective Caesarean section? Are they choosing not to chew?

Either way, the super-rich deserve our sympathy because all that smoothness means that they are missing out on the pleasures of food with contrasting textures.

Vegetarians may disagree, but, for most of us, there is nothing more life-affirming than using one’s God-given teeth to shear, strip and separate flesh from bone. The satisfaction of a gnawing at and sucking on a bony fowl’s neck for the sake of a few wisps of silky meat is time well spent. Think of the snap of a fresh pea pod and the punchy crackle of seeds.

Ultimately, it is the combination of tastes and textures that makes for a great meal, so those having supper at the Saxon are missing out.

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