January 20, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“You shouldn’t say it is not good. You should say, you do not like it; and then, you know, you’re perfectly safe.”
To understand taste, we need to understand its origins. We need to understand what we’re born with, and what we learn. When we understand the source of our own preferences, we’re better prepared to express, defend, or evaluate them.
First, let’s divide taste into three: Global, or Macro tastes which are common to our species, Cultural, or Medi tastes, those which we share with our culture and our families, and Personal or Micro tastes.
Macro Tastes decide what keeps us alive. These are true tastes; they’re not arguable, they’re not subjective. This is the set of choices which have evolved with the resources of our environment and our bodies. The basis of Macro Taste is Biology.
Medi-Tastes are what we’ve discovered and chosen as a people. These are a combination of tastes and preferences. Medi Taste is biological too, but influenced by geography, whether, and temperament. This is culture, and like all culture it’s bound to its source.
Micro tastes can include fetishes, favorites, bad habits, and sentimental associations. These are preferences. Although we use the word, they don’t really have to do with tastes because they’re too personal, too idiosyncratic. They’re what you like, and that’s all. Here is the inner-kingdom, the place where we all can find our comfort zone. But beware! You contravene nature at your peril! So many of our personal tastes are nearly arbitrary, accidents of place or time. We may forever hate a food which we associate with an illness, or our parents’ divorce. This is why tastes are never arguable, but quite clearly accountable if we look closely enough.
The universal comfort food, the essential food of all humans, is milk. No matter how our opinion may change with later acculturation of our tastes, no normal human, nor any mammal for that matter, will ever have a better meal then its Mother’s milk. This is the Human Baseline.
Beyond that, the tastes created in your first five years or so will become your comfort zone. Also, your culture zone, because if your first meal of milk was the essence of biological taste, meals with family and friends form the tastes of your culture.
But always there is the personal, and as you develop confidence and independence, you’re going to create your own repertoire of flavors which you prefer. Nothing makes these good but your own choice, and that’s wonderful, but it can lead to problems. Remember, you’re not condemned to bad decisions, you can adapt them, re-invent them. These choices can re-form your personal tastes, and, through the filter of biology, you’ll create a personal range of tastes which will never betray you.
The brings us to deliciousness, yummyness and awesomeness. Next week.
January 14, 2013 § Leave a Comment
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
“To show how different wine descriptions can be, we took one of The Chronicle’s current favorite Merlots and compared Chronicle taster W. Blake Gray’s notes with those from two other important wine publications.
The San Francisco Chronicle (Feb. 24, 2005) — “Aromas of blackberry, violet, milk chocolate, orange peel and coffee. Juicy and complex on the palate, with blueberry, violet, coffee and milk chocolate. Tobacco flavor increases with air. Soft but recognizable tannins; medium-long finish.”
Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine (March 2005) — 92 points out of 100. “… this deep and complete wine combines lots of fancy oak with fruit that has both the succulence of flatland grapes as well as some of the structure that comes from its mountain-top home. It is rich in creme brulee character and mixes the ripe cherry fruit of Merlot with the brightness of fresh cranberries in a friendly, open set of flavors …”
Robert M. Parker Jr./The Wine Advocate (Feb. 28, 2005) — 90 points out of 100. “… elegant, with wonderfully sweet black cherry fruit intermixed with a hint of mocha, white chocolate and some background sappy wood notes. Its beautiful integration of acidity and tannin make for an elegant, polished and stunning Merlot ….”
An organized, dedicated vocabulary is useful for communication within a group. Wine experts rely on it, despite its vagueness, because, after all, you have to say something.
But, like metrics, descriptors are, for most people, as much of a speed bump as an aid. How useful is it to know that a single wine might taste like blueberry, violet, cherry, cranberry, mocha, wood, tobacco, orange peel, and creme brulée?
It should be no mystery why the passion for metrics—measurement—has spilled over into language. What descriptors, definitions, and labels provide is for newcomers to don a veneer of experience by learning a few words and phrases.
We can no longer buy so much as a cup of deli coffee without promise of “subtle notes of charcoal”, or a “bright smooth finish”.
If you’re perplexed by this phenomenon, don’t worry. It ‘s not you. It’s them. The cheese counter at your favorite gourmet mecca is probably showered with catch-phrases like “Washed rind”, and “Grassy” or “Lactic”. Well, I’ve been a lover of fine cheeses all my life, yet I don’t really care that a cheese has a “washed rind”, or that a wine has notes of cat urine, (that one’s not a joke by the way). Isn’t it enough to see the thing and taste it? Often it’s as silly as describing a poem as making good use of the past anterior verb form. I’d rather just read the poem.
The Taxonomy Of Desire
Talking about tastes is like talking about colors and forms. It’s for hobbyists, critics, and the terminally insecure. And, perniciously, it can replace the need to develop taste. The great flaw any non-empirical culinary education, (TV, magazines), is the way taste experience is circumvented. The descriptors are only useful when they relate to actual, shared experience.
An accurate measurement for taste is like trying to describe the color Red to a blind person, so we’re left to grope around in the dictionary for adjectives, modifiers, descriptors. And they’re really inadequate.
All this wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but so many people are bewildered and intimidated by arcane language, and it’s useful to understand what it’s about.
There are people who like to swim in the sea, and then there are people who study, codify, collect, tag, and create taxonomies for things which swim in the sea.
It’s the difference between being a student of food, or simply a lover of food.
You can be an ichthyologist, and learn a lot of cool words. Or, like a Dolphin, you might just want to swim.
January 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
How Does Your Dog Smell?
Acuity Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be.
A Dog’s's sense of smell is a million times more sensitive than yours.
Mythical Sommelliers can identify Appellation, vineyard, vintage, of a wine with a single taste, but compared to an average dog, the Sommellier is a block of wood. And yet, humans possess something infinitely more valuable: Imagination, and the dimension of refined taste. There’s clearly more to this than just sensitivity. What about your taste? Does it matter? Well, because another person can never taste exactly what you taste, your taste can only be compared to itself at another time. And that uniqueness makes your tastes meaningful. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
What Cooking Is
When we cook, we use three basic skills. Let’s call them Mechanics, Chemistry, and Ephemera.
Mechanics is the hard work of the kitchen, cutting, chopping, peeling, stirring, tossing, whipping, etc. What children do as helpers. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 29, 2012 § 1 Comment
It’s been suggested that George W. Bush salted his language with an assortment of “Aw Shucks-isms” (‘nucular’, ‘y’all’, ) in an effort to bond with his audience.
Is that what Julia Child was thinking when she began her thirty year love affair with McDonald’s? Or Why Martha Stuart claims to love Spam, and Feran Adria to love Twinkies?
TV personalities are difficult to parse, because, as Oscar Levant observed about Hollywood: “Underneath all that phony tinsel…is real tinsel”. But few of us, even those who should know better, can ever really turn their backs on the nostalgia magnet of our childhood tastes. And, there’s no reason to, so long as we remember the Great Second Rule of taste:
Just because we like it, doesn’t mean it’s good. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In architecture, above all else, quality is what doesn’t fall down. A stair is done well if it’s easy to climb. Windows can be adjusted to the price of glass and of energy.
Architecture is continuously tested, and advances seamlessly as resources or techniques advance. No contest was held forcing us to choose the Arch over the Post and Lintel, it was tried, and it made sense. When things make sense, we follow life’s rules. As Le Corbusier said in response to tenant complaints in one of his buildings: “Life is never wrong.” This is an amazing remark coming from one of the gods of a profession known for its egotism. Imagine a chef greeting a returned Soufflé with ‘Life is never wrong”.
So how did we end up with a diet which is making us sick? « Read the rest of this entry »
November 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.
Is there any objective reason that unsophisticated tastes tend to favor complication? (I use the word complication here, in contrast to the now over-used, “Complexity“, a word which ought to be earned as it’s learned.) I think the answer is yes. Complication is where inexperience can hide. Complexity was once a term used to describe things which improved on second or third experience, whether it was music, food, gardens, etc. Complexity meant that the secrets of a thing were not revealed all at once. Complication, on the other hand, is designed to confuse. « Read the rest of this entry »