Friday, September 19, 2014

Fine dining?

A few weeks ago ABC's farming program, Landline, featured a segment on "a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Adelaide [who] has made it her mission to provide top chefs with produce to really make a plate pop".  It was quite hilarious to see chefs rave on about mini heirloom veges, unusual salad greens and fancy herbs, because that's about all I can grow in my own garden!  There's not much that I grow that makes it past miniature, apart from the greens and the herbs that grow like weeds.  When I cooked dinner with some tiny thinned carrots, kale and chopped chervil, I told Pete it was "fine dining" and that my garden is a success after all!

fine food from my garden

Growing and eating much of our own food has given us a different perspective on food and dining out.  We used to go out for pub dinners every couple of weeks, but then we both realised that most of the "food" was either frozen and deep fried, or straight from a packet, and it was making us feel sick.  It does make it difficult to order from a menu when you can mentally cross off all the options that you have in your freezer that are going to be better quality and better tasting than anything the pub is going to serve up.  And in rural Queensland, the options for fine dining are pretty limited beyond pub meals!  Now days we prefer to cook our own food, and we only go out to eat if we know the food is going to be really good.  We would rather pay more for the occasional good meal than frequent awful pub food.

When I heard about Ronnie Scott's new book Salad Days on an ABC interview, I was intrigued and requested a copy from Penguin to review.  The book aims to answer the question "In a culture that both pillories and idolises fine food, can it ever possibly be morally decent to spend $500 on a meal?".  The book is short at only 45 large print pages, but it does make some very interesting points.

In the end, the only justification that Ronnie can come up with is that fine dining, or cuisine, is the food equivalent of art.  He admits that its frivolous, but that we pay for the dining experience rather than the food.  Which then raises the question, what is the difference between art and frivolity?  In a consumer society, where do we draw the line between our "needs" and mindless consumption?  Who hasn't spent a frivolous $500 on something, concert tickets, a holiday, a stereo, an artwork, a kitchen appliance?  What's the difference?

I didn't actually expect this book to convince me that it was ok to spend $500 on a meal, but somehow it has made me consider that I don't think twice about spending $500 (or more) on things that I personally enjoy.  So if Ronnie really does enjoy find dining, and that's how he wants to spend his money, who am I to judge?  Personally, I would rather spend $500 on something that would help me to grow my own fine food, but that's my choice.

A very thought-provoking little book, thanks Ronnie!  What do you think?  Would you ever spend $500 on a single meal?  Do you spend in other frivolous ways?



6 comments:

  1. I find it hard to spend frivolously, and often sit there eating a restuarant meal knowing that I could have made it just as well or better. I do agree though, that my microgreens and tiny herbs add a little bit of art to my food. I have been practicing mindful eating for some time now. the fact that I spend so much time growing my food means that I want to get the most of it when I eat it.

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    1. Haha, isn't it a horrible feeling knowing you could have done a better job! I agree, everything tastes better when you grow it yourself :)

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  2. That one meal would feed our family of four, for a month. We don't really do frivolous which uses large chunks of money. No holidays for us, because if we get time off, we'd rather spend it enjoying our property. The closest I can think of coming to frivolous spending, is buying a gaming console for my kids. Even then, it was purchased with the intent of saving us money on broadband usage during the school holidays. Otherwise they always want to be using the computer.

    I think it all boils down to where you live though. As you suggested already, rural areas generally only have pub meals for fine dining experiences. Anything more attractive, requires a long drive in the car, which all has to be factored into the cost of the meal. Living in a high density area however, with lots of different restaurants available with public transport too, and going out for an expensive meal, more than once a year, starts to look more attractive.

    We used to live in Brisbane, and the best dinning experience we had was at a small, privately owned restaurant. It was built into one of those old shop-front houses in the middle of suburbia. They baked and served our appetizer bread in little terracotta pots. They had candles on the tables and gentle music playing in the background. The best part is, we could walk there from where we lived at the time. Ironically however, as we hadn't even dreamed of living on acreage then, that little restaurant was based on home-cooked meals with flair! It was the best (most freshest) pumpkin gnocchi I had ever tasted.

    So I think it goes to show that what people would spend money on, happens to be tasty food, made authentically - but probably resembles "home-made", more than anything else. Because the most delicious of foods, comes from the sentimentality related to experiencing food with love. Who can make food taste better, than meals cooked by mum or dad in our childhoods? That's what people really go looking for when they have a dinning experience.

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    1. That's an interesting perspective Chris! Thanks for sharing :)

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  3. I love eating out - but given we live in the country, it happens infrequently. It has to be good food though when we do, or I would rather stay home and eat home grown! :)

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    1. I think its even better if its a rare treat :)

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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