How do you recognize a good meal, a perfect culinary delight? How do you tell the difference between a very good menu and an even slightly better culinary experience? How do you manage to remain neutral, to let your own form of the day and mood fade into the background? Achieve objectivity rather than subjectivity. How do you formulate criticism appropriately, helpfully and with focus, separate positive from negative aspects and really consider the totality of a culinary impression appropriately?
Many quite corrected questions, whose answer Roberta Schirra, journalist and food critic with the Corriere della Sera, in her just published book Mangiato bene? Le 7 regole per riconoscere la buona cucina dedicates.
Seven basic rules, then, with which one’s own culinary scale can be recalibrated or at least readjusted. Basically an interesting train of thought. The colleagues at Fine Dining Lovers, for whom Roberta also writes occasionally, extracted the seven criteria and summarized them as follows:
The best products that the market offers, fresh, natural and of excellent quality. Products are really good when they taste the way they ideally should.
A chef must know how to process these ingredients perfectly in order to create a dish whose essence does justice to both tradition and scientific aspects. (At least) basic knowledge of chemistry and physics is necessary, as well as profound insights into tradition. Only on this foundation can a solid craft grow. No matter in which direction the chef tends, whether classic, traditional or experimental – he must understand his craft and are culinary ABC.
The ability to create something completely new from something that already exists. But every artist also needs craft basics and rules that he can follow and break in order to achieve genius.
4.balance and harmony
Sense and will for the pursuit of inner as well as outer balance and equilibrium is essential, not only but especially for haute and avant-garde cuisine. No element should be too dominant and drown out the other ingredients. First the play with harmonies and disharmonies, the right combination and the perfect balance creates the extraordinary.
The orchestra of details and small sounds that together create the unique feeling of “I feel good here”. Atmosphere is created by light, furnishings, people, aromas, sounds, and of course by the service and something that you can’t really explain, but you can feel.
A dish (or better, a menu or restaurant) that testifies to a concrete idea, tells its own story or even reveals a vision makes all the difference. A culinary narrative that not only pleases guests during the meal and provides an occasion for conversation, but also remains present beyond and helps to carry the story further.
The price/performance ratio can be determined by many tangible points, but in principle it is still the gut that decides whether the ratio is appropriate. In addition to the products and the preparation, the ambience, the service and the described gut feeling also play a role.
There are certainly many other criteria that can be consulted and applied, but as a basic orientation I find Roberta’s list quite interesting and I am already looking forward to the context as soon as the English or maybe even German edition of the book is available. From my own perspective, I would consider product quality, applied technology, and then the overarching vision to be essential to an outstanding culinary experience. On the other hand, all this is nothing if the atmosphere is not right, or the gut feeling says that the calculation is not fair.
As always, these theses are also open to debate. But perhaps such a discussion will help increase appreciation of all the facets of gastronomy. Because the bottom line is that it is precisely this appreciation for a creative and visionary team on the other side of the pass that perhaps counts for much more than some commercial successes.