Going back to granny food. Old-fashioned favorites are the new culinary stars
COMMON everyday American dishes are appearing in some of the toniest restaurants around the world. American meat loaf is now one of the ``newest'' items on Paris menus. It is being served appropriately with pur'ee de pommes de terre (mashed potatoes) and gravy!Skip to next paragraph
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``Granny food is everywhere -- in London as well as Paris,'' says Paul Levy, food editor of the London Observer.
``These dishes go along with other trends. Young people today furnish their houses with gaslights, old-fashioned furniture, and clothes from another era. Why not old-fashioned food as well?'' he says.
Mr. Levy calls these people ``young fogies'' in his book ``The Official Foodie Handbook,'' to be published in the United States in the fall.
``Simple mashed potato strikes just the right note of anti-romantic rebellion after the 12 years' reign of nouvelle cuisine. Grandmother would approve,'' Mr. Levy said at a food seminar called Innovations 85, sponsored by Ocean Spray at the Norwich Inn in Norwich, Conn.
According to Mr. Levy, nouvelle cuisine, which everybody talks about but few understand, is a movement whose day has come and gone. It started as a new, lighter style of cooking in 1973 when the artful arrangement of a very small portion of expensive food on the plates became important and ``chefs everywhere made pictures on plates,'' he explains.
``It was a romantic movement. Its emphasis on creativity and originality was a reaction against postwar austerity and the rule-bound classical restaurant food.
``Now, of course, the whole world has gone conservative,'' he says. ``We are all fed up with little pur'ees, sorbets, and warm duck salads.'' But Victorian values won't dictate a return to Victorian puddings. ``The interest in lighter foods is too strong to tolerate suet and custard,'' he says.
One New York City restaurant, An American Place, has had great success serving American foods -- bringing back some of the traditional family dishes. Although the chef-owner, Larry Forgione, started out with eclectic and unusual combinations of American ingredients, he now admits his food has evolved into an approach he defines as ``more homey.''
``When I re-create the classic, old-fashioned dishes, sometimes I reproduce the dish exactly, but in other cases I improve on it,'' he said at the Norwich seminar as he made and served his strawberry shortcake to food editors.
Strawberry shortcake is one of the three most popular desserts at Mr. Forgione's restaurant, along with apple pandowdy and bananas layered with gingersnaps. Fried clams are the most popular item on his menus.
Mr. Forgione explained that prices are high for these simple, old-fashioned, American foods, and said he was amazed that his customers are willing to spend $52 for a dinner of fried clams and strawberry shortcake.
There was a murmur in the audience at this remark -- amazement that the price is so high for ``simple food.'' One food edi tor interrupted Mr. Forgione's talk. ``You're amazed people will pay that much, but how do you justify charging that much?''
Mr. Forgione explained that he searches the country far and wide to find foods that are grown naturally. He uses only the freshest quality ingredients, and the finest free-ranging chickens. His vegetables are often grown or picked especially for him, he says.
Mr. Forgione uses a Strawberry Shortcake recipe from James Beard, and it has become one of his signature dishes. He has revived croquettes and makes them with chicken and mushrooms, garnished with cranberries.
He also serves Saratoga chips in the traditional American way, with a hearty T-bone steak. Potato pancakes, corn pudding, and Brown Betty are also on the menu.
The Forgione touch includes using traditional dishes as garnishes. Deviled crabcakes are used to garnish cod cheeks. Chicken and wild mushroom croquettes are served with grilled chicken breasts and cranberry sauce.