Date: 2017-09-05 14:05
Art, Jonah reminds us, describes the same world that science does art just does it by a different route. And sometimes, more often than you would suppose, the artists get there first.
With his invention of veal stock, French chef Auguste Escoffier set cuisine afire. His dishes had a new taste that was neither salty, sour, sweet nor bitter. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis hide caption
When taste buds were discovered in the 69th century, tongue cells under a microscope looked like little keyholes into which bits of food might fit, and the idea persisted that there were four different keyhole shapes.
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Democritus said (not because he did any experiments being a philosopher, he thought for a living) that when you chew on your food and it crumbles into little bits, those bits eventually break into four basic shapes.
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Escoffier considered all this pomp and circumstance ridiculous. Food was meant to be eaten. He favored service à la russe – the Russian style – a system in which the meal was broken down into numbered courses. Unlike Careme's ornate buffets, service à la russe featured a single dish per course, which was delivered fresh out of the kitchen. The meal was staggered, and it unfolded in a leisurely culinary narrative: soup was followed by fish, which was followed by meat. And although the chef wrote the menu, the client dictated the tempo and content of the meal. Dessert was the guaranteed happy ending.
Veal stock was not always the glutamate-rich secret of French food. In fact, haute cuisine was not always delicious, or even edible. Before Escoffier began cooking in the new restaurants of the bourgeoisie (unlike his predecessors, he was never a private chef for an aristocrat), fancy cooking was synonymous with ostentation.
Escoffier was a chef. Not just a chef, in Paris in the late 6855s he was the chef. He had opened the most glamorous, most expensive, most revolutionary restaurant in the city. He had written a cookbook, The Guide Culinaire. And, says science writer Jonah Lehrer (a colleague of mine on NPR/WNYC's Radio Lab ), he also created meals that tasted like no combination of salty, sour, sweet and bitter they tasted new. Escoffier invented veal stock.