“Why don't the hundreds of guides and blogs on the matter display the criteria they use to make their judgement? It's a choice, they want to keep a hidden agenda and protect their so called power, or it's because no one bothered to sit down to do it? (…) What is good cuisine? How about the service, what makes us feel good? How do we tell the quality of an ingredient?”
Roberta Schira - journalist and food critic for the major Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, also a FineDiningLovers contributor from the beginning, author of many books - investigates these issues in her latest book published by Salani editore Mangiato bene? Le 7 regole per riconoscere la buona cucina (Did you eat well? 7 rules to understand good cuisine).
The book has been much anticipated in Italy and we hope it will be translated soon enough in different languages. It is the end result of twenty years spent eating out at the best restaurants both for work and pleasure and realizing "there is not a guide that gives you a criteria to follow when you are reviewing a restaurant."
The author uses a clear language to deal with this delicate matter, she does so in 224 pages also using personal anecdotes. It is a new and concrete proposal, it gives food critics new grounds. “My argument” – sats Roberta Schira, "is that Good is a universal value same as Beauty, it can be objective. (…) When we apply a few rules to our gastronomic experience we can form an objective opinion: these are universal rules you can apply anywhere, in any kitchen, restaurant, country."
If being “a critic means differentiating a subjective opinion from an objective one, it also means to contain any personal judgement" then "it is imperative that to understand food you must: taste it, study it, ask questions and compare". Similarly, “to be as objective as you can, it is fundamental that you travel and understand different cuisines and habits". (…) “7 rules to recognize good cuisine (…) is based on a wide gastronomic experience and tackles with a vast culture of food. It is a step forward in trying to form an objective opinion, one you can share even though each individual has his own taste - the subjective side is only a portion of the whole experience.”
Synthetizing, here are, according to Roberta Schira, the 7 rules you must use to make sure you are experiencing good food.
Must be the best the market can offer, fresh and of quality.
Ingredients are good when they taste like they should.
Must know how to manipulate and transform the ingredients in a dish respecting its essence, tradition and science.
Knowledge of chemistry and physics as well as tradition is important to create a solid technique; no matter what the chef wants to do, traditional cuisine or experimental, he needs to know his abc.
The capacity to transform something that already exists into something new.
Every artisan needs to follow rules and have technique, to take that and go beyond is genius.
A sense of harmony within oneself and the world during the culinary experience.
For a restaurant looking for the perfect execution, balance and equilibrium mean "non predominant", elements should balance each other out.
In Haute and avant-guard cuisine, balance is almost a nuance that gives it a certain sense of value, creates harmony: collects the dissonance.
The ensemble of details that makes one utter "I feel good here".
Atmosphere is made of lights, interior design, people, aromas, sounds, service, and something else that you can't really explain.
Place an idea behind a dish, a place, move forward.
You can have a grand project or even a small regional one, something that interests a country or a neighborhood. Doesn't matter how much money is involved: what matters is that you can see there is a high motive behind every dish, something that goes beyond taste, price, calories. You can't tell the story of food through numbers.
What we think is the right compensation for the gastronomic experience.
Did I get my money's worth at this dinner? Good service, attention to detail, good feeling and thoughts?
At the end of the book there is an insert by the author in which these 7 rules are written down. You can print it and take it with you wherever you go, give a vote out of 10 for each category. The higher the final sum, the higher the cuisine. "I would like readers, food lovers and colleagues, restaurant owners and people in the restaurant business to try my 7 rules and perhaps create their own", writes Roberta Schira. “It would create a discussion around such a ephemeral and subjective matter: how to judge a gastronomic experience."