Pretentious Food

By KF Seetoh - Thursday, Sep 29, 2011

I know for a fact that food is never about class nor fashion. It’s about pure pleasure. Sure, there are some cultural and even religious tones behind what we eat and there is a food chain, but, can food ever be pretentious? The Oxford Dictionary says pretentious is “trying to impress by pretending to be more important or better than one actually is.” Chefs and their army of strategists and public relation soldiers come up with all sorts of creations, additions, fusion and confusions, branding them modern and progressive, just so their creations are at the top of your food chain (btw, what does progressive taste like). When it does not fall under any of the above categories, just add truffle oils and foie gras or top it with two-head abalones, then say the foodie world does not understand your food and ask the PR engine to organise a press conference. Don’t get me wrong, but making good food “gooder” through clever cosmetics with turbo-charged ingredients, often works but sometimes, it’s an overkill.


So can some food be of a higher order? Can cooking bak kut teh with Mediterranean sea salt, Japanese garlic and kuro buta (black pig) ribs elevate its status to a $25 bowl of prestige and out of its original blue collar status. Let me try wearing the food whisperer’s hat and share with you just what some of these “greater “ dishes think they really are.


Pork xiao long bao nestled on a grated dark chocolaty-and-coffee-like sand with chocolate-coated foie gras ice cream alongside. Very nice but a bit of an overkill.


Little Dragon Buns with grass fed foie gras, or xiao loong pao with stuff and goose liver. I’ve seen them in a few menus here and in the region and what they really want to do is justify their $25 price tag, instead of the usual $2.50. It comes plated on fine bone china and waiting staff that always asks you “how’s everything”. It does enhance the taste and experience but it’s akin to an obasan-like Japanese car done over with a Porsche AMG body kit.


Soups in test tubes served on a bed of ice – a celebrity restaurant in one of the integrated resorts offer this and it is really food for the eyes – eye candy, if you must. They insert a rack of cold sweet, sour, savoury, spicy and salty soups over crushed ice bed to prime and awaken the palate. If you like eating with your eyes, then this one was created for you.


Fried noodles with fancy abalone and branded lobsters – if the abalone and lobsters (with whatever passports they carry, whether Maine or Australia) heightens the “oomph” department, then it is really the work of the heavens, because it is made by them. It should not mask nor distract from the quality of the noodles. In short, it’s still fried noodles, good or bad.


Naming a sauce as a “reduction”. To begin with, actual reductions are very time consuming and not environment friendly. Pouring some red wine over herb concoctions and simmering it for a couple of minutes is not a red wine reduction, even if it’s over prime beef. Better to drink the wine and have the beef done to your liking with just salt and pepper.


Black truffles pizza – like netball players in Manolo Blahnik shoes – the ladies may look stunning but it steals away your attention from a great game.


Dripping truffle oil or white truffle shavings over anything. When the salad, soup, pasta or steak seems a tad simple, uninspiring and trifle, send in the truffles. It will transform and upgrade the basic aglio olio pasta from the humdrum section of the menu to the prime favourites column. Just add $10 more for the white truffle oil infused pasta. Well, wearing expensive perfume does not make you a classier or better person.


Food for the eyes- the Japanese had always been at the top of this game. They plate stuff in a way that makes you want to eat it. Just check out how they layer a platter of sashimi or prepare maki rolls before our eyes. Then there are chefs who present food like they would do art in an exhibition, like a sculpture. It makes you want to take pictures and have delightful conversations with your companion.