"Making Sense of Cuisine" - first look at a publication
The article in this section of the website was addressed to readers of the then Cookery & Food Association [CFA] Review in 1986. It was the then CFA and is now the Craft Guild of Chefs. CFA Review editors had been alerted to a paper of mine published in 1983 and wanted a version for chefs and other readers.
Today's readers of this page who are not chefs or related professionals are advised to read the pages before "FIRST PUB _ FIRST LOOK" and the pages between the green lines under this sentence before proceeding.
In the same way that CFA Review editors wanted a version for their readers, emails have arrived since republishing the article and the paper on this website, calling for more information.
Looking at the the side panel , there's a dozen or so pages including those just listed before arriving at "Anthropological Linguistics" which is an academic journal. The pages relate to the following article on this page. Such journals publish papers which are not everyone's cup of tea and if that applies to you, only read the present sectiion.
This is an article about "the culinary triangle" which depicts "cuisine" in a certain way.
The source will be given later. At this early stage, it may be hard to work out why "rotten" food appears with the widely understood terms. We will come to that later.
Imagine three such figures leaning towards their apex. There is a gradual lead-up to a "culinary pyramid" and it doesn't involve trips to Egypt. Within this section of the website, the article you are about to read can serve as a lead-up to the final section on the culinary pyramid.
More about the triangle concept on the "On triangles" page in the side panel.
Making Sense of Cuisine
Food and Cookery Review*: Vol. 51, No. 6, January 1985
* This was the magazine of the Cookery and Food Asociation - see the "C & F Assoc" page in the side panel here.
The following pages are provisional and are taken from the article. They are not as printed in the Review due to reorganisation of the layout for Internet use. The original article is on a later page in this section of my publications via the side panel. The way it was typeset by the Review rendered it difficult to read and several diagrams have been retyped for inclusion here and elswhere on the website. The paragraphs have been separated for ease of reading.
There are two versions of the article and this one serves as an introduction to the main article. The original version continues with drawing a distinction between two methods of looking at the means to cuisine - cookery. The text has been edited for Internet use. Explanatory additions are in blue, sometimes a 'related colour', text.
The change of format from a direct copy of the article enables easier reading. It also enables passages to be removed for personal use.
There are five Figures including one table. The other four are triangles. If you would like to see them on one page, open another tab and open this website again - perhaps the Home page from your 'favourites' file in your computer system. Via 'Pubs', of course, select "The Triangle Figures" from the side panel under the "Making Sense ..Introduction" [or click http://www.gastronomyafharrison.co.uk/page295.php but this method doesn't go to a separate tab.] . You can then flit or skate between them. Take that one stage further with the "Cuisine.. published" page http://www.gastronomyafharrison.co.uk/page247.php for good measure!
Brown text is as published, blue text adds comment. Here is the article:
Making Sense of Cuisine
Alan F Harrison
Head of Faculty of Community Studies
Canterbury College of Technology
When we came across Alan Harrison's paper of a similar but much longer title in the academic journal "Anthropological Linguistics", (Summer Issue 1983) we asked him for a more everyday version which explains the up-to-date implications of what some people have called "the culinary triangle". There is enormous scope for development of the written side of the culinary arts beyond the mere recipe and there is plenty here for discussion at CFA meetings up and down the country.
Alan Harrison's authority to expound on some of these ideas is based on experience of teaching professional cookery and related subjects in almost every aspect of education to and including university level. His debut in catering was a two-year craft course but he has gone on to take degrees. The latter have involved him in very wide reading and we hope you find the following article both interesting and challenging. Unfortunately, the amount of space at his disposal is inevitably limited and there will probably be a need to collect a few questions together in a later issue. Do not go and get hot under the neckerchief if the 'making sense' idea is not achieved. He can only provide an outline now and, depending on readers' interests and queries, more information will be forthcoming. Let him now tell us about cuisine to start with.
What do we mean when we use the term cuisine? We can use it to refer to a place in the hotel or restaurant but, more often, we are referring to a particular kind of cooking to a high standard. Perhaps the general acceptance of the word within professional cookery is in terms of haute cuisine. As soon as we attach the adjective haute, we need to question the noun which goes with it and we should begin to think about things more deeply. To limit cuisine to the 'products of the kitchen' is to restrict worthwhile evaluation of a wider meaning.
If there is haute cuisine, there must be an opposite and, perhaps, something in between. Cuisine paysanne is the native cookery of lower class France and cuisine bourgeoise the middle class equivalent. Accepting that Tournedo* Rossini** has no place on the peasant's table, it is insufficiently rigorous to state that the reason is cost — it is more than that. While French high society in its heyday could well accommodate a potage bonne femme for lunch, the lower orders would not necessarily appreciate the subtlety of such a dish as the tournedo and may have rejected it from their repertoire of dishes. Although such marked differences occur between the levels and approaches of cookery as outlined, there is a quality within them which sets them apart from the cuisines of England, America or whatever. Thus, the ways in which a nation, or even locality, sets about cooking the types of food which fall in to its range of acceptable dishes is said to be its cuisine.
A major determining factor of that range was the local availability of the foodstuffs when transport and preservation systems were not what they are today. The surprising thing, however, is that the traditions are hard to change which indicates that there is something deeper than mere availability. At a superficial level, we can account for the additional factors in terms of likes and dislikes of both specific foods and ways of preparing them.
When we look at them in more depth, we can see that the social situation is also important. When someone visits our house and shares our food, we may choose something quite different from the intended family dishes at that time. This, then, emphasises that different foods are served on different occasions which goes beyond the assumption that breakfast foods are different from those served at other meals. When we go out with friends for a meal, we tend to choose something beyond those things we receive at home, hence, the popularity of ethnic restaurants offering, say, Indian or Chinese cuisine.
The reasons for a specific group of people liking this and disliking that food are spread across ideas such as availability at the simple level to why it must be a fatted calf within the more complicated analysis and, since even before Roman times, the “one man's meat is another man’s poison” debate has been the concern of numerous thinkers. One aspect of "making sense of cuisine" concerns the social factors and we have seen enough so far to realise that it would take much longer to make full sense of all these kinds of issues. Depending on the interests of readers, one can return to a more complete discussion.
Let us move on to another aspect of cuisine which is more analytical in terms of categorising the methods of cookery. It involves using a diagram which was derived by a well-knownwriter - Claude Levi-Strauss. He analysed the words and approaches to cookery or cuisine in its conceptual application within a fair number of different and often primitive nationalities and found that the social dimensions determined attitudes to food in very different ways from our own. Taking one extreme example, (not from Levi-Strauss), sheeps’ eyes are a delicacy to some and abhorrent to others. Perhaps a less extreme example is the fact that the French eat horsemeat but we in the UK do not but similar reasons prevail.
But if some examples are extreme, they illustrate attitudes and those distinguished by Levi-Strauss are interesting in a similar aspect but different in kind. The main distinctions were food to be eaten raw, cooked and rotten. The first two are quite typical but rotten stands out for special discussion here. While anything rotten in our terminology usually gets thrown away, not so within this other classification and is more like an extension of game being 'well-hung'.
If that was the full 'system', we could leave it there but Levi-Strauss saw that the cookery techniques were closely related and 'raw' equated to roast, 'cooked' to smoked and 'rotten' was closely associated with boiled. We would need to delve quite deeply into a combination of linguistics and social anthropology to 'explain' all this and I am not sure that it would serve any major purpose to do so. Figure 1 summarises what has become known as "the culinary triangle".
Figure 1 The Culinary Triangle (Levi-Strauss)
Within the academic world, writers like to comment upon the work of others (and one benefit of this is that 'theory' is developed). Others tend to be more direct and chefs waste no time in saying what they think. If there is reaction to the present discussion, it will no doubt surface in a later issue of the Review.
The culinary triangle has been the topic of much debate but there has been very little of potential use to readers here. One writer suggested that the triangle could be extended to a tetrahedron but 'pyramid' is the more usual. In the academic journal referred to in the introduction to this article, I proposed a culinary pyramid and spent some time on this after giving academics some straight insight into the world of rotisseurs and chefs gardemangers.
The reason for giving readers another version (ie – the present paper available in two versions) of what I proposed there is to widen the debate concerning a possible classification system which offers a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences relating to methods of cookery. This is just a further aspect of making sense of cuisine.
It is necessary to talk about 'models' before going much further. We know that they can be scaled down versions of a car, building or aeroplane which helps us to appreciate or visualise the larger item and we can form models of molecules or other things which we cannot see. A map is another form of model and a blueprint or plan can be a one-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. If you can accept that a little imagination will be necessary to take in a "flat paper discussion" of a pyramid then, ideally, something worthwhile could emerge.
The purpose of the culinary pyramid is to provide a model of probably, the most complicated cookery system that there is. It could be of use in understanding the relationships between the many techniques and achieving a consensus within the world of professionals concerned with this activity about those relationships and what is involved in the techniques. One benefit of increasing understanding of this version of cuisine is that it may be easier to explain to newcomers and if it is in a condensed format, i.e. in a model, it is easier to carry around in the mind.
Another potential benefit for making sense of this advanced system is that other cuisines can be discussed in relation to the model identified here. We all recognise that it takes years to assimilate the subtlety of the techniques and the extent of precision relating to achieving high standards and the following discussion is no more than a proposal. Other writers may like to make contributions.
Any radical differences can be easily identified and other models proposed, but there must be some agreement on the main techniques which utilise air, oil or water (or combinations of them) as the medium of application. This dictates that a three-sided pyramid is the basis of the model and, if we take the sides separately, the reader can piece it all together in the mind. The real enthusiast may go as far as to make one with cardboard which is as taxing geometrically as it is conceptually.
Accepting that the main cookery methods are boiling, roasting and frying, Figure 2 links these to water, air and oil and shows other divisions and subdivisions. There is a gap in the line dividing boiling from roasting. Braising and poeler are seen to be the transition, as it were, between the two main methods. There is another transition shown.
In transposing the techniques identified in Figure 2 to the pyramid and adding others as we go along, we will form the pyramid whereby the uppermost point indicates the hottest temperature.
Taking the 'water' side first, we see the location of some of the techniques in Figure 3 in relation to the 'air' side and the amount of heat involved. Subsidiary processes such as brining and pickling are shown at the bottom as they involve no heat.
Figure 3 The Water Side of the Culinary Pyramid
Moving round the pyramid, now to the 'air' side (Figure 4) we can see that grilling is higher than boiling located just round the corner on the previous side and other techniques are shown according to temperature and their relationship to oil or water. Smoking and drying have been put in brackets as being only marginally related to the cooking process.
Figure 4 The Air Side of the Culinary Pyramid
The third or 'oil' side is shown in Figure 5 and, as deep frying is the hottest of all techniques, it is at the tip of the pyramid.
Figure 5 The Oil Side of the Culinary Pyramid
It would be inappropriate to attempt to include every technique and process and cover every dish in the space available here but a short digression to serving food ‘high’, raw or rare may help to see what the deep analysis of the 'rotten' mentioned much earlier involved. We hang game to render it more digestible but some cultures would not accept such an activity and similar issues prevail with mouldy and rotten cheese. 'Rarely' do we serve raw meat (steak tartare) but we often serve rare meat.
Surely, there is much that is curious within a system which we all, perhaps, take for granted and, while there are many socially determined aspects, we ought to conclude with just one more dimension of the purely technical. It is very easy for the practitioner to take a handful of this and a soupçon of something else and, voila! the customer is fully delighted with the latest creation.