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what does DECONSTRUCTED mean?

post #1 of 79
Thread Starter 
Okay, maybe I was absent the day it arrived, but I keep hearing this buzz-word "deconstructed" in food descriptions, especially on the cooking shows. I would take it mean that the individual components would be arranged separately, rather than combined? However, when I look at the food, I don't see that. If it's a sauce, for instance, it still looks like sauce, salad looks like salad, etc. Can someone help this make sense to me? :confused:
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post #2 of 79
Here's a description I wrote some time ago for another food chat site:
If you're not even more confused now :lol:, deconstructed dishes may take the foods that are normally combined in the dish, change their forms, and then plate them together in a different way. It's not just about taking the dish apart, but putting its elements back together.
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post #3 of 79
This is so much like what I was going to say that there's no reason left so say it.

Pouting,
BDL
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post #4 of 79
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies.

When I posted the original question, I was feeling rather inadequate for not knowing what this term was supposed to mean. Now, I've decided it's merely pretentious "chef-speak", invented to elevate the dish to a (higher level?) than it actually needs or even ought to have. Since oyster chowder was used as an example, I'll continue with that. I enjoy traditional chowders, prepared in the traditional way, with the ingredients combined so that they play off one another in subtle harmony. I don't especially want to taste the individual components, so much as I want to enjoy the result of their successful infusion.

If this ignites a firestorm of protests, so be it. It's still my opinion. :look:
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post #5 of 79
Deconstructed means demolished or blown up (out of proportion?).
post #6 of 79
>DECONSTRUCTED OYSTER CHOWDER......<

Suzanne, this is absolutely, sublimely perfect!

Do you mind if I share it with the members of anouther group?
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #7 of 79
Yes it can be pretentious but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes deconstructing a dish can make it easier to prepare. The oyster example I believe is the height of pretention and quite a bad example. Let me give you an example of something I deconstruct that's not so pretentious.

Apple Pie Deconstructed

Filling
-5-6 golden delicious apples cut into 1/2 inch cubes
-1 cinammon stick
-freshly grated nutmeg
-2 tbsp brown sugar
-1/4 cup bailey's irish cream
-1/2 stick butter

Crust
-frozen puff pastry defrostred
-powdered sugar
-powdered cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 400
2. With a rolling pin roll out the puff pastry
3. sprinkle with cinamon and sugar, fold over, and roll again. Repeat this process at least one more time. Cut into single serving triangles or squares.
4. Stick in the oven until puffed.
5. On the stove top combine the filling ingredients and simmer for 1/2 hour or until as gooey as you like.

Plate:
Place one puff on a plate. Top with apple goo. Then top with custard (homemade and warm I hope).

Why do I deconstruct my apple pie? So I can make as much as I like, where as 1 whole apple pie might be too much. So i can top my puff with as much as little apple filling as I like.

I'm willing to bet that you deconstruct a lot of food that you make without even realizing it.

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post #8 of 79
Thread Starter 
Maybe. However, I cannot think of anything offhand. I'm more into enjoying food than playing with it. But even if I do 'deconstruct' something, I wouldn't then call it something it's not. A jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread is not a sandwich.

The traditional definition for pie is "A baked food composed of a shell of pastry that is filled with fruit, meat, cheese, or other ingredients, and usually covered with a pastry crust" Credit: American Heritage Dictionary.

That dessert recipe sounds delicious, and some may call it 'pie' if they want to, but it does not fit the definition.
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post #9 of 79
I have a picutre of a deconstructed sundae we serve at our latin rest. you get the Ingredients brought to you and you put them together in the way you want... if you don't like one item you leave it out...thats what deconstructed means to me.
post #10 of 79

I was googling for deconstructing food and this was the first link that popped up. Unfortunately even though post #2 described what it means I still don't understand it. Help?

post #11 of 79


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by amazingrace View Post

Thanks for the replies.

When I posted the original question, I was feeling rather inadequate for not knowing what this term was supposed to mean. Now, I've decided it's merely pretentious "chef-speak", invented to elevate the dish to a (higher level?) than it actually needs or even ought to have.

Not just chef-speak - it's used in every field, usually pretentiously.  I believe (not sure) that it originates in literary criticism, and is usually incomprehensible. 
 

"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #12 of 79
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by siduri View Post


 

Not just chef-speak - it's used in every field, usually pretentiously.  I believe (not sure) that it originates in literary criticism, and is usually incomprehensible. 
 


Thank you for posting this.  When I asked the original question,  I was feeling sort of inadequate for not knowing or understanding.  However, after reading your response,  I can now feel superior beccause I no longer need to care. 
 

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post #13 of 79

The problem is that deconstructed started life with a specific meaning, but has been degraded. Far too often, nowadays, it's what many seem to think: that you merely separate the dish into it's component parts.

 

Technically, that would meet the standard definition of deconstruct. But in culinary terms, deconstruct means to break apart and then reconstruct in a new manner.

 

Originally, deconstructed could be the epitomy of the chef's art. What it meant was that you took the ingredients, prepared them in a form different from the original, then recombined them again. The look was different, but when you ate the dish you got the same flavor sensation as the original.

 

For example, I once saw a deconstructed Ceasar salad that used molecular gastronomy techniques to create a totally different look and feel. The dressing, for instance, was turned into a gel disc that flowed apart when you passed your fork through it. Something else had been done to change the form of the Parmesan. Etc.

 

Visually it was quite striking, and unlike a regular Ceasar salad. But when you bit into it, you knew that Ceasar is what you were eating.

 

That's a long way from laying out the greens, cheese, oil, vinegar, egg, and anchovy separately. But, unfortunately (and you can blame the TV chefs for this) that's what it's come to mean.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #14 of 79


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by KYHeirloomer View Post

The problem is that deconstructed started life with a specific meaning, but has been degraded. Far too often, nowadays, it's what many seem to think: that you merely separate the dish into it's component parts.

 

Technically, that would meet the standard definition of deconstruct. But in culinary terms, deconstruct means to break apart and then reconstruct in a new manner.

 

Originally, deconstructed could be the epitomy of the chef's art. What it meant was that you took the ingredients, prepared them in a form different from the original, then recombined them again. The look was different, but when you ate the dish you got the same flavor sensation as the original.

 

For example, I once saw a deconstructed Ceasar salad that used molecular gastronomy techniques to create a totally different look and feel. The dressing, for instance, was turned into a gel disc that flowed apart when you passed your fork through it. Something else had been done to change the form of the Parmesan. Etc.

 

Visually it was quite striking, and unlike a regular Ceasar salad. But when you bit into it, you knew that Ceasar is what you were eating.

 

That's a long way from laying out the greens, cheese, oil, vinegar, egg, and anchovy separately. But, unfortunately (and you can blame the TV chefs for this) that's what it's come to mean.


only when done poorly, which I think is a mark of a chef outreaching themselves. Its like like trying to say that a flat bit of cream that has been whipped, is whipped cream. No, it's not...it's a failed or bad attempt at whipped cream.  take that loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter reference, that is not a deconstructed dish, those are component ingredients and as KYH said if they were say, a small cube of bread surrounded by  jelly with a peanut butter ganache encapsulating it all. Something about the size of a Lindt truffle, that would be a "deconstruction" IF when you popped it into your mouth you were reminded of a pb&j from childhood.

 

A deconstruction should be able to instantly remind of the original as far as flavor, I believe some different texture is unavoidable in most instances.

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post #15 of 79

>I believe some different texture is unavoidable in most instances.<

 

I don't think it can be avoided, Gunnar. Nor is it a bad thing.

 

The whole point, to use your example, is that when you bite into it you feel that you're eating a PB&J sandwich.

 

only when done poorly, which I think is a mark of a chef outreaching themselves.

 

Sadly, it's done poorly more often than not. Some of it is over reaching, as you suggest. But much more of it is cooks and chefs who don't really understand the concept trying to ride a trend.

 

It's like ChefRaz's example above. To me, that isn't a deconstruction, it's a do-it-yourself sundae.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #16 of 79

Suzanne>>>Great definition 

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      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #17 of 79

Like much of literary criticism I think the deconstructed caesar salad KY describes is a lot of smoke and little roast (one italian expression that comes to mind, or to take another, fried air - since anything, even hot air, tastes better when fried).

 

So you spend hours and lots of fancy equipment to make a disk of dressing that will melt when your fork touches it, but in the end it tastes like a regular caesar salad.  Is that all that much different from "fun food" like ice cream that looks like spaghetti and sauce? (squeeze vanilla ice cream through a potato ricer, put strawberry sauce and shredded coconut on top.)  Yes, spaghetti ice cream is very low-brow and can be looked down on, and molecular gastronomy is very high-brow and can be aspired to, but in the end you've done some kind of fun food for very rich people.  What's the difference between this molecular caesar salad and a regular one?  Illusion?  fun?  I bet it is fun to cut a disk and it turns magically into dressing, but beyond that?  Is it really worth the incredible amount of labor and money and equipment it takes to make it? 

 

Personally, i like food to look like food.  I don't like food that looks like colored erasers kids would use in middle school (some japanese dishes) or like disks or tiny globules like some crazy homeopathic medicine.  Personal taste, i guess.  But i like the texture and roughness and realness of real food. 

 

I enjoy it nicely presented.  But not at the cost of having a huge dish with a thumbsized portion of something very tasty but that's going to leave me starving, however beautiful it's made to look (and having to pay as if it were a huge portion). 

"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #18 of 79

All you say may be true, Siduri. But the question was, "what is deconstructed." That was the most graphic way I could describe it.

 

Whether or not you'd like such culinary endeavers is a different subject altogether. In fact, every point you made could apply to all culinary trends and conceits.

 

One difference between deconstructed and fun food is that deconstructed does, indeed, "look like food." If I served that Ceasar salad to you, or Gunnar PB&J, but in each case called it something else, you wouldn't think twice about sampling it. Of course, once you tasted it, you'd probably say, "Know what? This X salad tastes just like Ceasar."

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #19 of 79

Sorry KY, i know you were just explaining the concept.  I can see the appeal for a chef to do these sorts of experiments, and maybe even for people to enjoy them, but still, a disk that turns into salad dressing?  May be fun, but does it really enhance the eating experience?  It would give me the creeps.  If i want a salad, i would rather have rough leaves coated nicely in a dressing. 

Anyway, i got interrupted as i was writing the post above and hit submit before i had really finished and edited.  I didn';t mean to undermine your description.

"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #20 of 79

We're getting pretty far from what "deconstruction" means.  I guess that's only appropriate though because it seems like a great many of the TV cooks (often reality show "cheftestants") don't know either.

 

"Deconstruction," is a kind of philosophical way of looking at the world, but mostly literature, first defined by the contemporary French philosopher, Jacques Derrida.

 

The basic idea is that in order to understand things (literary works for instance) which are composed of a number of disparate elements, you must separate them into those elements and understand each of them, as well as the synergy which results from their combination.

 

At a certain level of refinement, cooking can comment on these sorts of things and that's what "deconstructed" food does.  When a deconstructed dish works, it's a witty play on modern intellectual life as well a wonderfully surprising way of understanding a dish we ordinarly take for granted.

 

In addition to understanding those parts of a given dish which are irreducible (cannot be broken into their own components without losing meaning), the cook must also understand how those things work together.  For instance, an amuse bouche that's a napoleon of well cooked smoked and chilled beet slices, ultra-thin slices of persian cucumbers and a tarragon creme-fraiche might be a very nice deconstructed borscht; but a plate of grilled steak, roast potatoes and peas and carrots is not a deconstructed stew.

 

I don't mean to critique anyone else's take on "deconstruction" with this information.  Very few Americans take academic philosophy or academic literary criticism seriously enough to have much of a sense of what Derrida was really after.  But (a) we probably shouldn't, and (b) I'm not sure that it makes much difference.  The idea of deconstruction of breaking down a dish into its most basic elements, then preparing and serving them in a way which highlights their individuality while illuminating the way they work together is pretty inuitive.

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 6/21/10 at 6:41pm
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post #21 of 79

I know that I'm new here, and I'm not a professional chef, but this sort question fits what I do well. I believe boar_d_laze and the philosopher Derrida have the right idea, but I'd like to toss in some articulation and a little of my own ideas for the culinary world.

 

To me, deconstruction is about intent. Many breads are a matter of some time sitting and some altered ratios; they are not examples of deconstruction any more than cyanide is a deconstruction of ethanol because of the common hydrocarbons. What seems to makes a deconstruction is the attempt to educate or explore through expressing old things in new ways so as to observe each part of the dish without being interfered with by the other components. One part should be identifiable from the other, and express its self in a way that reveals something about the ingredient or the whole of the dish that it describes. One ingredient should rely on another less heavily than in the original dish, with that separation being taken advantage of in order to offer new perspectives. At the same time, new ingredients should be minimal so as to reduce the interference with the re-learning of the dish being deconstructed.

 

As our society shifts towards holism, reductionism becomes a means of understanding the in-situ results rather than the entirety of an ex-situ conjecture. Because of this, deconstructionism should be intended to engage someone who is emphatic about the philosophy of cooking rather than just enjoying a good meal. I am not saying that being enjoyable is mutually exclusive to deconstructionism, but rather that the point of deconstructionism is lost for anyone who doesn't want to think about their food.

 

I don't think deconstruction necessarily has to be served on a plate, or even completely eaten. Stinkhorn eggs are entirely about deconstruction to me. When you pick P. impudicus, the primordial veil turns from white purple within seconds. This outer layer is firm, bouncy, it's texturally and visually appealing. When you peel it off, the jelly underneath is unpleasant and disgusting, but you realize that its structure when bound with the primordeal veil offered its outside texture. From there, the gleba is only the mildly pleasant part of a disgusting smelling ingredient; it will remain this way if you cook it properly. If you cook the gleba wrong, it stinks like rotting flesh as the rest of the mushroom does. So while only one small part makes it to the plate, you understand the ingredient through deconstruction better than if you had only handled the best part. By cleaning one of these mushrooms, I have come to understand it well enough to be able to smell a patch of them before they turn into big, swollen, rather suggestive pillars of fly ridden stench.

 

Anyhow, that's just me. I usually try to make cooking the unintellectual part of my day, but that doesn't seem to be happening lately.

post #22 of 79

Thanks BDL, I remembered a french critic but didn't want to look it up - Derrida it is.  I could never read most french authors and have given up - in my field there's Lacan, and there was a time i thought i SHOULD read him, and now i think there is so much to read that is relevant to me and tied to experience that I can not feel too bad to have skipped over him. 

 

And philosophus, it doesn;t matter if you're not a professional chef.  Interesting explanations. 

 

Anyway, i do think we should use our intelligence when we cook.  Many of us have our intelligence in our hands (we call it procedural or implicit)  (I do, for one) and we should use this intelligence. Others have it in our heads (verbal intelligence) (i think i have some of that too, but usually it's a translation of my implicit, hand, intelligence). 

 

What I don;t like about the idea of "deconstruction" is that it breaks things down, and i think we lose the essence of something when we break it down analytically.  Experience is what i think is most important, whether in my own field or in cooking - it's the experience of food that counts. If we lose the experience we lose the whole point of it.  It's ok to want to analyse components, if that's what you like to do, if that helps you understand better - there are different styles of understanding, but they are neither better nor worse.  But it's the experience that counts when you eat. 

 

Once, when i was a kid, we were having a party at home and i was fixing some creamy dips by smoothing the surface of them carefully and my mother said, no, don;t do that, nobody wants to see that it looks like you've pawed their food too much!  She was phobic about germs, but i think there is something to it - i find food that's been handled too much is fussy and overworked and also a bit disturbing.  I got a wonderfully carved carrot on my dish at a chinese restaurant once, and i carefully put it aside.  I felt it was "pawed" too much.  Not that people shouldn;t touch my food with their hands, that's what cooking is about, and since i think with my hands that's how i do it.  But I don;t want to give a person the idea that the thing on their plate is so precious, like a carrot carved like a buddha, that they will fish it out of my leftovers and put it onto the next person's plate!

 

Food is food, it's pleasure, it's nourishment, it's experience.  And for some maybe funny globules and disks are part of the experience, and fine.  But deconstructing seems to imply breaking it down and analysing the components, which is not what experience is about.  It's what rationalization is about, it's a different process.  It makes me feel the food is coming from a laboratory, not a living, breathing kitchen with real people and fire and knives and actual biological extremely complex substances and objects like eggplants and onions and the squeezings of olives and the milkings of cows. 

 

Similarly, novels are written to be read and enjoyed.  If they;re not enjoyable, why read them?  If the enjoyment comes from breaking it apart, then fine for you, but I think you miss what a novel is. 

 

And if we take it further, I'll plagiarize someone's concept since i don;t remember where it came from.  If some scientists from another galaxy wanted to know what a book was and brought it to their laboratory, they could analyse the shape (lamellae tied together and hinged at one side) and the materials (the chemical components of paper, ink) and the patterns of black marks on the white.  In the end they could write an entire dissertation on what a book is, but would have no more idea of what it is than before they started. 

 

Same for a caesar salad, i think! 

 

It's the taste (and experience of it) that counts.  My personal opinion, of course. 

"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #23 of 79

From one of the most well known deconstructive texts in America:

 

"That word you keep saying...I do not think it means what you think it means."

 

****Disclaimer: I do NOT wish to offend anyone with my post on Deconstruction.  I actually spent a good long time trying to decide if I wanted to post or not, but I thought that given what has come before, I might have some way of finally giving back to a forum that has been very helpful to me.  I am not implying that people who posted different ideas about what Derrida was looking to accomplish are somehow missing the point - it's just that Derrida is one of the most widely misunderstood, misquoted, and misapplied philosophers that I can think of (second only to Nietzsche, I think).  This is mostly because Derrida is a tough read.  There are full professors in my department who regularly misapply his work, and these are some smart cookies.****

 

 

 

I hate to do much more than lurk or ask questions on this forum, as I'm still such a neophyte in the kitchen, but I have done a good bit of work with Derrida.  For anyone interested in getting a better understanding of how Derrida's usage of the term "deconstruction" works, read "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" from Writing and Difference.  It is a term which is almost always taken to mean a literal destruction of meaning or segmentation of a text, leading to the idea that Derrida's project was about compartmentalizing in order to facilitate further analysis in a manner similar to that of Aristotle.  While this is certainly a valid and useful approach, it is not what Derrida had in mind.  Nor is looking at the "intersections" of disparate "elements" - that would be more appropriate to the Russian Formalists, or maybe Roland Barthes' earlier work (depending on how exactly you go about it).  Oddly enough, Derrida was NOT interested in breaking things apart - that would really be the antithesis of how a decosntructive approach to literature works. 

 

What Derrida meant by deconstruction could best be described as a questioning.  A critic will examine a work with a special eye towards conflicts of logic or inconsistencies, and will then apply critical pressure at that juncture.  The goal is not to expose the work as a fraud and thereby destroy its credibility or merit, but to understand the assumptions required by the work.  Frequently this means questioning concepts which we all "understand", such as hospitality, mourning, or justice.  Just as often, it means examining what seems to be an unresolvable opposition (nature vs. society, High vs. Low, etc.).  It always means being critically rigorous, especially with regard to one's own tools of inquiry.  Derrida encouraged the combination and adaptation of varied analytic techniques in order to get around the perennial roadblocks that each was unable to deal with on its own. 

 

In short, deconstruction is a post-structuralist (post as in it came after, not necessarily replaced, earlier modes of inquiry) method of inquiry motivated by a need to pursue the sorts of contradictions and assumptions which, prior to Derrida's work, were mainly left unexplored (for various reasons).

 

What does this mean in the kitchen?  Well, one of the most idiomatic moves of a deconstructive critic is to work with binary pairs:  White and Black, Self and Other, Nature and Art.  In the kitchen, one might think "Savory and Sweet" or "Edible and Inedible".  I can think of many examples of pastry chefs building sugar creations that look like wine glasses, but while such an endeavor highlights the problem of that particular binary, it doesn't really deconstruct it.  If the glasses were meant to be a part of dinner service (but not eaten), that would push the point a bit harder.  If they were designed to flavor the beverage poured in them, the chef would be pushing that question even harder.  Of course, whether or not that would "deconstruct" the binary of edible/inedible would be in the mind of the beholder (or the artist...or the critic...). 

 

The few times I've seen "deconstructed" on a menu, the dish has been the same food I'd always get plated in a fanciful manner or prepared slightly differently.  This dish would be de-constructed in the sense of structurally taken apart, but that alone isn't enough to activate the deeper sorts of thinking implied by the word as used in connection with Derrida's critical approach.  This does not, however, mean that the dish is somehow a critical failure.  It may be attempting a different type of deconstruction than that which Derrida modeled (which, now that I mention it, is really exactly the sort of thing towards which Derrida seems to be pointing us), or it maybe attempting a different sort of critical investigation all together. 

 

I think that the real problem here (and I use "problem" as a way of denoting a point of profitable exploration) is that cooks don't have the vocabulary to talk about what we do that "artists" (notice the scare-quotes) do.  There are a few exceptions, including earlier posters in this thread, but not enough to bring a standardized vocabulary to the discipline.  The articulations above regarding what chefs are doing when they say they are "deconstructing" a dish are wonderful examples of the sort of metacritical inquiry that I would love to see appearing more and more frequently. 

 

 

 

This definition of "Deconstruction" is VERY skeletal, brief, and simplified.  If you'd like to talk more about it, please PM me.

RJM

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post #24 of 79

So that's what deconstructed means. I've stumbled upon a food name with that word and I didn't touch it because it sounded too complicated >.<

post #25 of 79

When done properly, Rheadewey, it can be very complicated. Well, complex is more the word I'd use. You have to be the type who really likes to play with food. And you must understand the synergism that exists between ingredients.

 

But it can be a lot of fun.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #26 of 79

While doing some further reading, I think deconstructionism is about taking things apart. It seems the entire point of it is to examine the components on their own first, reducing them as far as possible, and then putting them together again in light of eachother. Segregation within food (not the philosophy) as a whole would be a common identifier as the result of examining an ingredient on its own is not precisely how it functions in the whole of the original recipe. The difference between the original and the new should show the difference. I think if we were to get downright snobbish about it, good deconstructionism would serve the dish classically prepared beside what may be multiple deconstructions as an exposition on a dish.

 

Either way, there needs to be some very good identifiers for this concept as applied to cooking, but clearly there isn't a common consensus. Much like the topic of qualia, it's all indistinguishable hype unless it can be empirically measured as different. Also much like qualia, whether that has or even can happen is a topic of debate.

 

Anyhow, in regards to intelligence and cooking, I agree for the most part. A few times a year I plan meals out obsessively and attempt to execute ideas with great forethought. Most of the time though, I cook intuitively based on experience; it's a whole lot of muscle memory more than being careful analysis. 95% of the time It's stress relief for me; more of a casual jam session that starts in the store rather than a recital or performance for an audience.

post #27 of 79

Having spent an inordinate amount of time reading, thinking about, and writing about Derrida and the complex of theoretical systems that claim in one way or another to build on his thought, I want to weigh in here, without unduly repeating what others have said.

 

First of all, on the academic side, HungryStudent has it just about dead-on, in my view. I have only one disagreement: I do not think that the brilliant essay she or he cites -- "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" -- is as accessible as she or he thinks, because it seems to me one has to have read a good deal of high-end Structuralist thought, notably that of the late Claude Lévi-Strauss, in order to see what Derrida is getting at. A good bit of Nietzsche would help too. I agree that the essay is brilliant, seminal, and necessary, but I doubt any reader who hasn't read and mastered rather a lot of Lévi-Strauss is really going to grasp what Derrida is doing, because what he's doing happens at so many levels simultaneously, and not all of them are stated explicitly. I'd rather you just read Of Grammatology, which is at least long enough that Derrida has time to tell you what he's doing right at the surface. But it's not a walk in the park by any means....

 

Without claiming to supersede or disagree with HungryStudent's explication, I would reduce (and it is a reduction) "deconstruction" like this:

 

Any text (any way of communicating via symbols) is necessarily founded on assumptions, most of which must remain latent in order for the communication to work. This latency ensures that texts are always, to some degree at least, self-contradictory. Looked at under a tight analytical microscope, then, texts will always deconstruct themselves: they tear themselves apart. The object of the analytical method is to utilize such microscopes, not because we wish to destroy texts, but because we wish to understand the tensions between the latent assumptions and the communication efforts that depend upon them and their latencies.

 

What's this got to do with food? Usually nothing. But it could.

 

Suppose we take a well-known and beloved dish. We take it apart into component pieces, and we consider what these pieces are and how they contribute to the known dish. We now recombine all these elements in such a way that they no longer look, feel, or taste quite the same as they did before. And yet, when we eat the dish, somehow it seems like a perfect example of the original dish. This raises, for the eater, a question: why does this thing I have just eaten challenge what I thought this dish actually was? What am I assuming, without even realizing it?

 

Now suppose we do this at the level of a whole cuisine, or even just a very large set of courses in a tasting menu. The questions begin to arise: What do we think "a meal" is, and why? What sorts of assumptions and principles guide our experience of "fine dining," and where do they really come from? Are these assumptions in fact based on anything real, or are they just a perpetuation of somebody's aesthetics -- in which case whose, and why do we perpetuate them?

 

A rather good example is Anthony Bourdain's little film, I think originally part of his "No Reservations" show, on Ferran Adria. Bourdain, like so many chefs, is deeply committed to the notion of "simplicity" -- la nouvelle cuisine, in essence. Adria seems to be about as far removed from "simplicity" as it is possible to be, using gels and spherification and all this crazy stuff. But over the course of the program, Bourdain finds himself confronting some unsettling questions: What does "simplicity" actually mean? Why is it necessarily superior? For example, what makes us think of wine or jamon Iberico as "simple," when these things are the result of years of complicated manipulations? Bourdain doesn't, on the whole, think terribly deeply about these questions, but it seems to me he is correct in thinking that Adria wants his diners to ask them -- and keep asking them, again and again.

 

Thus a serious deconstructive approach to food, in my judgment, would have only one fundamental principle: it would seek to challenge the eater to think wildly differently about the food eaten, by seeking to bring to consciousness the assumptions we eaters make. This process should be exciting, stimulating, funny, surprising, and simultaneously intellectual and aesthetic. It cannot be done halfway: one cannot simply take a dish apart and claim it as deconstruction in this sense, because this challenges nothing, and more importantly asks the diner for no challenge --- it's just taking a dish apart.

 

Derrida's thought was, in very short order, twisted and distorted into all kinds of cheap nonsense. (To be sure, some of the twisted, distorted versions were neither cheap nor nonsense --- to follow Derrida is to twist and distort his work, by definition!) Just so, I think the use of the term "deconstruction" in food as in other areas has usually been cheap and banal. But it doesn't have to be. Serious deconstruction, in food as in philosophy, depends on an intensive intellectual and aesthetic engagement with very deep problems, and it is immensely difficult.

 

The question is whether you, as a cook, whoever you might be, see any particular value or interest in these aims. Most cooks, I think, do not. Fine -- deconstruction in food has not reached the point that anyone need necessarily engage with it. But if these aims do not excite you, I for one would hope that you'd avoid the term. Unfortunately, "deconstructed" has come to be used to mean "taken apart in bits so I can charge you a lot more for it and have you think you're very gourmet." And this is not unlike what "deconstruction" usually came to mean in literary criticism, so this is not an attack on cooks as such. Myself, I wish the term could remain on the fringe, used only by people who actually think this is an interesting way of going about things.

 

That said, Derrida had a lot to say about why terms like this always get absorbed in this sort of way....

post #28 of 79

This is great stuff.  A discussion of food semiotics with people who can actually cook.  Chef Talk kicks!

 

BDL

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What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
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post #29 of 79


Chris,

I never thought to learn what deconstructtion means and to understand anything about someone so inaccessible as Derrida in a cooking forum!!!  Great explanation! 

 

Doesn't mean i will go looking at derrida any day soon.  I think there are "ways" or "styles"  of thinking, and some are more congenial to some and others are more congenial to others.  I think i'm on the far opposite end of "ways of thinking" from derrida, and while i can appreciate that we can understand what are the underlying latent assumptions behind a thought or communication, but i think my way to do that would  be very different than his.  I do it all the time in therapy, for instance, but it is very concrete, very experiential, very much transmitted, for instance, with metaphors and gestures, and never abstract. But anyway, I'm glad i waded through these posts and understood something.  

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisLehrer View Post

The question is whether you, as a cook, whoever you might be, see any particular value or interest in these aims. Most cooks, I think, do not. Fine -- deconstruction in food has not reached the point that anyone need necessarily engage with it. But if these aims do not excite you, I for one would hope that you'd avoid the term. Unfortunately, "deconstructed" has come to be used to mean "taken apart in bits so I can charge you a lot more for it and have you think you're very gourmet." And this is not unlike what "deconstruction" usually came to mean in literary criticism, so this is not an attack on cooks as such. Myself, I wish the term could remain on the fringe, used only by people who actually think this is an interesting way of going about things.

 

 

Very good point.
 

"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #30 of 79

Chris,

 

Wonderful post.  I think you did an excellent job distinguishing between the actual taking-apart of food as one (I would claim incidental) part of a larger process which aims to deconstruct, and the common practice of pretending that this process is, in fact, deconstruction.  It makes me wish I hadn't replied to this thread late last night, but had bookmarked it to come back later - I look like a total hack in my post.  Out of curiosity, where did you study?

 

As for "Structure, Sign, and Play", I didn't mean to imply that it was accessible, but that it was a good place to get a feel for Derrida's project.  In particular, I think that one can understand his usage of bricolage (which I feel is absolutely paramount to understanding his larger project) without doing much other reading.  Honestly, the best way to really get to know Derrida's work is to pick up a sort of silly looking book called How To Read Derrida (Norton, 2005) - it's a part of a series on several of the "big" philosophers which (I feel) does an excellent job balancing accessibility with utility.  I would say that any highschool graduate willing to spend a little time thinking could read that book (Something like 150 pages long) and have a very workable understanding of Derrida (or Foucault, Freud, Marx - it's really a great series).

 

On the subject of speaking academically about cooking, I've just started reading Culinary Artisty.  When I finish it up I have a feeling I'll starting a thread looking for some theoretical closure, and I'd love to see everyone here stop by.  As I said in my last post, I'm relatively new to the kitchen, but I sure am loving every minute of it (except the times I've had bacon grease jump on me).

RJM

Someone told me that the fastest way to lose weight is by eating home-cooked meals.

They aren't eating what I'm cooking.
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RJM

Someone told me that the fastest way to lose weight is by eating home-cooked meals.

They aren't eating what I'm cooking.
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