Using the ideas everybody offered above and talking with others, I put together an article for Chef Life Magazine. Here is the article (reprinted from http://cheflifemagazine.squarespace.com/jim-berman-blog/):
Gages and a tattoo of “chef” across the knuckles or tight-cropped, Marine-style haircut and a metal-banded wristwatch? Classic white, ten-button chef coat, black pants or bowling-alley shirt, Chuck Taylor high tops and jeans? A pastel pullover or True Cooks shirt when stepping out of the kitchen? Barking and regimented drilling or collaborative learning with peer decision making? All variables that make strides to define the old and new schools of cooking. Old school is as much a state of mind as it is a collection of practices. Style, if you will. So the same should be said for new schoolers. Defining the two is as daunting as it is, well, indefinable. Without one there is no other. The new movement that is grounded in classical methods would be dead if there were nobody around to ply their practice. So where does that leave the mother sauces? Painfully clear is that there are no definitive lines between the old school and the new. Rather, many dotted, dashed and broken segments that allow for osmosis of ideas to traverse generational ways of thinking.
Tattooed and renegade spirits let loose in a kitchen of nonconformity
Marco Pierre White is a kitchen bad ass. Look at his plates. A conformist? By today’s kitchen benchmark, a neoclassical purist. By the standards of Jaques Pepin, a cleaver-wielding renegade. Where there was once a regal nod to high cuisine, traditional sauces, complicated platings and presentations, the same is happening with super premium ingredients, equally elaborate visuals and complex techniques. Yes, the techniques have evolved-or morphed-however you look at it, but the complexity may be no different. What was once rendered, reduced, strained and mounted is now geleed, foamed and infused. Grilled cheese was a once croque monsieur. Now it’s burata, fig spread and caramelized apples between brioche. Who is right? Which is better? Perhaps Charlie Trotter, Renee Redzepi, Thomas Kelleher are the faces of the New School. They will be old schoolers. Undeniably, they will. Classically trained or not, tomorrow their food will be yesterday’s points of reference.
A bus tub of bad ideas
The fusion food that once was panned as a deliberate attempt of being different for the sake of being different is now as commonplace as the culinary horizon from which it has evolved. New combinations are a key concept in the new thinking. There are menus far and wide that roll together the flavors of Latin America, New America, Italy, Spain and France. Do these menus end in the odiferous bus tub of bad ideas? Or are they making people sit up and take notice? Perhaps these combinations challenge the old logic.
Chef Peter Martin offers, “The best chefs I worked under were very militaristic-you did it their way or you got out, and you didn't question the chef. You could ask him questions, but you never questioned him, his authority, or the way he did things.” He goes on, “I think there is a lot to be said for that kind of learning, especially for young cooks that don't know a whole lot. He definitely did not treat us as equals, but he didn't treat us poorly either. We were his students and he was our teacher, and while he was a great mentor we were always reminded of what our roles and what his role was in the relationship and it was not equal, nor would we ever be so bold as to consider ourselves as his equal.” Of the new school, “ Part of the problem with many new, young cooks (not all but a lot of them) is that they forget that the teacher-student dynamic is intrinsically unequal. They feel entitled, and think that their opinion deserves to be heard and considered. Sorry, but it doesn't.”
The mother sauces, classical technique. Ballantines. Avocado cream quenelles. Pates are on the rebound or they never have really left. As with clothing, what was once old is new again. Food fashion ebbs and flows. Comfort food of the 1950s was born again in the 1980s and 1990s. Small plates in the style of the California Spa cuisine movement of the 1990s is around in the form tapas and limited menus popping up all over. Regional menus that defined the first decade of 2000 is evolving into the fusiony feel of the early 90s. What diner doesn’t have spaghetti, quesadillas and hummus? Perhaps the actual food we do is less suspect than the school of cooking that gets it to the table.
Local as an ingredient
There is no denying the locavore movement-deny the overused term, but not the movement. But it isn’t new. So the new school of cooking imploring the use of what is local is not so new; actually, local eating is as old as eating itself. Here, the two schools do not diverge. Selection of ingredients is usually grounded in quality. The use of local products has bled itself into the pioneers desire to own food trucks, taking the local movement to the people. Owning a big, glittery restaurant does not seem to be the crowning achievement, Rather, hordes lined up outside of the big, glittery food truck is the new benchmark. With the capacity to focus on a few menu items, the use of local products is rooted in portability with the roving eateries. The Great Food Truck Race and John Favreau’s Chef are small and large screen productions that feature the virtue of trucks bristling with local goodness.
Chefs with a mission
Part of the new regime includes a nod to environmental consciousness. Non-GMO sunflower oil in the fryer. Bamboo disposables. Plenty of community-based events. Rallying for legalized foie gras. Petitioning for the decriminalization of marijuana. Conventional kitchen wisdom is not kept in a proverbial bubble. Cooks have a lot to say and the new schoolers are saying it. Grounded in substance or just a ride on the hot mess express has yet to be determined. Either way, the neoteric group has a lot to say. The classical constituency rallied at American Culinary Federation meetings, behind closed doors and in the company of the trade. The message was grounded in the kitchen playground and rarely crossed over into the new media.
Love it or hate it, there are offspring of FoodTV, a generation of cooks that are digital natives. Ideas can come from Instagram. Menus can be shared in a blink. Techniques can be learned on YouTube. What once meant a class or showing up before clock-in time can now be had by way of a Galaxy 5 or iPhone. Learning is constant, but now the classroom is always in motion. When asked his thoughts about the old guard versus the new school, Restaurant: Impossible’s Robert Irvine, colorful, loud and indigent to modern day whining egos in the kitchen says “I am old schooler. It is about balancing nutrition, taste and time. Everybody is in a rush.” Adding, “nobody has the time… it is all about getting it done quickly.”And some of the schools are to be blamed for the overly-inflated, grandiose, pastel-painted pictures of what kitchen reality faces the modernistic minions. Get it quickly, seems to be the message.
One of the pleasures of being part of kitchen turmoil is the constant state of change, the jovial clashes of ideas and the dripping of colorful ideas from many creative spigots. It isn’t always about doing things better, but about different. Aha! The new school state of mind. And keeping those changes in a place that makes sense, well, that is the old school. Maybe?