As I alluded to in my post about pastry, there are various takes on food history. It can be analyzed from many angles, each with their advantages and disadvantages.
Most food history I have seen addresses the role the food plays within the culture. Not how the food got to the culture and what gave rise to the food's traditional role. Those last two issues are what I think is important about considering food in relation to the empires.
As the various empires wax and wane, they encounter foods new to them, very often becoming status symbols for their rarity and novelty. This establishes trade connections. Even as the empire wanes, these trade connections persist even if in a degraded and lessened state.
Without the growth of empires and the trade contacts they permit, food would be very isolated and localized. Even as empires wane, the food connections were often what helped drive the growth of the ex-colony. It had established trade patterns and partners.
In modern times, empires have become somewhat different. The French have an intellectual empire. It's not that they are the greatest thinkers of the world, but Escoffier explored an intellectual beachhead that gave France its' culinary power in the world, it's intellectual empire.
Similarly, the power of the Western world is pervading the other countries of the world, though not specifically in the colonial sense. This, coupled with the tradition of the French intellectual empire, fuels the Fusion cuisine. It is the current pinnacle of food of the empires with deep reflections about the trade and commingling of the modern world.
In the future, it will be easy to analyze fusion cuisine in the same way that we have studied Italian or Greek or French foods. But it would be a mistake to ignore that those three cuisines are interrelated, just as it would be a mistake to skip over the ramifications of Fusion cuisine.
I hope this doesn't hijcak the thread away from Cape Chef's questions that I didn't really address.
Good question, B. I know my particular excitement for cooking started with (by accident) reading about late 19th century fare. I try to bring the classics with me on every shift. How would they have done it? How would they have treated this...? And so on. I read relentlessly of the late 19th, early 20th century food. It is rich (no pun) with discovery and innovation. Books of antiquity are my tools to looking back. Even history books touch on the food (sometimes) of times gone by.
To answer the second part, I think the masters are discussed, if for only on the surface. We are quick to invent for ourselves that often the newer chefs, cooks fail to pay careful consideration of the historical significance of earlier food. We can do justice to understanding what really good food is today without just glossing over the 'not-so-evolved'. For me, history is everything... the old adage "it is hard to know where you are going if you do not know where you have been" is as important with cooking as it is with... well, anything.
Invention, my dear friends, is ninety-three percent perspiration, six percent electricity, four percent evaporation, and two percent butterscotch ripple
My personal opinion is that history is very important ot our understanding of the relationship between food and geo-politics. The piece of fois gras on your plate may not taste any different if you know the relationship between it and the Jewish diaspora, or your cooking style may not change if you understand the influence of "scientific" cooking in the 1950s, or you may not change your eating habits once you know that the term "free-range" is not regulated, but then again there may be some effect. I think a knowledge of food history can help us understand the ingredients we use today, as well as some of the combinations we use them in.
For me the history of food, cooking and our profession are extremely important aspects. It is what helps to fuel my desire and passion for food. When I approach a new cuisine (new to me) or new food item, I want to know all about it. Not just what its flavor profile is and how to prepare it, but also what the history of the food is, its signifigance in its native culture. Only then, do I believe, that you can do it justice. For me cooking, and being a chef, is much more than just following a recipe to create food, it is about sharing , and continuing, a tradition. Whether that tradition is as young as American Diner foods or as deeply rooted as the foods of India and China. And more over, I believe that it truly shows in a chefs food. We have all eaten at restaurants where the food was techincally sound yet lacked that certain quality that we call inspired. I feel that if you delve into the history of the food you serve it builds your passion and inspiration and that shows through your food.
Unfortunately, I don't think schools really teach much in the way of history other than the standard history of the development of the ''restaurant'' from the mid 1700's on.
Another way I enjoy learning about food history is talking with all the staff i've worked with over the years.
The wide eyed passion you see from them when you ask about there food/culinary history is very inspirering to me.
My kitchens have always been multi enthic and I love to use this as a resourse.One staff member is from Ghana Africa,she is well educated and very articulate.In the short time i've worked with her I have learned a great deal of her customs and her food.
One of my Sous chefs is from Peru,he has a great knowelage of this cuisine and it's a pleasure to learn from him.More times then not,history is right under our noses.
Many culinary schools have developed internatinal kitchens,but how much emphasis is placed on the food timeline of these foods?
It would be a benifit to see some of the schools implement a class on food,culture and how it relates to mondern food preparation.
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
I think that knowing the History of a dish or of the ingredients you use, changes dramatically the way you cook, if you are taking cooking seriously of course!
It's amazing how many common things between countries and civilizations you discover when you study Food History. It makes you feel that the whole world is united over a casserole :)
Allow me, please, to share a PM I got from a member some months ago.
This PM was one of my happiest moments in Chef Talk.
It was about a recipe I posted about a specific ritualistic pie we make in Greece.
This PM is a good example of what the study of Food History can do and how traditions are spread all around the world :)
I was intrigued by the Fanouropitta recipe that you posted in August, and made it right after I read about it. I have enjoyed it and have made it several times since then. If you are interested in variations on the basic recipe, I tried substituting black walnuts for the Persian walnuts, and that variation is quite good - it has developed some fans among my friends. (Are you familiar with black walnuts? They are a native North American nut, and not sold widely here, so I don't know if they get out of the country much. They have a strong flavor, that some people find bitter and don't like. But they have their fans, of which I am one.)
"Muabet de Turko,kama de Grego i komer de Djidio", old sefardic proverb ( Three things worth in life: the gossip of the Turk , the bed of the Greek and the food of the Jew)