French cuisine has a special hold on classically trained chefs such as myself. We’re deeply rooted in its history and methods, even if we don’t acknowledge it anymore. Professional cooking (for whatever reason) has really started getting away from its origins. It’s one of the things that always drives me nuts about the higher-end restaurant scene. Once we got a hold of Instagram and the word “foodie” became commonplace, things started to go a little bananas.
Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the work that goes into most modernist cooking creations. I’ve eaten it a number of times, have good friends who live and breathe for it, and I’ve even dabbled in it myself. I just don’t understand for the life of me why we need three powders, four other garnishes, and an army of squeeze bottles to get a plate of arancini out the door—especially if it diminishes from the quality of the actual meal, which it often does. It sure looks pretty, but it tastes completely underwhelming.
It’s old-school dishes like beef bourguignon that really get me going. There’s something to them that defies modernity. They are so deeply rooted in their beginnings as peasant dishes, that trying to elevate them to nouvelle or modernist cuisine is largely ruled out. Now, I haven’t eaten all over the globe, I don’t have any Michelin stars, and I am absolutely positive that despite my personal feelings, Gordon Ramsay could cook me under the table. I am sure that there’s someone out there who has taken beef bourguignon and turned it into an Instagrammable work of art.
But when you do that, is it even the same dish?
Why do we eat? What’s the point of it?
“That’s easy Michael, cause we’re hungry.”
Sure, that’s a part of it. But there’s something more to it than that. We eat to live, sure, but we also eat good food because it fills our souls. There’s a difference. That’s what I like about beef bourguignon and a lot of the other classic French dishes. There’s an animus to them that defies description. There’s an elegance to their execution that demands subtlety and perfection, no gimmicks or reductions.
There are a number of great reads out there on the history of beef bourguignon. It’s a dish that has been around since the middle ages (from Bourgogne France), although it isn’t until 1878 that we have a mention of it. Mostly this is because it started out as peasant food. It was originally a way to use up the otherwise inedible cuts of beef, and to feed a large number of people in a cost effective manner. That’s going to be a recurring theme in this blog, and is also a recurring thing in history. The dishes, habits, and practices of the lower class are often lost to the pages of history, because no one made a record of them.
I’m going to pass the hot seat in terms of actual history this week to a National Geographic article that covers all the facts that I would cover about beef bourguignon. It’s a fascinating read about the origins and history of the famous French dish, and if you have the time, I definitely recommend reading it before enjoying this week’s Love Box .
Instead, I’m happy to leave you with what I’ve written. A little ode to beef bourguignon and the other classical French dishes like it. Dishes that are what they are, and are the better for it.
After all, there’s a reason Julia Childs called it "certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man."
Until next time.
PHOTOGRAPH OF JULIA CHILD BY PAUL CHILD © THE SCHLESINGER LIBRARY, RADCLIFFE INSTITUTE, HARVARD UNIVERSITY