Delicious Defined

Delicious (di-ˈli-shəs) adj. 1. Highly pleasing or agreeable to the senses, esp. of taste or smell. 2. Very pleasant; delightful.

How would you define delicious? Perhaps the most ubiquitous word in the English language to denote appreciation of the culinary spectrum, delicious signifies our love for everything from a single exquisite bite to the grand flavors of a cultural heritage. From lemongrass to lemon ice, if it makes our tongues jump, “Delicious!” seems to say it all.

Jeffrey Buben Chef/owner of Vidalia and Bistro Bis
To me, a lot of food is based on taste memory. So, when you get into the idea of delicious, it’s got to appeal to all your senses. Something delicious draws from your memory and imagination. It could be as simple as an apple. You know what an apple tastes like. But when you go to market and bite into that one apple with the right amount of sugar, ripeness and texture, you just go, “Wow, that’s delicious.” It brings together all your memories and ideas of what an apple is and it’s the best possible version of it. That is the culmination of all your senses, what your mind tells you it’s supposed to be like. The most satisfying sensation is when you hit that note.

That sense of memory is why I’ve stuck to the French European culinary tradition for most of my career. You can invent combos and put things together that shock the senses and put you in a place where all your preconceived notions are blown to hell, and that’s all good. But how often is that described as delicious?

But if you make a stew, or you braise something, and you do it perfectly, the whole world will come flooding into your mouth. That’s why you cook, and that’s why you eat. That feeling transcends all my other ideas around food. Boeuf bourguignon and a glass of red wine usually does it for me. It just takes over all of my senses [laughs].

Tracy O’Grady Chef/co-owner of Willow Restaurant
I think that “delicious” food is part of what’s got us into the weight issue in this country [laughs]. Especially us chefs, all of us trying to make the most delicious burger, fries, whatever it is. And most of that deliciousness is added through fat and salt. Some people might define delicious as farm-fresh vegetables or farmer’s market produce. Others will define it as an amazing prime steak.

But I think it’s definitely the quality of the ingredient and how you handle it—chefs are always trying to add layers of flavors. But there’s a gray area between the ingredient and the cooking: I’ve seen people take really good product and ruin it. And I’ve seen people take not-so-great product to a new level.

But good, fresh ingredients are a must. As far as the idea of farm-to-table, it’s funny where we’ve come in our culture. At Willow, I don’t state where all my vegetables come from on my menu—it’s a given that if you come eat here, you get fresh herbs, fresh produce and the best cuts of meat. Of course, it’s fresh—getting choice produce is just part of my job.

When you come in, try our grilled flatbreads—we literally grill flatbread pizza on a grill. We do cheese blends and use great quality ingredients, of course. It’s just a vehicle for flavor and texture. It’s so simple, but you put any flavor profile on top, and it’s good. I have a lot of fun with that.

Roberto Donna Executive chef of La Forchetta Ristorante
Delicious is any kind of food that you put in your mouth that makes you open your eyes and say, “Wow, that tastes good.” It’s something that gives you an immense sensation of happiness and joy. Delicious is equal to joy.

My mother had a grocery store when I was growing up in Turin [Italy], and my grandparents were vegetable gardeners. When they had something in their hands that was good to taste—a fresh vegetable or even a piece of bread—they would give it to me to bring me joy. When you taste something good, it makes you feel good. It’s all love: food is love. You eat with love, you drink with love, you grow and raise food with love. If you do it for different reasons, it never comes out good.

You know, if you cook while you’re in a good mood, the food comes out good. If you cook in a bad mood, the food is usually not so good. The food knows this. At my restaurant, we have a lasagnetta, which I think is a good example of my feelings on this. It’s a lasagne casserole that brings me back in my memories. It’s a Sunday dish we made with our family when we got together. It was the love my family had for each other—and now I share that with my dinner guests.

Mike Isabella Chef/owner of Graffiato, chef/partner of Bandolero
Delicious is what naturally tastes good. Half of my job in serving good food is to buy good products. Maybe that just sounds lazy [laughs].

But that is my concept as a chef. But what do I like? I really just like simple, good food, and I try to bring that out in my menus. Graffiato has its roots in a sort of salt-of-the-earth, seasonal Italian tradition—very much inspired by an “old country” mentality, like my grandmother used to cook. We try to make big flavor happen without overdoing it—just bring out the ingredients as naturally and beautifully as we can.

At Bandolero, I’m after that same thing. Mexican cuisine is so good because the ingredients are just right there in your face—pumpkin seeds, avocado, tomato, habanero—and they’re some of the best ingredients in the world. It’s hard to go wrong. Still, I think we definitely do it right.

Cathal Armstrong Chef/owner of Restaurant Eve
Without getting too esoteric about it, what I always try to teach people when creating delicious food is balancing acidity with sweetness, and then an understanding of texture contrast.

When you think about the finest wines of the world, they always have a good balanced structure between ripe fruit and good, bracing acidity on the palette. And they also have depth and texture contrast, where it stays in your mouth with a long and lingering sense. I think food should be made the same way.

If everything is sweet, then it’s too cloying. Too sour, and it’s puckering. No texture, and it’s flat and boring.

Sweetness doesn’t mean sugar exclusively—the sweet taste of pork is a natural sweetness, carrots, parsnips, beef, fresh seafood. They all have a natural, earthy sweetness to them. And when balanced with a little acidity it creates beautiful contrast. And that will give you that lingering flavor that makes you want more of it all of the time.

There’s one dish that’s been on the menu of Restaurant Eve since we opened, called OOO. It stands for onions, oysters and Ossetra caviar. It’s a rich creamy dish: you get the natural sweetness of the onion, and then the brininess of the oyster and caviar to balance it. And to create texture contrast we serve it in a crisp puff pastry. The sweetness of onion, brininess of the oyster and caviar and the crunchiness of the pastry. To me, that is a complete dish.

Bob Kinkead Chef/owner of Kinkead’s and Sibling Rivalry
Delicious is when food is in balance. As basic as it sounds, food that is correctly seasoned achieves a balance of tastes—like tart versus sweet—that creates unprecedented flavor. Something precisely cooked, in keeping with seasonal ingredients at the peak of ripeness—this, to me, is where the essential, natural flavor of the food shines through.

Another component that enhances our experience is that epiphany of eating something sublime for the first time. Nothing beats those moments where you realize what great food really is.

Ris Lacoste Executive chef/owner of RIS
There is no better word a chef wants to hear from a guest than “delicious.” There is no better word for me to experience. It’s one of those “super words” that invokes a passion and satisfaction, something that goes beyond a single element in a dish—it means you have reached their heart and soul, you have made their whole being content. When you taste something like that, you lack and want for nothing.

Delicious comes in many forms, from a single pure essence to a finely tuned symphony of flavors and textures. It might even just be a memory, like a favorite meal at your mother’s table, something delicious perhaps only to you.

As a chef, delicious comes from heart and soul, from a life force created by memories and passion, all transferred from you to the guest through the food you cook.

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Sat, 19 Apr 2014 05:30:25 -0400

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