Friday, 12 July 2013

Fine dining's crisis: too many pairings, no full house

Sshh: That sound you can hear, that faint wooden rattle under an Evinrude's rudeboy roar, is the sound of The Fonz putting on The Skis so he can carry another fallen hero or epic failure on the now immortal waterski jump over The Shark. 

The latest fad du jour to jump the shark is wine pairing, which went from champagne supernova of cool to self-sucking sharknado of stale faster than you could say 'degustation menu'. Second raters and bandwagon jumpers cannibalised  the concept, and almost daily it descends to a new nadir.

You know the drill: Would-be or fading hotspot announces wine pairing menu, celebrity chef or sommelier is summoned to make the culinary couplings. If it's a hit, some quick PR buzz and celeb cachet rubs off. If it misses the mark ... see 'sharknado'. 

Done first, it was genius. Done well and with style, it had staying power. But the concept now is overcooked, burned and due to be scraped into the skip, and each breathlessly trumpeted new instance of this culinary charade is now haunted by the shadow of The Fonz as he soars overhead, legs akimbo, outsized wine balloon in one hand, huge rack of ribs in the other, and the towrope between his teeth.

It's clear things have gone too far when in certain Californian establishments, sommeliers spend their days investigating which fine wines work best with Pringles, Cool Ranch Doritos, KFC cole slaw, California rolls and pumpkin pie.

The entire industry is pretentious, drunk on self regard, bloated with hubris, and ripe for a reality check, if not a good stomping.

Some of the most celebrated wine tasters can't tell their eiswein from their elbow. The evidence is in: in a recent study, blindfolded wine experts given the same wine three times in a row delivered wildly fluctuating ratings on the same wines.

And pair that with this: A 2006 study, published by the American Association of Wine Economists, found that most people can't distinguish between paté and dog food.

For dessert, consider this critic's crash landing on the outer banks of wank: His 'principle flavour profile' for one bottle listed "red roses, lavender, geranium, dried hibiscus flowers, cranberry raisins, currant jelly, mango with skins, red plums, cobbler, cinnamon, star anise, blackberry bramble, and whole black peppercorn'', among others.

A king tide of pomposity and pretension is running, but this oenophilic onanism must have just about reached its high water mark. Soon, the ebb tide will begin its sucking scour. When grown men want to make a study of which Chilean chardonnays go best with what colour of M&M, it's time for change.

Good men and gourmands true must stand up, say no, and rip the tableclothes out from under these fatuous feasts that feed a false god. The pale age of paring is done, cuisine's case of the terrible twos at an end. Gone are its false prophets and apostates in aprons. Fine dining, true fine dining, will grow, breathe and regain sight of horizon. And we will ask ourselves what we ever saw in chefs performing such cheap parlour tricks.

You still say good things come in pairs? Do you want the wagyu steak, or Noah's Ark? Trouble is what comes in twos, mostly. Two people together tend to fight. Couples mean bust ups, beefs and broken hearts. Adam and Eve. Prime rib. I say to hell with even numbers, with their meretricious symmetry, mathematical banality and promiscuous divisibility.

It's time to embrace the odd and the asymmetrical in what we eat and drink. The discerning food and wine aficionado, therefore, should not be surprised to learn that Wine Cubing™ is the future: wining and dining in three dimensions.

Wine Cubing™ is sexy. A threesome, awash with possibilities, compared to the dull quotidian coupling of a pair. Three is mysterious, primal, powerful. The pythagorean mysteries of the triangle. The holy trinity, triplets, triads.

Two people taking a stroll is a yawn. But give them some rope, and you have a three-legged race.

Three is political. The troika. The junta. The three-legged stool, once a household name during Hong Kong's handover.

 The Trident ... Neptune's prong, a sports car logo, and a nuclear weapon.

Wouldn't you want all this power and sex on a plate

Wine Cubing™ works like this: Not one but three glasses of wine are matched to each course of a degustation-style menu - yet they must also be matched to each other.

No two glasses in any one course may be of the same grape or varietal but they may be from the same label or vineyard. The order in which each glass is imbibed in any given course may be recommended or left to the diner's discretion.

The serious restaurateur will begin an immediate global search for men and women with the right stuff to deliver this kind of experience: part super-taster, preternatural sommelier, walking encyclopaedia, iron chef and warrior priest in a new order of Wine Cubing™ grand masters.

For the diners who understand this for the quantum leap it is and become devotees, a Wine Cubed™meal will be no distraction or diversion. It will be a commitment, a contract. Bodies, health, wealth and life itself may be put on the line in the name of indulgence.

Diners who ascend to the head table of Wine Cubing™will form an elite cadre, united by a superhuman tolerance for alcohol, cast iron stomachs, Olympian livers, contempt for temperance and a taste for adventurous.

Praise the lord and pass the corkscrew. The future of fine dining is inside the box.

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