Monday, June 10, 2013

Is Lardcore Finished?

How're the pork belly futures looking?
So, I asked Josh Ozersky whether he thought the pork-heavy, ingredients-centric Southern movement he dubbed "lardcore", and he answered on Esquire's Eat-Like-a-Man blog. His take:
Lardcore is the biggest and most meaningful movement to come along since farm-to-table came along in the late '70s. It isn't going anywhere.
Just three days later, Liz Gunnison of the Wall Street Journal fired back with this plea:
God willing, 2013 will go down in history as the year chefs emerged from the haze of fat-forward cooking, rubbed the lard from their eyes and discovered all the flavor they were missing. . . . The cooking aesthetic I'm talking about is summed up quite evocatively in a term coined a couple of years ago by the food writer Josh Ozersky: lardcore.
For starters, I don't think Gunnison fully gets the lardcore concept. Yes, bacon and pork fat play a prominent role in lardcore (hence the name), but it's not all about fat. It's about an obsessive focus on ingredients--especially almost-lost heirloom ones--and the intensity of their flavor and traditional ways of cooking, too.

Gunnison references "the rivers of butter and cream that course through these meals unseen," but that doesn't seem a particular "lardcore" feature. That's much more the legacy of the high French cuisine that still influences so much of modern restaurant cooking.

The very counter-trend that Gunnison is laying out is very much inline with the lardcore aesthetic: cooking good carrots sous-vide to intensify their flavor, using protein-rich meat stocks rather than butter- and flour-thickened sauces, looking toward grass-fed beef, fish, game bird and game meats like venison with "earthy complexity". If you heard that Sean Brock or any of the other leading "lardcore" chefs were doing these things (and, in fact, they all are), it wouldn't surprise you a bit. Yes, at Gunshow, Kevin Gillespie's month-old Atlanta restaurant, he is wowing guests with pork skin risotto, but it appears alongside first-of-the-season peaches with asparagus and feta and alongside trout with corn mousseline and shrimp salad.

But, somehow the high-Southern cooking movement has been conflated in the popular imagination with things like the Bacon Explosion and the scandalous portions of butter and cream in Paula Deen's recipes.

I've been waiting for the lardcore backlash to come. Perhaps now it's on the way.

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