A thought on simplicity.
I’ve been watching A Fat Man in a White Hat. In the second programme Bill Buford looks at simple French food (last week it was Michelin star food). He kills a pig with some men; they make boudin noir; they prepare and butcher the meat that will be eaten fresh and the meat that will be cured. He visits an eccentric man in a hat with a wide brim, a poncho, and a dangling scarf who collects roots, leaves and mushrooms from the forest and says he wants you to taste earth in your food. He makes bread with a baker. He goes to see Beaufort being made.
There, as he watches a big vat of curds separating from whey, Buford makes the interesting point that French cooking is founded on the principle of fermentation. Its art consists in using processes which are already going on. The hundreds of thousands of yeasts circulating in the air, on fruits, in flour, in/around/on everything, already bear the trace, the potential of the bread, cheese, wine, cured meats they’ll become. But I think it consists in more than just fermentation. The best, or most beautiful French food, to my mind, is any that realises very acutely its art/nature ambivalence while retaining all the appearance of simplicity. It’s what traditional and provincial French dishes – and the same goes for Italian dishes – do so well.