Authenticity

Let’s talk about something that often comes up in food media these days. Authenticity. Does it really matter in the sense that every recipe you use is the original from that specific time or place or does it matter only that YOU are being authentic? Take, for example, any cuisine in the world. Specifically let’s talk about Japanese, as that is the cuisine I have spent so much time focusing on. Do I as a chef need to track down the original recipe for Tosazu, the vinegary soy sauce that typically accompanies Katsuo Tataki, in order to call it authentic or is there a certain amount of wiggle room one has as long as it follows a basic ingredient list? Does authenticity in this sense even matter to the diner or is it more about a setting, a passion, a feeling of trust? Look at Rick Bayless, the white American chef who many consider to be the best Mexican cuisine chef in the country. Is there anyone out there that would look at his food and say that it is not authentically Mexican? Andy Ricker, the man who notoriously spent years in Thailand learning the flavors, techniques, and culture. Is his food not authentic because he happens to be white? I intend to, one day, open a restaurant that is authentically Japanese. What matters to me most is that I pay respect to the masters of the cuisine, that I look at the tradition behind each dish, that I source as the Japanese would. If Japanese chefs had PawPaw available to them you better believe they’d use it. Is PawPaw Japanese? No, but much of the philosophy of Japanese cuisine stems from using what you have in your area. What if you had a local fisherman that had beautiful baby Trout? Could you skewer them as if the were swimming, season them aggressively with salt, and grill them over locally sourced charcoal as the Japanese do with Ayu and call it authentic? What about if you had a farmer who, in the Summer, needed to thin out their peach trees so the branches didn’t break and had a bunch of unripe baby green peaches? Could you then salt them, press them, dry them, and store them back in their own brine as the Japanese do Umeboshi? I believe you could. Would any Japanese people be offended in the process? I highly doubt it because you are still paying respect to their culture and food ways while being authentically yourself and I think that is what matter most. Is it authenticity or is it being respectful that matters more?

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