THE BLOG

From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: Sometimes, More Is More

06/03/2015 03:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2016

Whether one is referring to a Robert Browning poem or characteristic architecture of someone like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the phrase Less is More resonates with many as an ideology which emphasizes quality over quantity. In a vast array of examples in cooking, one could argue that simplicity and restraint, especially when dealing with high quality ingredients, results in a more satisfying and tasty outcome. No argument here. However, sometimes, matters are to the contrary. A deeply rich Rendang or Mole needs the laundry list of ingredients for the full Monty. Fortunately, there are time-tested methods to the seeming madness of stages and ingredients in complicated sauce/dish making. Take the example of a classically made glace de viande. There are many steps and it takes many hours. One can take some shortcuts, but to the trained palate, the difference will be noticeable. There is a reason they sell soup bases in jars. But those products, while useful and necessary for kitchens without the luxury, knowledge, or commitment to make things from scratch, do not replace the rich and deep flavor obtained from true scratch cooking.

In the classroom, one of my most common battles is convincing students that a systematic, full range of justifiable and verifiable steps is really the only way to truly understand not just the particular method or tool, but to step outside the proverbial box and embrace the greater potential of the subject matter. "But I got the correct answer using my method, so why do I need to learn your overly-complicated method?" Well, "because I'm going to wager that you are not a child prodigy who is taking this Fundamentals course only to one day ridicule my shortsightedness vis a vis your real potential. Instead, you just want to find the path of least resistance and even if your method is correct (in this example) and your correct answer isn't simply a case of beginner's luck, your method doesn't teach you the deeper meaning or potential of the process. And, when you use your method for a different, but seemingly identical problem, it will fail. That's why." In a manner of speaking, the student is using a base to make a soup and I can taste the difference. My job as a teacher is to teach the student about the made-from-scratch version. Teachers shouldn't have to justify this, but we often have to.

As far as I can imagine, these struggles are not unique to our times, but such cerebral battles may have been fought for millennia. Perhaps, what makes our times noteworthy is that now more than ever, we have built tools (electronic and otherwise) which undermine a teacher's ability to successfully teach the Fundamentals. I am all for progressive teaching methods which embrace new technologies and learning methods, but if I can't convince even my own constituents of the salience of sometimes, more is more, then I think the collective consciousness of our species is imploding one shortcut at a time.