My mother sent me this new book on Swiss cuisine, published by Betty Bossi–the mainstay of Swiss kitchens in terms of recipes, I think I can safely say. The book offers “the greatest classics,” along with “new recipes from the market and typically Swiss ingredients.” The authors go on to state that they have also revisited some traditional dishes: “using the same products, we have created new dishes, while always preserving their authenticity.” This revisiting leads to such dishes as sauerkraut spring rolls, asparagus samosas, and a ramequin that takes the form of a cheese and bread pudding.
I tend to be rather conservative with the cuisine of my homeland, so these innovations made me cringe. When they are properly and smartly executed (meaning, when I see a purpose for the changes)–which is key–I have no problem eating variations on traditional dishes in restaurants, where I feel that the creativity and craft of the chef take them out of the possible realm of gimmicks to that of fine dining. In a cookbook aimed at home cooks, I find it more problematic, because it is harder to understand the intent of the authors. A dish like sauerkraut spring rolls feels like a gimmick, like “art” for art’s sake, like a dish that started in a list of “new” Swiss dishes rather than being driven by the goal of creating the best possible dish with sauerkraut. It might be delicious, and I am open to accepting that, but why should I make that rather than a traditional spring roll or choucroute? What do I gain, as a cook wishing to know how to cook Swiss dishes, by making such a variation?
This is a subject that is very dear to me in most aspects of my life: professional, academic, and personal. It is clear that I am biased as to where I allow changes to take place. I am probably open to changes in any cuisine other than my own. The books and articles I read, the talks I hear, the discussions I participate in as part of my academic life allow me to rationalize my reaction and laugh at it because it is ultimately hypocritical. But my gut reaction is one that wants to see sauerkraut piled up high in a steamy mound, not rolled up and crispy.
The key word in that last sentence is “see,” by the way. I don’t like sauerkraut.