Bankrupt for Authenticity?

Hi, Phil:

I said “…may have as much to do with…”, not that the method defines the dish irrespective of ingredients.

I guess what I’m suggesting is that “traditional regional variations” may be more of a modern construct than we appreciate. It was not until the 17th Century that beans (other than hyacinth and fava) made their cultivar inroads to France from Mexico, via Italy. And later that restaurants originated, and later still that recipes were published and widely disseminated. As Clifford Wright has observed: “Cassoulet is a paradigm for a culinary understanding of the Languedoc, for there is a different recipe in every kitchen.”

The etymology of–and historical-political eddys behind ‘cassoulet’ are murky. The “original” dish might be said to be Aragonese-Catalonian. Or, further removed, of the Mozarab-speakers in Moorish Spain. Or of North Africa or the Levant. Or the name might just as well be a referent to the clay vessel alone.

I am not urging the cultural triviality of cassoulet, merely that we should not take for granted that any specific ingredients are “original” or “authentic”. It’s bean stew, after all.

Don’t get me started about the Secret of the Seven Skins…


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But wouldn’t it be fair to say that dishes tend to emerge/form at a point in time forming from all these eddying influences…?

It could be the Portuguese introducing pork to Goa that was the catalyst of a Vindaloo, or spices coming to Europe from the east for cakes and puddings, or potatoes and tomatoes to Europe from the Americas. Or is could simply be a chef that creates a fashionable dish/drink like a Pavlova, or Negroni.

Theses events put a stake in the ground that in effect define the “original” dish. Certainly precursors and similar dishes would have existed but some catalyst causes a dish to become the default “original”.

With Cassoulet it remained a dish with regional variation yet a distinct ethos that rans through it defining a loose original recipe/concept.

You can’t definitely riff off the “original” as recipes always vary and evolve. But go to far and it loses its soul.

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Yes, we could say that cassoulet emerged with some serf’s successful cultivation in the Languedoc of white beans. Or Catherine de Medici’s importation. But we wouldn’t be saying much. And I do not credit the local legend that it emerged fully formed in Castelnaudry in 1355 when the Black Prince laid siege. If you’re looking for a definitive stake in the ground, where “original” is defined, you may have to look to the modern Academie or its twin, the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet. It’s not like Tart Tatin or Pommes Anna–it started as a subsistence dish using what was available. This would vary from hovel to hovel, chateau to chateau.

As Andre Daguin, a famous chef of Gascony says, “Cassoulet is not really a recipe, it’s a way to argue among neighboring villages of Gascony.”


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Not really that important. But isn’t the origination point of a dish the time when it became a common method in a location?

The dish evolves from the available ingredients and what is available in each season. The dish “solidifies” in a locality when people copy each other or dishes migrate through marriage.

Marriage used to be quite a local event in times gone past so dishes using the same source ingredients would develop in each “isolated” community creating the local variant/tradition…and in turn support Daguin’s quote as many villages/towns would have quite hostile relations with neighbours.

Overlay that with geographic isolation and you get different traditions in areas with similar natural ingredients but are either side of a mountain range, river, or lake.

Everything you say is true–and culturally significant. This is what makes grown men wear scarlet robes, put bowls on their heads, and write and police food charters.

Yet we live in a culinary era where the pursuit of “authenticity” is at least somewhat mad, and probably illusory. For example, what of the duck? Does it need to be Muscovy or other local breeds available to the “originators”, or will a Long Island, Pekin, or wild mallard or teal do? How old or young can it be? Is the breast meat a no-go for authenticity? All I know is that my slavish commitment to using Tarbais beans per Paula Wolfort cost me dearly, and every other iteration I’ve made with Great Northern or Canneloni beans did not want in comparison.

I like your point about dishes migrating and solidifying by marriage. To be served a dish that has been taught across many generations is special, in greater part because it’s become a family tradition, not because it’s some paradigm. You are being brought into a family secret, even if the family down the road has their own, different secrets. The temptation is to take the bait and exert proprietorship over what we think (or are told) is authentic.

Likewise, there is treasure in isolation. I was once honored with a dance recital that included troupes from extremely remote atolls across the breadth of the Cook Islands. They all had their own versions of not only drum, dance and chant, but local ceviche, called ika mata. But I doubt if any would deign to pronounce what was “authentic” or not. They’d likely just shrug and say: “This is the way we do it here.”


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Totally agree, and I hope I didn’t inadvertently use the A-word.

Using the old chestnut of Carbonara as an example. For me an original version will not contain cream as its “originally” a dish of pasta, eggs and cheese.

But it’s still authentic whether it’s spaghetti or linguini, or tagliatelle; whether there is garlic, and is left in or taken out; whether its parmigiano or pecorino or both; and whether it has guanciale or smoked bacon.

Some of my variants will have the authenticity police stripping me of my food credibility but I really believe they close to, and as good as the original.

These are best-memory figures

Tarbais beans: $18
French garlic sausages: $12
Fatback & skin: $10
Duck confit: $18
Duck fat: $10
Salt pork $6
Hamhocks: $6
Pork shoulder $10
Prosciutto: $10
Pancetta: $12

So $112, plus incidentals.

Kaleo, ccj from the other site. Thanks again for recommending Mazetti. Have not had the chance to use it as I have yet to learn how to use copper wares properly. Messed up my D’Artagnan duck breast using the vintage 1940’s rondeau purchased recently. It is a lovely pot 2.5 mm , on the bottom 4 -5 mm. Initially, too low heat, then I turned it up a bit to medium high and burned it when I turned around. My vulcan range has high BTU. So, am on learning curve. Called RM tinning, they run out of sauce pans. No rush, just want to add to my collection.
As to the Duck Confit Cassoulet, it is one of the many favored dish of mine. I can buy the duck confit legs now from Giant or Wegmans but the tarbais beans are not to be found anywhere locally. Perhaps, Whole Foods but that is too far away for me. Very expensive on the internet, so I just use white beans. D’artagnan has a cassoulet recipe which I follow , and their ingredient for 12 is on sale for $124.00. Shipping is pricey but add a few more things to your cart, at $150 , shipping is free. However, it seems they do not supply that many duck confit in their kit. I generally use 6 legs when I make the dish. I have not ordered from them bec I tend to have their duck leg confit in my freezer with lots of duck fat from cooking duck breast and and their veal /duck stock on hand. So, where do you buy your tarbais beans and does it really make a big difference?

Hi, ccj:

A good rule of thumb is that copper takes 40% lower heat settings. Another is never to preheat an empty pan on the stovetop–until you have more experience, put at least a fair amount of fat in the pan before turning on the heat. With experience, you can fudge this a little bit. In the meantime, a 350F oven is safe to preheat.

I bought my Tarbais beans at a Seattle specialty grocer, DeLaurentis. I think you can also get them at Paris-Madrid Grocery. Probably the best and cheapest place to get them by mail is Rancho Gordo.

As I said above, I can tell no qualitative difference using Great Northern or Canneloni beans.


Kaleo – I have enjoyed making a few cassoulets; I think I posted my favorite in recipe format on the CH Home Cooking board, and that one got its best boost from the fact that there were no lamb shanks to be found in or around Pasadena (a cold snap had given every cook in the area the same basic urge), and so with the help of a friendly butcher I went for neck. That one began with cooking beans and lamb overnight in a slow oven, and just got better from there. The beans I used were 99¢/lb Peruanos from Food4Less. The confit was $3/lb duck legs from 99 Ranch; the duck fat was more expensive originally, but by that time had been bumped with in-house-made lard from the Latino market on Orange Grove. The sausages were knockwurst, bratwurst and a couple of frozen Toulouse ones my pa-in-law had given me for Christmas a year or two before.

As the other person at this address has given up meat (except when she goes to a Chinese or Taiwanese restaurant, or to France), I am out of the cassoulet business, although when we spent some time in Paris a year or so ago there was a sweet neighborhood joint down the street that kept a cassoulet with confit d’oie on their chalkboard, and of course I had to have some. It was exquisite. And cheap! Café du Théatre, on Rue Blanche about six blocks down from Blvd. de Clichy. We will be back in October …


thanks for info. If there is no difference, I will continue using cannelloni beans from whole foods.
by the way, i found a set of 4 - 30 year old 2 mm hammered copper sauce pan ( could not resist although I very seldom make sauce these days) . The seller told me the tins look OK except 2 of them has pits, which has darkened. No copper showing. He thinks this is from bubbles during tinning. What is your take? Called RMT but they were all out of those sauce pans. These were not expensive at $145 but $109 for shipping. Thought, I will look and buy if reasonable but will not buy if I have to have them re- tinned .

Cannellini beans will do. I do feel that the tarbais beans are superior–they have a way of cracking slightly but retaining integrity, which is appealing in this dish, as it keeps things from getting mushy. Too bad they’re so hard to source in the USA. Also, make sure to get the freshest beans. I find that Latin markets, or even Walmart, are good bets for turnover in beans.

To your more general question about money: bouillabaisse comes to mind as another expensive dish that, in it’s homeland, is cobbled together from what’s on hand, but hella expensive to try replicate in the USA. Indeed, I think it would be impossible for almost all Americans to duplicate the typical seafood from the French Mediterranean.

I will try Cannelloni from Hispanic store as I frequent them more than Whole Foods
Tarbais beans is just as expensive as the duck confit if I use D’Artagnan’s recipe.
I only make Duck Confit Cassoulet during Christmas holidays
Used to make bouillabaisse during the days when halibut was not that expensive in the 70’s.
Gave that up , instead am making a Portuguese dish called cataplana, using chorizo to cook with my sofritto, fish fillet, shellfish ( shrimp, clams , mussels) and squid. Once chorizo browns, the sofritto cooked ( using recipe for paella), the seafood goes in, with white wine, dinner is ready in 12-15 minutes as the cataplana is very fast, acting like a steamer/pressure cooker. It is the prototype of the modern pressure cooker.

From a discussion on the New Jersey board:

So what sez you all? Is a human “cooking with love” (or ego, or out of a grim sense of duty to family and ethnic tradition) important to authenticity? Or is ballbusting, or perhaps walletbusting, intransigence about the sourcing of ingredients more crucial? Or both? or neither?


Same ingredients, methods and results? Sounds authentic to me. Soulless, yet authentic.

Like sitting in a basement under a sunlamp, wearing only VR goggles, sipping replicated Nobile Montepulciano waiting or the robot to execute Marcella Hazan’s Rabbit Cacciatora. Si, la dolce vita!!

Assuming the robot is intelligent enough to respond to all the variables then it sounds fine. After all a lot of food production is automated and still considered authentic.

I have never really thought of authenticity had much to do with attitude (love etc), it’s all about ingredients technique, and understanding (i.e. making changes that retain the soul of the dish).

A dish can be just as authentic at a hole in the wall as a finer diner - the “it can’t be authentic if its not cheap” mantra annoys me. I often think authenticity suffers when food is produced cheaply away from its origin: the ingredients are not usually correct; the kitchen uses short cuts to get to the price point; and dishes are adjusted for the markets taste (under spiced, lowered fat, more/less protein etc).

Am I the only one who sees the future being mostly automated? We have things like the Thermomix now, but I think as labor becomes even more expensive, we’ll start seeing more automation. There are already products like the Rotimatic and Dosamatic available. Although I enjoy making things by hand, I understand a lot of people don’t. If it means healthier and fresher food for more people, then it’s a good thing in my opinion.

I have wondered this many times when it comes to bread. I go out of my way to get “artisan” bread and now regularly bake such loaves at home. The bread I purchase is getting expensive and inconsistent; the human element isn’t helping. Labor turnover is an issue. I guess training new employees in the nuances of breadmaking must be tough. At home, it takes quite a bit of effort, whether no-knead or yes-knead.

Why couldn’t this sort of breadmaking be automated? Even if it was just as inconsistent but more affordable, I’d go for it. After running around town for a decade supporting all the local bakeries, I don’t know how much longer I can deal with the lowering quality standards.

No. It doesn’t take a futurist to see that future–of ever-increasing and accelerating automation.[quote=“bmorecupcake, post:37, topic:8676”]
If it means healthier and fresher food for more people, then it’s a good thing in my opinion.

Utilitarianism aside, your premise here is uncertain. What we may end up with is skillfully processed, standardized ingredients–even a few universal ones–that result in foods which look, feel and taste like healthier and fresher hand-made foods.

Automated breadmaker appliances were once the Instant Pot of their day, and in nearly every kitchen (now in every landfill). I thought they made decent, if ugly, bread. I expect someone will offer a “smart” breadmaker, and also that it will still be a far cry from being able to emulate a human professional baker.

Larger bakeries are also themselves already mostly automated–and it shows. There is a parallel with wineries here: it is possible to automate and scale up wine production to industrial levels, but it is very hard to do in a way that results in a finished wine equal to one made by small(er), artisanal winemakers. In both cases, you’re paying for (at least the chance at) something better, that isn’t fully automated.

I’m sorry if labor concerns have frustrated your pursuit of a regular bakery. Thankfully, I haven’t seen/tasted the kinds of inconsistency you note. In fact, in Seattle we have seen a large increase in both the # and quality of bread and pastry bakeries.

As for the future of food, we’ll see. Will the replicator make my kitchen or car smell good? Can it dust Wahine’s kissable forehead with flour? Does my model replicator come with the lame attachment that does anything I want? Does it flirt with me when it hands over my boule? Could it offer me a Kouign aman to tide me over?

IMO, the future will not be as bright if we can have anything we want, whenever we want it, by pushing a button.


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That put a smile of my face. A discussion I’d love to continue, but we’ll get split for being off-topic.

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Chad Robertson of Tartine has talked about wanting to use robots to scale up production:

It will be interesting to see if he can maintain quality.

Around Boston, my favorite bread comes from smaller bakeries, and I haven’t noticed any decline in quality, but I’ve still moved toward baking more of my own bread because I like to play around with using different flours.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold