The validity of authenticity

An interesting treatise on the validity of authenticity in the Wall Street. It may or may not be behind a paywall, depending on the elves’ temperament.

Behind paywall, but the blurb before the sign-in is a good indicator of content. I did read it, and to me the thesis was incoherent.

The author doesn’t have much of an argument beyond “does it taste good,” references Ottolenghi’s “controversial” irish stew recipe and a “biryani” sandwich at Marks & Spencer, and caveats everything by “not suggesting for a moment that we should pay no regard to the origin of dishes.”

Hard to tell what she’s actually proposing between the clickbait/inflammatory title (“Misguided Obsession With ‘Authentic’ Food”) and the CYA caveat to pay regard to origin.

And then there’s the question of who gets to decide whether authenticity is important or not - there’s some condescension there, in addition to other things.


A note of mod.

This is a post originated from the Italian, Cooking of the quarter thread. I believe it is an argument first brought into attention by @barca . An interesting topic to exist on its own.

Just a note on the Wall Street article. I clicked the above link and see the paywall, but able to read the article by searching the title via Google and click on the search result. (or try this link)

Title of the article is The Misguided Obsession With ‘Authentic’ Food .

I’ve to agree with you. The argument is quite empty in the article. Tasting good to one doesn’t mean tasting good for another, it is so subjective. How about the cultural and historical context?!

It is a bit too easy to discard authenticity, like the author states:

The cult of authenticity is based on the idea that recipes are suspended in time and place, like berries in an old-fashioned Jell-O mold.

The author uses extensively Ottolenghi to defend her point of view, is she an expert on the mentioned cuisines? I think one important question she should have asked is, she should test with the natives a dish produced by a local chef and the same dish made by Mr. Ottolenghi, and with the remarks collected on the 2 dishes, I think there we can start to have relevant points to start a more interesting discussion.

Condescension, or ignorance?


Author is a food writer - not that it precludes ignorance, but condescension seemed more likely to me. And for someone of her profile/heritage/background to raise the question is… questionable.


OK, I think with her background as marxist and historian, I can understand her stand in the article.

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I read it somewhat differently. That we each need not be slave to a prescription, and, when you get down to it, how many authentic recipes can be traced to more than a plot of ground and epoch. Proceeding, taste will be different for each cook and diner. It seems not a crime to start with a concept, realize it, then transform it into something individual and pleasing to one’s household. It needn’t be labeled genuine but rather “our plate, in the style of…”


Interesting discussion. I wonder if “traditional” would be a more useful word choice than “authentic” to describe what the author means?

To me, what’s being described are traditional foodways, which are tied to culture, place, and time. (Time, because what’s considered the canonical way of preparing a dish evolves over time.)

I am a fan of traditional foodways and seek them out. I’m drawn to the history and the culture they represent. Equally so, I am a fan of dishes based on those foodways that draw upon ingredients and preparations we have available today. Maybe I’m greedy but I want both please. Yum.

Authentic is a such a tricky word.


I’m not sure that distinction helps much. A point I’ve made on HO before is that tomatoes were introduced to Italy in the 16th century. At what point does an element become acceptable as either authentic or traditional? 10 years? 100 years? 500 years? 1,000 years? There are other issues as well. The discussion of bechamel or ricotta in lasagna (if you accept that something so historically recent as lasagna is authentic/traditional at all) is silliness as both were common in different areas of Italy.

Where is the space for innovation? My matzo brei looks nothing like your grandmother’s version (my grandmother couldn’t cook) but it tastes good. I’ve had practicing crew roll their eyes when I said I was making it and then line up for seconds. Clearly some innovation will fail but some moves cuisine forward.

Authentic lasagna means using cottage cheese . I thought everyone knew that!


But is there a point where the changes so transform a traditional dish as to make it unrecognizable? Additions that seem oblivious of or uncaring toward the history of typical ingredients? And those changes make the dish unpalatable to those who grew up enjoying it.

Take the Ottolenghi example from the article, where his additions of Mediterranean ingredients (parsley, orange peel, garlic) were such departures from the original flavor profile and history of the dish? Or for me, when someone decides to “improve” chicken noodle soup by adding green bell pepper (as a line cook did in a restaurant where I worked). It might be soup that happens to include chicken and noodles, but to me - that crossed the line into “not chicken noodle soup.”


Excellent distinction and what I think strikes to the heart of the controversy.


I think that is the case. I agree with you. The question is where you draw the line and that is where reasonable people can disagree. If you leave off breadcrumbs is chicken cordon bleu still cordon bleu? I’d say yes. Suppose you use Feta cheese? I’d say yes. Suppose you dice the chicken and ham? I’d say if you are explicit that you have deconstructed it so as not to surprise your audience I would say yes. You can do interesting things by interchanging oatmeal and farina but I suggest that is a fundamental change. Adding onions and tomato to my matzo brei doesn’t change the fundamental nature of matzo brei; adding cheese is different.

If you broil your chicken-fried steak is it still chicken-fried? I don’t think so but it would be fun to talk about.

Using no-boil pasta for lasagna leads to bad lasagna in my opinion but it is still lasagna, again in my opinion.

How about all the boutique modern needs: gluten-free, low-carb, dairy-free, … does using those fundamentally change the product? Should the name change? In my opinion gluten-free bread is not bread, and meat-free burgers aren’t burgers. The latter incidentally is to my understanding in the courts (truth in advertising). I like Morningstar soy-based “sausage” patties but it wouldn’t hurt my head if the courts decide they can’t use the word “sausage” on their packaging.

If you use vinegar instead of lemon juice in a recipe is that a fundamental change? If you use Bisquick instead of making biscuits from scratch do you still end up with biscuits or something else? Who decides? France has boards that decide. Most of the rest of the world we can talk about it.

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Ask anyone you know if Corned Beef & Cabbage is authentically an Irish dish. :smile:


Dave…Cheese or no cheese is Milked or Parve……don’t mess with Ashem…
Overall you are correct… we need to chill…yes?


I haven’t jumped into this thread because my own thoughts aren’t fully worked through and hard to therefor summarize into a quick food blog post. But here is where my head is (albeit partly formed). . .

Talking about “authentic” is difficult because I think it is a misdirection from the actual discussion. In doing that, it confounds important, interesting, and difficult topics, motivations, and emotions. Ultimately I think when people discuss or call out authenticity they are really discussing “cultural erasure” (I don’t have a better word for it, maybe someone smarter than me does).

In the case of the “Irish stew”, I have to wonder if the outcry was because “traditional” Irish stew and culture didn’t (and still doesn’t really) have a seat at the “general public table” (so to speak). So people were upset because when Irish Stew was finally getting public attention it was by a non-Irish using non-Irish ingredients. Their cultural tradition was being erased and represented by someone else.

However, at other times this same word is used in the reverse. People in positions of power use the same word, “authentic”, to exclude and erase “new” people’s culture. So (from another post on HO) when in Italy people were fighting to protect “authentic” Italian cuisine, it seemed to me they were trying to exclude and/or erase the influences of new migrants.

When we focus on ingredients only, e.g. tomatoes in Italian food, I feel like we are again avoiding the underlying feelings that others are trying to discuss but maybe don’t have the language for yet. Every time a new trade route was established, new plants/herbs/spices were introduced (tomatoes in Italy, nutmeg in France, sugar cane to the western hemisphere) and thus influenced cuisine. In 2019, I think we are confounding the historic movement of “things” (ingredients) with the movement of people. And I think it is wrong to frame those as equal when discussing authenticity.

Food is (IMHO) so central to personal identity and personal history that it is important to talk about. But it is also easier to talk about food than feelings and power struggles. So I always wonder when people bring up “authenticity”, what are they really bringing up . . . . . I think the underlying feelings and motivations in those discussions are complex.

(Sorry, that was the best I could do in the shortest way I can right now)


Not exactly the same thing, but this reminds me of the current restaurants scenes of Paris today, a group of Japanese chefs, they have learned their art by working in some respectful French 2 or 3-stars restaurants. They open today their own restaurants cooking French cuisines (not talking about the fusion ones), a few of them have been awarded Michelin stars. There are some French (whites with a few generations rooted in France) disregard these type of chefs, believing that non-natives don’t have the right up bringing and can never cook a real French meal even with the right ingredients and techniques. It looks like very extreme case. But it seems in France, even cheaper restaurants are suspected if you are not natives to your own cuisine, just to give an example South American people cooking Italian or Chinese cooking Vietnamese…


I am 110% sure you could find the exact same situation in Japan, if a French person decided to open a sushi restaurant.


Isn’t this the case of Ivan Orkin (NYC) with his ramen shop in Japan, if there was not that Japanese reportage, nobody would enter his shop. Saw this in a program on Netflix, I think, Chef’s Table.

I feel the Japanese is worse than the French.


Orkin actually succeeded pretty quickly. Maybe ramen isn’t as “sacred.” Or maybe he really struck a chord.

I’m lucky enough to be within walking distance of one of his restaurants (in Manhattan, not Japan). I don’t think the food is life-changing or anything, but it’s definitely good.