This spring Gordon Ramsay opened a new restaurant in London: the Lucky Cat. Offering Asian food in a restaurant inspired by Tokyo’s 1930s teahouses and Shanghai’s drinking dens. A pre-view opening night for critics and journalists triggered a debate about authenticity. Could Gordon Ramsey claim to offer ‘authentic Asian food’ or should he stick to mashed potatoes, fish and chips? Was Ramsay guilty of Cultural Appropriation (dominant cultures profiting from the preparations and traditions of other cultures while those cultures are unable to do the same)?
Which brings us to Authenticity. Can a country, a city, a culture claim ownership of food? Can Nice claim the Salade Niçoise, can France claim French Fries? Can Japan claim udon and soba?
Unfortunately the debate derailed because of the aggressive way people started to contribute (or contributed right from the start Gordon would say). A pity because it’s interesting to study the origin and background of food. Why do we eat the food we eat? Why do we cook the way we do? Why do we add certain herbs? What’s the origin?
Earlier this year we visited the inspiring city of Hakata, also to see the monument dedicated to Udon and Soba. There are not many food-related monuments, so this was special. The story is that Shoichi Kokushi (a Japanese Buddhist monk) returned from China in 1241 to Hakata where he founded the Joten-Ji temple. He introduced udon and soba (amongst other products) to Japan, notably to Hakata. People in Hakata claim to produce udon noodles based on Shoichi Kokushi‘s recipe. Authentic Udon Noodles.
Back to Gordon Ramsay
Cultural Appropriation is a nasty concept. It’s culinary theft based on perceived ownership. But in reality culinary traditions evolve and continue to evolve, for better and for worse. That’s how Udon became Japanese, that’s why you can order a Hawaiian pizza, that why some people prepare a Salade Niçoise with balsamic vinegar, cucumber, basil, croutons or even red bell pepper.
In the mean time Gordon Ramsay made a clever move: he dropped the tag ‘authentic’ and simply opened the doors of his restaurant.
(This week’s recipe: Caesar’s Mushrooms with Udon)