Watching Somm really sparked an interest in how taste–in a literal sense–is in part socially constructed. Over the last few days I’ve watched a few documentaries obliquely related to the subject.
1. Three Stars – which follows nine Michelin-starred chefs from three continents. It’s centered around the rankings and effects of the Michelin starring system, a central legitimizing force with credential granting ability.
2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi – an 85 year old Michelin 3-star chef makes the world’s best sushi. The film is beautifully done. I don’t even eat fish and watching the way fish is prepared makes me salivate. The food appears transcendent–so good it goes beyond taste construction. But it relies on what other tastes are. Jiro’s sushi is acclaimed for its elegant simplicity–regarded as a zen-like food.
3. A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt – Paul Liebrandt prepares beatiful, artistic and at times inaccessible dishes but is embedded in a world driven by business, consumers, ratings (which even he values). The food goes beyond the realm of gastronomics and obsesses over presentation (e.g. an interesting scene where he complains that the restaurant’s lighting ruins a beautiful dish). The business side clearly frustrates him and depicts somewhat of a creative-bureaucratic struggle. An NYT article reveals this aspect. Also, we get exposure, again, to the impact that raters have. In this case, the big dog is Frank Bruni from the NYT whose review can make or break the restaurant. The amazing thing is the amount of power vested in this one guy, who as far as I can tell doesn’t have a background in food. His opinion is so valued that it determines what’s worth going to and what’s worth paying for. It’s amazing to see how his influence plays out.