Monday, July 2, 2012

Famous Restaurants = Great Expectations?

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a few friends and recounting my dining experiences at the restaurants that previous seasons of Masterchef had opened my eyes to. Being completely objective on the matter, I had to admit that most of those experiences had failed to meet my expectations. Expectations that had been built up by watching the famed chefs of famed restaurants cook on the oh-so-popular Masterchef, be it the celebrity chef cook-off, or an Adriano Zumbo-style "replicate my amazing 8 layer vanilla cake" challenge.

There was The Press Club - I was pretty impressed by it the first time I was there. I had lunch there with my aunt and uncle, and I remember the lamb dish where each bite was like a little mouthful of heaven. This was in 2009, i.e. pre-Masterchef. Post Masterchef, I would be lying if I said that I was blown away by my degustation meal... It was really tasty and well-presented, but somehow just wasn't quite the nearly life-changing meal I was expecting it to be. And yes Masterchef is to blame for this. Don't get me wrong, I love watching Masterchef, as I do any other good cooking show. But this show really built up my expectations of what amazing food would taste like. And the reality of the meal just didn't match how I had imagined it would taste.. For those who don't know - George Calombaris, one of the Masterchef judges, is the owner and head chef of Press Club. Press Club was featured in a group challenge on the show in 2010 where contestants had to prepare the degustation menu for the re-opening of the restaurant. The food looked a lot tastier on TV...

The other restaurant that surprisingly didn't quite meet my expectations was Quay in Sydney. Best restaurant in Australia and some amazing organic farm up in some hill/mountain where they get their fresh produce from, I was expecting a van Gogh-esque experience of culinary art. Didn't quitee meet the mark there. Sad, but true. The food was amazing, but was let down by little things that I was surprised a place like Quay would have overlooked. There were a few very strong tasting pieces of tuna sashimi in one of my dishes, I had been expecting each dish to knock my socks off - but the explosions of flavour were more Molotov cocktail than nuclear bomb.. Underwhelming. I had the famous guava snow egg desert that became famous for being the ultimate final challenge on Masterchef - it was amazingly tasty, but the meringue had a flat egg white taste that didn't appeal to me. My baby cousin's banana porridge probably has more flavour.

Now I know that you must be thinking "wow, those are some crazy expectations!", but hey - I only built them up to be what they were based on what I saw and heard on TV... Can you really blame me?

The point of this post isn't to complain about each and every flaw in these restaurants' dishes, it's just me voicing my thoughts on how our expectations can be inflated so much by what we watch on TV.

Having said that, you will be glad to know that as a result of this philosophical exercise, I now know not to let my expectations build up too much. Food is food - it may look amazing on TV, and the TV people may talk them up to be the amazing concoctions that they may potentially be, but I'm not buying half of it until I've tried the food for myself. Hah!

Also, it is important to note that these expectations that I refer to in this post are only in relation to certain fine dining experiences I've had. Give me a good ol' Malaysian char kuay teow from the road-side hawker any day and I will not even think of complaining. Street food is gooood - cheap, simple, and packed with flavour (and also some other ingredients best left unknown..). It's the expensive stuff that I reserve my harsh judgement for.

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