Globalization and Identity

There are times in which people want to play tarot and predict the future. Where is cuisine going? What a great question… where is cuisine going?

Questions like this one betray a willful aptitude, as well as short sight. What will happen tomorrow escapes the human being, as much as he tries to shape it or be the protagonist.

Political, economic and social circumstances surely influence reality and society, to which cooking and gastronomy are not strangers. Should we enact a study of the consequences of the 35-hour workweek in haute cuisine restaurants, especially when in other European countries—in the same competition, in the fight for prestige and quality—many establishments work 60 hours? Should we analyze the repercussions on final results of counting only and exclusively salaried chefs, or counting the added value in work provided by dozens of young hands in training or “recycled” professionals? Can 13 people working 35 hours, talented as they may be, ever best 30 people working 60, limited as they may be?

Have we asked how the price increase caused by tax policy and VAT, whether small or disproportionate, influences clientele? With higher prices, we attract a more bourgeois clientele, in the negative sense of the word; big shots who are there to be treated as such rather than for culinary adventures.

Is the promotion of sumptuous, haughty, palatial restaurants—those to which a young cook, incipient enterpriser or small business owner can never frequent—perhaps limiting the development of new talents and the cuisine of the future?

Concepts such as health and aesthetics abound, people adopt them and the restaurant industry makes them their own, creating lean cuisine.

Technology. Are there not machines that have determined culinary history in restaurants? Is productivity not a rule that influences daily work and its results?

These and others are factors that go beyond the chefs and their propositions. As do the manufacture and distribution of food products. The universalization of products and the disappearance of home cooking—because women have different roles in society, because our lives are so hurried, because of work schedules, because no one eats at home anymore—for so many reasons, including intellectual cosmopolitanism, people’s more universal aptitude, the aggressive commercialization of multinational corporations…all of this is causing widespread globalization. Take the globalization of pizza, of the hamburger, of tapas and pinchos, of steak houses…everything, even the most traditional, the most local, only has one dream: to globalize.

So what do we call identity?

Does Galician-style octopus have less identity since it left Galicia and became one of the most emblematic recipes in Spanish bars, taverns, restaurants…? Has foie gras lost its idiosyncrasy because it is made and served in France, Israel, the United States, Hungary…in any part of the world? Can risottos only be made in Italy? Are we going to deny cod any option that is not Basque and pil-pil?

Universalization poses a greater problem than the loss of environments and local cultures; when a dish is generalized, it becomes common, degraded—it loses quality.

Local particularities fascinate us, and we think they ought to be conserved when they are a gastronomical world heritage—they constitute enriching diversity. This does not have to lead us to dogma, to us obliging anyone to limit himself to repeating the inherited. One acting in this way could practice a very particular cuisine, and more so if the community practicing it is small, but he would be a cook without identity. Identity today only has one future: the person, creative, individual cuisine, which needs to have as many inspirations, sentiments, characters, and criteria as creators…creators with style, personality, character, distinction; distinction, therein lies identity.

Eating with identity does not presume a cook with identity. For example, for an Asian person to eat baby squid in their ink or a cuttlefish al nero could have considerable identity, but we must ask ourselves: What professional identity does one who repeats these recipes in the orthodox way have?

A pizza in New York, the maximum evidence of globalization, can nevertheless have identity. This comes with the quality and the different ingredients that set it apart.

Identity can be provided by many things: the ingredients—singularity and excellence—used, the techniques systematically used by a chef, cultural idiosyncrasy…all of those elements that make a difference.

Although we have a certain predilection for European-inspired and designed creative cuisine—mainly Spanish, Italian and French—let us break away from telling anyone what path to follow. Among other reasons, because there are many paths to Rome. Truth, in capital letters, does not exist; there are as many truths as there are cooks and clients. All concepts, all communities, all palates should be expressed. And identity lies in expressing a work, an original style…within a relevant perfection. The individual, with limitations and conditions set by the world, is today the main source of identity.