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Other Writings and Recipes

A Different Omnivore’s Dilemma

Vidhi Dattani

You may think me blasphemous, but I’m over pork belly. And offal. And pieces of fat for fat’s sake. This isn’t an issue of health or of taste, but of fatigue. For too many chefs, gratuitous additions of animal oddities creep into every appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert. I’m an omnivore, but I don’t need animal in everything I eat.

With restrained options disappearing from restaurant menus—where is the understated starter salad?—I think the trend has gone too far. The attempt to ramp up each plate to a full-palate, fatty affair often backfires. Rather than introducing different flavors and textures over the course of the meal, such dishes, taken together, become repetitive, unimaginative, exhausting. In these cases, a chef’s impertinence draws attention to itself, the culinary equivalent of overwrought prose.

To me, a crisp winter-leaf salad with tart vinaigrette perfectly readies the palate for rich, fatty meats. The first course sets up the second. Culinary restraint, in this case, doesn’t hamper ideas or slide toward rote limitations. This restraint is an exercise in patience, in attention, and ultimately, even, an expression of confidence. It suggests that a meal can be indulgent simply by virtue of its being well-prepared. Offal doesn’t have to do all the work.