aute cuisine and comfort food have long been a case of ‘ne’er the twain shall meet’. Haute cuisine was something you went out to eat. A chef, Michelin stars attached, had spent months researching and experimenting, and was serving up dainty, elegant food with all the pomp and ceremony of making an offering at Court. Comfort food, on the other hand, was the territory of the line cook—bustling about, yelling orders in a crowded kitchen, throwing things into pans and deep-fryers—and was presented without fuss. Suddenly, though, the two have reached an entente, a union that’s bringing two wonderful but totally different worlds together. Burgers, fries and milkshakes, mac ‘n’ cheese, hearty soups and stews, chunky, gooey cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… the paperback novel to the memory-inducing, tea-soaked Proustian cookie is suddenly the Next Big Thing. Upscale restaurants have caught on to the general deliciousness of comfort foods, and are giving classic dishes the luxury treatment, refining old favourites and sparking a trend for gourmet comfort food the world over.
Rashmi Uday Singh, food critic and author of the definitive Good Food Guides, has been tracking this trend in restaurants around the world. Its popularity, she found, can be attributed to two reasons: “First, the overdose of molecular gastronomy, foams, et al, when cuisine started becoming more theatre and less food, and second, a need to hark back to comfort fare is even more underlined in this increasingly wired and fast-paced world.” In the US, there are several great places doing comfort food in new and exciting ways. In New York, head to Momofuku Ko
for their fried chicken dinner—one whole chicken fried Southern style, a second done Korean style, served with mu shu pancakes, lettuce, and sauces to die for—and Red Rooster, Harlem, for their take on traditional American comfort foods (their refined doughnuts are outstanding—try the sweet potato one). In Chicago, a must-try is Table 52, serving deliciously gussied-up Southern fare including their take on fried green tomatoes (served with duck ham, Creole ricotta, and blueberry puree); Southern fried catfish
with tasso ham, grits, and Miatake mushrooms; and three-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese (tip: Their Sunday brunch menu is to die for as well). All the way across to the West Coast, try Mama’s, a San Francisco breakfast and brunch institution for perfectly made eggs, great French toast (the chocolate brioche!), crab cake Benedict, and, everyone’s favourite, their famous take on the simple fried ham and cheese sandwich, the Monte Cristo—turkey breast, honey-baked ham, cheddar and gruyere, all battered in egg and grilled, served with Mama’s incredible homemade jam.
Oscar Balcon, proprietor of New Delhi’s Artusi Ristorante e Bar, believes comfort food is food with a history. “One takes comfort in knowing that, while these foods are prepared with the most modern methods and the finest gourmet ingredients, it is dishes that reflect what people in a specific part of the world have eaten for generations.” For anyone familiar with dishes from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, the food at Artusi is pure, nostalgic indulgence. The piadina (a thin Italian flatbread) is an old street-food favourite, and served at Artusi with cured meats and creamy cheese. Meanwhile, pasta—the ultimate Italian comfort food—is painstakingly handmade, and offered in dishes like ravioli stuffed with ricotta and served in buttery sage sauce. Golden oldies like mac ‘n’ cheese and burgers, have become staples at upscale
restaurants serving a mix of western fare. Continued on pg 198 Freyan Patel explores the trend that’s taking comfort food
classics and turning them into dishes fit for a gourmet
Ravioli at Artusi