When for practical reasons we talk about simple food today, we are very far from the concept of primitive cooking, a theory so well developed by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (from Oxford University). This distance is almost as great as the one that separates us from the invention, or discovery, of fire.

Nowadays the concept of simple food is associated with modern concepts that were naturally and empirically applied in other times; they would react spontaneously to Nature. Today we have to think, and learn, in order to be at one with Nature. This is a result of the galloping globalization, hence the necessary effort (as a counter point) for biodiversity. Today there is a constant struggle to stick to what is authentic.

The concepts of simple, even in the cooking arts, are associated with the concepts of intellectual thinking, capable of dictating trends. And as a result of cooking arts, gastronomy is developed, with it own marketing.

That which is simple, is good. What is simple is easy to learn to do, and it is easier to perfect. Think about the Portuguese fish, just grilled, near the coast.

The course of food in the world, and after so many generations, the invention of the kitchen naturally arose. This is the fact that affects changes in a definite way, the great social changes in history. Food no longer has the sole function of feeding, but rather develops cycles of production and distribution. Societies simultaneously associate rituals and magic to food, which is still applicable in societies today.

Now a days, even certain discussion or specially business has a meal included. Or family festivities…

With knowledge, and the need created by the new food production, new methods of cooking are distinguished. We thus witness the revolution of the pasturing. And as a consequence or parallel to this, the activities related to the selective domestication and breeding of animals is developed.

We cannot overlook the fact that nowadays we have to take into account all the big food movements, or traditions from a cultural point of view. And when we talk about culture we have to feel the sources: artistic, religious, geographic, economic and scientific. Food became a chapter in Universities.

With the advance in civilizations there is a development in a new activity: agriculture. In the year 8.000 AC we find very developed irrigation techniques of the Nile, and there is reference to a great number of food products that only reached the New Europe after the Discoveries. The rise and fall of some of the classic civilizations reveal new products and habits. However, they also delay the promotion of other products due to the need for destruction of history by the advance of the occupying forces.

Food thus becomes a means and an indication of social differentiation, from the medieval times to the twentieth century. There were two types of food: that of the upper classes, bourgeois and that of the people, the great masses. Today every body has access to meals out of home.

After the Discoveries there is a new activity in action in the World. New products are introduced from trade with distant places and this gives rise to the fist fusion cooking concept. The intercontinental exchanges lead to a new interchange of cultures that exceed the food area. And think about the new change of mentality movements…

Fusion Cooking is not only a mix of products, but a reencounter of cultures that create really new recipes.

Nowadays, with the world industrialization, an ecological revolution is inevitable, and we have to acknowledge biological agriculture.

We traveled from a primitive way of cooking, to a modern or evolved one, we went through  fast food, then the scientific and molecular one, and now we seem to want to go back to  primitive, but sensible cooking. The return to simple things.

Even in our times we are not able to quickly get rid of the traditional cooking habits. Granted we have the information and the means of doing things faster. And we have more options.  However, we also have our time more controlled and other types of ambitions. And we have professional and social demands.

When in the 70´s the first ideas of Nouvelle Cuisine arose, there were the conservative and classic people who immediately reacted stating that the traditions should be upheld. The traditional people precipitated themselves because the inventors of the contemporary, new cooking, created a new way of cooking based on the fundamental principles associated to the principal of valorization of the products, simplification of the cooking technique and the elimination of useless accessories.

I believe that there are only two types of cooking: the good one and the bad one. Regardless of the regional categories, national or international.

So, after all, what does the new cooking do? It starts with the concept of the market cooking, that is, it uses the products that grow in the season that Nature produces them naturally, which means the season that the products as such, taste their best. Afterwards, the regional cooking is appreciated, avoiding necessary complications and reducing the cooking time. Associated to this theme is the concept of exact cooking times which means that every product has its own differentiated cooking time. Marinating is avoided as well as heavy sauces. It takes into account the diet component and there is a constant need for innovation.

We are working towards a more simple way of cooking, more real, with the concern for giving value to the base product. Well, we learnt at the same time, to sophisticate the simple cooking.

We should not forget that recently Dan Barber declared that the “future of restaurants in the World” will be of the restaurants that produce their own products for the menu, in a self sufficient system and ecologically orientated.

We are talking about the upper class gastronomy??? Could it be the market demand???

I have to refer to the famous Anthony Bourdain in his book “A Cook´s Tour” that having gone around the world in search of authentic cooking innovations; he dedicates his first chapter to Portugal. His surprise was due to the spontaneity, authenticity, and enthusiasm of the primary food cooked after the killing of the pig. But even more than the surprise of the food, his fascination was that he became aware of what was missing in the food experience of the average American. Large groups of people eating together, the family element. The apparent cruelty in being in close contact with that which one is eating.” And that during the killing of the pig, everything is eaten. But in a simple way.

Nowadays more than ever, we want to appreciate the real thing. The simple things and with no constraints.

© Virgílio Gomes