26 November 2011

Half of all the meals eaten in Australia are consumed outside the diner’s home. At school, at work, in a park, in cafes and restaurants, on a train….the list goes on. More surprisingly, of all these mobile bites, one in three is eaten in a car. Now that really is meals on wheels!

This observation represents a profound demographic shift away from the slower and involved processes of actually cooking, towards more convenient and ever faster cuisine. We have outsourced the process of dinner.

The original ‘fast food’ was developed in France. 19th century Paris was dotted with small eateries in which the simplest fare would be served from basic menus. The rise of this type of restaurant began in the 1770’s when rural workers began moving to the cities in great numbers, firstly in response to famine, and then to seek employment in the newly emerging factories. A great number of these workers lived in tiny garret lodgings with no kitchen, such that eating out was a necessity not a choice.

At the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1814, the Russians invaded Paris. They would remain there for two years, and took full advantage of the local culture. Cossack officers, disdainful of the defeated French, were said to frequent these small eateries and showed no patience for any delay.

From their tables they screamed “Bystro”, a coarse Russian term meaning ‘Hurry up!’.

The name stuck, and has become synonymous with simple and delicious French cuisine. Today the term describes both the type of restaurant, and also the style of food traditionally offered there.

The basic principles of bistro food are seasonality, simplicity and singularity.

Seasonal foods not only taste better, but are cheaper to buy and help a bistro maintain its lower price point. Simplicity is what drives the formulation of recipes, and also the manner of presentation. A bistro chef take a handful of basic ingredients and combines them in an efficient, but tasty, way. As for the presentation, this chef is happy to allow natural food to look like natural food.

But it is singularity that is at the heart of the bistro. Individual ingredients are allowed to shine of their own right – a tomato soup that tastes like tomato, and veal roast with the perfect taste of veal. Unlike the layered offerings of fine dining restaurants, the bistro meal is perfectly simple, and simply perfect.

And the famously quick service? Well that’s just a bonus!
Braised veal breast with pistachios

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