From ancient times till the nineteenth century cooking was basically a survival skill. The nineteenth century marked the division of cooking into two main categories.
The two branches were defined by the French, were there is 'normale cuisine' which means home cooking, and 'haute cuisine', which is cooking conceived like an artform. The major difference between the two branches is that one form should be considered as practical cooking while the other is more like cooking with a view to demonstrating skill.
The boundary between ~normale cuisine~ and ~haute cuisine~ gets thinner and thinner over time. New professional kitchen equipment and more information about cooking allow people to perform like chefs at home.
Haute cuisine cooking gathers different techniques and ingredients together in an artform. Haute cuisine thrives to gather as many aromas and subtle variations as possible to let our taste buds discover the variations of even the most ordinarily food. Color is also an important factor in this type of cooking.
While cooking was mainly a means to survive, food cooking techniques were simple ~ roasting by the fire, or wrapping in leaves to steam. The first revolution in cooking took place twelve thousand years ago, when pottery was invented.
Pottery opened the door to new cooking techniques like stewing, boiling, and frying. Actually, the heart of modern cooking is the combination of these simple techniques.
Historically, the three most important cooking styles are Italian, Chinese, and French. The oldest is Chinese. Its most popular equipment is the wok, which is a special frying pan, where food is prepared fast and effectively. Food ingredients circulate permanently inside the wok. Its design also allows to fully utilize the heat.
Chinese cuisine chops ingredients in small pieces. On one hand, this saves fuel, which is a scarce commodity, and on the other ~ since maximum surface of the ingredient is exposed to heat, dishes are prepared in no time at all.
Chinese food is considered light and fresh. Sauces and various flavors and aromas help to fine-tune the taste of Chinese food. Chinese dishes are light and fresh and Chinese restaurants are very popular internationally.
Because fuel was also a rare resource in Italy, Italian cooking, similarly to Chinese, relies on the fast and efficient exposure of ingredients to heat. The main ingredient of Italian cuisine is pasta, to which small pieces of meat, rice, corn, and tomatoes are added.
In the beginning, French cuisine involved too many spices and was heavy. This was changed by Catherine de M~dici, a French Queen, born in Italy. In 1534 she came to France, together with a crowd of Florentine chefs and bakers. They introduced new equipment that revolutionized French cooking and set new standards all over Western Europe.
Today it is very different. We can expect to find everything mentioned above and much more besides in most cities in the developed world. When next you find yourself spoilt for choice, think of those earlier gourmets who would be amazed at your good fortune!
David Owenforth is the Operator of
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