Innovation Through Tradition


As I share my explorations into food and its craft, I keep having to defend my thoughts about innovation almost as though they where an act of treason against tradition. I was recently eminiscing about how delicious café de olla is with a family member. Café de olla is boiled ground coffee with the addition of piloncillo (a type of brown sugar) and canéla (Ceylon cinnamon) served at pretty much every food establishment in México. Our conversation transitioned into talking about how to recreate it at home. My mother insisted that coffee grounds must be boiled with the piloncillo & canéla, while I stood firm at making an infusion of piloncillo & canéla, and using that infusion to make a proper cup of coffee. That is, one in which the grounds are not boiled but rather steeped or percolated in some sort of filtering device. I had a French press in mind.

I started thinking about why we were holding on so bravely to our ideals. Her argument was that café de olla had always been made by boiling the ingredients together. It almost made sense, as boiling coffee almost always results in a bitter over-extraction that might have prompted the addition of the sweet piloncillo in the first place. I insisted that boiling coffee grounds was not a good idea (unless you are at high altitude and can control the agitation somehow) and was determined to seek out a new method.

She was insisting on tradition and I was determined to innovate. However, there is a difference in our preference for style. The question for me was “what would yield a better result?”

I think more often than not, in the field of food and coffee, there seems to be innovation for the sake of innovation. The effort of producing something new for the sake of novelty is not a commendable one in my opinion. Just as strictly upholding tradition because of  its endurance is not a commendable upholding. However, innovating when the intention is to create a better result I think is an admirable attempt. The most brilliant thing about it is that to do it successfully one must be rooted in tradition. Innovation that yields progress can only come with a clear understanding of tradition. I think this link between tradition and innovation is often overseen. One is no better than the other, rather they form a symbiotic relationship.

As I was reading a book today I stumbled upon a quote that encouraged me to write about this:

“It was during this period, in 1993, that I discovered our common love of tradition. To some thinkers, tradition is an irrational inheritance from the dead past, a mere residue of obsolete customs and beliefs, which an enlightened society should discard as an impediment to reason and progress. But tradition, we both agreed, is necessary to society, necessary to the continuity of rational as well as irrational thought; and it is the very bedrock upon which scientific research and material progress is built. Advances in scientific studies are made by constant reference to, and calibration against, prior thoughts and traditions.” – Sir John Meurig Thomas

I love that quote and it is complemented quite well with a statement on “New Cookery” that was drafted by people I admire very much: Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, and Harold McGee. You can find the statement here :

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/dec/10/foodanddrink.obsfoodmonthly

I must not forget to mention how subjective taste really is. Previously I wrote that my need for innovation came from wanting a better result. But a better result is a very subjective thing. For my mother, café de olla that is boiled is better simply because the process of making it reminds her of home, creating a positive emotion. For me, my new café de olla method is better because it seems technically correct and yields a result I enjoy. We must not forget that coffee, or any foodstuff for that matter, is consumed to evoke emotions of some sort. If it fails at doing so, no matter how novel or rooted in tradition it may be, it fails at being nourishment for the mind. It becomes simply nutrients.

[image: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/48435728]

Advertisements
Comments
4 Responses to “Innovation Through Tradition”
  1. fabianlucasptokf says:

    If taste is really subjective, then why are many cooks, able to agree on good taste? Why do most of think that a Bacon Avocado Sandwich is really good? Why do most of like Salvador Dali and think he is a great artist? I don’t think taste is subjective, some people just have bad taste. Cooking is an art, and art is objective.

  2. If taste is really subjective, then why are many cooks, able to agree on good taste? Why do most of think that a Bacon Avocado Sandwich is really good? Why do most of like Salvador Dali and think he is a great artist? I don’t think taste is subjective, some people just have bad taste. Cooking is an art, and art is objective.

  3. mama lalo says:

    Hello hello hello. I do not know who is Fabian but I have a clue. Yes indeed flavor is subjective. to our traditions. and objective at the same time nothing in between. love

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: