Which foods should be protected from adulteration?
Experimentation is fine, but...
I don’t do much of either, if I’m honest, but cooking is like painting. There’s favoured media and trusted technique, rules on how long to soak pasta in water, and brushes in turps – and imitated masters of both artforms.
There’s also, essentially, experimentation. And just as there’s nothing more liberating than the art teacher being sick and the oils class progressing under the apathetic eye of the English teacher, I’ll confess I’ve never felt so joyous in the kitchen as when I get this idea to shut the cookbook and find something exciting in the cupboard.
However, as important as experimentation is, we shouldn’t appropriate. Something that started as oliebollen but then wildly mutated shouldn’t be dished up as oliebollen. Not everything with a sky half-inspired by Van Gough can claim to be Impressionist. Not everything with a pastry top, as Tim Rodie points out, can claim to be pie.
LET'S TALK THEN, ABOUT SWISS MADE CHRONOMETERS AND ANZAC BISCUITS
Bear with me.
In the watchmaking world, “Swiss Made” and “Chronometer” are such strong terms. Any company that can make their brand name represent a generic product are likely to do just that – capitalise on the glory with the barest minimum of execution.
But both terms are controlled, meaning only a watch 60% manufactured in Switzerland can use the Swiss Made label, whilst Chronometers and Master Chronometers (a mechanical watch movement that maintains faithfulness despite incredible outside forces) must be certified as such by The Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres in Switzerland.
Swiss Made. Chronograph. Both terms that cannot be used without entitlement.
It’s the same story with Australia’s iconic ANZAC biscuit. The ANZAC biscuit is a tradition that dates back to the kitchens of the WWI ANZAC wives, mothers and girlfriends – and as such, it’s regulated by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It permits substitution of ingredients (so you can have gluten-free ANZAC biscuits) but ingredients can’t be added or subtracted, nor can the name be changed by an American to ANZAC cookies.
The punishments are severe for anyone who experiments with the ANZAC biscuit and then calls it an ANZAC biscuit – you’ll be fined $51,000 if you’re a company and $10,000 if you’re an individual. Someone used the term “ANZAC Bikkie” once – bikkie being Aussie shorthand for biscuit – and they were told to replace that right away.
That’s a famous example, but similar safeguards around terms do apply elsewhere. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but according to the Food Standards Australia/NZ, a food marketed as ice cream has to contain no less than 100g/kg of milk fat and 168g/l of food solids. Which means nearly all of the tubs in the ice cream freezer don’t actually say the sacred words “ice cream”.
Now let's just imagine a bit of this severity applied to pies. Let's imagine there was a body that stipulated a pie must have pastry sides and survive outside of a supporting dish without structural failure, for it to appear on a menu as a "pie”. That the “Caesar salad” label was granted by Julius Caesar's Trust only on the condition it contained croutons. That anything on a pizza place flyer suggesting it was Italian had to follow a strict standard set out by the Society Di Valentinas.
It would mean that artists of food could experiment wildly. They'd just have to straighten their apron and follow the recipe if they wanted to use the iconic term.