Just like abstract painting, modern cooking can seem random and accidental. A splash and dab on a canvas, an unexpected pairing of ingredients such as fish and fruit -- one can assume that the only purpose is to startle the eye or the palate. But in the best new cooking -- whether American, French, Viennese or English -- there is a reason behind each modernization and combination.
Fritz Sonnerschmidt, educational department head of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., is training many of the innovators and practitioners of this new cooking in the United States, so one might naturally turn to him for an explanation. His discussion began over an apricot horseradish sauce.
Apricots and horseradish? Good heavens!
Not so ridiculous an idea, insisted Sonnerschmidt, and certainly not accidental. "The modern approach is where you take opposite characteristics and put them together," he explained. Start with a banana, he continued. "A banana is dull." And think of its opposite -- a radish. "A radish is sharp."
While either one alone has no momentum, said Sonnerschmidt, "Together they create an explosion." Thus a couple of years ago he combined them into a recipe that became "an instant hit" at the Culinary Institute of America. It is simply a salad of one part sliced banana and one part sliced radish, dressed with half orange juice and half lemon juice, seasoned with salt, pepper and a touch of oil, tossed and served on boston lettuce.
Now compare that to the old American standby of banana-pineapple-maraschino cherry Candlestick Salad.