Authenticity? Who needs it

Time and time again, I find it displayed on store-fronts, promising me just a glimmer of something good. Authentic. We do it exactly as they do it, somewhere else in the world. But is authentic really “better”? Can something be authentic to a person, and not be an exact replication of a dish somewhere else, especially in a poorer, older part of the world? More to the point, is it more important to be authentic or delicious? We all have different palates, and for me and most Americans, we may find that a tender cut of beef is a good cut of beef. In places such as Vietnam or Ethiopia, the chewier the better. Based on my experience, the traditional model of authenticity is….overrated. 

Will calling your restaurant authentic make you more successful? The answer is no. If I’m told that a dish is authentic to a specific part of the world, I’m far more inclined to believe them over telling me that their entire chimichanga, burrito-laced menu is exactly how they do it in Mexico. Because the funny thing is, those things don’t exist in Mexico.

I’m all for re-creation, but even in places like Italy or China, the food is hyper regional. And I mean hyper. That’s saying that no two grandmas make the same recipes in the same way, for each family has their own unique spin on a variety of dishes. So when a restaurant states that a dish is specific to a region in Italy, that may be better, but what would be even more impressive is to give me the family they gathered the recipe from. That would be undeniably authentic. In terms of more creative cooking, we all steal, we all alter. This is true in any type of art. It’s important to realize when you can transcend just a plain rip-off into something that can truly be thought of as your own. 

Another important issue concerning authenticity revolves around what people expect from an “authentic” restaurant. If the more mainstream diner finds a place they deem to be “authentic”, more than likely, it will be family run, and may only cater to a specific clientele base. In this case, the diner often will expect the food to be cheap. This comes from a place of privilege, for many upper-class citizens expect food from less well-off parts of the world to be far cheaper than a New American concept or a French Brasserie. This may be because small local eateries pride themselves in being both affordable and delicious. This, however, may not be what you want to be communicating to your potential guest.

Calling a restaurant authentic may have upsides, and if you can go into great detail it might be very impressive. But consider twice before you smack an  “authentic” sticker on your door because there are downsides that come with this connotation too.

 

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