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Alicia García: Between the Knife and the Fork
Alicia García
Alicia García

It must be a hell of a job to say whether what is eaten is worth what you pay for. In other words: if the price of pleasure has been an act of justice or a swindle for hungry innocents.

Is that resolved by a culinary critic? In theory, yes.

Alicia García, who for a few years has a gastronomic column in this magazine, was ready to look, smell and prove her own conjectures regarding the subject. To even let herself be placed in a dilemma that, given her case and her routines, could be called: to be caught between the knife and the fork. Seen without the slightest bit of metaphor, Alicia’s work involves risks. She knows it. The day she stops being cornered will be the end of her prestige.

Let’s define. A gastronomic critic is someone: sensorially trained, a bookish expert in culinary combinations, or a bon vivant hidden behind a convenient profession.

It’s a fusion of everything you mentioned and more. It is someone with a special sensitivity to understand the experience of eating as one of the most complex and essential creations that accompany human beings. It is a mediator between the creator and the receiver, since he/she doesn’t limit herself to informing but rather also intervenes in the system of the perceptions of the culinary experience.

The gastronomic critic must be someone like a Renaissance artist or a philologist of the taste who must take care of all his/her senses and exhibit honesty in this world where the commercial competition is imposed and gastronomy as a business prevails. And something that’s very important, he/she must travel, travel, always travel and discover.

Some people consider that a culinary critic should be a chef or a cuisine professional.

I don’t think so, as long as he/she has an all-encompassing formation – better if it’s since childhood, including specialized knowledge on gastronomy, its history and its evolution – that allows him/her to discern and understand the magic of the most ephemeral art and at the same time the most conserved in our sensorial and emotive memory. Don’t confuse the gastronomic journalist (who only informs) with the critic who describes the gastronomic experience, interprets it and exercises his/her criterion and assessment.

I suppose there are times in which you don’t want to eat anything, you have a toothache or are going through some indisposition. What do you do then?

A gastronomic critic must never work indisposed. In the act of eating, socializing the food, feeling what its creator transmits, the critic must carry it out as if getting ready for the date of your lifetime, because it is unique and unrepeatable.

In ideal terms, which would be the best paladar?

I wouldn’t be absolute in that answer. In life everything has its nuances and the relative and the subjective are also present in this profession. Of course, some have exceptional aptitudes with high ranges of sensorial perception. But I can tell you that the best paladar is the one that has an immense amount of knowledge. Even when physically it is not the best equipped, it will be able to express a great deal of what his hidden behind a color, a flavor, an aroma, a texture, an intention, a truly revolutionary proposal….

And in real terms?

Enjoying good health to be able to capture and express what is lived at the precise moment of the tasting to find the perfect balance between the new experience and memory.

In your profession, as in others, there will be ways of buying favors. Do you notice this, are there subtleties that cause indulgence or is this impossible because you always go incognito and no one, absolutely no one, would know of your mission?

The practice of gastronomic reviews is incipient in Cuba. Books, articles with a cultural, historic, anecdotic, informative or practical profile about this subject and related events have been written; there are very few specialized magazines, but they do not feature gastronomic reviews. The Cubapaladar alternative digital platform is the one that initiated gastronomic reviews in Cuba and does it without commercial commitments, anonymously and with a multidisciplinary team. Now OnCuba Travel as well. Some restaurants and paladares are already getting to know us, they respect us and know that we make no concessions.

Any ritual before trying a dish, necessary for anyone from your profession or necessary for your own sensitive dynamics?

To ask who the chef is, it doesn’t matter if he/she is unknown, old or young, from academia or amateur. I like to know about this character, because I am going to put into my body and into my spirit much of his energy, of his magic and of his intimacy.

Gastronomy is a whole, a product that demands balances, but then there’s the case of a service that’s somewhat slow and an unpleasant décor, a doubtful hygiene and a climate that makes you take out your fan…. But, surprisingly, a meal to lick your fingers and very obsequious waiters. What do you decide?

I simply decide to do my job. The critic cannot speak only about the culinary. Gastronomy is science, art, technique, history, culture, and has many of its own specialties like kitchen, salon, bar, storage room, menu engineering, sommelier, distance services, among others, and related specialties like market, finances, economy, design, publicity, innocuousness, food sovereignty and safety and much more. In this 21st century of specialized social media and culinary art in the visual arts museums, the critic, at the same time, must influence that the values of home and family cooking not be lost, in short, there’s a great deal of responsibility involved.

Your notes, the ones I’ve read, go from an almost silky style and the reviews that can be expected of your profession are usually recommendations or finding minor faults or aspects that can always be improved. Is it perhaps that no establishment deserves your severity, or is it that you don’t set foot on those?

I prefer to write about those that have marked quality, originality and authenticity, but I also feel the need to report on what is badly done to prevent, warn or favor that it change on time what is not done well. There are times when I’m not the one who chooses, but rather the editors are the ones who set a restaurant or paladar, then I write underlining the negative if there is any, although, you’re right, I still do it with a great deal of tact. We must develop the habit of arguing, dissenting or applauding without it being seen as a malicious attack and write with greater rigor about what doesn’t shine in Cuban gastronomy, the state-run as well as the private.