But you must know: Madame Mallory, across the street from the Dufour estate, was an innkeeper from a long line of distinguished hoteliers, originally from the Loire. (5.2)
Mallory is the epitome of tradition—not only in her beliefs about French cooking, but in her blood. Just like Hassan is a descendant of his grandfather's "great hunger," Mallory is a descendant of a family that is old, successful, and traditional.
Well, that was the kind of chef Mallory was. Classical, but challenging, always challenging. (5.7)
Although Mallory's a master of tradition, Hassan tells us that she's also a fierce worker within her genre, always raising the bar. She may not be trying totally new things, but she works to be perfect at what she does.
Chef Verdun was a master of that lard-heavy school of French cuisine that was just starting, at that time, to fall from favor, overtaken by that molecular cooking established by the fast-rising Chef Mafitte down in Aix-en-Provence. (13.78)
When Hassan meats Paul, he's honored by the famous chef's visit since he's pretty much a celebrity of traditional French cuisine. Dude's a living legend… but then again, legends usually refer to the past.
Chez Pierre was old school, dressed simply with sturdy tables under white tablecloths and heavy silver flatware. (13.88)
Hassan describes a restaurant where he and Paul enjoy one of the most memorable nights of his life. Paul has flown them there in his private jet to enjoy this incredible traditional meal in this "old school" place.
Charles Mafitte was at the time emerging clearly as the artistic leader of the postmodern movement deconstructing food. [His] technique involved the total reduction of ingredients, almost to a molecular level, before reassembling an odd mixture of fused foodstuffs. (13.95)
This guy, who's heading the movement away from tradition, basically massacres ingredients to make new things. Yum?
I worked hard but made no headway, as the freshness and zeal with which I'd started my work at Le Chien Méchant was institutionalized through constant repetition. (13.106)
Hassan's gotten his second star but runs into the culinary version of writer's block—he's stuck in the old way and doesn't know how to switch things up. It seems that he's gotten so carried away with doing things just so within the traditional ways that he doesn't know how to be creative.
It was logical, with my heritage, that I would be drawn to Chef Mafitte's "world cuisine" […] but I could not help coming to the conclusion his culinary contrivances were, in the end, a triumph of style over substance. (14.13)
The traditions that Hassan was taught were rich with flavor and meaning and carried down from ages past. Good things can't just happen overnight, and here we see the conundrum of whether it's better to focus on flavor or appearance when it comes to food. The new way is very focused on looks, but Hassan seems concerned about the impact this has on the actual experience of, you know, eating.
"We will draw on the old recipes for inspiration, yes, but we will renew them by stripping them back to their core, removing all the period embellishments and convolutions that have been added to them over time." (16.29)
Hassan gives Le Chien Méchant a makeover, not by throwing out the old way of doing things, but by simplifying the process. This is the perfect way to get out of his slump but not give into the weird new fads. It's like he de-clutters tradition, if you will.
"I do think you have to change with the times in a way that renews your core essence, not abandons it. To change for the sake of change—without an anchor—that is mere faddishness. It will only lead you further astray." (16.71)
One of the guests at Paul's memorial dinner contributes the idea that change can be a way to honor tradition. Change can happen but it needs to reference what's already established, to renew instead of abandon.
He noticed, for example, the labor-intensive haute couture, at the top of the fashion pyramid, built world-class reputations on their innovative designs, but few women in the modern age could actually afford or bought these costly creations. (17.33)
Haute couture is compared to haute cuisine. One of the problems with both of these great traditions is that people can't afford the labor that it takes to produce. Sure it's all beautiful and fancy, but when it comes down to it, no one has enough money to keep it going.