10 June 2011

Question time: Would you like some cracked pepper with that? (10 June 2011)

Cracking the pepper mill

As I watched a waiter today at lunch in an Italian restaurant come around to tables to ask if customers wanted cracked pepper on their dishes I wondered to myself when did freshly cracked pepper first become popular in Australia. I vaguely remember perhaps 20 years ago when pepper mills in restaurants was something of a special attraction to my dining out experience. It became all ‘so fancy’ for those who were just used to having a plain old salt and pepper shaker already on the table. Soon everyone wanted their pepper freshly cracked, even demanded it, as if it was going to maybe make their dishes extra special for no extra charge. Over the years pepper mills got bigger and bigger. Some perhaps ridiculously sized as if to shock their customers into giggles or just to keep up with demand without having to refill for longer periods of time. Perhaps it was just so you couldn’t easily steel the prized possession under your coat or in your petit handbag.

I wonder what chefs think about freshly cracked pepper. Is it necessary for certain dishes to have it added to a dish at the table when served or is it just a personal preference we've somehow been made to think it's a requirement? Should dishes already be seasoned correctly once they leave the kitchen? Do you ever see MasterChef or Iron Chef judges being asked if they wanted cracked pepper on that dish to be judged? Is it just as sacrilegious to add pepper to your dish as it is to add salt before you’ve even tasted the dish?

If you know the origins of the rise of pepper mills and freshly cracked pepper in Australia I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks to Caffé Due Mondi for the impromptu pepper mill photo shoot.


Craig Macindoe said...

We have peppermills on the table but the waiter with cracked pepper i hate. usually it is aked before people have had a chance to taste their meal, do the chefs then send the meal out under spiced??
I love cracked pepper, let the chef do it

Jasmin said...

I love cracked pepper and will put it on absolutely anything, just for an extra zing. Because I am an extra zing of pepper person.

Salt on the other hand grinds my gears. I hate overly salty food and I have a very low tolerance for salt in meals.

I am often accused of not seasoning food enough and now my family have accepted that they will have to salt their own food. But I still get annoyed when they salt it before tasting it.

I guess in my opinion is that it takes a lot of pepper to ruin something, but it's just a grind too much for something to be too salty and inedible.

Anonymous said...

There's a world of difference between cracked and pre-ground pepper. I've read this before and agree 100%: the waiter shouldn't ask you if you want pepper until you've tasted the dish.

Dave said...

No comparison between freshly ground and pre-ground - fresh wins every time. Everyone has different tastes, and chefs can only season with salt and pepper to their own taste. Leave the grinder on the table, let the customers decide if they want it after they have tasted - how do you know if it needs it otherwise?

Erez said...

I've always seen the giant pepper mill as an affectation. A bit of unnecessary theatre. Aren't waiters busy enough? Do people still expect a waiter to swing by with a giant phallic object? Will I have the waiter dab my mouth with a giant napkin next?

The kitchen should make every effort to send out perfectly seasoned dishes but the diner should have the final say. If more pepper is needed then a small cruet on the table is enough.

Simon Leong said...

hi craig, i always think taste before you season when i get a dish

hi jasmin, i guess everything in moderation to be on the safe side

hi lateraleating, for some reason i see a lot a waiters offering cracked pepper before the customer has even tried the dish. i reckon some people agree to have it before they think it's supposed to be added.

hi dave, having the pepper grinders on the table is probably the best way in case the customer wants to add more

hi Erez, sounds like a good way to go :-)

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