Creative Destruction

September 9, 2007

Smoke Flavoring

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 5:11 pm

Barbeque is one of those smells, like burning leaves, that immediately triggers olfactory memory and a host of associations. An outdoor public market in Rochester, NY, where I used to live, has a smoke house, and the smell of charred meat created such a sensation that omigod did I want some of that stuff right away. Barbeque isn’t a comfort food exactly, but something about it is so primal and satisfying that I’m always sure to try the ribs or brisket on a menu.

I was in Rochester recently, and although I didn’t go to the public market, I did go to its newest restaurant sensation: Dinosaur Bar B Que. (Franchises also exist in Syracuse and New York City.) Gotta say, it rates full and complete approval on the basis of the sampler I had. That was barbeque done right, the traditional way, in a smoker, without too much sugar in the sauce.

Which brings me to my wider point. Some chemist has figured out how to distill the smoke flavor in a bottle, which is now a typical ingredient in barbeque sauces such as this one. Maybe that’s an OK accomodation for the backyard barbeque enthusiast, but I’ve been to a variety of rib joints and barbeque shacks that use liquid smoke as part of their house sauce. Although liquid smoke may be a distillation of the real thing, boy oh boy does it ever taste artificial when added to bottled sauce. It’s sort of like an orange LifeSaver, which doesn’t really taste orange at all but is some chemical approximation of what an orange tastes like.

Which brings me to an even wider point: at what point should we insist upon authentic experience rather than experiences mediated and distilled through some process? Would you rather be in love or take a pill that gives you the approximate feeling of being in love? Would you be happy to take a virtual vacation or would you rather see and experience the real thing? Or on the flip side, do violent video games (or flight simulators, or drag racing games) stimulate in some of us at least a desire for real life thrills from violent and/or risky behavior?



  1. Brutus, go thee into the deep country. Yea, even beyond the boundaries of Chicago’s city limits, even unto Springfield and beyond, into the deep southern world. Go into the tiny town of no name, eat at Bill and Fred’s, and find happiness. I promise, if you are polite they will not kill you.

    Comment by Robert — September 9, 2007 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

  2. at what point should we insist upon authentic experience rather than experiences mediated and distilled through some process?

    Not sure if you’ll consider this a cop-out, but I don’t even make the authentic/artificial parallel most of the time. I don’t eat orange lifesavers because they taste like oranges, but because I like that taste–similarly, I imagine that you either like liquid smoke or you don’t, but regardless, it doesn’t taste the same, and never will.

    I pretty much just put all the so-called “artificial” stuff in categories of their own, rather than judge them by whatever they’re supposed to be approximating.

    Comment by Adam — September 10, 2007 @ 7:56 am | Reply

  3. Very reasonable response, Adam. Still, I don’t agree insofar as many of the targets of my objection aren’t sold and marketed as things in and of themselves but as “same as the original” substitutes. Caveat emptor, I suppose.

    Comment by Brutus — September 10, 2007 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  4. Adam raises a good point: What does “authentic” mean in this context? When people dress up and put on makeup, to they present themselves “inauthentically,” or do they present themselves authentically as people dressed up in makeup? Should we regard masturbation as an “inauthentic” experience of intercourse or as an authentic experience of masturbation?

    At some visceral level a kind of deception is occurring, but at a cognitive level it isn’t. Which level matters?

    Comment by nobody.really — September 13, 2007 @ 11:43 am | Reply

  5. Golly, angels dancing on the heads of pins. There’s no one answer, clearly. For me at least, if I know or even suspect I’m being deceived, that’s enough to invalidate the experience. That’s doesn’t mean that more skillful deception is valid, only that I may not be aware of it.

    It really is a philosophical question, no? Whereas Adam apparently feels the deception is just as valid as the authentic, I believe the authentic has greater value and meaning.

    Comment by Brutus — September 13, 2007 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

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