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Pouring Over the Past

Whatever happened to sauces? If they appear at all on the dishes served in many modern American restaurants, sauces tend to hide meekly under a hunk of protein. I understand why young chefs who carefully source vegetables and meats from within a hundred-mile radius do not want to disguise their flavors or blur the contours of a composition. Eliminating sauces altogether, though, dismisses a component that helped cooking evolve into an art form. Sauces used to be the hallmark of a professional kitchen. They linked the ingredients on a plate. They added glamour to simple preparations. At their best, they imparted richness without heaviness. I can still recite the names of French mother sauces—beginning with béchamel (flour, butter, and milk transformed)—and their variations like an incantation: hollandaise, béarnaise, velouté, espagnole, bordelaise, Mornay, Périgueux, Nantua . . .

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