The Heretic in the Church of Food
I have presided over millions of meals. I continue to get recognition for artistic culinary achievement. Our culture has never been so obsessed about food. A funny thing happened on the way to the fulfillment of the infinite promise of culinary choice and expanding connoisseurship: the point of dining was lost.
I'm not sure when it happened. But maybe I know when I first noticed that it was happening at my restaurant India Joze.
A table of four was trying to decide the perfect hot signature beverage to share to commemorate what all present agreed had been a great meal. Someone proposed a pot of chai,this was long before Starbucks, I'd been serving it since 1972--and the discussion broke out, or should I say fragmented.
"Can you make it de-caf?"
Of course, I could, but....
"I like mine with extra-strong tea."
Well, maybe two pots, but...
"Would anyone mind if we had it with soymilk instead?"
Would that be the caffeinated or the de-caf?
"You don't use honey, do you? It's not vegan."
"Low fat, please"
"Is your milk homogenized?"
"Is your sugar organic?"
"Is your tea fair-traded?"
Suddenly a pleasure shared in the woozy afterglow of satiation had turned into four fiercely held moral bastions. Four companions (literally: "Those who have shared bread") had turned into antagonists and agonists , each protagonists (literally: "first speaker in Greek tragedy") in their own separate sacred dramas.
San Francisco PBS viewers voted India Joze one of the Top 3 Santa Cruz restaurants for seven years running; in 1995, they rated it No. 1. Our then-unusual world spanning cuisines were profiled in the San Jose Mercury News and its magazine West. San Francisco magazine followed, as did The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.. We were still being written up in the Christian Science Monitor 8 years after it closed "No one who frequented that beach town during the '70s and '80s ever missed an occasion to eat at Joze. The hash browns alone were worth the trip. Or if you lived there, as I did, the hash browns were a Sunday brunch staple - along with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Far Eastern specialties."Christian Science Monitor 6/9/05.. Two years after that, we still rated an extensive cover story in the local paper (Metro 1/6/07). Our holy grail was the ultimately intense culinary experience. We made our own ketchups, salsas, chutnies, curry pastes, jams, pickles, breads because the making --like prayer--placed us in a sacred world that changed the local culinary landscape forever as it changed us. If any or none of our creations were authentic, it was because they were determinedly exotic, looking to other cultures and through other cultures to that great unknown cuisine we taste in religious rapture and almost remember tasting in our mother's milk. Joze justly celebrated graphics--by Beth Regardz--were about creating and maintaining a meaning --artistic, edgy, daring, even fetishistic--to the experience full of in-jokes flattering to our cognescenti. We even had the cachet of persecution for our beliefs: Neighbors called the cops when we fried the redolent fermented shrimp paste for SouthEast Asian curries. And I was arrested for publically feeding the homeless.
My conversion to the restaurant cosmology had occurred twenty years earlier, in a time of both literal (I was a broke college student) and spiritual hunger. With the opening of my restaurant India Joze, I placed myself in a meaningful relationship to everything. I was disgusted with mainstream diet, seeking the bliss of the transcendant culinary experience. Suddenly one is a moral actor making choices with moral implications. The world became charged with meaning. As the Muslim cleric put it: for the unbeliever, the world is a narrow bridge suspended over a chasm. To one side, wild and dangerous landscape, to the other, monsters and savage beasts. For the believer, the world is a broad and level highway. To one side, a welcoming and beautiful garden, full of all manner of good fruits and vegetables, to the other, domestic animals of all kinds taking their meaning from service to you.
"Disgust," from the Greek, then Latin "dis" meaning "two, split, hence not one, hence not" and "gust" from the Latin "to taste". Disgust is thus a sign of separation from the Good. Conversely and equally, the Bliss (which Hindu authorities say is equal to Oneness) attendant on sanctioned consumption activities of the Slow Food believers is part and parcel of the unity of certain foods with their beliefs: small is better, labor intensive is better, local is better, unusual is better. Disgust and Bliss: two poles of the compass believers use to navigate the world of food. A chocolate bar became a detour on the path to sugar-free Nirvana. Devising an acceptable vegetarian alternative to classic meat dishes was a victory for higher consciousness Each esoteric recipe and application of a rare spice or recondite cooking trick put me in direct contact with the great known and unknown cooks of the ages..
I could go on and on about the rapture and clarity I found in the cosmos of non-corporate, natural and ethnic foods (when those categories seemed perfectly non-problematic and aligned with each other and the Good.)
My disgust with "low consciousness food" and desire for union with higher vibratory food energies was perfect. In India Joze heyday, myself and my legions were willing to work hard for way too little because we believed in a class-blind vision of food cheap enough for anyone and good enough for anyone. We believed in a mustard seed (carefully fried, of course) and it moved mountains of customers to our world.
We were part of something far larger than our individual actions.The organic/sustainable movement has grown in passionate adherents as a locus of a system of beliefs whereby one can insert one's self into the world by meaningful action.[footnote Dubisch article?] Eat that organic chocolate(my body), save the rainforest. Drink this organic beer(in memory of me....), fight the pollution of ground water by chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Eat local, fight global warming. One creates meaning through consumption in the same way Catholics create the meaning of sacrifice and redemption through consumption of the Host and Jews create the meaning of their history through the consumption of the ritual foods of the Seder.
Few of us are likely to justify our aesthetic transports or our taboos in terms of "God told me eating this chocolate would be pleasing in His (Her?) sight." Or "It is an abomination in the eyes of God to consume blood."However, anthropologists do not always consider supernatural beliefs to be a necessary part of a religion. Clifford Geertz, for example, suggests the following broad definition: A religion is: 1. a system of symbols which acts to 2. establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by 3. formulating conceptions of a general-order of existence and 4. clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that 5. the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic. (Geertz 1965:4
Hence, our justifications for extreme food choices of both love and hate are likely to be napped in faux reasonability, even inevitability. To return to the chocolate cake: "The chef, acclaimed by authorities too numerous to name for culinary wizardry, uses only the finest (note the word, we will return to it) artisanal chocolate shaped by an elite corps of happy villagers carrying on their age-old rituals of production in harmony with each other and their environment. Of course, only organic ingredients sustainably produced are used in this fine tribute to the baker's art."
This is food as sacrament, inviting consumers to free (wash) themselves from the sin of carelessly machine-made artificial food. Actually, closer to plenary indulgences, since (lots of) money is involved.
"Although I am sure that I might even like the flavor of blood and milk because of their raw authenticity and my respect for other cultures, I am unable to partake because I just can't take the small chance of the risk of infection by diseases that might even be incurable."
This is rationalization after the fact of disgust. The provenance of the foods becomes as irrelevant as arguing the actual cleanliness of a specific pig proposed as food to an observant Muslim.
Any self-respecting proponent of "healthy" diet would claim that their choices are scientifically based that they might have life more abundant. But even the use, non ironically, of the adjective "healthy" with its etymology entwined with "healing" and "whole(?)"is embedded in a conception of a general-order of existence, a value system of foods categorized on a continuum between what anthropologists call "manna" and "taboo" that is in no way uniquely realistic or beyond the scrutiny we give religious practices other than our own.
Some might say that religion properly treats matters of life and death, leaving mundane("of the world") details to secular dispositions. This ignores the tremendous attempts made by a bewildering variety of classes, proclivities, and sensitivities to bring all eating decisions within their temples of taste.
"Profane" (literally: "outside the temple") is a word we seldom use without a knowing smile, as widespread use of its dirty cousin "profanity" has eroded our ability to take such categories seriously. Yet taboos still pack a full charge if you know where to look for them.
We tend to think of taboos as something like newly observant Jews sheepishly abjuring the bacon they once enjoyed. OK, fine, whatever.
A much better example is the startled shock that greeted my offer of dog food, raw blood, and human milk tasting samples to a university anthropology class. The clarity and immediacy of the visceral reaction proves that reasons offered for the distaste are rationalizations after the fact. Are you surprised that the milk was the least popular of the three? I was.
I realized I was going to have to leave the restaurant business on Mother's Day, 1994. Unlike the equally busy Valentine's Day, Mother's Day is a celebration of shared family experience that I had never been able to share with my wife and now four year old son. We sat on the blooming mid-Spring patio disguised as civilians in the midst of my staff's yearly battle to achieve culinary glory against overwhelming odds. I forget which of the normal crises in the coordination of a staff of thirty to serve 600 guests manifested. Whatever.
It was my misfortune to be seated near a food writer who shall remain unnamed. With an asperity bordering upon contempt, she came over and informed me that her outing with her acquaintance she had hoped to impress with her superior taste in choosing my establishment was not being paced according to her desires. I could not have been more flabbergasted if I had been at a cathedral mass at and someone had interupted the priest to point out that the distribution of hosts was proceeding entirely too slowly and furthermore, the hosts were stale.
I began to see that, as a chef, my role in the community had changed. I wanted to provide fusions and companionable(from "eating bread together") community and my customers wanted to set boundaries.
As my wouldn't-be chai drinkers illustrated, the money-changers had entered the temple. Righteous sacrifices different believers were willing to make in the form of higher prices to eat in one accord with their beliefs had turned into marketting opportunities. .These days, cheap enough for anyone means by definition not good enough for anyone. The great inclusive festivals of the rest of the world attended by all walks of life are giving way to our atomized market of niches. Even water, the universal commodity we all share, safe public water the first and still most important guarantor of public health, has turned into a branding opportunity for the discriminating as billions of discarded bottles clog the public spaces where public water once ran free.
At the height of our food festivals, I went on sabbatical around the world to build my knowledge of the ancient cultures fueling my passion. My travels abroad, which were so much of my cachet for large swathes of my public, actually undermined my certainties. I saw too many conflicting food religions. Though each of them seemed uniquely realistic to their devotees, en masse, the effect was uniquely disconcerting. A Jewish philosopher is quoted as saying "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out. For it is better to enter the Kingdom of Heaven with one eye than not at all." My life had been filled with people secure and armored in their beliefs that they were properly disgusted by the Bad and blissed by the Good when it came to food. Evidence to the contrary was ignored or finessed.
My travels pointed me in a very different direction. That same philosopher also said, contrarywise, "The Truth shall set you free."
The numinous intensity we find in food is located elsewhere in many cultures and only their most Westernized pointmen are even able to understand why tourists might insist upon the outlandish expense of clarified butter instead of rancid rapeseed oil for their dining. They've got religion all right, but it isn't centered on food. Is it an accident that the rise of the Slow Food Movement in Italy is attendant upon the emptying out of Italian churches of all but tourists?
I think it is important to see this not as a collision between destitution and privilege--though it is that--nor even as a mismatch between the eat-to-live and live-to-eat theories of the good life. Further, dining as a framing concept which gives dignity and meaning to a given series of gustatory experiences is a foreign concept in parts of the world. I was bemused to see my Balinese dinner guests take their plates from a buffet I had painstakingly provided and face the wall to eat for all intents and purposes alone.
Indeed, the most spectacular thing about the amazing culinary edifices of Asia is how matter of factly they are produced and presented by contrast with our exaltation of our chef/priests. I found very little sense of the pervasive moral one-upmanship which infuses food discussions here. Of course, these are cultures with active and recognized experts in religion, you know, the kind with temples and prayer and sacrifice. They have ample opportunity for sin, reflection, repentence and redemption without in addition deciding to, say, eat nothing that is not both organic and produced within 200 miles of its consumption.
"The finest ingredients": I said I'd be back to the phrase. What does that mean? The finest you can afford? The finest money can buy? The finest in the world (money can't buy everything...yet)? Finest as opposed to coarse? Finest as opposed to product of exploited labor? Finest as opposed to inexpensive? Finest as opposed to "least refined?" All food is first sunlight, transformed and refined by biological processes.
Abroad, I found two highly cherished beliefs of mine--that unrefined flour and unrefined rice were superior to their white descendants--had not withstood the test of time. Every major rice-eating area I visited felt very strongly that brown rice was only fit for animals. In Crete, my landlord was insulted and dismayed when I offered him paximadi, the sliced-bagel-shaped whole grain bread sold dried, seeing it as the last resort of the terminally indigent. At the time, I was armored in the purity of my beliefs that refining grains was a blasphemy foisted upon colonized and exploited peoples by greedy corporate interests. Or at least a racist metaphor that equally ranked whiteness in foods and people with their value. It was only through letting go of the urgent moral dimension that I was able to recognize research indicating serious problems with an excessively whole grain diet. In other words, Besides discovering through travel that people hold very different beliefs about food, I began to discover that some beliefs are more believable than others.
But not all food beliefs, even strongly held ones, are equally sustainable. In my town, one zealot gathered quite a following of Breatharians, holding that all food was poison and that the ideal diet was sunlight and fresh air. People became surprisingly enthusiastic to embrace this new form of liberation----for an unsurprisingly short time. Some food beliefs take a much longer time for the short term boost all true food believers get to wear off. Spirulina devotees, those darling pond scum drinkers that used to be so common in Santa Cruz still pop-up to recite their credo. The Pritikin (Atkins?)diet fanaticism seems to have run its course---again. Brown rice continuously over a long period of time is dangerously abrasive to the lining of the gut. And a mold than can develop on stored brown rice contains aflatoxins that are among the most carcinogenic of substances, dangerous in parts per billion. A world view that embraced whiteness in grains must have had survival value over the long haul, even as in China that was balanced with a balancing belief that small dark beans were more healthy. More "healthy," more part of a "weal", more part of a "whole". The larger point here is not that white rice is "better": the point is that that it is an inextricable part of a whole system of food cosmology which taken as a whole is more than the sum of its individual beliefs.
A "natural" food cosmology wherein brown rice is "better" could be totally functional in a Western setting where not that much brown rice is actually eaten, and where the rice tends to be more carefully stored, especially if not enough roughage in the diet is the food religion in opposition to which it arose. Macrobiotics, one sect of brown rice worshippers, as a religion seems to have gone underground, or its adherents shifted to raw foods that they might have a more definitive break with their food sinful pasts
The depths of the injustice of the restaurant industry to its denizens is absolutely inescapable in the ex-colonial world, however much we tend to ignore it here. All the nameless toilers in the heat make tiny fractions of the take of the white-suited waiters with their superior language skills. Language is the weapon of the gatekeepers of the inner sanctum, the priests of the church of food as much as the intermediaries of more traditional supplicants. Partly this is just the necessity and power of marketing; part of perceived value--bedrock of capitalist interaction--is the narratives that sustain it.
De-mystified, the old stories of privilege and class lose their lustre. But if the hospitality industry loses its hospitality and stands nakedly revealed as industry, where does that leave believers? If, as the old wisdom says, you cannot serve God and Mammon and the God you thought you served is unmasked as another face of Mammon, how can you stay in the field?
One of the most amazing culinary performances I ever attended was a Parsi wedding for four hundred and fifty in a suburb of Bombay. At least twenty different dishes, all except the pickles cooked fresh in a variety of pots on tripods over a continuous bed of coals heaped against the wall of the building.
The precision of the processes and results, the complex interplay of the textures and flavors of the stuffed pomfret, chili-fried chicken, lamb dhansak, dahls, bhartas, saag, biryani, raitas, rasam, chatnis, sweets and more and more...I couldn't help but burst out in compliments to the cooks, our hosts, the servers, the cuisine, the culture.
They became quite annoyed with me. "Yes, yes, thank you very much. Now shut up and eat" was the universal attitude towards a meal that required an extraordinary amount of logistical coordination and cooking skill. Many of the guests merely picked at the food, then folded over their banana leaf plates and moved on, saying it was better to waste food outside their bodies than inside.
This was the most stunning blasphemy of all to me. My entire professional life had involved me putting my entire body of beliefs about an idealized world of food on the line every day, every meal, every dish. Here was kitchen work with the dignity of ditches well dug. The universality of the developing food religion in America could hardly have been more effectively undermined.
But years later back in Santa Cruz, it was. I still remember the note I got at the end of a busy night twenty years ago: "Dear Chef Phony Baloney, Food is not for cutting with machines. Food should be prepared with love and care. Thanks for nothing." I rushed around trying to understand what had gone wrong. I re-constructed their table's order. On a shift of maybe six cooks, I had prepped most of their stuff, myself, by chinese cleaver, and as I remember I had even cooked the tumis indonesian wokked vegetables soy chili garlic glaze myself. I love cooking that stuff. Believe me, I would have remembered if I had blown even one order that night, but I hadn't. I remember nothing of the hundreds of other meals that night. But spiritual pollution (my reaction to their disgust) is not easily attenuated. As a Muslim scholar wrote, one drop of wine in a well pollutes the meat of a hundred sheep who drink from it.
What I had gained in experience of cuisines on the own turf, I had lost in my former community of belief.
Once you see the strength worshippers far from one's culture gain from the simplicity of their moral universes, it becomes difficult to not see them closer to home. Worse, travel begets strangeness, so that what once seemed uniquely reasonable, seems...strange. The vein of small-scale European market culture ethos that Alice Waters famously tapped into answers so many of the inchoate American desires for meaning, authenticity, and community (and class distinction) that it seems almost mean-spirited to question its applicability to wider world food culture. I mean, who wants to put poison into their bodies? Unfortunately, the question works best when it is rhetorical. If my travels had led me to any one conclusion, it was that there was nothing you could do by accident to make food disgusting that wasn't done deliberately somewhere on Earth to make it blissful. Disgusted terroire worshippers have accused me of willful ignorance, perversity, devil's advocacy and much worse.
To paraphrase Mark 9:42:"If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little oneses who believe in me it would better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea......And if your tongue causes you to stumble, cut it off...For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourself]ves, and be at peace with one another."
So even as my belief in one, discoverable, verifiable, and in the end ultimately universally persuasive cosmology of food crumbled under the assaults of many mutually unintelligible food religions, my belief in the power of food religion only got stronger. All things being equal, all types of religious cults whose members share a greater number of inconvenient practices seem to last longer in group solidarity(citation?_). My amused observations that the Alice Water's brand of urban agriculture definitely qualified as a uniquely inconvenient activity was not winning me any fans. "Shut up and serve" became the order of the day.
India Joze put me at the intersection of some wildly dissimilar food religions, all claiming me as their own. It was an extraordinarily heterodox culinary vision bringing together the most highly branded and recognizable consumable on earth--Coca Cola--with Hibiscus Cooler, a honey-spice-lemon drink found nowhere else on earth, though the name was later stolen. In retrospect, it amazes me how widespread our following remained. Reminiscent of how in the later days of the Roman empire, Christianity appropriated the practices of the many extant mystery cults to gain wider appeal.
In the one wok, my time with the Biodynamic French Intensive Gardening Guru Alan Chadwick had local organic farmers coming around with strange vegetables no one else knew what to do with, engaging me in intimate sympathy with their saving-the-world causes.
In the other, the fishing community of very specifically NW Italian descent applauded my championing of calamari as comradely vindication of their no-nonsense enthusiasms. Not to mention, the very early Szechwan apostles of spice saw me as kin to their quest for transcendent fire. Cosmopolitans at the University sighed with me in longing for lands where my sauces were more--and less--than exotic transplants.
All and many more took sustainence. For every "But surely you know that you shouldn't be using..(refined sugar).......", there were dozens of exculpating "At least you make a decent....(honey sweetened ginseng-ginger cooler)...."
I loved food fervor and if some of the precepts solemnly propounded to me seemed deliriously nutty ("Durian fruit and alcohol is a deadly combination." "Adding milk to tea is vulgar: you must always put the milk in the cup first."), I loved surfing on the bow wave of their certainties. So often I saw lives illuminated by the search for the rare and precious in mushroom foragers, as in the budding wine connoisseurs, that anything less than an answering enthusiasm would have been boorish at best. If forgetfulness is the last gift of the god Dionysus, then I was indeed blessed. For when initiates of this or that secret food wisdom unfolded their secret wisdoms before me, again and again, I could honestly marvel at them anew each time and find some facet reflected in the contradictory structures of India Joze that would allow me to maintain fellowship. Drawing out and bearing witness to the truths embodied in one's companions' food choices has always been seen as excellent dinner conversation. As Geertz remarks, their moods and motivations come to seem uniquely realistic. So when I hear a food writer expound on the idea that wasting one's consumption on anything but the finest icecream, tequila, heirloom tomatoes is pointless, I can sagely agree within the world of that observation --and even advance the sentiment in ways the fw may not have considered --at the same time as I laugh myself sick that thereby the bulk of the world's population has been thereby consigned to the outer darkness beyond reach of aesthetics. AS IF.
OK, then, if different coherent and absolute systems of food beliefs can exist containing strongly held individual food beliefs that conflict with each other, what can be done? Must we retreat to insular, homogeneous communities? Must we attempt to discredit individual beliefs that don't fit into our world?
I think the history of India Joze suggests otherwise.
A restaurant where a diner partaking of chicken breast wok'd in a cream-chicken demi-glaze reduction w/ wild fennel, mint and watercress and a glass of local Chardonnay can sit next to another eating calamari wok'd in a Coca Cola reduction with shredded beef jerky and chili-cilantro drinking Joze zone tamarind soda offers a vision of a more inclusive aesthetic.
Just as the authors of the I Ching looked beneath the seeming chaos of the Ten Thousand Things to divine the simple principles of change underlying them all, illuminating the patterns of why things turn out as they do, so do I believe that the same patterns of gastronomic greatness run through all the contradictory theories and beliefs used to organize our culinary world.
The I Ching is based on the idea that all the seemingly chaotic changes we see are actually manifestations of simple laws of change. Something similar operates in the food world.. The rules governing nachos in a downmarket amusement park are the same as those governing a fine dining Lebanese Fattee of Organic Pita Crisps w/ Artisanal Kefir Cheese, Biodynamically Dry-Farmed Chickpeas, Heirloom Pomegranate Seeds or an upmarket Indian fast food Chaat. If we are truly to respect the different belief systems in play when it comes to food, then our understanding needs to be in a different dimension than any of the continua from disgust to bliss, yet applicable to all of them...
One basic rule is the rule of Change itself. We only taste changes in our gastronomic environment, which is why it is so difficult to taste our own mouths. So one overarching principle Joze arrived at was providing a profusion of relishes, chutneys, condiments, salsas, nam priks, sambals, and pickles at all times. By definition, these were contrasts --often extreme--in flavor, aroma, and texture with whatever else was being eaten. Where it is almost unimaginable for a restaurant not to provide some measure of palate-cleansing neutrality as a frame for the "works," (I'm thinking bread, water, white rice...) Joze also went to almost unimaginable extremes in the other direction as well. I'm thinking of the fermented shrimp paste relishes that got the cops called on us more than once, but really spiced lemon pickles, or duk'kah(toasted crushed spices) or hilbeh (Yemeni fenugreek-heavy chili sauce and many others were equally glimpses of the snake or tiger in the jungle that defined an acceptable level of excitement by being somewhat over the line. Flavor pairings is too tepid a term; we're talking extreme flavor sports.
The range of gastronomic ground covered, the contrasts in ideas behind foods can be a source of bold relief as well, so the clashing exoticisms of the names of the foods could be part of the space created between them and the more "normal" fare, our meat skewers, grilled filets...... What is "normal" in a place that married the éclair to the vindaloo, the chocolate chip cookie (with Brazilnuts?!!?) to the mushroom tagine. Or played with food and religious orthodoxies with a dish like Born Again Pork?
Even seemingly normal-sounding dishes like Joze Hashbrowns could seem to be from some parallel universe, with their mushrooms, artichoke hearts, insistently white pepper and kaleidoscopic vegetables. Rendering the familiar, strange and the strange, familiar: this wasn't so much a before-the-fact strategy--and certainly not what has come to be called a "restaurant concept"-- as a dawning awareness that themes and variations could be as much a part of dining as of literature or dance or music.
So the following recipes are offered as multiple signifiers: as wild, wonderful, exotic, homemade contrasts you personally can use that can fit in with the tenets of many different strongly held food beliefs to help create a commonality of and through production and consumption that supports and furthers our common human gastronomic inheritance.
Surely, this is the meaning of religious tolerance.
The variations of this relish range from salads like Turkish Ezme Salata(lightly cooked), and Thai A-Jaad, to salsas like Mexican Salsa Cruda, (with cilantro). Salad and Salsa both derive from the Latin "Sal" for salt, giving a hint how deep-rooted the need for this kind of freshness. Indian Peaz La Lacha (sometimes with radish) could really go either way, while sambals raw or cooked tended to be culinary exclamation points. Chopped onion, fresh chilis red and/or green mild or spicy, tomatoes (those boring crunchy winter ones are fine here), salt, lime/lemon juice(or even various vinegars). Proportions and cooking technique or absence thereof mutable according to the role in the culinary choir you want it to fill. Aromatics from chiffonade of flatleaf parsley, arugula, mint, basil, kaffir lime leaf, cilantro to lime zest, shiso leaf, viet mint and beyond.
Important as sweetness is to all of us, many food faiths dissallow sweetness especially in preservable easy-to-access forms, unless it is saved by other indulgences. OK: small-scale, artisanal, family tradition, rare, precious, your own produce, imported. organic, produced by union labor, supporting a cause working for a better world. Is it OK yet?
This chutney can encompass all these spiritual needs, given the "right" ingredients , but needs none of them to be a great foil to many kinds of dishes, even desserts.
Cooked or otherwise soft syrupy fruit, including soaked dried, preserves, jam, jelly..... vinegar, pref. strong (over 6% acetic acid), pref. white distilled
sugar or honey (optional, depending on fruit source)
aromatics(optional, but nice: black pepper, cinnamon, cardamon, a little clove, fried mustard seed, garlic, finely minced
fresh ginger, finely minced,
sauteed diced onion )
The same or similar microbial dissolutions that make cheese, wine, prosciutto, sour dough bread interesting can be harnessed, as here, to perk up less cultured fare.
This needs to be PDH (Pretty Darn Hot)(whatever that means in a given gastronomic situation)
soy sauce (or fish sauce)
sweet stuff: sugar, honey, maple, date syrup, etc. (optional)
ground fresh green (or red) chilis, tons
A texture, flavor and aroma counterpoint to nearly everything.
Poorest of poor in Egypt use as a bread dip (with oil if they can afford it. Very high in calcium. Rich Egyptians may deny that it even exists.
sesame (Japanese gomasio ends right here, duk'kah continues...)
whole coriander seeds
whole cumin seeds
Toast the above.
You might also add: crisp fried onions/garlic, walnuts or filberts/hazelnuts, black pepper Grind coarsely in mortar&pestle, blender or food processor.
As a chef, my role in the community had changed. I wanted to provide fusions and my customers wanted to set boundaries. Which didnt mean I wanted to cook without principle. In fact, I left the restaurant sphere in order to pursue those principles more completely. I would like to present those principles as a alternative to the current taboo-centered form of eating. My search for the perfect recipe is based on the I Ching.
The I Ching is based on the idea that all the seemingly chaotic changes we see are actually manifestations of simple laws of change. I'm tired of trivial variations packaged up as new. I would like to come up with the trigrams of cuisine that would contain every possible recipe
Imagine for a second The Thickened as one principle and The Thinned as another. Yin is contractive and Yang is expansive, so imagine a line could be either.
So, imagine a trigram of Thickening over Thickening over Thickening being a great steak. Thickening could be either texture or flavor,
Thickening: salting the beef to concentrate the flavor,
Thickening:firming it up with low heat and
Thickening: concentrating the flavors through the Maillard reaction of high heat.
(The paradox here is that aged steak is actually starting to breakdown/thin by enzymatic reation, so just as all extremes in the I Ching turn into their opposites, so here as well)
The point is that the rules for excellence for seemingly very different dishes can be organized in a useful way, and the organization could be illustrated by recipes. For example, one of the rules of thickening is that foods thicken according to their thickness. A filet that is twice as thick cooks almost four times slower, regardless of the amount of heat applied. A deep pot of stock concentrates disproportionately slowly compared to a skillet. Distillation is a very different kind of Thickening: of concentrating flavor essence.
Conversely, Thinness has different rules. Thinning involves violence: grinding, dissolution, whipping in air. And extreme Thinness turns into Thickness: Wheatberries ground into flour are the foundation of one kind of Thickness, proteins broken down/thinned into their constituent amino acids (soy, fish sauce) are the foundation of extreme Thickness of flavor (umami). And emulsions are an example of extreme Thinness (fine division of droplets)turning into Thickness.
this schema gives us 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams, I haven't thought this all out yet
The trigram of sauce demiglaze would be Thinning(the stock is water extract/unpacking of hard stuff) under Thickening (concentration) under Thickening (roux)
A hexagram of Thickening over Thickening could be thus steak with sauce demiglaze(which is a concentration of beef flavor, thickened).
Phô would be Thinned Over Thinned, as the stock is an unpacking of intense flavors(roasted shallot, star anise.....and meat) with meat that is thinned into the soup by cooking into the soup, with fresh herbs that are thinned into the soup. But Thickened over Thinned could be a soufflee with creme anglaise, or French onion soup with crouton gratine (because the cheese is thickened milk, grilled to thicken it even more).
Trigrams could be:
Sustainability(This could be two bottom lines of thinness ruled by top line thickness: inexpensive ingredients (environmentally and/or financially)rendered excellent by final thickening)) Principles of eating low on the food chain. Eat organic, eat local.
Extravagance--bottled water(?) champagne, wine, lobster
Thickness--Thickness over Thickness over Thickness--prosciutto, parmesan,
Thinness--Thinnness over Thinness over Thinness
Richness--Thinness over Thickness over Thickness--Extreme concentration thinned just enough to consume(scotch on the rocks, cheesecake((fat thinned with a necessary minimum of air))(((or maybe the trigrams would just be ingredients
Poverty--humble ingredients, beans, variety meats
Intensity--chili, spices, herbs, shrimp paste, (actually, Weird belongs in Intensity)
Integrity--Wholeness. Top and Bottom lines Thickness, which contain the middle line Thinness. Succulence as defined by me is one case of integrity. A roast is another. This is the opposite of Hash, which is Thickness ruled by Thinness top and bottom, of which a curry could be an example
Hexagrams could be:
Decadence---Intensity over Extravagance--Extremes of experience control Extravagance, the image of Decadence/Thus the Superior Cook justifies high budgets by using them
to attain realms of experience otherwise unattainable. Recipes with truffles, expensive distilled flavorings, rare intense fresh herbs
Ostentation--Extravagance over Intensity--Extravagance blankets Intensity, the image of Ostentation/Thus the Superior Cook draws attention to her generosity by emphasizing its
pointlessness. Recipes with caviar, foie gras, shark fin, bird's nest, food decoration
Classic(need better name)--Intensity over Richness--Richness anchors Intensity, Intensity gives Richness wings, the image of Classic/Thus the Superior Cook makes surprises, good ones. Curries of all sorts, zabaglione,
I would like to come up with the trigrams of cuisine that would contain every possible recipe and more importantly the pitfalls and triumphs possible with every recipe in any belief system.
Wwighing risks against benefits sounds great, but the truth is theere is no magisc formul, especially when the risks are taken by one group and the benefits by another. FDA commissioner David Kessler, Food Technology 1992:46 (I):73-80
Convergence: the very cheapest food becomes the most expensive food (organs, calamari, ) High class food equals low class food plus safety.
Weighing risks against benefits sounds great, but the truth is there is no magic formula, especially when the risks are taken by one group and the benefits by another. FDA commissioner David Kessler, Food Technology 1992:46 (I):73-80
Convergence: the very cheapest food becomes the most expensive food (organs, calamari, ) High class food equals low class food plus safety.
Myth of the gentlemen noble food producers above and beyond the petty bureauc,rats trying to undermine their noble calling. Terroire vs HACCP
dREAD and outrage as positives
Safe Food marion nestle©2003 UC Press, chart p.17 "science based vs. values based assessement of food risk acceptabilityin
integrity of food vs. two-ness: dis(not one=two)gust (taste)
Scads of cookbooks continue to be published extolling the simpler, wiser ways of this or that culture, the more obscure the better. The general narrative is one of religious discovery, of peeling back the profane overlay of modern foods and customs to reveal the sacred core. This is what Werner Herzog has called "ecstatic truth" wherein literal accuracy cedes its ground to emotional accuracy, a subjective realm entered through manipulation and fabrication
"The Secret Mainstream: Contemplating the mirages of Werner Herzog", Tom Bissell, Harper's Vol. 313, No. 1879, pp. 69-78
Folate Levels Fall in Young U.S. Women
By MIKE STOBBE
ATLANTA -- Blood levels of folate in young women are dropping, a disturbing development that could lead to increased birth defects and may be due to low-carb diets or the popularity of unfortified whole-grain breads.
To view the entire article, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/04/AR2007010401272.html?referrer=emailarticle
Now, we wouldn't want to use language carelessly any more than we would want to use cooking techniques sloppily. So, how are we to distinguish between "The molten chocolate cake was a revelation (from "lifting a veil")"" and the absolute culinary roadblock for most people of a bowl of fresh blood mixed with milk, as enjoyed by the Masai?
When the basic human needs are covered (or even before), the thirst for meaning is uncovered. Creation of meaning is what places us at the center of our universes. This is the primal religious impulse and it can clearly be seen in the American approach to food today.
As the organic movement has matured, the premium these believers are glad to pay for this ritual has gladdened the hearts of small scale labor intensive food producers unable to compete in a globalized market for food commodities. What's a religion without righteous sacrifice?
More cynical interests work the dough differently: No shortage of foreigners willing to work for way, way less than our gentlemen farmers. The valorization of labor intensive food production meant to get Americans back to the land in the '60's now fuels outsourcing.
One very short term employee cared about food more than most. He had a fair background in professional cooking, which left him totally at see with my very different equipment, recipes, and timings. Watching him whirl around the kitchen was heart-breaking, because he was trying so hard and all his old habits were tripping him up so badly. I think he might have become very adept in my kitchen, because he was so passionate, so earnest, if totally non-verbal. But a wait person made some kind of snide comment about his work, and he walked out on the spot. Well, his output was truly awe-inspiringly bad at that point, but still....Waits have to have a thick skin to keep from carrying the vibes from their bad tables to their good tables, I guess.
My tenth grade World History teacher Mr. Wagner was found of saying that absolute certainty was the province of fools and religious fanatics. Forty years later, I am still pondering his words. Food certainty is a great blessing, gained though it is by turning away from many foods apparently widely enjoyed (though only by the damned.).