Thursday, January 13, 2011

100, and a Plea

Here we are: the 100th post of Food on the Dole. In the past couple of years, many things have changed--unemployment's breath that begat F.o.t.D. has vanished, yet it always threatens to return. A good friend and chef recently lost a job; others talk of their disillusionment with an industry that has become focused on celebrity, competition and so many things other than food, as well as their own insecurities as cooks and chefs. Reviews and blogs become more and more darling, cooks become less and less based in fundamentals.

As we seemingly grow closer and closer to source based food and a return to the basics, I wait, hoping for the revelation that the "foodie" emperor has no clothes. When our sight is so misguided as to decry one of the city's truest artisan producers, as documented in this great article; when good sense departs so as to insist on organic food, even if it is from Peru, at Target, in December; when we scoff at the corner diners who are solely upholding one of the great American culinary traditions of short order cooking, simply because of their appearance, and the fact that they weren't listed as a hot spot in some trendy publication; when we miss the importance of the tamale guy on the corner because he isn't licensed; and yes, when we listen to the very sound voice of reason and forgo that very expensive dinner, ignoring the harebrained impulse to spend next month's rent in order to experience food as translated through one of the very special chefs, we need to reexamine some things. Perhaps that last example is a bit extreme, maybe forgivable. But the others, not a chance.

I therefore issue a plea. That we see food for what it is. I had a chef once who left me with the great quote: "Don't overthink it. It's food today, it's s**t tomorrow." There was no disrespect when he presented this to me--at least none aimed toward the food. His point was this: we've all got the knowledge somewhere inside to cook. We all have the need to cook, or, these days, at least to appreciate good cooking. And this good cooking does not come in the form of over-thought, over-manipulated food. If you were to ask chefs what they eat when they aren't working, the answers would be simple. Eggs, good bread, noodles, ripe fruits and vegetables, fresh fish, charcuterie, braised meats and solid wines would top the list, and would be joined by many other simple foods. In this list, is there anything intimidating? Anything one feels intimidated by? I doubt it. I thus at once blaspheme food, and put it on a pedestal. And I implore each of us to turn away from outside opinion on food, and look inside to what really speaks to us. If only for a moment. Put down the magazine, turn off the tv, cancel your support of Food on the Dole. Listen to what food is saying, even if it is in a different language. Explore the treasures that are so readily available to us. In the city? Go to Chinatown, Little Mexico, Hatian restaurants. In the country? Get some eggs from down the way. Raise a lamb and slaughter it. Plant a garden. Whatever your locale, you've got one up on your cousin in the city/country.

A friend brought me eggs from his parents' farm last week. I was amazed at the variety of color in the shell, it's thickness, the strength and color of the yolk. At the flavor--rich, vibrant, more a feeling and emotion than a taste. And I realized, with embarrassment, this is what an egg is supposed to be. I am so far away from this. So many of us are. Which leads me, if in rambling fashion, to my point: return to food. It is inside us all, this knowledge, this connection. This desire to care about each meal and view it as a pleasure, a privilege--something to make count. To reach out and see what others are eating, whether squatting on the side of the dirt road, or sitting at a white clothed table, and to do so not to gain points in some sort of race to say you've done it--to say you did it first. Do it to reconnect with food. To understand why it matters so much, on so many levels, so purely. This is the mission of Food on the Dole. Thank you for reading.