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There were never any "good old days" — they are today, they are tomorrow
thoughts on a few food articles in the NYT 
16th-May-2008 01:14 pm
food, Bascove peaches
From the article Tasting the Bounty of San Francisco Markets:
EACH morning, produce floods into San Francisco from some of the nation’s most spectacular farmland — Napa’s hilly vineyards, the sun-baked orchards and green fields of the eastern valleys, the Pacific Coast’s misty pasture lands. San Franciscans scoop it up with barely a thought, as if excellent fresh food were simply a California birthright.
Uh... what? "Scoop it up with barely a thought"? Did this writer even come to the Bay Area? I know the NYT tends to be a bit... let's say, "myopic" when it comes to California, but really. Every farmers' market in the area that I've ever been to has been full of people who were actively interested in and engaged with their food and the people who grow it. You couldn't swing a baguette in this area without hitting a foodie. Bah.

And from the article Knife Skills: Creating Feasts for the Eyes:
Mr. Parker is one of the leading talents in the art of fruit and vegetable carving. Once a dusty formality that lived on in the form of radish roses in out-of-the-way hotels, food art, as it is known, is enjoying a new vogue. The services of its top practitioners are much in demand, providing them with a nice income between fiercely fought carving competitions.

“We’re seeing more fruit and vegetable entries every year that are incredibly creative,” said Thomas Smyth, chairman of the Salon of Culinary Art, an annual competition sponsored by the Société Culinaire Philanthropique in New York. Recent eye-catchers, he said, have included melons carved to look like Fabergé eggs and lifelike cockatiels made of butternut squash, carrots and papaya.
The photos are impressive (photo gallery here), but I can't help but hear Julia Child saying "It's so beautifully arranged on the plate — you know someone's fingers have been all over it."

But then, I'm much more towards the California cooking end of the food spectrum: given an ingredient or ingredients, what simple (so as not to obscure their nature) and tasty way would be best to prepare them? Not so much into the molecular gastronomy thing — Blumenthal, Achatz, and all the rest are extremely talented, but to me that's chemistry, not cooking.
16th-May-2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
"It's so beautifully arranged on the plate — you know someone's fingers have been all over it."

The Grand Dame of cooking, may she rest in peace.

Edited at 2008-05-16 09:58 pm (UTC)
17th-May-2008 01:27 pm (UTC)
I think that Molecular Gastronomy is mostly preciousness given fancy pants. I got that image clear as a bell watching some fellow on Top Chef (yes, I watched one season) put "foam" on nearly every dish he made. Oy.

On the other hand, food chemistry is old knowledge: you need an acid and a base to make things rise if you aren't using yeast; you need an emulsifier to make an oil and an acid stay mixed. Stuff like that.

I think the first quote makes a certain amount of sense. One of my dearest friends is from the Bay area (most recently Alameda), and she really did take for granted the quality and variety of produce (and olive oil and cheese and sausages, etc.) commonly available there. She loved them, delighted in them, and she expected them to be there. When she moved to the midwest to live for a couple of years, she was shell-shocked: what do you mean there are only two kinds of peaches? no local olive oil? Manchego comes in tiny slices that cost the mint and aren't particularly fresh? no Meyer lemons ... at all?

She wasn't going all "Frasier", or anything, she was just really surprised to see the range of foods available to most Americans. (I had the reverse experience when I went to Lyon and saw the relative quality and price of food there -- I felt like the wool was coming from before my eyes and I was angry at what we put up with here, and how low our expectations are.)

So, when I read the quote I flashed back to spending time with her in both places and it made perfect sense to me. People in the Bay are have access to some of the most amazing, non-travel-hardy, gorgeous food in America. And they expect it to be there, while the rest of us are stoked if we can find tomatoes that haven't been gassed to a false red and actually taste like tomatoes. RLY. You lot are foodies because your environment promotes us. In the "heartland" foodies have to import their goodies from places like www.iGourmet.com and pay the incredibly high shipping. And we do.
23rd-May-2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
When you put it that way, it makes more sense: we take the availability of high-quality produce for granted, not so much the produce itself.

'Cause I've spent way too much time standing there at the farmers' market waiting for somebody to finish picking out the four most perfect nectarines in the box or quizzing the farmer about the produce in question to be able to accept "SF Bay Areans take good food for granted" without qualifications attached...
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