celebrity and cooking-as-fashioncan we slow down for
a moment to savor the simple joy and comfort of food?
can trace the beginnings of my love affair with all things
gastronomic to a very young age. I was an Army brat living
in Germany with only one TV channel in English: AFN, the Armed
Forces Network. Mixed in with old sitcom reruns and soap operas
was the occasional PBS cooking show.
would sit, transfixed, as Julia Child beat a defenseless chicken
into submission with her rolling pin. Martin Yan hypnotized
me with his surreal knife skills. Although I was unaware of
how powerful food could be, I knew there was something magical
time the characters in the books I read dined on beef Wellington
I wondered, Why arent we eating whatever that
is? I spent about three years trying to figure out how
to pronounce foie gras and the next 10 daydreaming about what
it tasted like.
first real job was in a candy store, where I learned about
chocolates fickle temperament. I spent hours creating
dipped fruits, barks and, yes, white chocolate-covered dog
bones. Soon after, I trekked across the United States to attend
loved being in the kitchen while my instructor screamed 86
it! every time my dish was not to her liking. Having
an old, fat, bitter woman rip my self-esteem to shreds because
she could still see whites and yolks in my omelet was an enlightening
experience. I killed in the kitchen. Within a couple of months,
I knew my way around a range the way a serial killer knows
his way around a dark alley.
then I was booted out for beating up some tramp in my dorm.
did not end my food career. I floated from restaurant to restaurant
trying to find where I fit in the industry. For a while it
looked like the back of the house, snorting drugs with the
line cooks. When I sobered up, I focused on writing about
good eats and, well, here I am.
my afternoons spent watching Mrs. Child and where I am now,
a few things have changed in the culinary world. The Food
Network has given us a new breed of celebrity chefsbobbleheads
who seem to spend more time slapping their names on crappy
products than actually cooking. As a result, every Tom, Dick
and Harry with a cable subscription thinks hes a chef.
Food writers have moved away from flowery descriptions of
food to manly play-by-plays of how the food got from the slaughterhouse
to your table. And the whiskey tango crowd is convinced Rachael
Ray really can deliver a moveable feast in less than half
an hour. Mexican lasagna, anyone?
larder is no longer a temple of sustenance and love but a
coliseum of blood, guts and keeping score. Food, like nearly
everything else in our culture, has become sport.
now pit themselves against one another to see whose
cuisine will reign supreme and various personalities
attempt to outdo each other in the game of who can eat the
grossest crap on the planet.
celebrity food industry undeniably has introduced the average
Joe to haute cuisine and livened up the dinner tables of us
all, but I fear something has been lost in the process.
exploring every corner of cultural grub, were losing
sight of the purpose and power of the provisions afforded
us. We race to chow down on the latest creations and shell
out enormous sums of dough, just for the fashion of it all.
Anthony Bourdain eats dumplings from street carts in Beijing?
Then I will, too. Gordon Ramsey has a coronary over broken
sauces? So do I!
the connections between the land and people are disappearing.
Simply enjoying a meal, lovingly prepared, is passé.
The fusion trend of the 80s went much further than combining
cuisines; it seeped into the reasons we eat. And these days,
we eat to keep up with the Joneses.
get me wrong, Im grateful Im not the only one
excited about winter truffle season approaching. But I cant
help but notice how little we stop to smell the trufflesto
reflect on peasants who once ate them as often as potatoes.
Im saddened that, more than ever, food has become a
status symbol. Perhaps between mouthfuls of the latest and
greatest plat du jour, we can pause. For just a moment, we
can chew on the history of this stuff that sustains us while
simultaneously bringing us joy.
Tarro is an Editorial Intern at the Weekly Alibi in Sante
Fe, N.M., where this article first appeared.