Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Direction comes from lack of direction....

So I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the “place” food comes from. Not necessarily just the physical place (location) but more so the emotional place food comes from. It started out innocent enough, but I find it has really turned into a spinning thought in my head I can’t seem to escape.

I started to think about types of, let’s call it, “Cuisine”. French, for example, is delicate, complicated to craft, highly regarded as the foremost in cooking. But it’s WHERE French food comes from that makes it less interesting to me. One of the earliest to keep a true track or recipes (no doubt partially adding to the illustrious opinion of the food), the classic French preparations that has made the food so well known was for the wealthiest of nobles. The access these cooks had was unrivaled. The spice trade, the freedom to grow local produce (and the climate to boot), and the right to kill, well, whatever the hell they felt like all contributed to the “sophistication” of the food they were able to prepare.

Italian cuisine is similar to French for me, but a bit more rustic feeling. A lot of the basics in Italian food seem to me to be constant throughout.  Some ingredients (mostly protein) would differ greatly, but there is a certain amount of consistency in Italian food that I have grown to appreciate over the years. Sauces, pastas, cheeses find their way into every dish most “classic” Italians prepare. But Italians had great access again because of environment/climate. Similar to the Greeks, much of Spain and Portugal, and even as far as India and parts of China. Not to mention wealth. Most of the countries i've named were driving the bus called commerce. They were controlling the trades, had goods to barter with and the travel to accommodate such bartering. 

In thinking about these cuisine types I have come to recognize something in me when it comes to food. I like, no, I prefer it if the food has primitive roots. I am fascinated by cultures that had little to use in the culinary sense and make dishes that burst with flavor. It is so much more impressive to me to make something delicious from what’s available as oppose to making something exquisite with, well, exquisite ingredients.

Authentic Mexican for example. Not that I can find it ANYWHERE in upstate NY, but by nature this food is a product of what people HAD to cook with. It’s the opposite of a delicacy. This is the stuff the people who cook delicacies throw away. Yet I LOVE Mexican food. The flavor profile is anything but simple. It’s complex, there is a ton going on, it’s spicy/rich/bitter/sweet many times in a single bite. And it’s not because they took the time to create or develop a complex flavor palette, it’s because they have ingredients they quite literally have to balance, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to stomach the stuff.

That’s culinary prowess. That’s to be envied in the cooking community. That’s awe-inspiring. That’s what makes me love food. Eating something I wouldn’t have before. Getting others to eat what they never liked. Isn’t that the goal of any great cook?

I mean no offense to some of the more “classical” preparations of food. French food is incredibly difficult to master. Truly become a master of ANY type of cooking is something to be marveled. But in a world where we have celebrated Chef’s as rock stars, is it not short-sighted to look upon people using the FINEST ingredients and tout them as “Iron Chef” of “Master”? I mean, it’s hard to screw up a Filet. Lobster does most of the work itself. And if you can’t cook pasta….

In fairness, I don’t necessarily resemble the type of cook I am describing. I spend an absurd amount of money on ingredients (cheese, really, just cheese). But as I become more cognizant of the food world and have started to ask myself questions about where food comes from, why it comes from those places etc. I find myself becoming increasingly more interested in Eastern European dishes, Thai preparations, Slavery inspired (Soul Food is offensive to me because of that Ice Cube movie) meals, and authentic Mexican dishes. People who made without. People who truly crafted meals. Artists of a different nature.

This is the direction I am taking things. I want to start to understand food on a truly visceral level. And I plan on doing everything I can on taking this search to the streets by finding people who know first hand, the Chef’s of these types of food. 

Now, off to look for something NEW to eat....