“Most noticeably, the magazine [Cook’s Illustrated] dispenses with the tone that the critic Alexander Cockburn described as “cookbook pastoral” — the sense that the ideal dinner is a sit-down for 16 with candlelight and hydrangea and unbridled toasting, a pseudo-Mediterranean hedonism that precludes wailing toddlers and mismatched silverware. And nothing makes Kimball angrier than the aspirational pipe dreams marketed by the likes of Ina Garten and Bon Appétit. “I hate the idea that cooking should be a celebration or a party,” Kimball told me over a bowl of chicken-and-vegetable soup at his regular lunch haunt, a Brookline, Mass., pub called Matt Murphy’s. “Cooking is about putting food on the table night after night, and there isn’t anything glamorous about it.”
“I like to eat. Because I like to eat, I like to cook, especially for friends I like to eat with. That’s what this blog is about: what I like to cook for people I like to eat with. In this I am my mother’s son, who says, “I like to feed people.” She’s Italian. My friends like to call me a gourmet, but I’m not a gourmet; I’m a home cook, and a bigoted one: I only cook the food of my people, because I think the food of my people is better than the food of any other people. By my people I really mean my mother’s people, from a mountain town in Campania east of the city of Salerno called Sacco – my mother is a Saccatara.
What my friends love about my mother’s cooking is that it’s so tasty. Like her people’s native land, it’s also sun-kissed: golden, glistening, and rosy. It has the lively sound of their chatter (no lethargic simmers, no violent searing). It’s highly aromatic—the aromas waft out the window and tease the passers-by, Italian and Gentile alike. It makes you eat too much. It makes you want to forgive your enemies and your family. It makes you friends.
Lest you grow more interested in my mother than me, let me explain why you need me more than her. My mother and my father were part of a late immigration of Italians to Brooklyn in the 1950’s. They came from parts of an impoverished post-War Italy where their life more resembled the 19th century than the 20th.. When these fugitives of post-War poverty crossed the Atlantic, they crossed centuries. The cuisine they brought with them was the distillation of centuries of local tradition, and they were keen to preserve the traditional integrity of their native cuisine in this foreign land in a way that the Italians they left behind were not. Those Italians modernized. My mother did not.
BUT, she did mingle with other immigrants, and all these émigrés of Sud-Italia synthesized their traditional cuisines with one another and with the abundant fruits of American prosperity. In a new world they cultivated an ancient cuisine. Out of American soil they raised up an Italian cuisine not to be found in New Italy. This all happened in Brooklyn, in my mother’s kitchen, among others.
My mother learned old dishes from new friends, then at home gave her own turn to each dish all’improviso, as seemed right to her in the moment. That’s why you need me. My mother can’t explain herself. Trust me. You try to cook it as she says she does; it comes out disastrously; you call her up, and she says, “Well, didn’t you add water?” – No, you didn’t say to add water. – “Ma, non e logico, bella mamma? Do I have to tell you everything?” – YES!!! you have to tell me EVERYTHING!!! ‑‑“You don’t cook; you play house.” You see how sweet my little Italian mother is not, when she wants not to be?
So as was Aaron to Moses for the Israelites, so shall I interpret my mother for you. And for good measure, I’ll throw in all my own opinions about all matters bearing on eating as a human being should want to eat.”
An Introduction, The Food of My People
This is the introduction to my new favorite writer about food on the web. The quality of most writing online is poor—this blog is what happens when you take a classical scholar (I believe his doctoral thesis was on Aquinas) and mix that with a bit of light snark and cultural commentary.
“Once, when Ferran Adria was back in Barcelona for the winter, he bought a truckload of perfectly ripe tomatoes. He had no idea what he was doing. He and his brother, Albert, took the tomatoes back to their workshop, where Ferran dumped them on the floor and impulsively grabbed a bicycle pump. He stuck a tomato with it and furiously began pumping. For a moment, Albert regarded his brother quizzically, and the tomato itself seemed impervious until…it exploded everywhere! Covered in red gook, Ferran fell upon the wreckage, sifting through it, and triumphantly lifted one shard aloft. A fine, pinkish spume bubbled along the line where air had forced a fissure. He tasted it, a tomato without body—earth salt and juice, which suddenly disappeared like sparklers. After that, the brothers spent the afternoon blowing up tomatoes to see what more there was to discover.”
“We’re a restaurant that’s about: ‘Let’s play the music loud, let’s have fun, let’s get close together, let’s crowd in, let’s tell jokes, let’s talk with the people next to you. Let’s bring extra food that you didn’t order but I saw you staring at on the table next to you.’”
Gabe Stulman - NY Times
Gabe is hospitality embodied.
“It’s rare for an immigrant experience to go the whole 360 in a single generation—one imagines the novel of assimilation, The White Man Calls It Romaine. The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt). The galvanizing force behind this ideology is Alice Waters, the dowager queen of the grown-locally movement. Her goal is that children might become “eco-gastronomes” and discover “how food grows”—a lesson, if ever there was one, that our farm worker’s son might have learned at his father’s knee—leaving the Emerson and Euclid to the professionals over at the schoolhouse. Waters’s enormous celebrity, combined with her decision in the 1990s to expand her horizons into the field of public-school education, has helped thrust thousands of schoolchildren into the grip of a giant experiment, one that is predicated on a set of assumptions that are largely unproved, even unexamined. That no one is calling foul on this is only one manifestation of the way the new Food Hysteria has come to dominate and diminish our shared cultural life, and to make an educational reformer out of someone whose brilliant cookery and laudable goals may not be the best qualifications for designing academic curricula for the public schools.”
Caitlin Flanagan - Cultivating Failure, The Atlantic
Flanagan manages to skewer quite a few bourgeois cows in this short essay about school gardens, Alice Waters, immigrant children, and educational standards. I’m partially with her, but also more open to lots of experimentation with schools that offer education through different lenses (probably self-damning of my position).