do play with your food… part ii

… Continuing my previous dialogue about playing with one’s food… For me, I think it all boils down to one essential thing: there’s a lot to be said for natural texture. I don’t know about you – but there’s a reason why stale starches are often likened to cardboard, why bad apples are called “mealy” […]


… Continuing my previous dialogue about playing with one’s food…

For me, I think it all boils down to one essential thing: there’s a lot to be said for natural texture. I don’t know about you – but there’s a reason why stale starches are often likened to cardboard, why bad apples are called “mealy” and bad watermelon are either too “spongy” or “sandy.”

I’ve learned to not doubt Mother Nature. That is to say, there is a reason why foods, at their “best,” taste and feel a certain way. There’s a reason the crust is on the outside of bread, why lettuce is best when crisp, and why foie gras is supple, soft and pasty… or it wouldn’t be foie gras. Same is true for pairing foods – there’s something incomparable about crunchy nori wrapped around tender sweet-vinegared rice and butter-tender fish or how about ooey gooey cheese atop a yeasty, flaky, pizza crust.

I’m convinced that there’s much more to satisfying a body than just taste or basic substance… the act, the experience of eating is key. How does it feel against the teeth, the tongue, the palate – the mind? I remember after a year of (unconciously) being virtually vegetarian, I decided, not out of hunger or longing, to have a hamburger. It was the most amazing burger I had ever had.

I remember it to this day. Was it really the best burger I’ve ever had? No, probably not in terms of quality. But, it was because I hadn’t experienced that (*disclaimer: strict vegetarian/vegans beware of potentially obscene language coming up*) tender juicy primal satisfaction in a long time. The fat, the oil, the juices – the meat. My mind was telling me YES!, YES!, YES! because my body needed it.

Likewise, after a three-day hike up the Matterhorn in Switzerland with a sixty-pound pack on my back, I tucked into a heap of steak tartare – raw ground beef with a garlic, spices, capers, chopped onions, and a raw egg mixed in… oh, it was divine. I don’t think that paper products could do that for me…

On the other hand…

I know that there is an important role for food experimentation and innovation in cooking. After all, if no one had taken the bold step of eating curdled milk – we wouldn’t have cheese (and who knows what kind of state we’d be in now if we didn’t have cheese!). In fact, I love creativity in cooking. My biggest joys are discovering new and unique combinations of food that work very well. Creative ways of approaching, serving, cooking, and combining food that often seem contradictory. Who would ever think of putting chocolate with salt – but it works extraordinarily well – just visit Le Bernardin (New York) and try pastry chef Michael Laiskonis’s Egg” – an egg shell filled with a chocolate pot de creme, caramel custard foam and Maldon sea salt. (You can also call ahead to have it prepared for you at Tribute in Detroit where Laiskonis just left as pastry chef in mid-2004 and where he first created the dessert). It was awesome. Or, visit Solera in Minneapolis where chef Adrienne Odom (formerly of the recently-closed Aquavit Minneapolis) dishes up a chocolate trufflelike dessert topped with sea salt. Olive oil gelato was another odd, but stupendous find at Otto Pizzeria and Enoteca (New York). The list is endless.

So, I do encourage creativity in the kitchen… in fact I love it! And, don’t get me wrong, technology is an amazing thing. Due to silicon, teflon and the likes, our cookies don’t stick (but they wouldn’t if we used enough butter to begin with), and our fish don’t overcook (which is why I”m a big fan of the raw).

And, if it weren’t for technology, people wouldn’t die of cancer, or suffer as much from physical defects… but then again, perhaps we wouldn’t have so many health problems if we ate well and we ate natural foods. I just don’t know how far I could follow this “trend.” I”m not sure I really want to ingest chemically enhanced/altered food – whether fried, foamed, evaporated, liquified, solidified, or quite honestly, terrified.

In the end, I suppose I should have faith in humanity’s innate need for nature to keep far-fetched creations from becoming mainstream. I mean, look at what happened to dippin’ dots, you know, those “ice cream” beads that were all the rage in malls across America in the late eighties. The company has been advertising this product as “Ice Cream of the Future” for nearly two decades now. Who are they kiddding? I don’t know about you, but I have not seen a dippin’ dot vendor in a long time – yet, old-fashioned ice cream stores are everywhere, and in my opinion, churning out better quality, tasting and flavored treats. After all, a large part of ice cream’s appeal, why ice cream is ice cream, is because it’s creamy!

Same is true with Olestra. Remember? Marketed under the brand name Olean, this new “oil,” used primarily in fried snack items like chips and crackers, promised lower fat. All it did was leave a good portion of our country with diarrhea and a host of other potentially harmful side effects. Recently, the wheel of “lowfat innovation” has turned again, this time thanks to the synthetic lubrication of Enova Oil.

Well, all this ranting must end. So, maybe I’m a little closed-minded and old-fashioned. I admit, a lot of the lines I draw are ambiguous and subjective. So, I guess the upshot from my point of view: as long as one eats well and healthfully, I say, play all you want with food – because it’s a wonderful thing! I suppose, like all things, it’s a matter of finding that perfect balance and moderation.

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