Food for Thought

I recently picked up Julia Child’s posthumously published memoir, My Life in France, and it drives home some of the many differences between the two of us. Although we both love France and French food, I’m nowhere near as passionate or dedicated to French cuisine, or cooking in general. She is just so excited about every little thing about learning to cook. She writes about the thrill she had in studying at Le Cordon Bleu, how she couldn’t wait to get home and prepare dishes (such as pigeon, I’m not kidding) for Paul.

That’s not me, and ever since reading about her zeal for the very act of cooking I’ve been asking myself what it is that I like about it. What about cooking, meal-planning, serving and eating a meal do I enjoy?

Then today I read Frank Bruni’s review of Jean-Georges in Manhattan. I have kind of eaten at Jean-Georges in that The Girl was invited to a birthday party there. She went to day care with Mr. Vongerichten’s nephew and his 5th birthday party was held at the restaurant. This was one party where the adults didn’t drop off the kids and race out. We stayed and lingered over the wonderful food, though I can’t remember what exactly was served. I do know that you could get a cappuccino on demand. The kids ate pizza and chicken tenders, probably a first for the restaurant.

In Bruni’s review he raves about the complex flavors that are layered in the dishes at Jean-Georges, how he had to carefully take bites so that each ingredient was on his fork. I love eating out as much as anybody, and that kind of dining experience sounds intriguing, but it’s not what I’m aiming for in the kitchen or even when I choose a restaurant.

On the other hand, I’m not a fan of Rachel Ray and her quickie meals either. It bugs me how she opens a can of this, chops up a bag of that, and then assumes that we find it appetizing. I don’t.

So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. Am I having an existential food crisis? Or do I just need a new job?

For Easter I made pork shoulder roast using a Cuban recipe. It called for a cup of lime juice, lots of garlic, and some vinegar with hours of roasting. It came out great, and I was just as pleased that the black beans grew uniformly tender in 2 hours. Still… there’s more to this than turning out a good dish. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m thinking about it.


Anonymous said...

Dare I even say this...I ate at Jean-Georges. I went with my husband's whole family and they decided they wanted the tasting menu and so I too had to get it. It was a fine evening and the food was nice but all I kept thinking was "Mom's food is better, and on the table every night." Then with each new plate, I thought of all the things my mom made that I would rather be eating.
Maybe that's what the joy in cooking is-- creating enough meals that when you send your daughter off to a fancy restaurant at 25, she'd rather be at having your food. (And if not your daughter, your son, your husband or wife, your niece or nephew, your best friend, etc...)

Deb St-Claire said...

Anonymous: your comment made me smile; I know just what you mean. And thank you for naming my quest: looking for the joy in cooking!

SF Mom of One said...

What I love about your blog is that it's more about you--your struggles, your strivings, your family--than about, say, um....cooking.

It's not the tart recipe or the ingredient variation, it's the meaning of the tart in your life that makes it interesting to me. (Though I might have to break down and buy some puff pastry.)

But you know this--it's the whole theme of your blog. I think it makes sense then, as your joy in cooking---making and expressing meaning in your life. (through something tasty, always a good thing)

We probably all do this with food. Makes sense because making meaning is one of those essential human qualities, and eating is pretty basic too. But, you've got the self awareness to articulate it for us here.

I hope I am on the right track. Otherwise this Rachel Ray wannabee should probably give up reading your blog. (NO, I won't anyway!)

Ken Sternberg said...

One of the ways I sometimes judge a restaurant's food (but believe me, I usually just focus on enjoying the meal) is by asking myself "Could I have prepared this dish better?" Most of the time this would be a no, especially with anything really intricate and involved. But not always, especially at some highly rated restaurants.

For me, I love cooking because I find using good quality, real ingredients to make someting that tastes wonderful and is (at least occasionally) somewhat healthy to be very satisfying. The number of people in the U.S. who eat a lot of good homecooked meals can't be very high, and I like going against the trend. Preparing a good meal is also just plain sensuous and rewarding.