Sunday, July 5, 2015

"New American" cooking is not home cooking

The Slate piece by Megan Giller is entitled, "New American Food is Un-American". Giller argues that the term "New American cuisine" is a catch-all for watered-down, faddish food that results in menus that look the same all over.
Americans deserve better. This is a call for chefs to create a distinctly new American cuisine that doesn’t rely on tradition but is accessible and delicious. What would this type of food look like? It would be creative and bold in both flavor and technique.
Well, that's not vague at all.

I don't find Giller's suggestions for improvement to be helpful, but I'm neither a foodie nor a chef so maybe I just don't have the right perspective. However, that alone speaks volumes about the cultural context in which this article appears.

When you think about cuisines, you think of cultures and heritages. You think of dishes and ingredients and techniques that belong to an entire group of people. Most of all, you think of this food as being cooked in people's homes.

Why is it, then, that this article is addressed to professional chefs cooking in restaurants?

Trick question, of course. Urbanites eat out more often than they eat in, and a large percentage of the U.S. lives in and around urban areas. We place a far greater emphasis on living to work than most of the rest of the world and we're proud of it. The result is that we generally don't cook unless the fancy strikes us. So if "New American cuisine" (or even "American cuisine") means anything, it can only refer to restaurant food.

Moreover, even if we all were to start cooking every day, our whole infrastructure conspires against us. A distinctive cuisine evolves out of the simple imperative that a family has to eat every day and somehow the limited selection of plants and animals in the area must be made palatable. In the U.S., everything is available everywhere for the right price. Nothing even guarantees that locally grown ingredients are cheaper than imported ones, or that the raw ingredients for a meal are collectively less expensive than heat-and-serve packaged meals.

I'm certainly not advocating that we go back a century or two, when nutrition was a much more parlous business. I'm simply noting, with some regret, what we've traded for our modern culinary world. Cooking, that most basic of skills that made anthropologically modern humans, well, human, isn't about home and family any more. Not in America.

No comments:

Post a Comment