Today, on my Delta Song flight from LaGuardia to Ft. Lauderdale, I had a stream of consciousness. Granted, one is always having a stream of consciousness, but this one was a good one. This was a food related stream of consciousness. I will attempt to recreate it for you here.
It began with thoughts of bread. Babbo bread. Lisa and I had a debate about Babbo bread last night. It went like this:
LISA: I don’t like this bread.
ADAM: This is really good bread.
LISA: I don’t like a hard crust.
ADAM: It’s a crusty crust.
LISA: What’s the difference?
ADAM: I don’t know.
Things got pretty violent. Eventually, Lisa accused me of learning to like foods that I didn’t really like.
LISA: It’s true!
ADAM: Prove it!
ADAM: Damn you!
Was I the victim of my own impressionability? Am I reacting to foods a certain way because I know that’s the way that food experts would have me react?
“Let me give you an example,” says Lisa in my head (a story she told last night at dinner). “My family and I went to Mario Batali’s pizza restaurant a couple of months ago. The pizza came out and it was dry and we wanted more sauce. So we asked the waitress for more sauce and she said: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that; Mario’s very specific about how he likes to serve his pizza.’ And I was like: Whoah! That sucks! We want more sauce!” (NOTE: Liberties have been taken with Lisa’s story-telling voice.)
I attempted to defend Mario, suggesting that if he were there he would have given her the sauce.
“The waitress didn’t make that up, Adam,” Lisa retorted.
But back to the Babbo bread. I will admit that pre-food-awareness-Adam might not have enjoyed the Babbo bread the same way that post-food-awareness-Adam did. The process from pre to post taught me that good bread HAS a crusty crust and a soft center. I read 63 pages of Nancy Silverton’s “Breads From The La Brea Bakery”! I’m even going to start a starter when I get back to Atlanta! I know about bread!
But why should quality food require a cognitive leap? Is fine dining a matter of intellect?
I’ve often considered exploring the relationship between class and food. There is no doubt in my mind that if you were to surprise a poverty-stricken segment of society with a week of fine dining at Daniel, they’d be like: What the hell is this? Liver juice? Pig intestines? I liked it better being poor!
My dad, for example, is a meat-and-potatoes guy. Literally. Cut him open, and out comes a cow. My mom often complains: “Your father never wants to go anywhere interesting. He hates anything weird.” But truth be told, she’s the same way: she worships at the temple of her familiar. (Temple Beth Chopped Salad with Dressing on the Side).
My parents grew up with far less money than we have now. So it makes sense that their tastes are informed by circumstance: they eat what they know. I’ve been lucky enough to eat for pleasure, not survival. Thus, I can afford to branch out and taste foods that weren’t available to my mom in Queens or my dad in Brooklyn. Fennel-apricot stuffed lamb in a curry sauce? Just the phrase itself could get you beat up.
In Pauline Kael’s review of “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” she writes: “This episodic story is about a group of six friends–discreetly charming amoral beasts whose attempts to have dinner together are always being interrupted: food, that ritual center of bourgeois well-being, keeps eluding them.”
I am well aware that a poor person would not be likely to start a website called “The Amateur Gourmet.” It requires privilege. Thinking about food is a luxury. Most people in this world would be as grateful for a slice of Babbo bread as they would a slice of Wonder Bread. How can anyone, in good conscience, have a snobbery about these sorts of things?
This leads directly into the second part of the Adam-Lisa dinner debate:
LISA: I love the Olive Garden.
ADAM: I hate the Olive Garden.
LISA: How can you hate the Olive Garden? It’s delicious!
ADAM: No it’s not! It’s all pre-packaged food bought cheaply by a corporation!
LISA: But I like the way it tastes and you get so much of it!
ADAM: But you can make food that’s even better for less money at home!
LISA: But I don’t want to do that!
I think Lisa’s voice is the voice of 95% of the people I know. Young people are more likely to spend money on drugs, drink or a weekend in Daytona than they are a fancy meal at a top restaurant. Why shouldn’t they? And, inversely, why shouldn’t restaurants show contempt for a group of young people yucking it up in the corner? The process is called “othering” and places like Charlie Trotter’s and people like Lisa (and 95% of the people I know) exist in worlds that want nothing to do with eachother.
I straddle both worlds. Truth be told, I actually DO like the Olive Garden. Sometimes you want a lot of salad and greasy chicken parmiggean. Other times, though, I want to try the work of a craftsman the same way I want to watch a great film by Ingmar Bergman or listen to a symphony by Berlioz. Great food is art and the techniques that produce great food are the same techniques that produce great sonnets, great plays and great novels. Inspiration and craftsmanship work their miracles across various mediums of expression, across cultures and across great spanses of time.
Which leads back to the bread. My best defense for the Babbo bread is that it is part of a rich cultural tradition. Mario Batali is an astute scholar of Italian culture and cuisine. The bread he bakes is the bread of his motherland and the techniques he employs are techniques probably passed down for hundreds (maybe thousands?) of years. The sharp crack of the bread surface is the crack of a wood-burning oven, the crisp burnt bits a reminder of the purity and beauty inherent in the inevitable combination of flour and water. The contrast of the softness inside and the roughness outside creates a juxtoposition that mirrors all the great dyads in art: good and evil; love and loss; Adam and Lisa.
“Whatever Adam,” says Lisa in my head, “the bread still sucks.”
1. Lisa, earlier in an AIM chat, granted me permission to recount our conversation on the condition that I not make her out to be a bitch. “You always make me out to be a bitch,” she bitched. “Lisa,” I promised, “I will do no such thing.” Rereading this entry, I worry that:
a. I made Lisa out to be a bitch;
b. I got her ideas wrong;
c. I intimated that she is a drug user when she is not.
Because of this, I ask you to erase any bad feelings you may have about Lisa after reading this entry. She is a lovely person and plays a mean Tetris.
2. I might have made up the bit about the wood burning oven at Babbo. I mean, maybe there is one, but I have done no research on the matter.
3. I have never seen an Igmar Berman film nor listened to a symphony by Berlioz. My argument attempted to gain heft by brandishing the names of notable cultural figures. For accuracy’s sake, the sentence SHOULD read: “Other times, though, I want to try the work of a craftsman the same way I want to watch a great film by ADAM SANDLER or listen to a symphony by MARY J. BLIGE.”