Seth: What’s that like? What’s it taste like? Describe it like Hemingway.
Maggie Rice: Well, it tastes like a pear. You don’t know what a pear tastes like?
Seth: I don’t know what a pear tastes like to you.
Maggie Rice: Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like a sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth. How’s that?
Seth: It’s perfect.
From the film City of Angels
As disciplines that pair well together, I have noticed that many biologists also seem to be very good artists. Perhaps it is from the hours spent drawing the minutia of cells and both disciplines requiring examining the details that make up our world. When it comes to people who have dedicated their life to food, it seems that writing is almost a second nature. This is because we are always looking for words to describe taste.
I got my first ‘food’ book when I was three. It was a French storybook aptly titled ‘Titou fait un gateau.’ I even made the cake on several occasions throughout my childhood and I have a strong taste and texture memory of the experience. Later followed the brilliant description of peas by Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher’s humorous ‘How to Cook a Wolf’, Ruth Reichl’s ‘Garlic and Sapphires’ about her time and disguises as the food critic for the NYTimes and Anthony Bourdain’s gritty ‘Kitchen Confidential’, which chronicled his early years in professional kitchens. People who cook love to write about food, we are always searching for a vocabulary to describe the magic of the palate because while we eat to fill our stomachs, true food lovers eat to satisfy, if but for a moment, the sweet spot of taste on the tongue.
Even though I spend most of my waking hours cooking, waitressing, menu planning or juggling the myriad of other tasks that come with having a restaurant, I still love my ‘food’ books. This month I read ‘Blood, Bones and Butter’ by Gabrielle Hamilton, the restauranteur of the well-known restaurant Prune in NYC. It is a heart-wrenching tale of her journey and a contrast to Danny Meyer’s ‘Setting the Table’ which makes his mercurial rise, as founder and head of the Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns a long list of amazing and successful restaurants, seem like no big deal. I am also halfway through Stephanie Danler’s ‘Sweetbitter’ a fun novel about a Kansas girl working at one of NYC’s top restaurants in Union Square. Although fiction, the descriptions do bear a striking resemblance to ‘Setting the Table’.
Never have the choices we make about what to eat meant so much. In the words of writer Michael Pollan, ‘There is a politics to the whole conversation around food. Not just about how we eat but how we grow it. And that we do get to vote three times a day with our meals, we vote with our forks. I don’t necessarily know the right way to vote, but I do know that we need to be more conscious about it.’
Welcome to the annual food issue!
See you next month,