You ain’t gotta masturbate with an immersion circulator: food and chefs in American popular culture

by Angela Perez
There’s an interesting (yet all over the map) inside-scoop article by Mario Batali in Lucky Peach magazine on how food and chefs became part of pop culture. Like him or not, the dude was part of making food t.v. and food purveyors majorly famous in the 90s and he’s been wildly, wildly successful.  As food finally becomes big business and “rock star” chefs emerge around the Triangle, folks are starting to become interested in not just eating, but in who is serving us the food and how and why.  And the answers to all of this are part of a much larger, national progression of events.  To understand what’s happening locally, we need to understand how the food scene got to where it is on a national scale.  Within this unfocused article, some of that history is explained.
What’s fun about this meandering stream-of-consciousness are the inside tid-bits and jokes and pokes at some of the world’s most (in)famous American chefs.  There are some off-the-wall tangents in here like (I’ve never had a pan of risotto thrown at me though I did throw a pot of spaghetti at an ex-boyfriend.  Like Batali, he walked out):
“It’s almost all better that we get smarter and better characters. There’s still a lot of shiftiness, but your cooks are smarter about it. It’s not like you have to worry about whether they’re going to be in jail on a Friday night, because cooks just aren’t that tough anymore. The real problem is that we have a lot of really smart pussies coming into the kitchen now.
I worked for Marco, and the last straw was when he hit me with a pan of risotto. I walked out. Often what you can learn from those experiences is how to behave and how not to behave. You can have role models who only taught you what not to do. Marco’s genius on the plate was something that I respected—and now I love him, we’re friends—but the environment was not conducive to good food. And the idea that through fear, intimidation, or violence you’re gonna get better art is just someone thinking that they probably should have done heroin with Lou Reed to understand rock.”
But he reflects positively on what the cult of food and the cult of chefs has done for us all – though he ain’t so sure about David Chang’s automated restaurant idea:
“That said, what food television has created for us is a continuously growing, hungry group of people: hungry for the information, hungry for the food, hungry for the experience. On every level they want to engage us. So we’ve never had it this good.
Maybe there aren’t enough skilled line cooks this year, and maybe there’ll be more line cooks next year. Or maybe we won’t need as many cooks. Chang says he’s gonna have automated restaurants. I love the idea. Why have any pesky cooks? Let’s just pour the soup in over here and the dumplings over there. It’s funny how the guy who’s the most artistic out of all of them and certainly who plays the tortured artist better than anyone is the guy who wants a machine to run his restaurant. Bubble tea and pork buns—that’ll be his business model.”
The bottom line, says Batali, is this:
“And it’s happening. We’re starting to understand and appreciate our farmers’ markets and things that are fresher rather than things that are seemingly fresh. We’re a lot more open to seasonal variation and we’re also smart enough to realize that, although it’s nice to have traditional dish, you shouldn’t just eat the same twelve things throughout the year. Going outside that box is intriguing and intellectually compelling as well as satisfying. I mean, the fact that butter and slices of white bread aren’t on every table at dinner right now means we’ve come a long way since the ’50s, baby.”
I still question who is “going outside that box” – as in, who gets to NOT eat the same twelve things throughout the year and who gets to dine and cook in the interesting ways Batali brings up in this mess of an article.   But, hey, we gotta start somewhere, right?

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