Where Do You Worship? (I'm Talkin' Food Here)
A story of two Houses of Worship, and then I go onto food.
I've been to the Cathedral in Reims, France. It is a huge, stone gothic cathedral, one of the the prime examples in Europe. It is impressive, I guess, but it leaves me cold.
On the other hand, when I was in Debno, Poland, I visited a rural wooden church that had polychromatic painting on the interior. This is in a poor region. Although it is a humble work of art, the painting in this church provided me a powerful emotional experience. The effort and devotion of these modest people were overwhelming.
This got me thinking about the fact that I really much prefer humble food prepared with love and devotion. There is something about the modesty which itself strikes a chord deep within, if the chef has put her heart into it.
I continue to go to expensive restaurants on occasion, and I appreciate the effort. Sometimes I am dazzled by it. But at the same time it leaves me cold.
To be honest, I've never trucked too much with expensive restaurants. I've been to a few, but they're not in my budget. And though I appreciate the presentations, whimsy, or finesse of a really high end place, it's not necessarily any more mindblowing than exceptionally well made food in less extravagant contexts. Because what makes any given food or dish most appealing - that bliss factor - is seldom the presentation, whimsy, or finesse of it (though these are all nice afterthoughts). With a few exceptions, that bliss factor is detected not with my eyes or frontal lobe, but with my mouth.
But on the same note, that bliss factor doesn't come from love. It doesn't come from soul. It doesn't come from humility or honesty or any over-arching theory of what good food should be. It comes from making food well. That's it. No clever wordplay or plating is going to save a jumbled trend-mashing mess at a fancy restaurant; and no amount of love or soul or the best intentions in the world are going to save a muddled, sloppy mess made by a homecook who never learned his shit.
You can't taste honesty, love, or soul. And the only way you can taste humility is when it is the cook's humility that drives him or her to truly learn their craft, perfect a dish - figure out what it is about the dish they're making that's appealing and deliver that element amplified, pure and uncut.
Good food transcends dogma.
LOL. that's where the hacks that think they can cook play the game they have no business in.
leaving us out in the cold.
if it has LOVE, it has not only salt, but all the other ingredients, especially the herbs and spices missing in so much today.........................................
The more I travel the more I realize that my preference is humble peasant-y food made with passion and with love as well. I began to realize this in villages in the Czech Republic then in Slovenia and now in Croatia. The hospitality in Croatia is stupendous. When you are invited into a home, prepare yourself for a feast of giant proportions. The people are less affluent but they give everything they can into making you feel comfortable and at home. They feed your mind, soul and belly.
Even going out to eat you are in for a treat in Croatia (specifically Istria). Many konobas (local, family-run eateries) provide you with their own meat, herbs, wines, olive oils, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms - it is absolutely amazing. It is slow food at its very best.
Let me give you a great example. On our first trip to Istria, we were wandering around a wee village looking for a place to stay for a couple of nights. We ran into a white-haired fisherman who was just bringing in his catch. We asked him where we could stay - he had no clue what we were saying as he knew zero English. At that time we knew no Croatian. But we did understand him welcoming us to follow him. We had no clue where we were going but ended up in his home. He then fried up the fish he caught and gave us figs and fresh fruit. The meal was delicious. Though we could not understand each others' words, we understood true fellowship. That humble fish meal was one of the most memorable I have ever had because it meant so much. He was eager to feed perfect strangers what he had, on a stone bench under the shade of olive and Mediterranean pine trees.
I can't afford "fine dining" anymore these days, and when I compare my experiences at these food 'temples' with the majority of what I now prefer: good food done well, I don't feel like I am missing out much.
Some of the more transcendental (if we're *really* gonna go there) experiences I had and continue to have at
- a tiny gua tiew kitchen on Ko Phi Phi
- a hole-in-the-wall Sichuan place in my town I visit weekly
- a fried chicken place in Berlin
- GCOB in NYC
- the Bird in Berlin
- a pizza place in Berlin
I could go on, but I've made my point.
A lady from the Philippines set up a restaurant inside a tiny retail store; decorated the joint like her living room and made every home dish herself. She only lasted a year. But in the time I enjoyed her cooking three times a week-no lie. I knew it wouldn't last but I was so freakin lucky to be her guinea pig.
Nature is my church. I am a registered Maine Guide. I take guests on 3-5 day sea kayak trips along the Maine Island trail and ocasional canoe trips as well. I try to catch fish, trailing a line while paddleing. Once camped, I need to cook for 9 in very primitive circumstances. I feature Maine made products (including Maine wines) and augment the meals /w freshly caught fish grilled on a fire,dug clams, picked mussels, fiddleheaad ferns, ramps, and beach peas.Sitting down (onthe ground) to share a heavenly repast is nearly trancendental for me. then I wash the dishes in the ocean and build a camfire on the beach. then commune with my gueats under a cathedral of stars. Great topic.
Come on up, June & July in Maine, the rest of the year in NM. I often take off by my backpack and dissappear into the wilderness around Mt. Taylor. I usually just take caned beans, spuds and coffee. And scrounge a bit. The beauty of solitude and the NM night shy are sustance itself.
Possibly the best meal I cooked solo backpacking was trout stuffed w. blue berries and chanterlles and roasted cattail root as a starch.
Life is short, carpe diem.
Home cooking and high end restaurant chefs are not the same animal.
Home cooking is far superior, IMO.
Many High end chefs have, in the past ten years or so, started making home cooking, humble dishes available in their dining rooms. Polenta in an Italian restaurant comes to mind. Beef short ribs is another.
Some chefs have opened up hamburger joints and the like to show that even they eat regular food, not the fancy stuff they sell at their high class establishments.
There is a place for each, but all too often, as you state, the cheffy places often have little or no heart in their concoctions and the soulless food leaves us cold. "Stone cold"
What some expensive restaurants have turned to recently is mostly food stuff that does not require the deft hand of a chef, but a simple broilerman turning out a protein, a starch, maybe a simple veg. Rarely do these places have the culinary school trained chef actually compose dishes that need a true cook to prepare. They turn to what is easy and Fast to prepare to order.
The soulfull, hearty, caring, loving dishes prepared by loving cooks is also usually prepared ahead of time and kept on a steam table to be scooped up and plated to order.
I find that in my area, Long Island New York, many patrons are not into that and order a plain steak or other plain protein with a side of plain starch and a luke warm plain veg. Leaving that steam table food sitting there and going stale by weeks end. It's a catch 22. They offer what sells.
No matter what is actually better. A plain, unseasoned, hunk of protein on a cold plate with sides of whatever moves and makes profit. No need to hire a real cook. Just a hack to make short order dishes to serve the masses.
<<Home cooking is far superior, IMO.>>
My opinion, exactly. Home cooking is where I worship most.
As much as I love having "someone else" ideate and shop and prep and cook and serve and clean up...well, it's generally those aforementioned things that appeal for dining out, rather than the food. When I want food that makes me swoon, well...that's at home, for the most part. I don't pretend to be an expert in anything (well, just one thing, but that's my private conceit) but I can cook a lot of things I will never get in a restaurant. And pretty well. More work, but better results. For me at least.
So for the OP: I'd be the polychromed wooden hut before I would be the stone cathedral, although I appreciate both aesthetically. Both have value, but I'll take polychromed idiosyncrasy over "in-stone" lock-steppedness every time.
So, there's where I worship.
I have climbed the steps of the cathedral in Colonge to the bell tower.Waiting taste the beer they call Kolsch after it was over. I have stood for six hours in the Vatican with plantar fascitis and limped to Pizza de Remo for my first taste. Yes, I do suffer for my food.