When faced the monstrosity of new information, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do with. After learning about the poor fate of chickens in factory farms, the monolithic corporation of Coca-Cola, the food flavorists who inject our food with chemicals and the carbon footprint that transporting vegetables from far away, organic or inorganic, leaves, I was very perplexed. I wanted to throw up my arms in outrage and refuse to take another bite of chicken ever again! But I knew I wouldn’t. Frankly, it tastes too good. I claimed in class that I couldn’t ever give up Lay’s potato chips with my sandwiches no matter how may chemicals there were in them. And I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to shop at Whole Foods or buy organic for a very long time. Continue reading
I’ll admit it; I was one of those people. When our food guide Sarah told us that the city of Berkeley, California is usually coined with the phrase “Berkeley is quirky”, I had to agree. From what I observed about Berkeley the city was full of students and hippies, and maybe some hippie students. Not that people with radical opinions are always bad, but I had always associated hippies with a counter-culture that chose to be different for its own sake.
As with most prejudices, my unjustified opinions were based in a shallow pool of knowledge. When I read about Alice Waters and her revolutionary restaurant, Chez Panisse, that lead to a slow food move movement as well as the creation of “California Cuisine”, I immediately saw where my preconceptions were lacking. The food in the Gourmet Ghetto of Berkeley is not a counter-revolution from the norm for its own self-consuming ego, but in response to a much-needed change in our food industry. Waters’ shift to locally grown, sustainable and organic food in her world-renowned restaurant caused a fault in the seemingly unbreakable chain of food production at the time. And it still plays a major role in many of the businesses in the Downtown Berkeley area.
An interview with my Mom about her relationship with food, cooking and her family. Hopefully it gives you insight into how I was raised and a little bit of a picture of who I am as an eater and a person.
My culinary adventure did not involve the master chef’s ability to throw together a slough of ingredients into various pots and pans, like a mad scientist. Nor did I have the ability to prepare a dish that excites the palate as well as the rest of the senses, on my own. No, my chopped inspired challenge recipe was garnered from the great wide world of the Internet. Bless the Internet! How else could I have found a recipe that combined honey, brussels sprouts, and get this, basil? I went to Google, clicked on the search bar and typed the ingredients with the necessary commas. And voila, up popped a recipe for a cranberry honey basil vinaigrette and brussel sprout salad as it were delivered straight from the heavens.
I was struck by something as my friends and I entered Japan Town, but I couldn’t figure out what the unnamable sensation was. When our tour guides apologized for the incessant chattering of the jackhammer that broke up the otherwise silent street, I discovered the source of my confusion. We had found quiet in a thriving and busy city. Despite the disturbance of modern construction, the in-between lulls of silence were striking. It was as if the Japanese people that migrated to this quaint and subtle Japan Town, tucked within the bustling streets of San Francisco, were able to create their own hushed environment away from the discordance of the contemporary city.
When you imagine your own cooking masterpieces, illusions of the sweet melody of happy groans fill the air accompanied by the self-satisfied smirk of the chef watching over her charmed audience. Naturally, they don’t involve a frazzled cook (if that’s what you want to call her), forced to mess up her hair in constant frustration, and the forced grins of her unsuspecting victims.
And they don’t usually involve broccoli that falls apart at the briefest touch, watery white rice that was supposed to be sticky, and chicken breasts, marginally covered by burnt Panko breadcrumbs that have the consistency of a hockey puck. Personally, for my elegant dinner, I had imagined a crisp; green vegetable seated on a perfectly formed cloud of stuck-together rice and golden, clearly edible chicken. Edible wasn’t exactly what I got, although I had high hopes.
What I had in mind.
Yucca root gnocchi, chocolate smoked sea salt ice cream, veal and pork bratwurst with a tinge of ginger, and a grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and apple compote. San Francisco’s Mission District is a collusion of art, culture and food. Within a mere four-block radius you can experience a wide range of cuisine including a Jewish bakery, Venezuelan/Italian/Columbian fusion, tiny, but creative cupcakes, Mexican fare, eccentric ice cream, a sausage and pie restaurant and an eatery that features only locally grown products. At the intersection of many different cultures, the Mission District is a perfect locale for the eater who isn’t afraid of variety or imagination.