Monday, September 17, 2007
Last night, as often happens, I got hungry around 2:00 am. As I often do in such cases, I opened the refrigerator door and stood there waiting for some inspiration. Nothing. So I closed the door, got a glass of water and reopened the door hoping something magically appeared in my absence. Nothing. In times like these the ol' pb&j comes to the rescue. A perfect food if ever there was one. Think about it, two slices of bread, a layer of peanut butter (creamy, thank you very much), and a layer of jelly (actually, I prefer jam). There you have it, heaven. I think the peanut butter and jelly sandwich has a bad rap amongst foodies. My old boss used to cringe when he saw me munching down on one. But if made with great bread, fresh peanut butter and homemade jam it takes on a whole new meaning. Much of what we consider to be mundane food is mundane simply because it has never been taken seriously enough to be given proper preparation. There have been in recent times foods that have made it out of the culinary basement and found themselves among greats like foie gras and truffles. Joel Robuchon has commented that he made his name on his mashed potatoes. Macaroni and cheese has been seen on serious menu's for a few years now. I love what Escoffier had to say, "One can but deplore the arbitrary proscription which so materially reduces the resources at the disposal of the cook...and one can only hope that reason and good sense may, at no remote period, intervene to check the purposeless demands of both entertainers and their guest in this respect." He wrote this in his "Le Guide Culinaire" in 1907 concerning the manner in which chefs and gourmands decided which fish was suitable for the table. What constitutes "proper" food? If I am a lover of great cooking, does this mean I can't partake in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with out guilt or running the risk of the food police taking me to task? I like bean burritos and baloney sandwiches also, does this mean I can't consider myself a true cook or one who knows what good food is? I don't think so. I think it would surprise the general public what chefs eat when they are not at work or out in a restaurant. Much of what is means to cook is found in taking risks. It's really to easy to put foie gras on the menu all the time. I like it when I see dishes like cookies and milk on a dessert menu. It says to me this is a cook who thinks the simple and mundane deserves some time in the lime light. Like Escoffier, I think we limit ourselves in our resources when we make arbitrary decisions about what is proper and what is not, and I think the key is to use great ingredients and make them correctly. It doesn't matter what the dish is called but how it tastes.