Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Cave

Someone asked me this evening when we're going to get on T.V. or on one those cooking competition shows like Iron Chef or Top Chef or the like. My reply was that we're not. Why? Well, it's mostly because my food, our food, is not the type that will win competitions. We don't do theatrics, which is what wins those kinds of shows. We do simple, straight forward food. Our carnival squash soup has 4 ingredients in it; carnival squash, milk, onions, butter. Nothing fancy but in the end what you get is a soup that tastes like, well, carnival squash. Simple, singular, intense flavors is what we aim for. I don't use a lot of garnishes. A vast majority of my plates have no garnish. Take for instance the hanger steak currently on the menu. It's a 7 oz piece of hanger steak served with roasted fingerling potatoes, roasted shallots, and a red wine sauce. That's all that goes on the plate. There is no green stuff, no flair, nothing mind blowing on the plate. It's just a sliced piece of meat with sauce, potatoes, and shallots. Simple and to the point. It has taken me a long time before I felt comfortable enough with my food to forgo unnecessary garnishes. I've seen chefs who have 20 or more garnishes at the ready for all their plates. I have a bag or two of micro-greens, some chopped chive and wait, that's all. I think it is an important statement to the guest when the chef doesn't find it necessary to doll up the food. I think it says the chef is confident in what he/she is serving in what it is and no more. I am getting closer and closer to my ideal of what a plate should be like. I like to think my food is finally taking me by my hand and leading me into that simpler life I long for. A chef's food is directly tied to the chef's world view; to her dreams and beliefs; to his life as he lives it. A chef cooks from the totality of what makes them human and I am trying to let my food guide me to a simpler way of things. I find myself facing Plato's cave where what I see is not what is real. I see in my cave, shadows on the wall that merely point to what is real and sometimes during the day while cooking I catch a glimpse of the reality my heart can only see. When I plate a dish and look at and see it's simple beauty setting there unadorned by any unnecessary garnish or when I make a pan sauce for my duck with nothing put the pan the duck was cooked in and some stock and it comes out wonderfully, I am transported to that reality I long for. Like the prisoner who was released from the cave to see the sun, my food often releases me from the shackles of life and grants me a chance to see the beauty that can be found in life. Slowly, ever so slowly, I am beginning to understand I don't have to keep up with the Ramsey's to be happy in what I do. I am beginning to feel comfortable with my desire to take it slow and not heap to much on the plate. Today while talking with the farmer who supplies me with garlic, shallots, and potatoes, I saw in him a quiet happiness that comes from him having his small farm. He isn't going for riches or fame or glory, instead he is farming from his heart and finding happiness in the process. My cave wall still has a lot of shadows on it and it will for some time to come, but I am happy that at least once a day when I look at my food I see the sun for what it is.


Anonymous Jill Baker said...

It's very often true that simpler is better. In conjunction with the post "Yes, I'm still here," it has been our experience that working with good quality food--fresh, unique, above-commodity grade stuff available only from the grower--enables one to serve top quality fare without having to "doll it up." It has flavors only nature can give it. Kudos for pursuing exquisite simplicity, and in the process helping others enjoy the same.

1/26/2009 10:36 PM  

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