Art and Commerce have never more shrewdly mingled than at a restaurant; especially now, in the US, where most people think of good food only as restaurant food.
The reason that we believe this is that our cuisine, like the rest of society, has been commodified, and those in charge of it are rated by their wealth and their fame. Meanwhile the act of cooking has been falsely over-complicated, and the deterioration of our cooking skills enables all of the show business.
Only a few years ago, when asked to name a memorable meal most people, regardless of class, would have thought of a meal with family, around the table. If asked to name a favorite dish, most would think of something that a Grandmother, or an Aunt used to prepare. This is still true in most of the world.
But in today’s America, where most people eat quite poorly, we think of a restaurant meal as the pinnacle of dining…Our ideal is a meal prepared for us, for money, by professionals.
And in a sad way, this is like saying that the best sex you ever had was not with your spouse, or high school sweetheart, or lover, but at a brothel, served up for money, by professionals.
If that were true, would that be OK? And how did the idealization of our food coincide with the simultaneous degradation of it? It’s not an accident and it’s not a mystery. It’s just business, at the expense of culture, and it highlights precisely the harm that comes automatically when we trade one for the other.
That’s one big reason that home cooking, real cooking, is important. The connection we have to our cuisine and what it represents emotionally begins, as it does for all mammals, with milk, the breast, and love. Being held, caressed and fed at the same time is so natural, and so important, that babies can die for lack of it. Simply put, love is as vital to our survival as food and breath. And later in life we still need these connections. Can we get them from restaurants? Or is that like expecting love from a prostitute?
The business of America is business. The culture of America…is in trouble.
The Madonna–Whore complex: “The inability to maintain sexual arousal within a committed, loving relationship. First identified by Sigmund Freud, this psychological complex is said to develop in men who see women as either saintly Madonnas or debased prostitutes. Men with this complex desire a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected partner (the Madonna)”.
The Madonna–Junk Food complex: “The inability to maintain gustatory arousal within a committed, culinary culture…….this is said to develop in people who see food as either a culinary and nutritional delight, or as debased and impure junk. People with this complex desire food which has been processed, branded and marketed, (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected, pure natural and cultivated variety (the Madonna)”.
As Foodies gush about the culinary whores, ‘awesome’ donuts, ‘yummy’ In-N-Out burgers, ‘amazing‘ Poutine’, etc. (Whores), all just in it for the money, they pretend, dutifully to be faithful to the precepts of higher faith―local, fresh, in season―of their pure and adored goddesses, (Madonnas).
The Madonna/Whore syndrome has morphed into a single phenomenon: Madonna has assimilated the whore. Now show business has done us the favor of providing both a face and a name to hang our theories on. The same things that make Culinary Pornography, can turn culture into a whore as well, until finally the whore becomes a Madonna: The burger as fine dining fad, (Mhyrvold’s 30 hour burger, etc.). We develop extravagant rituals and recipes for the simple burger, whose charm is in fact its humbleness. Like taking a hooker to the prom. This can lead to confusion.
“Freud argued that the Madonna-Whore complex is caused by oedipal castration fears which arise when a man experiences the affection he once felt for his mother with women he now sexually desires. In order to manage this anxiety, the man categorizes women into two groups: women he can admire and women he finds sexually attractive. Whereas the man loves women in the former category, he despises and devalues the latter group.”
And which is exactly what happens when foodies, enamored of the fresh local and seasonal ethos, cavort happily with the most foreign, plastic and out of season ingredients such as:
- Trueburger in Oakland Ca. Two local sous chefs with actual experience in fine kitchens create a milkshake made with Hostess Twinkies.
- From Animal in L.A., CA, the Loco Moco Burger, which includes Spam and Fois Gras.
- And the ubiquitous Iceberg and blue cheese Wedges, trawled from our recent culinary past (to provide comfort to those who fear culinary castration?).
It looks like we have yet to reconcile our youthful indiscretions with more mature desires for beauty and truth.
“Animal’s Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have no limits when it comes to meat. From the chefs now dubbed “carniwhores” comes the latest and tastiest creation: foie gras loco moco ($35), a caloric time bomb that’s worth every heart-clogging moment.”
“Carniwhores”! The secret’s out!
Ingredients, (partial list): foie gras loco moco, quail egg, spam, hamburger, Maple syrup, Teryaki sauce, rice, scallions…Cost: $35
How to be ‘pretty genius’:
“I think anyone that can use Spam on a dish and make it work is pretty genius.”
Is there a definition for “making it work”?
Animal Chef Vinny Dotolo:
“I started wondering out loud what Hawaiians eat. …It eventually sparked this idea of doing a Loco Moco. It is a big thing over there and people weren’t really rocking it too much here. The challenge was to make it both traditional and Animal-esque, which is where the foie gras comes in. I felt it needed some heat, so I added Sriracha, which gives it some acidity as well.
We put seared foie gras and lightly browned Spam on a burger patty, top it with a quail egg, and also scallions, plus we use Carolina Gold rice instead of usual white rice. There are about four sauces here and they can be hard to distinguish as they mix together and form a different flavor. There’s a foie gras sauce with a little maple syrup, a homemade teriyaki sauce, and the Sriracha. The Sriracha really tied it all together, adding heat and acid, otherwise it’d be just a hamburger with foie gras.”
And what we’re left with is the feeling that many young cooks and diners are made uncomfortable by the simplicity, the purity of “Madonna” food, (Fois gras for example), and find comfort in the street-smart confusion of canned, preserved, processed, factory food like Spam and bottled hot sauce, which also, conveniently saves them from having to actually taste or know anything.
Because you know, this is awesome. And Pretty genius.