The Architecture of Taste

Building Blocks

Things Americans Do Very Well

The building blocks of cuisine are the ingredients available to you; that much is clear. But how we use them is rarely clear, because so much of our received knowledge of these ingredients comes from questionable sources.

A Brick

“…if you think of Brick, for instance, and you say to Brick, ‘What do you want Brick?’ And Brick says to you ‘I like an Arch.’ And if you say to Brick ‘Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you. What do you think of that?’ ‘Brick says:’…I like an Arch.’ “

—Louis Kahn

The brick likes an arch because it’s baked earth, because it’s small, because it likes compression, dislikes shear, etc. These reasons must be respected if you’re going to use a brick effectively.

A Brick's Dream

Nothing can make that brick change its nature. If you don’t like arches, or walls, don’t use bricks.

If you like lintels, why not use slabs of stone?

And if you like cantilevered terraces, you might want to use steel, or concrete.

The architect should strive continually to simplify.

Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908

And in all of these decisions are layers of complexity. For example, terroir. Do you live in Pennsylvania in the 20th century? You’ll like steel. Ancient Rome? Then brick or Terracotta. These materials will seem natural to you and will integrate into your esthetic, your budget, your climate.

Thing Americans Don’t Do So Well.

Elitist Snob Food

“if you think of Cheese, for instance, and you say to Cheese, ‘What do you want Cheese?’ And Cheese says to you ‘I like to be a chemical flavored semi-paste coming out of an aerosol can”

What could be less trouble, less in need of re-invention, than a block of fermented milk, which only gets better with age, does not need refrigeration, and can be formed, melted, bitten of the block, or sliced with ease by a four year old?

Here’s an example of how to break nearly every rule there is in one easy, cheesy product.

People's food

None of us take this seriously today, yet the problem remains with us in so many less obvious ways, because we like our food to be a ‘Product’. We’ve been trained to want the assurance of a package, or a process. And above all we like lots of it. There again we can learn from the architects as we construct our culinary edifices. We like lots of it and we like it complicated…because with simplicity, we have nowhere to hide.

What do we really want?

“The idea that things should be slightly dirty, overripe, slightly fecal is everywhere in France.” Given a stinky cheese Americans think, “Good God!”; Japanese think, “I must now commit suicide”; and the French think, “Where’s the bread?”

—Luca Turin

And so we have this other thing to contend with: do we like the same things? Slightly fecal? Well, cheese is after all, the excretion of a bovine gland in a controlled state of  decay. Fecal doesn’t go over so well in the heartland, and certainly American cheeses, on the whole, reflect that. And, too often, we see that our food problems arise from the conflict between what we want, and what we think we want. Do we really like French food? Italian food? Do we understand their structure, their architecture? Can we live in their rooms? Lie in their beds? Eat their cheeses?


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