Food Tips for Christmas

Alinari/Art Resource
Joachim Beuckelaer: The Butcher Shop, 1568

As the familiar cultural world slowly, messily deconstructs itself, it was inevitable that cuisine would be transformed as well and that it would begin in California, especially the Los Angeles area with its lively authentic Latino-Asian food culture and its tutelary genius, the brilliant, obsessed Jonathan Gold, the only food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. For her new book, Anything That Moves, Dana Goodyear, a staff writer for The New Yorker, “set out,” with Gold among her guides,

to explore the outer bounds of food culture, where the psychological, rational, legal, ethical, and indeed physical limits of edibility are being tried—and sometimes overturned. What I found was a collection of go-betweens, chefs, and adventurous eaters—scofflaws …who are breaking with convention to reshape the American palate.

“In our contemporary cuisine,” she writes,

I see anxiety behind the hedonism….After centuries of perfecting the ritual of “civilized” dining, there is a furious backpedaling, a wilding,…a post-apocalyptic free-for-all of crudity and refinement, technology and artlessness, an unimaginable future and a forgotten past.

This antinomian cuisine, she writes, “is about pleasure—pleasure heightened at the brink of calamity.” “If this is the end of the world,” one of her subjects declares, “give me a fork and a knife.” Goodyear’s subject is the manic transformation of cooking, but a sterner issue haunts her book, for cooking is inseparable from the civilization that it serves and whose tastes it accommodates.

So far the turn to defiantly radical cuisine is largely confined to the West Coast, but a transcontinental leap is probably inevitable, especially now that Gold has joined the Los Angeles Times as its syndicated food writer whose reports from Los Angeles are likely to be picked up by eastern media. Inspired food writing belongs not to a region but to the world. “As yet, however,” Goodyear writes in a puzzling overstatement, “everyone west of the Hudson cooks sous vide,” a costly and delicate technique in which fine cuts of meat or fish, together with seasonings, are placed in sealed plastic bags from which the air has been exhausted and cooked sous vide in a heat-controlled bath so that no flavor is lost in the cooking, a procedure whose temperature is strictly governed by health department regulations in New York, as Goodyear writes. But it makes no sense to say that everyone “west” of the Hudson uses this technique, for this implies that Cosentino and his comrades are sousvidists, whereas only the most soigné restaurants east as well as west of the Hudson use this procedure. More than a mere continent separates sous vide from the new California brutalism.

Though New York lacks the intense, diverse Latino-Asian culinary culture of Los Angeles and Jonathan Gold to report on it, it has its own transgressive preparations, including drinks: a New York bartender, for example, described…

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