Everyone in my family is a good cook. One of them is a master, a natural, gifted creator of smell, taste and delicious satisfaction. All of the intimate women in my life have also been good cooks. Whether this promoted or sustained the relationships, I’m not sure. I love to cook, and in my own quirky, lusty way, I’m pretty good. But I’d rather watch, savor and eat.
If cooking is an art-form, which it is, then eating is more a craft. The artist designs and prepares and executes and inspires, the artisan savors and cuts and forks and consumes. It’s always been that way and it always will: a symbiotic relationship from the beginning of time, older than and as equally fulfilling as symbiotic sex and symbiotic war.
Hold on for a minute. That’s immemorial. I want to chisel what I just said on to an interior alabaster wall in the pyramid-tomb I’m finishing for myself. It’s a perfect homily for me to chant as I meander into Osiris’ kitchen in the next life. I’ll be right back.
The Art of Cooking… like all other arts today, prospers from its elevation into a global-cultural ether that spreads from the Tuscan hills to the tondoori ovens of India to the tapas cantinas of Tierra del Fuego—and suffers, like all other arts today, from mass production, mass merchandising, mass massing of information and processes, and the volatility of random access memory, a mass amnesia of perspective, if you will.
We eat to survive and it’s distasteful to keep talking about this as we stare at 1 million people in Burma who cannot cook or eat and may not live much longer. The art of cooking in Darfur and Somalia and a dozen other levels of hell is not only lost in the decay and destruction of lives, it is a fading memory.
In America, the art of cooking has nothing to do with survival—it’s a key therapy in mental healthcare, it’s entertainment. Americans do not eat to survive, they eat to consume, and they are, consumptive. But unlike the 19th century gaunt, withering-away image, American consumption in the 21st century bloats; its victims eat to get fat, diabetic, obese... fat!
Hold on for a minute. I have to go chisel out what I chiseled in my alabaster wall. I’ll be right back.
In California, where I live as an illegal alien in exile, and whose borders I dare not cross because I’m on the government’s mass-merde list, the art of cooking is in a perpetual ‘giddy-up’ phase, apparently driven by the flaming altar of change, but, come on, really, it’s all about identity, who am I? and who are you?—and marketing, mass marketing. It’s called “nouvelle.” Put pineapple on Bolgonese pizza, throw kiwi fruit in Vietnamese pho, add Mandy’s Bel-Air organic, Zen-zoftic bunched walla-walla onion tops to two cageless chicken eggs, sunny-side up; change, taste, what’s old will never be new again, and what’s new gets very old very quickly.
Since there truly is no American cuisine and the art of cooking in the American home (which historically was more of an assemblage than an art) has become a culinary assembly line from microwave to garbage disposal to compactor, California nouvelle has galloped across the country and is accepted as another stripe and another star in the red, white&blue. Who am I? Who are you? We are nouvelle americain and everything we need to savor, cut, fork and consume is right there on the shelves of the supermarket.
Even in the Land of Culinary Nod, France, where nouvelle cusine v. cusine classique has a three-hundred year history of contention, nouvelle americain (read: california) floods the market shelves, seeps into restaurant kitchens, and makes French waiters less surly (but not less rude).
I won’t even begin to talk about the glory that was the Chinese art of cooking, now that Mandy is shipping walla-wallas to Shanghai. The Olympic games in August (and Burger King) will help consume that glory. You’ll read all about it when you visit my alabaster wall after I’m gone—consumed, ossified.
And, contrary to current rapturous urban legends, cooked or uncooked... I won’t be back.