Archestratus to Arguinzoniz
Rank #45 of 1949
About my essay:
A poetic, profane and Professorial examination of the impetus to cook well in a style that melds belles-lettes with lyrical essay.
"What does it mean to cook food well?" makes my mind pop like a cast-iron cauldron full of cracklins'. From the first Mithraic ecstasy of sacred murder to the most decadent Le Trou Normand, to cook well constitutes a necessary act that in its rudimentary form can achieve the Realm of Art. Through continuous creativity and invention, chefs, cooks and culinary terrorists alike have discovered the power of cooking well. It can take you where you want to go. You can become rich and famous. It can get your ego off in addictively intense ways. People will offer themselves to you as slaves. We are predisposed to addiction. We all like slaves.
Ultimately symbolic, the food we place on the table has served as an epicenter for the development of human relationships and cultural identity. Whether gueuleton or gemutlichkeit, not only is it an essential act of consuming and producing energy together, but universal in binding traditions from generation to generation. This synapsis of information exchange physically creates circles of family and friends. From Eden to Babylon to William Robinson's "Wild Garden," food can serve as both panacea and poison. And, yes, "There is always poisoning," (i.e. Food Inc.). The entirety of one's life can be viewed as a nutritional itinerary. Humans still exist because we cook well. Each meal celebrates humanity's resilience.
It can move us to quiet reverence. No wonder Weschburg wrote about a dining club in Belgium that practiced a vow of silence during the meal. Yet, it can move us to unruly bacchanalia. Why cook well? It can move us to the Realm of Art. Gauguin said, "To cook well requires a clear head, generous spirit and open heart." While the former requirement assures us that he never cooked well, he made no mention of the mastery of dry and moist techniques. He identified a savvy beyond mechanics. To cook well is to know how and when to break the rules. To cook well requires a special attention, a Captain Trips of sorts, of consciousness manifested in the food for the guest's gustatory experience. Even if it is Mario Batali playing Bob Marley for Ruth Reichl, each chef knows that the atmosphere, company, food, light, sound, temperature and wine can combine to create a shared dream that is breathtakingly beautiful. When this happens we confront the paradox, "Do dreams become reality or is reality a dream?" Of course this is highly subjective. While offensive to some, sea cucumbers and noodles can awaken sleeping memories of long ago. Mysteriously, it is a medium that can take us home.
Here I am putting the finishing touches on a bone marrow and parsley pissaladiere with a bottle of Tempier rose and I cannot help but feel that we have come a long way. It means we live.