Sunday, December 17, 2006

The United States of Arugula (David Kamp)

Anyone who reads this blog regularly should know my stance on food. I'm pro-food. Totally for it. In a single paragraph of the preface of David Kamp's The United States Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation, he uses some of my favorite words: Ruth Reichl, Calvin Trillin, Anthony Bourdain, Zagat, Whole Foods, local farmer's markets, Cook's Illustrated.

Kamp presents a great history of how Americans started thinking more about food than just sustenance. He starts with what he refers to as The Big Three: Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and Julia Child, and I especially loved his descriptions of Child in her TV show: "She held up a roasting chicken and promised to help it realize 'the full glory of its chickendom.' She unapologetically patched back together a potato fritter that had fallen apart as she tried too flip it, saying 'You can always pick it up. If you are alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?'"

He also chronicles the availability of ingredients we can find easily today. In the late 1960s, chefs couldn't easily find fresh herbs to work with. (In its initial years, Chez Panisse in Berkeley took care of this problem by having customers bring their home garden herbs with them to dinner.) But once items became available, then there were ingredient explosions: balsalmic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, blackened redfish (a trend started by cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, which was so popular it almost decimated the redfish population).

Along with highlighting the higher end restaurants (such as Nobu and Spago), Kamp also discusses the influences of smaller restaurants: The Greens (started by Deborah Madison, the author of what I would call the best cookbook ever, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), the Moosewood Restaurant (which also has many great cookbooks), and Ovens of Brittany (a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin whose staff included Odessa Piper who went on to make L'Etoile, also in Madison, the success it continues to be today).

There's a lot of great information in this book. Among other interesting things, I learned that Peets coffee (a California favorite) began before Starbucks, and that the guys who started Starbucks had Peets as their initial supplier and roaster. I would think that anyone who watches even a little bit of Food Network would like this book, and all foodies would love it.

Next book up: Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager by Buzz Bissinger

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey maria..this is off topic but i found a book you need to read... Chicks with Sticks: It's A Purl Thing. Sorry i can't remember the author but it's about knitting!