Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why we eat the foods we eat

I like to tell my cooks that the best way to write interesting menus is to pick up a history book. If you want to know about the cuisine of a region get beyond the ingredients in front of you, and find out how they came to be there. The history of food in America differs little from how it’s evolved around the world.
Simplified…Someone wanted a task accomplished, and sent someone else out to get it done. They brought snacks, and knowledge with them…..
Columbus is credited with the discovery of the new world, and we covered a lot of that in school growing up. Ironic it seems we skipped out discussing why across America every region has different cuisine and cultural influences, or how that even came to be. I love to read up on history, and the fact it intertwines with my love of cooking has held my cooks hostage for years. It never fails that I’ll start teaching a specific type of cuisine, and get into some of the forgotten history behind it. Food it seems dictates our history more than one would think. You don’t have to look that hard to find the stories behind menus that touch our lives everyday….Remember the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock…..Good story, a little bit on the embellished side, but we still celebrate Thanksgiving. We all celebrate holidays with predetermined menus based upon our own traditions. European immigrants, African Slaves, Asian railway workers all brought to our shores much more than a cheap labor force. The painful memories of how things came to be are often forgotten, but it’s up to us as “foodies” to show them respect.
American might just be the melting pot of the world, but I think the term refers to the fact we can take the best of ingredients, and traditions from around the globe and make them our own. Food it seems is the very centerpiece of every celebration or gathering. You might not remember if Uncle Don missed family Christmas last year, but you will never forget if Mom didn’t bake her traditional Apple pie. I go nuts for Brown & Serve dinner rolls twice a year only to be reminded by my wife that I can get them year round. It’s just not Thanksgiving, or Christmas without them. Cheap, and not what most would call the highest quality of product, but they remind me of home. Food is how we show homage to those that came before us, and those whom we share our moments with today. Most of us can associate a food with the influential moments in our lives. Often I am reminded of this fact when just a simple aroma turns the head of a person walking past.
I think menu planning is perhaps the most important thing we do as Chef’s because we are never just planning a menu, but planning the next memory in a persons life. The people most of us are cooking for most likely will never see our face, or remember our name if they do. Good or Bad the people you’re serving most likely won’t forget the meal so you too will be making history when you step in the kitchen.

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