5.23.16

From Matt Straus:

 

A friend reminded me last week that part of the reason she and I are in the food business is to be involved in a particular conversation. There are pressing conversations to be had in this country about what we eat, how we regard food, what is important to us with regard to restaurants, about our tastes for wine and hospitality and about WORK itself. If I had to encapsulate the idea of an ethos that our team shares at Heirloom Cafe in San Francisco, it is that we believe not only in the beauty and restorative effects of our two most important products — ingredients and service — but also that we believe very deeply in the every day work which is required to make all of the ingredients and the service available and wonderful.

 

We all know that the last ten or fifteen years have delivered us an ocean’s worth of attention to food and wine in every imaginable form and application. Shiny photos of the best new dishes and chefs and restaurants and wines are everywhere in magazines and on computer screens. There are websites that feature recipes and cooking videos, tell us where to go to eat locally and when we travel, invite us to order food from our favorite restaurant for delivery. Food and wine festivals and demonstrations and competitions abound. If such a thing was quantifiable, you would have to believe that culturally speaking, we spend much more time thinking about what and how we eat all over the country than we did even a couple of decades ago.

 

And yet, a massive proportion of Americans still eat terrible food, and even worse, seem to have lost the time they once had to cook and to regularly sit for meals with their friends and family. While we all seem convinced that interest in gastronomy is at an all-time high in this country, there can hardly be a debate about the degree to which some of our essentials are suffering. Obesity is a kind of national affliction the likes of which even the titans of 20th century processed and fast food businesses never dreamed. Restaurants are becoming more and more difficult to operate successfully, in spite of the steady churn of graduates from culinary schools. The cause might be that restaurants are becoming stratified just like the rest of the world; there are plenty of fancy food palaces opening all the time, and there is plenty of junk food. Increasingly, around the country, there is not very much of quality in between.

 

It’s hard to separate the paradox of our food culture from the odd circumstances of a number of other story lines in contemporary America. We continue to make unimaginable advances in healthcare and at the same time not know exactly how to save millions of people from immensely uncomfortable and unhealthy lives. Our engineering acumen is as sophisticated as any the world has ever seen and still we’re stumped about how to keep fossil fuels in the ground and keep the planet from becoming a toaster oven, and even how to make sure everyone has clean water to drink. There has never been more information at our fingertips, and a good education has never been harder to achieve or more expensive. The list of course could go on.

 

But nothing else is food, and nothing else is eating. All kinds of healthcare are important for our bodies, but few are as sensual as good eating and none are as regular. All kinds of art forms nourish us in different ways but none have the direct effect on our cells and organs that food does. Most importantly, there are very few human needs or practices more universal or repeated more often than food and eating. Tasting and chewing and swallowing are some of the rather rare habits that every person on the planet share, and even more important is that the stuffs involved in the activity can be things like ripe peaches and fresh linguine and riesling. The diversity and splendor of what we eat and drink offer three chances or more every day to do for your mouth and nose and body what listening to Mozart does for your ears.

 

Our diets and our tastes are things that deserve real attention, and working in the restaurant business can make a person feel as though a little serious consideration would not displace very much of what is already out there. The best recipes after all are the ones that stay with you — the ones you keep for years on little cards or pieces of paper. The most important restaurants are not necessarily the ones that cost the most to build or suggest the most innovation. The best wines have nothing whatsoever to do with point scores or even paragraph write-ups telling you what to buy. And now seems like a good time for standing up for what you believe in.

 

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin changed my life, centuries later, when he suggested in the early 19th century that eating the right dinner could improve your dreams. In spite of all of our advancement, you don’t hear a lot of talk today about that sort of thing. The aim of Kitchen Work is to encourage more thoughtful and beautiful conversation about our relationship with our gastronomy.

 

Kitchen Work will be a print (!) quarterly and it will be literary, about what and how we eat and drink. It will melt in your hands and not on your screen. Less coverage of next week’s hottest food news and more writing about last night’s dinner. Please subscribe, tell your friends, write for us! We’re hoping to have our first issue in the mail by the end of the summer.

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