Remember when everyone was eating bacon and bone marrow? I am sure they still are, but we’re having to hear about it a lot less. The pendulum has swung toward vegetables. Now we hear about rice bowls and fermentation—or we did, maybe even that moment is over. It’s odd how these trends effect our perception of food. I found myself annoyed by bacon for years. It had become embarrassing. Once the moment has passed, you’re suddenly trying too hard or something. Those bacon band-aids.
Earlier this year, we were in Los Angeles and we finally made it to Sqirl. I’d heard so much about Sqirl that I almost didn’t need to be there. It was like the time I saw Oprah in person and had a hard time actually seeing her. She looked like television to me. Was she real? Was it any different to see her in person than on TV? Anyway, we sat at Sqirl eating our obligatory rice bowl and brioche toast (which were, of course, delicious) and I found that I was slightly embarrassed of myself. It really felt like I was participating. Participating in food culture, in a moment. Was I trying too hard? Was this real? Why was I there? Does any of this matter? Is that Breckin Meyer?
ps. To those of you who have never heard of Sqirl, I salute you.
pps. It was Breckin Meyer.
When Bon Appetit relaunched they talked a lot about the connection between food and fashion, but only in ways that were literal and uninteresting. It was just #trends or, like, what someone who works in fashion ate for lunch. It’s too bad, really, because I do think there are interesting connections, and some similar problems, between the two endeavors. If you pay attention to food you notice these trends—you want to puff your grains, dehydrate your carrots, eat burnt things, or drink vinegar. But the trends themselves are the least interesting part of food, and fashion. They are both interesting for the ways they connect with other, more interesting, things like history, politics, color theory, chemistry, ethnicity, etc., and for the ways they tell stories. Alexander McQueen was teaching us a history lesson while telling us a story. Chefs sometimes tell us interesting stories. At their best they inspire curiosity and exploration and engagement. At their best they’re honest, earnest. They are about life. At their worst, they’re both disposable, and self-involved, and empty. It is often the media that muddles it and gets in the way of our enjoying it. One of our modern challenges is finding a balanced relationship with media and cultural reporting—too little, and you’re out of the loop; too much, and you hate everything.
So I continue my personal struggle (portentious!) to maintain a healthy relationship with food and culture—to enjoy it. To accept it for whatever it is and form my own relationship with it.
Today I come to you with an offering, a late summer salad from the NYC cousin of Sqirl, El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette. The salad is a lovely little thing, with jicama, radish, and some pickled plums. It is the sort of salad bowl I like eating in the summer. Earnestly, and without embarrassment. (Free at last!)
The plum sauce is good for other things, too. I liked it with tofu.