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America: A Country without a Cuisine

America: A Country without a Cuisine

In the United States, where I was born and raised, our relationship to food today seems more distant from our surroundings than ever. We Americans consistently lead the world’s wealthy nations in obesity. Have we forgotten how to nourish ourselves? Where and when did we lose our way?

The co-owner and executive chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Dan Barber, offers one theory on America’s problem: it doesn’t have a cuisine. “All cuisines evolved out of a negotiation that the peasants were making with the landscape,” Barber explained in an interview. “Now what could the landscape provide? And how could they make it nutritious and delicious in terms of a diet? That’s the genesis of every cuisine.” In other words, a cuisine is not just a style of cooking; it's “a pattern of eating that supports what the landscape can provide.”

Foraging for Bits of Home

Foraging for Bits of Home

When I was growing up in suburban Maryland, every fall would bring a familiar sound. Thud, thud, thud!—chestnuts falling in their hardy armor. My mom and I would gather them up and roast them. I loved peeling away the smooth veneer and eating the sweet, still-warm fruit nestled inside, like nature’s Ferrero Rocher.

I was not, however, so fond of the way in which we procured our chestnuts.

My mom hunted for them on suburban lawns. This was during the nineties—before foraging was a way of life, before it entered the lexicon of popular (now mainstream) “foodie” movements, before bearded chefs in Brooklyn were cooking local and seasonal. My mom and I wandered into people’s yards, into patches of wooded private land, and picked up chestnuts by the plastic shopping bagful.

“Mom, this is probably illegal,” I would tell her, hoping my protests would get me out of the chore. What if someone I knew from school saw us? Would they think we were poor, that we couldn't afford food from a store?

Fresh and Fetid: Remembrance of Lunches Past

Fresh and Fetid: Remembrance of Lunches Past

The cool kids had Lunchables and Mondos. I had a neon cooler ripe with the aroma of kimchi.