Here it is April 1, and I’ve fooled no-one, at least not yet.
But I do feel as if things are a little unbelievable. I’m sitting writing on my laptop in a light airy room on the top floor of the steep narrow house on 12th Street West that James Beard lived in for so many years. It’s now James Beard House, a headquarters for the eponymous foundation and a place chefs come to prepare feasts from time to time. There’s no food feasting here today, just presentation, consumption, discussion - of ideas. I’m about to talk to some IACP conference-goers about “how to find real food when you go somewhere, and how to bring it home”. I had another session yesterday that filled, so this is a second one. It’s all about immersion, and being prepared to be open to the moment, the place, the people; and that means no rigid plans and a certain necessary change in attitude/appraoch. Ah, here they come now....
… I wrote all that yesterday morning, in New York, and now it’s Monday April 2 and I’m back in Toronto. I am so grateful to have been asked to give that talk (and to have been able to do it twice in two very different venues). It forced me, in preparing, to name to myself some of the elements that make travel and food exploration special, to me, and what the basics are.
It does all come down to respect, I think, repect for others and for their food in the broadest sense; appreciativeness is another slice of the idea. The question is, how to get there? And that’s where I began the sessions, with the idea of immersion, letting go of your personal plans and expectations and tuning in to the place where you are.
As always with these things, the preparation, the process of thinking and reflecting on what I want to say, is very valuable. So too is the feedback, in the form of questions during the session and then conversations afterward. I especially love hearing from young people, those starting out, already with experience, and still hungry for more, with their eyes wonderfully wide open and inquiring. So if any of you IACP-ers are reading this, just know that I appreciate all your attentiveness and your participation.
Yesterday was a big day too because in Burma the bye-elections, while not perfectly run, did lead to victory for the opposition NLD in most ridings, including for Aung San Suu Kyi. Now we’ll all watch and hope, fingers crossed that the country continues to move forward toward national reconciliation and more open government and human and civil rights. All in all a great April 1.
I have to mention three meals I had in New York.
The first was breakfast with a friend at a place neither of us had been to, plucked from a Google list. It was delicious, tasted like we were in someone’s kitchen: perfectly boiled eggs with toast fingers; roasted potatoes that came with some skeins of fried onion; and roast peeled whole tomatoes, all so satisfying on a chilly grey windy Saturday morning. Where? you ask. At the odd-looking (both inside and out) Maritime Hotel on Ninth Avenue at 17th; the resto name is Bottega.
The second, on Saturday night, was truly home-cooked, by my friend Jane. Simple, but not simple. Great dried pasta, fettuccine, dressed with clams cooked in a guanciali-rich sauce. Unbelievably satisfying and delicious. (If you don’t have guanciale, cured pork-cheek “bacon”, that’s not smoked, and is best used chopped into small cubes, you can substitute pancetta, but it’s not quite the same.) There was a green salad (uncluttered with stuff like tomatoes, so much the best way) to refresh our mouths and brighten them. And then dessert was good ice cream made extraordinary with a blueberry sauce: simmered blueberries with plenty of lemon zest, some preserved ginger, a little vanilla, and some sugar. What could be bad? you say. Exactly!
Others at the IACP of course went out dining and checking out the NYC scene. Good for them. But I was happy, so happy, to feel home and dry. Food made with love in a home kitchen: there’s nothing better. A restaurant gives a wonderful sense of occasion and society that’s stimulating and exciting. But after a long day, intimacy is what I craved.
On Sunday after my Beard House time, there was another excellent breakfast – well, closer to brunch I guess, but I had poached eggs (on a bed of chunked tender squash and some greens and potato) so it was breakfast-feeling to me. The resto is Morandi, at Seventh and Waverley Place. What an appealing menu. And we were a family-ish group, comfy on a Sunday morning and happy to chat about two docs, the Pina Bausch and the Gerhardt Richter, as well as about the pleasures of Provence, where all but one of the six other people at the table had been together recently. It set me imagining, seeing pictures in my head - of St Remy, Mont Ventoux, the clear light - and conjuring up smells and tastes.
And that brings me back to travel, and the pleasure (and necessity, I’d argue) of whole-hearted immersion. If you can manage to immerse, then you are immeasurably enriched, not just in the moment (already a special privilege) but also in times to come, for the imprinting you get from immersion stays with you, enables you to remember and to dream…