Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Generation (Food) Network.

Some time in the early 90's, Laurie Colwin wrote about how food did not have to be difficult or complicated to be delicious, and that if we all would make just the tiniest bit of effort (practically no effort at all) we would all be happier and better-fed. (Ten years later the rest of us caught on). She was making a point about how my generation was going to grow up without learning how to cook, that we were eating processed junk foods and not gaining an appreciation for real food, good food, and that the habit of families cooking and eating together was becoming a thing of the past. I think she would have been saddened to find that her words would prove prophetic. (I regret that I have been known to eat cold pizza for breakfast, a handful of Doritos for lunch, or cookies for dinner, although not all in the same day). But perhaps all is not lost.

I find that most other people my age either don't cook at all, or are tremendously into food and the pleasures of the kitchen. (There is a third category, the ones who don't-cook-but-would-like-to). Those in the first category seem to subsist on instant noodles and pizza and cereal for dinner; the extent of their cooking involves occasionally throwing a steak on the grill, and standing around drinking beer while it burns to death. Most of my friends belong in the second category. They enjoy food. They cook whenever they can. They watch the Food Network. They know the local restaurants, new and old favorites. We are all around the same age. Most of us have parents who are interested in food, who cook at home and have taken us to restaurants all over the world. (The exception is G., and his sister J., whose parents rarely cook. When we were younger, dinner at their house meant that the food was delivered by a local Chinese restaurant).

I am not sure how G. wound up being the kind of guy who throws together seafood risotto for ten people or roasts pork tenderloin for twenty or so. When he was in college he would cook dinner with his roomates, annoying the neighbors by pounding chicken breast fillets late into the night. At home J. runs around in his wake, chopping things or washing pots while her brother does the cooking. They are a perfectly coordinated team, smoothly moving between stove and sink and fridge and managing to leave a spotless kitchen behind them. The rest of us don't work that way. S. and his girlfriend M. create (or so she tells me) an explosion of pots and ingredients over the entire kitchen. I do the same, and a trail of chaos follows me wherever I go (this applies to outside the kitchen, as my family and co-workers will all tell you). But one thing we all have in common is that we all care about food, that we cook as often as we can, for ourselves, for each other, for our families.

Our generation came of age in the era of the Food Network, of reality tv and famous chefs throwing tantrums (or tossing crêpes) on live tv, something beyond the Julia Child of our parents' generation. The Food Network has been around for a long time, but I only discovered it when I was in college, five or six years ago. (It all started with Iron Chef. The original version, complete with hilariously dubbed English, theatrically costumed chefs, and a Liberace-esque Chairman who presided over it all). It became a kind of addiction. Now when I am at home, the Food Network is on all day, the way that my grandfather watches CNN from morning to night. There are, as with any other network, some terrible shows being produced. But the best of the Food Network programs educate us on how to cook, how to enjoy food, how it can be a pleasure, as necessary as breathing.

At dinner last night (Canlis; lamb chops with couscous, Grand Marnier soufflé), we (S., M., and another G., not the one I mentioned earlier) decided that we should start cooking together, as a club, a group of people who love to eat and cook and share what we eat and cook with those around us. I can only hope that we succeed. It would mean that at least some of our generation is not lost in the kitchen, and that perhaps our children will not grow up filled with processed chemical junk without any sort of taste or nutritional value whatsoever. I realize that as someone who ate Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch (although I had wild salmon for dinner) that I have no moral ground to stand on, but while there is no reason to be completely strict about everything we eat, we should still take the time whenever possible to eat well.

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