Monday, September 24, 2012

James Beard Awards

I just found this post in my draft file and I'm not sure why I never completed it when it was timely.  Though the James Beard awards were back in May, I found after reading my notes, that my thoughts are still relevant even months after the event.   So here is what I wrote back in May (with just a few current edits!):

Soon after the awards, Jane Lear, writing in her blog, noted the incogruity of the James Beard award for best cookbook going to Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking at the same time that Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking were inducted into the Cookbook Hall of Fame (I wrote about Colwin and her books here).  This is providing me with the impetus to marshall my helter-skelter thoughts on the subject, something I've been wanting to do for a while but just haven't been disciplined enough to do. 

While an occasional, very special and very costly dinner is all well and good, it is the day to day cooking that most interests me.  I'm much more about how one keeps dinners coming night after night, for family and friends who also have opinions about what they like to eat, and keep everyone happy, healthy and well fed.

I don't hate science, but let's just say that with cooking, as with most aspects of my life, I am much more intrigued with art than science.  I don't even like to bake much as it smacks of method and rules. I feel like I should write up a lab report if I try to experiment a little.

I don't like being reigned in by cooking that gives you too many rules.  Maybe this is why in addition to avoiding any real baking, I don't even like to can the jams I make.  I love the creative part of the process - putting together fruits and flavors - but I'm not much for the scientific-feeling follow-through of the actual canning process.   There is too much at stake if I get it wrong.

I wrote, a while back, about chef Sara Jenkins' explanations that although she is proud of what she cooks in her restaurant, it is home cooking that really turns her on. I've eaten in her restaurant and it is what you'd cook at home if you were a trained chef and everyday was Sunday.  However, this is still not molecular gastronomy.

I love Jose Andres' restaurants here in Washington, and as a chef and businessman, he seems never to take a wrong step. He is a leader and yet his food in most of his restaurants is completely accessible. I have even attempted to recreate some of his dishes at home. Yes, he trained with Ferran Adria, one of the fathers of molecular gastronomy, but he saves his edgier preparations for his smaller, experimental restaurants and chef's tables. 

I've long been puzzled by the visceral and vituperative attacks on Rachael Ray in online recipe fora. On food52's "hotline", for example, many participants write diatribes against her brand of corner-cutting home cooking.  I don't really see what's wrong with someone taking the time to help others feel that cooking at home is not as intimidating and time consuming as many think.  Why hate? Don't we want more people cooking at home?

The James Beard awards celebrate the chef, the pinnacle, the cutting edge of cooking, and maybe that's how it should be.  But I am thrilled that Laurie Colwin's little books of wisdom and great home cooking were also honored.