Brie, Bran or Barbecue?

We have three political parties: Democrats, Republicans and Maybes/Maybeknots. Similarly we can divide ourselves into three groups: the Bries, the Brans and the Barbecues.

The Brie group is populated with exuberant folk who live to eat something new. These are the explorers who flock to El Bulli, The French Laundry, Alinea and The Fat Duck. Their heroes are Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal. These are the Cirque du Soleil chefs: high fliers who soar to new heights on bended twigs and clouds of dry ice while Iron Chefs and their challengers continue to astonish and delight their followers as they exhibit their own brand of jaw-dropping expertise.

The Brie group hurries to every new restaurant, daring to savor novel tastes, marveling at the dazzling décor and freedom of choices. They are having a glorious time, shouting applause and encouragement for the chefs and spurring them on to new creations to delight their fans. The cooks are like a jam of jazz musicians, playing set after set, variation after variation spurring each other on with flair and imagination.

As Bobby Flay observed: “In the end, your creativity — perhaps even your outrageousness — will determine the final result.”

A characteristic of the Bran brigade is their tendency to treat themselves as outpatients. They study food labels as though they are prescriptions for life or death. Members of this group concern themselves calories, cholesterol, and fat and have lately become obsessed with gluten. The Brans medicate themselves with food supplements, rigorous exercise regimes and diets of denial. They fret about fluorides in the water and salt (except sea salt,) in the soup. They do not lie in the sun.

Many Brans are united in their devotion to slow (food). They sing rousing choruses of Amens to the principals of sustainability, seasonality and farmer’s markets. They believe we should treat animals humanely so they can eat them. Their hero is Saint Alice.

The Barbecue brotherhood are an entirely difference kettle of fish. They are happiest when dressed in warm clothing and fortified with spirited drinks. They like to hunt and kill their own food: doves, ducks and dears. The Barbecues can be found striding around their contemporary backyard version of an ancient campfire, carrying a beer and a spear, while their mates scurry about gathering all the sides and washing the dishes. The Barbecues regard a large steak with the same near reverential awe as the flag and the constitution. To those with whom they disagree, they offer tea — and sympathy. Their hero is not the Jolly Great Giant.

It is interesting to discover all three of these disparate approaches to dining result in an almost identical lifespan of three score years and ten (or twenty if you are an actuarian totting up future social security benefits.)

We can secretly crave a Big Mac or KFC while at the same time we can gasp at the scholarship of Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, who was the first chief technology officer at Microsoft before “retiring” to devote himself to his five volume masterwork: Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking ($650.00 recently reduced to $450.00 on Amazon,) in which he shows the reader how to see inside the food as it cooks and examine the anatomy of a bubble. Dr. Myhrold, Ferran Adria and The Venerable Paul Bocuse all made recent appearances at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.  Each of them, at the same time represent the past, the present and the future.

Paul Bocuse was honored by the CIA as the Chef of Century. Throughout his distinguished career, he cooked the classic dishes of France but opened the eyes of food folk everywhere with his introduction of Cuisine Nouvelle. James Beard is honored because throughout his distinguished career, he honored the food of America and continues to honor foodies of the future.  Julia Child lives on because she taught us how to cook.  Her mantle has been passed to CIA trained chef David Robinson who has just completed his own Learn How to Cook And Eat Your Mistakes –15 hours of DVD’s that are an honest-to-goodness lessons for every one who wants to learn not only the how’s but also the why’s of good cooking. He too passes along the classic principals of the past in order to prepare all who love to eat, for their future as good cooks. 

It is also fascinating to observe that most of us are most content when we are eating what we have eaten before.  Every religious day and every national holiday is celebrated with the traditional foods we love.  We are all turkey-eating Americans on Thanksgiving Day and corned beef Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. We believe it is important to have baked (not roasted) ham on Easter Sunday and hot dogs and hamburgers on July 4th.

It seems many professional chefs are returning to home cooking. Here’s Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home and Tyler Florence Family Meal: Bringing People Together Never Tasted Better, Jean-Georges: Cooking At Home with a Four-Star Chef by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman all leading us back into the kitchen and proving you can go home again.

At fancy parties there’s been a return to chicken pot pies. The New York Times reported: “The pastry-topped dish was served at comfort-food stations at black tie galas, and along with its other substantial brethren (macaroni and cheese and meatloaf) was a sign of austerity at fund-raisers at fund-raisers in the city. And lately it has gained a particularly strong following among the city’s high fashion set.”  Now we can see everything old is new again or as Albert Einstein observed: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted..Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

From all this we can conclude creative food served with warm hospitality results in the sweet smell of success.















2 thoughts on “Brie, Bran or Barbecue?

  1. Irena,

    Reading this posting reminded me of a wedding of a friend of mine (she has been married several times so the article “a” versus “the” is appropriate). Suzy is one of the most gorgeous women I know. She had a shop just down the way from one of my restaurants and had coffee rights. She could come in any time she wanted and help herself. If she needed coffee during my busy lunch time she would just walk in and help herself. Just prior to her walking in the door, the noise level in the restaurant would be fairly high. As she walked through the restaurant, poured her coffee and then walked back out, the noise lever would drop dramatically. As soon as the door closed, the noise level would return to its previous level.

    When Suzy married George she was working for a very high end National Real Estate firm. Her husband was a comedian on the comedy circuit. Suzy grew up in a small town in Eastern North Carolina notorious for its moonshine and barbecue – that’s barbecued pig with a spicy vinegar sauce. Guests from all three aspects of Suzy’s life were there, her small town friends were offering the comedians and real estate crowd their finest brew, The read estate folks were enjoying Brie and pate while appraising the value of the antebellum homes and the comedians were crunching carrot sticks and gathering material for their next act.

    An earlier version of your Brie, Bran and Barbecue – were you there?

  2. Penny,

    I loved your story so much, I just read it to my family as we were gathered around the breakfast tables (eating variations on brie, bran and barbecue of course!)

    You are a dear share your memories. Thank you!


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