|CLICK TO EMBIGGEN. Is the hipster to blame for the tragic clash|
happening in American cuisine. Magic 8 Ball says "Yes." Click for
source of Image.
In my opinion, Asian food, French food, and stoner food all had their consumers. My friend Brad (one of the brightest men I know) was the first person that dropped the phrase "Japanese French fusion," and I remember I had no idea what that was. But the passion and excitement with which Brad approaches anything (whether it be poker, a movie, or the talk of fine coffees and food) explodes from his very presence like the Trinity bomb set off over White Sands, New Mexico. You know...the one where Dr. Robert Oppenheimer quoted the Bhadavad Gita and said, "I am become Death, destroyer of worlds." Well, Asian French stoner food could very well be "I am become Death, destroyer of food and your wallet", and there's a part of me that feels I should have seen this coming. And maybe the fact that I don't appreciate all of it with the same jubilation as stoners in Colorado do over their decision to legalize pot...is a sign that this particular liberal democrat is indeed getting gray.
I'd grown up in a Japanese household that regularly ate things like sukiyake, sashimi on gohan, and sushi (to name a few dishes). And by the time the 90's ended, I'd been to a French restaurant or two and tasted fine things like chateubriand, foie gras, risotto, and could appreciate an excellent fromage even though I don't drink wine. This latter bit is not out of choice. I just happen to be allergic to alcohol and after a couple of sips or two, I need a Benadryl or it's going to be a trip to the hospital (I can eat things cooked in wine no problem).
And I'd also made plenty of stoner friends. What did they like to eat? Pretty much just fat...anything from nasty pork rinds to grilled cheese sandwiches (which have always made me gag--not a fan). Well those two worlds, probably thanks to the meteoric rise of celebrity chefs, gourmet kitchens, and the Food Network have now collided in every eatery from Salt Lake City to Montreal to San Francisco to New York City that wants to brand itself hip, and then go and charge you an arm and a leg for food which is essentially fat-on-fat and will challenge anyone's notion of appropriate caloric intake. It doesn't surprise me at all, since America as a whole is a place that has never respected food.
So what am I seeing? Craving tacos? Remember when "fish taco" was a surprising twist? Well now it's tacos stuffed with bulgogi, pigs' tails cooked in root beer, and a nationwide movement by foodies to instill the idea that literally anything can be improved by cooking it with some part of pig. Bacon hot chocolate anyone? Yeah...it's a real thing, and supposedly, "to die for."
Growing up, I would have insisted (if these foods were real people) that they were narcissistic much like my old intellectual friends I made in Pocatello, Idaho. I had a ton of fun with my narcissistic super smart friends (and I miss them a lot), but in the end, I would hope that they would never hook up because that would be a disaster. It would have been just too much of a clash to handle. Or would it?
So now you can go places in just about every town that has hipsters and money and order dishes like bite-sized hamachi sushi made crunchy with fried pork rinds or get sashimi slipped into a stack of flapjacks. Really? Picturing grilled cheese sandwiches? Let's stuff foie gras in there, garnish it with cucumbers pickled in rice wine vinegar and see if you gag. How about Arctic char, cured with sugar and lime zest and smoked for breakfast? How about the cold water fattiness of mackerel served with a plain old bed of crushed potato chips?
I admit, some of this stuff is really good but there's a mental tug-of-war going on in my mind. I wonder where it all stops, or where it all ends. Is the new Saturday normal eating breakfast pancakes with raw fish, salmon roe, and lime yogurt? When asked what's for lunch do I respond with "creamy cod fritters with strands of pickled cabbage and a garlic aioli." Is there ever going to be a time when I'm not the only one staring at a plate of barbecue sauce, raw and pickled cabbage, mayonnaise, pickled shallot, sriracha, shoestring potatoes, and spreadable egg yolk and think...this is grotesque.
Maybe food is like the sparrow in the mine. It's the pulse of America and as our population swells it is becoming harder and harder to have a voice and more difficult to distinguish ourselves from the person standing next to us. And the youth today according to many psychological studies are more vain and fame-obsessed than any generation that has ever walked the earth. Reinventions and reboots happen faster and faster with a continuous devaluation of the old as a trade off for finding something original to be "wowed" by and to rave about to our friends. Maybe too many of us cling to the notion that we are all interesting, when in fact, there are many uninteresting folks out there. But at some point in our lives, the line is crossed, and the sparrow dies. Let's just hope that none of us experience that from a restaurant and pay a truly astronomical sum for the privilege of eating garbage.