Thursday, March 21, 2013

I could have predicted the rise of Asian French stoner food in the American zeitgeist if I'd just paid attention

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.
I could have predicted the rise of Asian French stoner food to its prominence in the American zeitgeist if I'd paid attention to what was happening in Pocatello, Idaho about 10 to 12 years ago. And not that any of this "prediction" would have made an impact on my life, but I think from the standpoint of someone who looks to societal trends to stay in tune with what's interesting to hipsters, I might have enjoyed the validation of being right yet once again. At the time and crossing into that milestone called the thirties, I had both stoner friends who spent every extra dime they got on pot to friends that had plenty of discretionary income and were too smart for their own good because Idaho did not provide them with the challenges or the stepping stones to achieve greatness.

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 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?'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.


  1. 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.

    That is a scary thought!

  2. The pork rinds we have here, but most of that stuff I don't see living here in the South.
    Although if the idea of greasy pulled pork, pickled pig's feet, and deep fried salad turn you off, you might not want to visit this area.

  3. I think it's about people just trying to think up the next food craze, so they just throw anything together. Maybe they hope to get rich. I have trouble digesting anything high in fat, so not much I could eat on that menu. Lol...

  4. If I may drop a bit of Japanese/French fusion history on you (I'll try to be an H-bomb), the best I can tell J/F actually started in Japan. Apparently French haute cuisine became super popular in Japan in the 1970/1980s. At the same time the influence of nouvelle cuisine in France, which had sprung up in the 1960s, was beginning to reach to the rest of the world. The chefs in Japan reacting to nouvelle cuisine began to substitute local Japanese ingredients into classical dishes in order to have the freshest possible options. Also the rejection of heavy sauces and long cook times by nouvelle cuisine was a natural union with Japanese cuisine. Thus you get black cod (Japanese) cooked sous vide (Frenche) in a white truffle sake sauce (both and very light).
    As for this haute stoner food movement, I get the appeal (fat, sugar and salt taste good!) it I don't love it. I know a few chefs here and they certainly cook with fat salt and sugar (they are southern chefs) but they don't just add more of one for the sake of adding more. Any fool can add bacon to something but if everything tastes like bacon then you're not innovating you're just making bacon. I'll take the chef that can blend things from places I didn't think of (like the Korean/Mexican stuff that came out of L.A. 7 years ago) or can blend so gracefully that it feels natural.

  5. I think there are only so many choices to make, so many of us are going to eat the same things, buy the same things, go to the same places. In my opinion, everyone can be interesting. They may not be in a conversation for a number of factors, like being shy or reserved, but if you could dig beneath the surface, we all feel love and loss and passion. It may not be memoir worthy, but there must be something to fill a short story or two, right?

  6. You sound pretty hot for Brad.

    I don't understand the fascination with bacon. But I'm sure that explains why so many of us are so fat. I mean bacon is just saturated fat and salt on a plate.

  7. I've never thought about any of this. I'm not much of a food-person.

  8. Narcissistic stoner friends scarfing up salty, fatty, French-Asian blends, where will it all end? With ecargots and croissants in peanut sauce?

  9. Wow. I've never heard of most of your post. The bacon hot chocolate made me want to throw up a little.

  10. We recently saw an episode of Psych that had some other weird Japanese fusion food in it. I was surprised to find out it was a real thing.

  11. It seems we've come to the point where we can turn the phrase "you are what you eat" to "we eat what we are". As societies, cultures, and races blend, so will our approach to food and cuisine. Nonetheless, I think kids need to learn basic nutrition and cooking skills in high school since most don't learn it at home anymore.

  12. The food you described sounded awful to me, but I am a meat and potatoes person. And don't people know sea food is poisoned by pesticides? Oh yeah, and radiation from the Japan melt down.

  13. @Sheena: I'm glad you liked it.

    @Alex: I love pork. I just think people are combining too many things to try and impress an increasingly jaded tasting audience.

    @Cindy: You may be on to something.

    @Brad: Well I know what Japanese French fusion is now. I didn't ten years ago when I first heard you utter the phrase :). I need to meet up with you someplace so we can go restaurant hopping.

    @Theresa: Always the optimist. I heart you Theresa! You should watch the Six Feet Under episode where the wife murders her husband at the beginning because he's "boring."

    @P.T.: He's a great friend (Brad is straight as an arrow). He commented above. Back in Pocatello it was Brad, Dylan, and Jake...a trio of great guys that were far too worldly for good ole Poky. I like bacon on hamburgers and a few other things.

    @Richard: Well thanks for commenting.

    @Catherine: I know, right? You totally get what I mean.

    @Brinda: I like food, but I don't know enough to keep up with people who are true foodies. For them, it's more or less a way of life (although I can't understand how many of them can afford to buy the ingredients they'd need to prepare food like this at home most of the time). Just a package of saffron is unbelievably expensive (same for vanilla beans).

    @Elise: Great point!

    @Belle: Dearest Belle...we all gotta die sometime :)

  14. it's sad how new generations aren't really becoming better in a true sense of that word :(

  15. Hi, Mike,
    Some of that stuff you discussed does sound awful. I'm not one of those people willing to pay an arm, leg and kidney for some awful combination that passes as exotic food.

    Hope you're making a quick recovery.

  16. They do seem to be putting bacon in everything lately. Is there deepfried kimchi yet? Kimchi seems to be everywhere lately, too.

  17. And I was shocked when I found chocolate covered potato chips.

    The thing the kids all rave about nowadays is chicken and waffles. Roscoe's. I've been asked multiple times if I've been, and when I say I haven't, they chide me and tell me I must go.

    That's as "out there" as I've seen. I guess I'm sheltered. I plan on keeping it that way.

  18. Okay, so here's yet another limitation of mine: I'm a really picky eater. As adventurous as I can be in other parts of my life, put a plate of extremely exotic, mixed up food in front of me and I turn wuss. I guess too that when my budget is tight the one thing I cut back on very easily is eating out, and then when I do dine out I go cheapo and simple. To top it off, I'm trying to eat healthier these days.

    But I still love bacon. Simple, plain old bacon with nothing on it. Yum.

  19. Very cool blog Michael. I love the humorous tone, the sarcasm and your version of the truth. At my age I have to watch what I eat but the best thing I ever ate was in Europe and it did have foie gras stuffed into it. LOL. Thank goodness I don't go out much anymore.