There’s no escaping food itself or American culinary trends in my new novel, What’s Left – not when the family’s livelihood and fortune are built around their landmark restaurant. What I did, however, escape is a story relating the day-to-day cartoon sequences of a kitchen demimonde of cooks, dishwashers, and wait staff, out of sight in the back, and the quirky demands of customers beyond the swinging service door and long countertop, out in front. My daughter, a pro in the hospitality industry, already has a fine draft of a novel addressing those, thank you. Besides, I touched on some of those incidents in the opening chapters of my novel, Promise.
Since my new work grows out of a template established at the ending of my first published novel, where her parents’ generation is already immersed in change, it seemed natural to have them look toward innovation and evolution rather than remain tradition-bound in hamburgers and fried chicken. For one thing, they were toying with Buddhism, with its vegetarian traditions.
Let me say simply that the possibilities have led to many heated discussions in our household, married as I am to a well-informed foodie and genius cook in her own right. And that’s before we get to the aforesaid daughter.
In the time since Cassia’s parents’ marriage, the awareness of food options and availability of ingredients in America has advanced by light years.
Something as basic as garlic is no longer considered exotic. As for vegetarian? How about vegan? Or gluten-free? Natural foods and organic are no longer considered weird, even by many right-wingers. Most towns have an extraordinary array of ethnic restaurants – Italian and Greek now seem mainstream, and as for French? You can find decent baguettes at many supermarkets.
And to think how Julia Child, here in New England, marveled when mussels were first widely available!
Let me simply say, our world’s changed incredibly – and here’s one place I’ll say, for the better.
Could it be too sweet? Or too sour? This is how it tasted at one time:
Barney shares his brother’s awareness of innovative trends in American dining, as well as the inherent tension between their avowed Buddhist precepts and an income of cooked flesh and alcoholic beverages, especially when no decent chef would serve anything he hasn’t tasted – to do otherwise would be dishonest. But if Dimitri is anxious to reposition the family’s restaurant, real estate, and financial operations to better fit growth opportunities, Barney’s restless to explore more creative dishes than the daily special and soup of the day permit.
As Nita joins in with news of Moosewood and similar vegetarian and natural-foods restaurants, and Pia comes across the Tassajara Zen cookbooks and their simple, direct approach to dishes, Barney’s thinking is set in motion. How could he blend the new directions with the comforting philosophy his grandparents had established selling hot dogs? Would it even be possible?
Many of us take things like sushi and calamari in stride these days, but I can remember the universal derision at the very mention of eating raw fish or cooked squid or octopus. By the way, goat can be delicious, when you can find it on a menu.
What’s one of your favorite foods that your parents would have never eaten – even if it had been available?