This last week I have been watching season four of ‘The Mind of a Chef’ Narrated by Anthony Bourdain. In this season they follow Gabrielle Hamilton from Prune restaurant in New York. I love her, she’s strong and sassy and she speaks with such passion and intelligence and humour. I enjoy watching her cook, admire her food philosophy, and especially her attitude to issues I’ve never considered in depth; Wastage, garbage, hunger, hustling.
The funny thing is so far, even though i’m enjoying watching, I wouldn’t eat most of the food that she cooks. Pork (not kosher), octopus (not kosher), rabbit (not kosher), etc. etc. They just aren’t things I’ve ever eaten. Not part of my lexicon, which got me thinking…
In Australia cockroaches are considered pests, but in Thailand it’s a delicious snack. I look at frogs legs and think ‘revolting’ but elsewhere it’s the norm. The Peruvians eat Guinea Pigs, Rocky mountain oysters (AKA Fried bulls testicles) are popular in the Western US, Cambodians enjoy fried tarantula with garlic, the list goes on.
I’m interested in the comfort zones surrounding what people choose to eat. Growing up in a very culturally Jewish family, it was natural for me to not eat pork or shellfish. I still don’t feel any urgent need to try it, and one generally doesn’t crave something they’ve never had. I’m so beautifully conditioned that at the age of thirty-three I still look at a prawn and see a weird alien, that is from the outset inherently unappealing. I don’t like the idea of cutting into fried liver, but will happily chow down traditional chopped liver complete with hard boiled egg garnish on a piece of challah. I’m not a fan of sardines, but I love herring. I’m acquainted with a number of people that think herring is awful.
Growing up in Sydney, I knew Jewish people that would eat all you can eat seafood out of the house, but keep a kosher kitchen at home (just in case the rabbi popped by). There were those that wouldn’t eat ham or seafood, but would make allowances for crispy fried bacon, and others who would only buy kosher meat to cook at home but settle for non-kosher in a restaurant. Those who wouldn’t mix meat and milk, but would happily chomp up a cheese burger was another modification, the variations could be endless. The rules that people choose to define for themselves are fascinating.
On ‘The Mind of a Chef’ Chef Hamilton speaks with Chef Daniel Boulud while sitting on a New York stoop eating a fried egg roll. As they converse he reminisces, about his memories of being fifteen, in Lyon, France, and being invited to enjoy a bowl of tripe. Following that, the two chefs cook a tripe dish together complete with gelatinous pigs trotter.
When all is cooked and plated, they take a mouthful and say “Mmmm Yum” in unison, on their faces expressions of unmistakable enjoyment, and I think gross. Just watching them eat what appears to me a gloopy mess makes me shudder. Something so comfortable and natural for them to eat, is so uncomfortable for me. This is in theory, I don’t even have to eat it! But since our (my) natural propensities to appreciate one thing and reject another still stand, I am, at the very least, glad to see they’re having a nice time.