In the ‘50s and ‘60s James Beard and Craig Claiborne gave us delectable recipes for Crème Brulée and Steak au Poivre. Cakes and pies were made with real butter and cream. Medical terms such as cholesterol and triglycerides were unknown by the general public and we indulged with the express purpose of enjoyment.
The ‘70s ushered in a vogue called nouvelle cuisine. This French term meaning “new cooking” referred to a culinary style that made traditional classic French sauces lighter through natural reduction rather than being thickened with flour. Nouvelle cuisine vegetables were cooked quickly and served slightly crisp without loss of color or texture. Portions were made smaller with the intent of presenting quality rather than quantity. It was the era that also ushered in lighter wines to compliment the food. Critics in San Francisco, New York and Miami lauded America’s innovation, but sensible country folk never bought this trend perpetrated on sophisticated city dwellers. Everything was à la carte. Accelerated prices accompanied portions continually reduced in size until people finally admitted that, although a flower set on top of thinly cut veal accompanied by a slice of orange was visually pleasing, it was not enough to curb one’s hunger. Out of the ashes of this culinary phoenix came commercials such as “Where’s the beef?” with promises of larger portions at lower prices from fast food chains.
Sometime in the ‘80s America became a viable contender to France, Italy and Spain with Southwestern cooking. Originally developed from Native Americans whose cuisine was influenced by the changing seasons, it swept the nation with hot peppers, cilantro and ginger, not to mention garlic and elephant garlic, which penetrated everything from meat to mashed potatoes. On its heels was a delectable cuisine emanating from young South Florida chefs led by Mark Militello, Norman Van Aken, and Allen Susser, who incorporated Caribbean ingredients with California techniques. At the same time, the same sophisticated New Yorkers, who had survived nouvelle cuisine, were exhausted and unsatisfied with their new menu of bran and oats and little hearts pictured next to low fat items. Their souls screamed for “comfort food”. And, lo and behold, the food industry completed a full circle. Double-sized hamburgers topped with bacon and cheese appeared on menus along with steaks and chops charged appropriately by their weight. Mashed potatoes with brown gravy and chicken pot pie and beef stew reappeared in the most elegant surroundings. People were eating again for pleasure.
The ‘80s quickly rode into the ‘90s, and, Emeril LeGasse brought his New Orleans’ restaurant to every big city, including Orlando. The Food Channel had blossomed with a multitude of chefs teaching us Italian, French and American techniques of cooking at home, as well as a new cuisine called “Fusion”. This new and exciting approach that began in California combines cooking styles and flavors from different cultures. Italian mixed with spices from the Orient, Mexican combined with French, and traditional American that originally evolved from our forefathers across the ocean, now jazzing up to become the leader in innovative cuisine.
And, then, before we could digest the multitude of changes of our lifestyle that were put upon us by our advanced technology, we entered the 21 st century. And what has this new millennium brought to our culinary tastes? Well, it seems as though we’re eating more and enjoying it less. Listen to the advertisements! Burgers are getting larger and larger. And, we’re not sitting down long enough to enjoy them. We’re biting and chewing and gulping without really tasting. Go to any restaurant. Steaks are no longer the regulation 12 ounce weight, which is more than we should eat to begin with. 16 ounces of roast beef and steaks bounce out at us from the menu. Meat is topped with shrimp and cheese. Twin pork chops large enough to satisfy a family of 4 are smothered with gravy and garlic mashed potatoes. Food is falling over the edges of the plate, and we’re eating it because somewhere in the far distant past we remember being told that we should not waste because there are people going hungry.
Are we gorging ourselves to rebel against the health food lectures from professionals that warn against sugar, salt, fat, cholesterol and everything else that tastes good? Or, could it be that our obsession with huge amounts of comfort food consoles our insecurity from the fast pace of technology. When our computers and television sets - and even our stoves and ovens are obsolete in design and engineering before we have paid for them with our credit cards, maybe we’re obsolete also! Everything has begun to move so fast we can’t keep up with it. SO, Eat! Show the world that we’re live, breathing creations and not obsolete machines!
Maybe we should take a lesson from countries on the other side of the ocean. The Chinese eat with chopsticks, which can only pick up small amounts of food at a time, so they eat slower. The Italians and French serve several courses of small portions and take at least one hour to finish, so they can savor every mouthful. And, they put down their forks and knives in-between bites to enjoy conversation with friends. They don’t just eat. They dine – even on pizza.
I personally prefer to leave the table feeling satisfied instead of stuffed. And, yes, I’ll live with my old computer until it gives out!