Thursday, March 17, 2011

United States of Arugula

The United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food RevolutionThe United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution David Kamp

I do love to eat. I love giant fried turkey legs at the state fair. I love Shanghaiese xialongbao (soup dumplings). I love buffalo mozerella with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and some extra-virgin olive oil. I love a good Double Glouster/Stilton layer cheese on a slice of Asian pear. I love Peking Duck and Pad Thai pizza.

In 2004, I went to the American History museum and was wandering through an exhibit on globalization. One by-product of globalization that I had never realized is the fact that you can now get sushi at almost every grocery store in the US. Later on, I was in the Julia's kitchen exhibit watching an episode of her original cooking show. She had to explain to her audience what garlic was. GARLIC.

So, when I saw this in the bookstore, I had to scoop it up. Kamp starts with James Beard, Julia Child, and Craig Claibourne. He takes on a journey that introduces French cooking (both through Child and some high end New York restaurants) to the American palate. We see the rise of California nouvelle and local cuisine and touch on other global food trends and the rise of the celebrity chef and the Food Network. Along the way, there's some information about Dean and Delucca and Whole Foods.

Most of the book focuses on high end restaurant food the changes we've seen over time in that. There's a sense that what's popular in the country's best restaurants trickles down to the dining room table, but we don't get much of it. My favorite chapter was the one on Dean and Delucca, because how food gets from high end to my table is what most interests me. I think the marketing of the book (including the subtitle and jacket copy) made it seem like it would focus more on home-eating than restaurant eating, but the book skewers heavily to the celebrity-chef side of things and stays rather coastal in focus. However, while I wasn't as interested in the history of fine dining and the character sketches of the people who shaped it, I found the dishy, gossipy, who-hates-who, style of writing very enjoyable and a fun read.

I also enjoyed Kamp's argument that even though we currently live in a world where they've replaced the burger bun with fried chicken, we are living in a golden age of food. Despite our fast-food calorie/fat/sodium laden wasteland, there's also raw milk cheese and local cured meats and imported craft beer.

And frankly, as someone who once drank a bottle of Lafite-Rothschild with a grocery-store brand frozen pizza, I appreciate both.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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