Cooking = Language, Resources & Ends

From Farm Forest to Table, from Table to Forest.  Read it and weep, foodies.  I ate at noma.

I met a young programmer in the Fælledparken green space north west of Copenhagen.  I had gotten to meet the boys from Ragnarok, and they let me play along a bit at their team practice.  He told me that he had written a program that leverages zombies in a bot-net to continuously attempt to book a reservation at noma.

“I got in,” I told him.

“No!  How long did it take?”

“Less than five minutes.”

“Oh, ok.  Who do you know?”

“No one.  I walked across the bridge, asked if there were cancellations, and they said, ‘Sure, stop by on Saturday.'”

And that is how you get a kind and well-spirited Danish boy to spike a frisbee in your face.

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I squeezed in to the community table.  Rudolfo and Ampara from Barcelona on the left, Judith and Steve from New York on my right.  The Spaniards and the Yawkers spoke about the famous molecular gastronomy of (3-Michelin Star) elBulli, and Judith (working with the James Beard Foundation), said, “Instead of Farm to table, this is going to be forest to table.”  Steve leaned toward me and whispered, “I draw the line at moss.  I’m not eating any moss.  We’ve got to have standards.”

Before food was cooked, did we have a word for “raw”?  A carrot was not a “raw” carrot until it could also be a cooked carrot.  Burnt, roasted, fried, smoked, steamed, sous vide, boiled.  Or rotten.

Claude Lévi-Strauss postulated a culinary triangle in a 1965 essay, presumably the result of some thought during his legendary four-volume Mythologiques.  Picture a triangle.  Heck, I’ll just draw it:

CLS had a point here (that has been refuted numerous and elsewhere) in drawing an analogy of language and “cooking”:  that both have an inherent and unconscious structure of binaries (and therefore, shifting valuations – or perhaps I should say: valuations subject to the specific cultural inertia of their synchronic space).  (Goes down like a mouthful of moss to some people, I get it.)

When we position “Raw” at the top, we can think of transformations down the sides to reach “Cooked” or “Rotten.”  We can further consider gradations.  For example, roasting can be done on a simple spit.  I’ve seen Alton Brown grill a flank steak directly on the charcoal, in fact.  But boiling requires not only water as a medium, but pots and pans as tools.  At different times and in different societies, certain techniques are not only valued above others, but ritualized to specific events, times, and locales.  If you flip the triangle to have “Rotten” or “Cooked” on top, we can envision numerous other modalities and spectra of difference (and différance).

We came through the kitchen of 80 workers, all of whom greeted us.  We were invited to watch them prepare our food, and given a tour of everything on site.  Transparency is highly valued here.

The plate served on the mossy rocks is a pickled quail egg underneath the watercress-like leaves, a black currant berry coated in an armor of seeds and unripe strawberry juice (which apparently mimics a citrus juice) laid among some flower petals, and an edible twig (forgive me, I forgot the name and it wasn’t on the menu) with an ant paste.

The greens they are preparing in the kitchen are from different kinds of seaweed.  The server admitted to me, “We can get this seaweed here, but it is small and not well cared for.  We get it from Japan, because they really care for their seaweed.”

The charred greens come from forest and from sea, from bushes and from weeds.  Grilled on an outdoor barbeque because the building is an old warehouse where they used to break down whales.  Dry, aged and brittle wood means there is a policy of no open flames inside. They are brushed with a dark paste made from caramelized scallops.  I quoted from the New Nordic Cuisine manifesto when I asked them serve it on my frisbee: because that is part of my natural habitat, and the food is best presented that way (yes, I know it means in the food’s own natural habitat, but I wanted my moment).

I would love to have a kind of foraging restaurant in Colorado.  Mel with your fancy nutrition and herbal studies degree, what do you think?  Want to open a restaurant where we serve only what we forage?  Jaime can cook (for everyone except Marlowe, because, you know), and I’ll read the books.

Here’s some topical wall posters I found at the Roskilde Viking Museum cafeteria:

What would Lévi-Strauss say if he encountered a Viking contemplating a block of stinky cheese?

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