BLOG POST: My Dinner at Miami’s Tuyo with Chef Norman Van Aken
Tuyo, Marcel Proust and Pierre Bourdieu continued…
While many of you might just roll your eyes at this comparison, I was quickly reminded of the Disney movie Ratatouille. A story of a small underdog mouse that manages to win the heart of a grumpy, cynical old food critic with a hearty rataouille dish resembling that of his beloved grandmere. The same simplicity of tea dipped Madelines that triggered Proust’s heartfelt memories of his Aunt Leonie, is what triggered the grump old food critic with the Ratatouille dish, and my own memories with my nonna and the smell of saffron in her famous risotto Milanese. It is that very experience (a sight, a smell, a taste), one where food takes us back in time to moments with long lost friends and family, that Chef Van Aken aims to recreate.
Bare with me as I go on this academic tangent. After all I’m a nerd who loves food.
Food studies fascinates me. The intersection of culture, politics, family identity, memory, creativity and history that is embedded in food practices is endless and often forgotten. The way in which we eat and prepare food not only reflects our own personal relationships with food but also a fascinating and complicated commentary on history, culture(s) and politics.
In grad school, I hung out with the food sociology students. While I was studying Foucault, they were hosting potlucks discussing the merits of Pierre Bourdieu and the Theory of Taste. I was incredibly envious. I bring up Pierre Bourdieu because he tells us a lot about culture – food and ‘taste’. His analysis goes one step further than Proust. While Proust accurately identifies the importance that food has to our own history, Bourdieu contextualizes food (and it’s practices) as signifier of cultural capital – one that is bought, exchanged, shared and even exploited. Food is personal (re: Proust and the famous Madelines) and political. Bourdieu explains;
“A cultural product is a constituted taste, a taste which has been raised from the vague semi-existence of halfformulated and unformulated experience, implicit or even subconscious desire, to the full reality of the finished product, by a process of objectification which, in present circumstances, is almost always the work of professionals”.
In researching for this blog post, I came across the 1988 speech that made Chef Norman Van Aken the “founding father of new world cuisine”. http://normanvanaken.blogspot.ca/2010/02/fusion-cuisine.html . He writes,
“As we’ve relentlessly seen, immigrants or refugees are washed into the mainstream of a larger populace, their variegated colorful customs and appetites fragmenting amazingly quickly into the American fabric patchwork quilt. In the beginning, they are the bright clusters of either urban or rural neighborhoods, but ultimately they slide into the muddy blurred facelessness of wall-to-mall urban sprawl”
I think about how this might be the case within a Canadian context. I think about my own sense of urgency and fear, as links to my italian heritage become few and far between , my family’s immigrant roots too will fade to the “wall-to-mall urban sprawl”. How do we adapt, appreciate and insure evolving cultural identities? Some might as if there even a need for it? More importantly, where is there space for a homemade risotto milanese (stock and all from scratch) in ’mainstream popoluce’ despite the sea of ‘italian’ restaurant chains of East Side Marios and Olive Gardens?