Nearly two years ago, I sat down with Judy Rodgers, chef and co-owner of Zuni Cafe to talk about food after spending some a few days in her kitchen. Writing my earlier post on there being a new owner of the San Francisco iconic restaurant, I recalled our conversation and some of the things she said and, though some of these sentiments are in the book I was working on at the time (Reach), I wanted to post them here. What with all the talk these days of agribusiness and our food production and growing concern over obesity and how we eat, Judy’s words are as salient now as they were then. I don’t think they can be said enough:
That’s what we’re up against, that it’s perceived as at triumph that you can get strawberries in January as opposed to a catastrophe. Not all choice is good. Even if the January strawberry tastes OK, even if you have a really good strawberry that’s organic, I still know you turned down other things for that to happen.
A lot of our culinary habits in this country developed after refrigeration and freezing and certain technologies were inexpensive, whereas most other old world countries’ culinary traditions evolved before you had all those things. And so you had dried apples—not to put in your Cheerios, you had dried apples so you had something to eat.
That’s something I can do is try to make the menu, as much as I can, reflect a lot of the natural rhythms of this part of the world and reflect used to be the way you would eat before you could cheat.
There are a lot of reason not to buy Chilean blueberries. Let’s do nuts or chocolate or dried fruit for dessert. Part of not getting tired of food and cooking is not having every option every day, it’s responding to your constraints. You don’t have that much to work with, so you have to be more resourceful. If I were in St. Louis, I’d have a different palate of flavors to play with. I’d probably be more aggressive about putting stuff up myself during the season.
And guess what? That’s what culinary tradition is, making the harvest season last all year long. My God, the most unique holiday we have is Thanksgiving, it should be something that if you really ponder what Thanksgiving is all about, you would really understand food. But people think it’s about gluttony, as opposed to truly revering this your great harvest celebration, and now put stuff up so you don’t starve over the winter. But people don’t think about it that way—here, it’s the beginning of the eating season.