Kindred Spirits

2007.May.10 Thursday · 0 comments

in Books & Other Media, Life, Popular Posts, Restaurants

“We relish the opportunity of finding something new and different to eat wherever we go, whether it is part of an extended travel experience to a far destination or simply to a treasured friend’s table down the street. On The Road is our way of sharing the pleasure and adventure of food discovery through the people and places we have encountered, and also the anticipation of tables and places yet to be found.”

– Fran Ginn, Chef/Owner, The Back Door – Adventures in Good Eating

Buenos Aires – It’s always fun to come across people who think about food in a playful way. I’m not talking necessarily about those who want to experiment endlessly with concoctions and techniques, though they’re certainly, in some manner, related to what I’m thinking of. They’re often more scientist or near-engineer than playful, and generally seem to have their own set of rules that they follow religiously while loudly declaiming traditional rules – I’m referring more to those who are simply willing to throw caution to the wind and give new things a shot – whether to taste them or cook them.

Though I never met him, the chef who started me along that pathway of thought was James Haller, a once well-known chef, especially in chef and foodie circles, who had a restaurant called The Blue Strawbery Inn, up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (I ate there once, though he wasn’t there at the time). He offered a single seating, degustation menu, every evening, and simply declined to repeat the same dish after having served it (which didn’t mean he didn’t sometimes go back and work on an improvement of an earlier version). His creations were often wildly bizarre to the uninitiated, and he experimented with flavor combinations – Curried Chocolate Brandy and Mushroom Sweet Potato Cream Soup… anyone? In 1976 he published a book – The Blue Strawbery Cookbook: Cooking (Brilliantly) Without Recipes – which, if you can get your hands on, do so – Amazon, as of today, has 43 copies, starting as low as 23¢ – that opens with some delightful insights like “I am convinced that the lack of honesty in our society stems from two generations of unconcerned and untalented parents and schools who bought and prepared every single ‘convenience’ food on the market.” James disappeared out of the restaurant world in the late ’80s – I’ve heard rumors of a variety of reasons which aren’t relevant to his relevance.

Since that time, I’ve run into chefs and cooks hither, thither, and yon who simply are interested in seeing what they might produce out of their kitchens. The internet is rife with blogs of home cooks and professional chefs of this sort. A new puertas cerradas, Diego Felix, just opened up here that I’m itching to try, of the same ilk. I like to think it’s the way I approach things in my own kitchen, with a willingness to try cooking foods from all over the world, to “fuse” different cuisines, etc. As a side note, I’ve started a class in Cocina de Vanguardia here – more about which soon – where the first session was on “fusion cuisine” – the chef leading this particular evening defined the term as “using Asian ingredients to influence traditional food” – I’ll leave you to parse out just what’s wrong with that statement.

In the process of my daily meanderings through the internet, I found a link to Casa SaltShaker on the site of a restaurant in, of all the odd places, it seemed to me, Columbia, Mississippi. The link was from the chef at the restaurant in the quote at the top here, who while offering a menu of “Contemporary Mississippi cuisine”, also offers a weekly fixed-price menu called “On The Road”. She’d been looking for an opportunity to offer an Argentine menu, stumbled across our site, and offered up a menu, more or less in tribute to us! She’s got a couple of years of these menus under her belt, and, as I often do, takes some “chef’s license” as she put it (horseradish… here… no…), with the traditional flavors and dishes, and has offered up dinners based on various countries, authors (the Mark Twain dinner…), chefs, inns, and highways (the Route 66 dinner…).

We’ve been in touch since and let’s just say, the next time I find myself in Columbia, Mississippi, I know where I’m having dinner.

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