The great thing about having an internet presence throughout the last few years has been the capacity to connect with other chefs whom I would never have met otherwise. Sometimes there is a face... other times it's just a name or assumed name, but the same personalities make there way around this great cyber-kitchen like characters in some complex internet-based gameworld (sort of a "World of Food-Craft"*). One such chef is Uwe Riehs, and after a few years of emails and blog comments we were able to share a few beers together. That day happened to be a few days ago during the April full moon, and it just made the timing seem even moreso appropriate.
If Uwe was an online game character, he would probably be some sort of warlock slash sorcerer slash monk ascending down from the mountain tops (seriously, he does live somewhere up in the mountains about an hour away from the Canadian border). He has a website/blog at gratifood.com. The basic premise of the gratifood concept is relating energy to food. This energy can be positive or negative. Sounds kind of hoakie at first, but the idea is timeless. As humans, we depend on food collectively to perpetuate our existence. All that we create is fueled by our consumption of foodstuffs. To look at this in a bigger picture of human existence throughout time, just ponder how we nourish ourselves as a society from a century ago until today. The evolution of agriculture and animal husbandry into modern terms has changed more over this period than over the entire span of humanity. This is an ongoing debate among food circles today and is part of the drive towards local, organic, farm to table, sustainability, CFA's, farmers markets, etc. The point being that we have to simply do better than what we currently are. Just a look at Chef Jose Andres tweets today before the Atlantic Food Summit reinforces this idea... "Food is the most important source of energy in this world" - fossil fuels have nothing on what maintains mankind, @chefjoseandres insists.
"This tastes delicious. What's in it?" "Love." This idea has existed for a very long time. The belief that there is more to enjoyment of food than the physical ingredients that compose it (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts). Mom's food tastes better because she puts love into it, right? This is the basic belief. I once took a job in a silly little hippie restaurant after moving to Santa Fe during the last century. I had an order come in for a miso soup one day, and the customer popped her head into the kitchen to request that I put a little extra love into it because she was having a bad day. Well, this is just a little silly besides being the open door of opportunity for all sorts of sick chef humor that I could have retorted with (could be a good way to make some money though... "Add love- $2 extra" on the menu). Anyway, this is probably a bad example since most of my disdain for the restaurant was actually for the owner... an obese little troll of a woman who took hippiness to a new level (including beliefs such as her weight problem was due to parasites put into her stomach by the government and that farmer's kept chickens close to the farmhouse so that the aliens couldn't abduct the poultry to perform experiments on... seriously). For the young smartass egotistical budding chef that I was back then, that was just a little too much to absorb and keep a straight face. Is she really that different from the Donald when you look at eccentrics? Anyway, not to get off subject I do believe that the passion to create great food is necessary for creating great food... not alien-free chicken. And to stay closer to the original point... check out Uwe's blog. There are many great chefs out there today, some more in the limelight than others, and the current evolution of food is towards creating simple good stuff for us to eat. Uwe is one of those guys... travelling, cooking, learning. There are many new and exciting techniques and ingredients to achieve greatness of texture and flavor, but the mission statement is the same. We all need a little extra love in our food (free of charge).
Again, this is not an idea but a current reality. Even a few years ago, there was much discussion over whether or not fine dining was dying. I don't believe that it is or ever will, but there has been a huge movement towards more approachable food created in a sincere and elevated manner. There has been the comfort food trend. Restaurants that broke the scene like Momofuku. Also cited this week by Allen Susser over the closure of Chef Allen's after 25 years... fine dining with a more casual approach. Gastropubs. Chef-driven food trucks. "Ratatouille... but that is a peasant dish."
* I strangely feel compelled to state that I have never played any such online games as World of WarCraft, and my only point of reference for such games has been from the South Park episode. I am not that big of a geek.