Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Manifestos

Adam Sobsey returned from a summer trip to France with a mission: to reimagine the moderately priced, high quality bistro food that is so common in towns large and small outside of the big cities like Paris.  This food relies on fresh ingredients, not processed food, and is prepared to order.  Tipping is not part of the culture (service/gratuity is included in the cost of the meal).  A sense of communality and community is the ethic of the bistro.

We discussed this over Mapo Tofu at Szechaun Garden and the possibility of creating a dinner around these principles (at the Bakery) on a recurring basis.

Adam's a writer, and I brought up the fact that really, what he was laying down was a manifesto about the state of our food economy and modern gastronomical habits.  His "day" job is as a bartender at a local fine dining restaurant, so these issues are presented to him literally five nights a week.

The manifesto was written and performed, the food was prepared, and the people enjoyed.  This was on July 30th.  Our next one is August 27th.  Check out the pics and video below.

To everyone who passively enjoys the food culture of the Triangle, I say check your passivity at the door.  Great privilege means that we have the onus to think actively about food culture.  I hope these events spur more discussion, more behavioral and consumer changes, more manifestos.  We have titled the event Manifest, and we hope you can join us.  Manifest will be unlike fine dining, and more like family meal, served family style, without tipping, for a moderate cost ($20-$30pp).


MENU

Pan amb tomaquet

Insalata caprese w/ hand-pulled mozzarella

Spicy yellowfin tuna “dragon” “roll” w/ shiso-celery leaf chiffonade
Accompaniments:
Provençal piment cabbage sort of like the kind we had at that place in Borough Market
Potato-cucumber salad in celery vinaigrette
Potato-cabbage wok-salvage

Sweet minty tomatoes

Ari’s 
tarte tatin

Yellowfin Sesame-Encrusted Tuna Loin Encrusted with Shiso and Celery Leaf

Adam and the fruits of the BYOB


MANIFEST
The common, recurring image of our present moment: a person sitting in a parked car, with the engine and the air conditioning running, using a smartphone, drinking a soda and/or eating fast food.
And a recently published prediction of the future: “We will become new kinds of beings… We will have bionic hands, feet and eyes; nanorobots will cruise the bloodstream keeping an eye out for disease and repairing the damages of age and injury; wearable and implanted devices will expand our sensory repertoires and alter our moods; biological tools will infiltrate our cells, redesign our genes, and gives new and improved flesh, blood and neurons… We will require a brand-new package of religious beliefs and political institutions. War will be waged by drones and work will be done by robots.”
Before this brave new world, we will go through “a transitional state” in which “wealth will be concentrated in the hands of the ‘tiny elite that owns the all-powerful algorithms’” that control our bodies and minds. “The useless masses will find whatever satisfaction they can in shopping, drugs, computer games and the thrills of virtual reality, which will ‘provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the drab reality outside.’”
This is the person in the parked car with the engine and the air conditioning running, using a smartphone, drinking a soda and/or eating fast food. The very climate from which the occupant takes shelter is worsened by the expulsion of heat and exhaust back into the air. The transitional state is underway. The tiny elite was taking control of the all-powerful algorithms well before the ascension of our current political hegemony, which is simply accelerating a program of consolidating corporate power.
Food will not slow or stop this. There is no bourgeois revolution. We take food too seriously. We give it too much power. A former food critic wrote: “The individual virtue of our consumer choices takes us only so far toward making a better world. If shopping and cooking really are the most consequential, most political acts in my life, perhaps what that means is that our sense of the political has shrunk too far. Perhaps we aren’t thinking and acting on a sufficiently big scale. Imagine that you die and go to Heaven and stand in front of a jury made up of Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Your task would be to compose yourself, look them in the eye, and say, ‘I was all about fresh, local, and seasonal.’”
The modern restaurant is a relatively recent invention, dating to about the middle of the eighteenth century, around the same time as the modern flush toilet. The original word was not restaurant but bouillon, which referred to the prevalent protein-rich broth served as a restorative; hence, soon, restaurant. The restorative purpose gave way to another, which was essentially the purpose of luxury: private tables and even private rooms, rather than communal tables; “personalized” service staff; a menu offering an abundance of choice, or the appearance of it; a culinary aspiration toward taste over health; the creation of a standard gastronomy of familiar dishes, which in turn created a competitive model (who makes the best tournedos Rossini?).
Eventually this luxury became commonplace. In America today, the average person eats restaurant food five or six times per week. About ten percent of the workforce is employed in a restaurant. In most states, restaurants pay waiters minimum wage or less. In North Carolina, as in seventeen other states, the minimum mandated hourly wage for waiters is $2.13. The customer pays the bulk of the server’s actual wage with a tip. The persistence of this practice in America is rooted in our country’s history of slavery.
Changing the algorithm:
First we must eat less. This is without question, and it is emphatic. Eat less. For the body, for the world. Only by first eating less can we eat differently. Everything relies on this.
Therefore:
1.     A return to communal tables, communal service. Out of the car, out of the air conditioning. The reality outside, however drab.[i]
2.     No menu choice. A planned rather than selected variety.[ii]
3.     An abjuration of luxury: not in the food, but in the price. Inviting a broader elite.
4.     Health in taste. Flavor is easy to produce with salt and fat. Drive and derive flavor from other sources.
5.     No competition. “Creativity” only to facilitate departure from norms. Dislocating ingredients from their usual places. Isolating ingredients. Reconfiguring, revaluing ingredients.
6.     Less waste. Make use. What is on hand? What can be left out altogether?[iii]
7.     No service staff. Therefore no tipping for service.[iv]
8.     No cult of the chef. The only true diva is the ingredient itself. 
9.     Performance. A restaurant is, still and all, unavoidably a theater. Audience, lights, dialogue, the action of cooking eating, the comedy of drinking. The venue can do more than it generally does.[v] It can be a place of spectacle, exchange, entertainment, even provocation beyond food, which is not an art; perhaps it is a craft, certainly it is a necessity which can support other arts. Extra money will be accepted not as a tip but for any other arts such as may and will arise.




[i] Thus part of the dining procedure is satisfying not only my hunger but also, by sharing, the hunger of others. Another part is performing one’s own service: passing plates, opening bottles. The sham of tipping for restaurant service is in part that the skills rewarded are negligible. One pays for the illusion of proficiency: a costumed actor in performance.
[ii] In Notting Hill, London is a place called Books for Cooks: in the back of this cookbook shop is a test kitchen for the production of recipes from the books they sell. No originality. Much of the food is bought at the nearby street market. For seven pounds, a three-course weekday sit-down lunch with a set menu. The sale of the books subsidizes the project. Here the wholesaling of bread subsidizes a multi-course Sunday dinner with a set menu. Much of the food is bought at the nearby street market.
[iii] A restaurant in Collioure, France ends each dinner service with no more trash than fits into a small bathroom-sized canister. Radish tops are pureed with pomegranate pith into a sauce for bonito, a fish generally regarded as trash in America.
[iv] Blurring the division between “front of house” and “back of house.” There is no back of the house.
[v] This perhaps was the idea behind “dinner theater,” which had its heyday in the 1970s but quickly became passé. The thinking was correct but the means were not. It was for one thing too much to ask of an audience.

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