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What makes food good

December 14th, 2003 · No Comments

I liked this essay by islander (well, he’s also a writer, author and former chef) Greg Atkinson in today’s Seattle Times, Forming a Palate :

Jerilyn and my wife Betsy set a table for 18 and covered it with linen tablecloths, old silverware, bowls of flowers and polished brass candlesticks with beeswax tapers. When they lit the candles, afternoon sun still streamed in through open doors and windows, and through gaps between the boards of the barn itself. Before we were seated, a wreath of whole-wheat bread on a board piled with goat cheeses was brought forth, and as we spread the soft, white goat cheese over the warm, brown bread, I wondered if anything had ever tasted so good….

…That night, after the bread and cheese, we sat down to plates of simply dressed farmer’s market vegetables on green gypsy plates. Then came grilled salmon with blackberry sauce and corn pudding. And for dessert, we had Gravenstein apples baked in pastry, apples from the same tree that yielded the sauce in that jar. And then it occurred to me: What makes food good might be the story that goes with it.

If we are awake to what’s happening, every bite we take can link us to a story. And in the language of the palate, every pantry is a veritable Scheherazade, the source of a thousand and one intriguing tales. I like Gravenstein apples not only because they are fragrant, crisp and juicy. I like them because I associate their aroma with so many good experiences I have had.

And the same might be true of every other food I like.

I still like American ch.eese grilled on white bread — it takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen, the Formica table top and the vinyl-covered, chrome-legged chairs, the rooster-shaped cookie jar and the cuckoo clock; it all comes back. In the same way, white cheddar evokes Vermont and goat cheese conjures memories of farmer’s markets in France.

The only vital connection between these things is my own experience. What makes food good is us. Our own perceptions, heightened by knowledge and awareness, fortified by a lifetime of experience from which we might draw our own thousand and one tales of delight.

Tags: food · island