These are threads I'm pulling on. Reading one thing and linking it to another. Trailing the scent of connection in the quiet.
Thank you to Claire Dederer for writing this brilliant book with forthrightness. It should be on the New York Times Bestsellers list. The bold quotes are from Chapter Five, The Genius.
Both cookbooks are first editions. I was hungry when I bought them. Insatiable is closer to it. I wanted it all.
Twenty-seven years old and working garde manger and pastry at Le Bistingo on Queen St. W. when it was top spot in Toronto. Shucking Fine de Claire oysters flown in from Brittany and whipping Calvados sabayon to renaissance clouds. I was months away from going to the Stratford Chefs School.
"And yet—isn't the genius the person who changes everything about his or her field? Thomas Kuhn called this a paradigm shift, before the word "paradigm" got taken over by corporate dipshits and lazy undergrads."
They were wild, obsessed, sexual men. Look at the photo of Marco, the oil stain on the knee of his houndstooth chef pants. The jacket looks like he never leaves the kitchen. I imagine the thick cotton slightly damp and smelling musky. In the afterglow of dinner, a trail of women in stilettos and petit four dresses wander through his kitchen.
Who will ever forget Jean-Louis Palladin's "get-me-the-Vitamix" moment? Palladin's book is tall and lanky, like the man and his blender. It needs a big coffee table.
The cookbooks cum art books were released within a year of each other.
When I look at the food, Harvey's is still everything I want in a restaurant. If you have White Heat, go get it and turn to page 73. That dish is pure Troisgros brothers — it is utterly perfect. If it were put down in front of me, I might cry. Now turn to page 103 and imagine the pleasure of crushing golden sugar threads into red currant sorbet. For all the bad boy rockstar in him, the cooking is modern French haute cuisine.
Palladin expresses the same level of expertise, but his presentation embodies a new world verve. It's a mature, freer spirit at the plate.
In 1989, when Cooking With The Seasons was released, Jean-Louis Palladin was 43. When White Heat was released in 1990, Marco Pierre White was twenty-nine — a pauper prodigy (read the foreword by Albert Roux).
There's a fifteen-year age gap between the two. Palladin was born in 1946 in post-war France, in the early days of national recovery from horrific loss. White came into the world during the British Invasion — fed a diet high in Robert Plant and Mick Jagger.
What they were doing was taking eyes off France. London was ascending, and America. A pivotal moment in global culinary history and culture. Besides these two, dozens of chefs leap to my mind. Too many to name in this small piece for fear I'd miss someone beloved.
Those were the salad days of my apprenticeship.
"You need to say to your wife, if you have a wife, 'I'm sorry, but you will need to be second in my life…Being in the restaurant 10, 12, 14 hours a day, that's your family." Jean-Louis Palladin
The work family is a luxury of men.
Think of how many lonely partners and kids — real families — there were (and probably still are). Men chased stars and young women and promoted their books and restaurants. Their spouses managed households and children. Not a real partnership. Stepping back for a woman's career was beyond our imaginations. True equity remains a radical concept for many chefs.
White and Palladin were not easy men at work. There's the crying story about Gordon Ramsay at Harvey's. Eric Ripert said this about an almost early departure from The Watergate.
"The performance of masculinity, and its conflation with genius, has not been a great thing for women, who are simultaneously the genius's victims and forever excluded from the club of genius."
They behaved in a way no woman could. Like they owned everything.
Women were doing brilliant things in restaurant kitchens — chefs like Barbara Tropp, Joyce Goldstein, Lydia Shire, Nancy Silverton, Alice Waters, and Sally Clarke.
I staged in one of their kitchens and never looked back. Chasing heroes who looked like me was a choice.
But the patriarchy was, and is, in me. Just like it's in you. Stripping away a dominant culture takes rigour and attention to detail. I’m wary of anyone professing enlightenment.
We've been stingy in applying the luscious genius sauce to women. Like a filthy apron, it's a character flaw in our industry. It takes the smallest effort to speak of and treat professional women with high regard.
"In the wake of #MeToo we began to undertake a collective thought experiment — or maybe it was just me — in which we tried to imagine a world where maleness, virility, license, and violence were not required to make great art."
When do we arrive?
When it was released, I heard The Blaze's Territory on a late-night CBC radio program. I could not stop listening. It always gets me out of my chair — longing for a packed, sweaty dance floor.
The back and forth between machismo and family love is gorgeous. The scene where the four men wearing thoubs are kneeling on their prayer rugs as the sun sets over the rooftops of Algiers is gorgeous. And the way they crowd in to smoke the shisha.
The Cannons is for twenty-seven-year-old me.
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