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America's new culinary renaissance

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The transformation of food from kitchen to cultural phenomenon is evident everywhere. Farmers' markets and gourmet food trucks have proliferated across the country. Urban hipsters now preserve their own jams. Suburbanites are raising chickens so they can have fresh eggs. The most mundane fare – from hamburgers to cupcakes – has been turned into haute cuisine. Has anyone not had French fries made in duck fat yet? Cuisine is even popular on the big screen, from the dramatic ("Julie & Julia") to the animated ("Ratatouille").

Roger Hand, a retired doctor who attends the botanical chef series here every week, recounts how he recently attended a Shakespearean play and was surprised to find Elizabethan-Era recipes on sale in the lobby. "Going to see 'As You Like It,' I didn't think I'd come home with a cookbook," he says.

What's behind the new food culture, and are Americans really eating better as a result?

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On a Friday evening in Cambridge, Mass., 10 people listen intently to Dave Ramsey, an instructor at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, explain the basics of using an industrial kitchen: Don't touch the outsides of the ovens (they are hot); carry knives pointed downward at all times; and most of all – have fun. The group is made up of friends, spouses, and soon-to-be-marrieds. It's a Spanish cooking class for couples.

Within minutes, the students, wrapped in white aprons, scurry off to separate workstations. Half the room begins chopping garlic, bell peppers, zucchini, and parsley, as well as slicing baguettes, zesting lemons, and peeling potatoes. The other half works over a bank of stainless-steel stoves. Together, the group is creating a multicourse Spanish meal, from gazpacho Andaluz to crema Catalana, in three hours.

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