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America's new culinary renaissance

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"Food has become an entire lifestyle," says author Christopher Powell, who helped launch the kitchen retailer icon Williams-Sonoma. "It's no longer just about preparation or consumption.

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?

* * *

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.

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