Guest post: On Momofuku bo ssam!

Tonight’s post brought to you by the lovely Ana Schwartz, a good friend, colleague, and fellow blogger. You can find her at http://paleontographist.tumblr.com, where she muses about going paleo (for 30 days), being a writer, and the relationship between food and text. Thanks for such a thoughtful, delicious, caring post, Ana!

There will be no photos of her magnificent bo ssam from last month. Camera phone? In the purse. Yeah, on the sofa. In the corner, where it remained all night. And good riddance. Neither will you find here a verbal recreation of the sights and smells and tastes, even the sounds of the feast. Obviously words fail, but that’s not the reason to avoid them.

Truly, there does exist meaning in the wish to want to memorialize that evening at the end of May, when Kelly cooked for her friends some pork shoulder, following David Chang’s recipe in the Momofuku cookbook. Her loving labor, first of all, let’s not overlook. It took Kelly an entire day—an entire day—to cook the damn thing. She’d been wanting to cook it for months, if not years. Moreover, there was much to celebrate at the dinner. Not the smallest reason to congregate was to say goodbye, together, to a long year and to exorcise its memories before they become ghosts. You know it: a good meal can do that. There were some new guests, some rare guests. And it was also springtime. Oh, the evening was bright, late, and warm. See, even in explaining reasons to celebrate, description and memorialization sneaks in.

Yes, it’s difficult to extricate food writing from even informal memoir. Consider one of the more sophisticated volumes of Kelly’s impressively curated collection of cookbooks. Nigel Slater, in his Notes from the Larder offers close to three hundred seasonal recipes in no organization other than his daily musings and memories as the days of the year pass. Slater is a professional chef, and so the book represents a variation of the food memoir, books like Marcus Samuelson’s Yes, Chef or whatever it is Anthony Bourdain has recently scribbled. There’s also the food-writer memoir, like Alan Richman’s Fork it Over, or anything by Ruth Reichl. How great, how great it is that these successful and storied adults have lyrical memories associated with eating. Is there no end to the stories that these very special public humans treasure of the meals they’ve digested?

It’s true that the rich heart of recollected eating comes back to the theme of care, the care among groups of people, the care of the person for the self, for the body without whom or without which, well, none of us exist. Sure. That’s complex and all. It’s also probably true. But minus the metaphysics, food, and eating is still complex. Favoring personal memory, food writing seems to slight the profound weirdness of eating, and how so little of that weirdness has to do with consciousness or memory.

Take “taste” as a starting point, and recall Bordieu, who explains how taste is difficult to untangle or disgorge from a beastly superstructure of history, class and money. After taste—or before?—there’s desire, which like, even when it’s possible to provisionally separate it from its historical conditions, is really, terrifying. It’s scary to want things, like really want them. And then there’s consumption. Is it possible to eat and enjoy plenitude without some guilt or some shame about privilege? Then you swallow. What happens afterward is nothing less bizarre, sometimes disgusting. Stomach juices; metabolization; the blood absorbs things from the walls of the stomach and, and the liver filters out poison, and then there’s the long journey through the intestines that ends with the abject purgation of refuse, and somewhere along that path, the body finds that it is hungry again, and a little lonely, too.

When you cook an animal for a long time, its muscles get very tender. When you glaze the flesh with sugar, the surface turns sweet. The meat will emerge from the oven more brown than red, and it will be very juicy. It will fall off the bone. It goes well with the crispness of cucumbers and creamy rice. Will it be a sufficient testament to Kelly’s success to say that two bites of the bo ssam was enough? After chewing them slowly, and after sucking out their flavor, they stick, a mash of dense fibers, between the gums and tongue.

There was ice cream for dessert, but that seemed excessive. Someone had brought lychee. These little fruits, after being peeled and opened, leave a cloying sweetness. It lingers longer on your fingers than you’d like.

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