Monday, September 19, 2005

Been there, done that

The Chronicle recently published a story called "Culinary Pioneers: from Acme Bread to Zuni Cafe, how the Bay Area has shaped how America eats." It goes through its list of sourdough bread, mesclun greens, farmer's markets, American goat cheese...all culinary innovations which were either invented or popularized here. Important, claim-to-fame stuff. And not a single trend or item of note since 1985.

San Francisco is resting on its laurels.

Now, a little history lesson is fine. And everything they say about the food out here is true. It's better--or, at least, the raw ingredients are better--than just about anywhere else in the country. As I said before, San Franciscans are blessed with the expectation that they shouldn't have to settle for anything less than fresh, ripe, healthy, delicious food. It'll take me years to hit all the fantastic restaurants I hope to visit here. And I'm finally feeling like I have a big old crush on this city.

But I don't feel the raw energy that you find in other American towns. In Denver and Boston and Minneapolis they're redefining the regional cuisine and discovering all their local treasures. Even Portland, Maine feels more ambitious right now.

But how could it be otherwise? Much of the work has already been done here. It started here. So San Francsico's restaurants have been trumpeting "fresh, local, seasonal (and organic whenever possible)" for a couple of decades. And what's next? And does there need to be a "next"? Perhaps we have reached a glorious plateau.

Or, maybe the next step is to make this food available to people who can't afford Chez Panisse and the Ferry Building Marketplace. Maybe the next generation of innovators will work in restaurants that charge $10 or less. Maybe one day you won't have to be rich to eat well.

And if we can't have that anytime soon, then I'll look to the next wave of fusion cuisine. Tallula in the Castro marries Indian flavors and French technique. You can buy Indian ice cream at the Bombay Ice Creamery, and Indian pizza at Zante and Pauline's. Vancouver, B.C. seems to be bubbling over with Asian-Latin-European hybrids. So perhaps the next step is to shed our French-dominated food heirarchies, finally ban the term "ethnic food," and embrace a new vision of a global food culture.

For now, I'd just like to see the conversation take a less self-satisfied turn.

1 comment:

John Rodenbiker said...

Well, exactly. SF farmers can grow whatever they want when ever they want. As far as agriculture goes, it is a holy grail.

I was born and raised in North Dakota. It has enough wheat and nuclear weapons to be a sovereign nation. But that doesn't mean we don't delight in strawberries in the summer and apples in the fall.

In ND all residents are stewards of the land. We would love to buy nothing but organic foods. But the reality of the situation is that organic milk costs us $4/gallon while non-organic costs us $1.50. A similar difference exists between other foodstuffs.

SF is not resting on its laurels, but has reached a nirvanic peak of which the rest of the world is rightfully jealous. Suck up whatever is wrong with the community and understand that you eat better than most of this entire planet ever will.