I must give way in this space to the voice of a far deeper mind than my own: that of Gastrodamus, seer and prophet. Though he left this plane centuries ago, Gastrodamus’s codex speaks to us still. Only three copies of this occult grimoire are said to exist. One in the Archivum Secretum in the Vatican, another in France‘s Bibliothèque Nationale, and the third is on my desk here. I have taken the liberty of providing an editorial gloss of Gastrodamus’ somewhat cryptic predictions.
The tweezer shall be stilled. Modernism, as a term, presumes a kind of eternal currency, which would be great if it were true. But, like any other avant-garde movement, it gets old fast, and takes on the quaintness of period costume overnight. Everyone knows to turns up their noses at foams; can the too-clever simulacra, giddy emulsions and preposterous gels be far behind?
The new peoples shall come and, with them, their victuals. Gastrodamus was prescient indeed to foresee the arrival on our dining scene of a long-delayed generation of immigrants, who collectively will change American food. The influence of Italy, France, and Hong Kong (via Cantonese workers) belong to mid-century. Today the biggest statistical gainers of recent years — central and South American, Indian, Filipino, mainland Chinese — are the streams that will feed in and overflow our culinary mainstream. Restaurants like Maharlika (Philippine) in New York City, Cardamom Hill in Atlanta (Indian), or Picca in L.A. (Peruvian) are messengers from the future, Terminators out to kill our culinary complacency.
The slime shall rise, and the horned bull wane. The good-food corps may have won a rear-guard action against “pink slime” (a.k.a. “boneless lean trimmings,” as the beef trust persists in calling it), but the essential conditions of our food supply are insuperable. There are more people and less corn and as a result, we can no longer eat beef with the abandon of Biggie Smalls quaffing Cristal. There will be less and less prime beef, because prime beef takes time and effort to breed, and there was never enough to go around anyway. You can’t feed strip steaks and tenderloin — or, for that matter, rump roast and brisket — to 300 million people and China besides. So bovine versions of Soylent Green, of one form or another, will continue to emerge and flourish.
The wind shall blow, whirling, and, after a time of troubles, the houses of food shall fall, both great and low alike. One of the most dispiriting trends of late has been the erosion of even the most recently built reputations by the gale of hype emanating from bloggers, critics, foodies, Yelpers, and food columnists like myself, all of whom feel an intense and inexplicable pressure to like new things. Today’s hottest chefs are has-beens tomorrow, and the restaurant that this week has a three-hour wait will soon be obsolete. Meanwhile, the old dreadnoughts carry on in obscurity, until they lose their leases and fall into paupers’ graves. It’s a sad business all around, and we are all to blame.
An ape shall come with fire, burning as he goes. Modish approaches to cooking have no more permanency than the pop-star chefs who practice them, so many of whom pose cynically in chef drag long after they have hit the festival circuit full-time. Scandinavian foraging, with its corvid ardor for lichens and aged carrots, can never last, unexportable by definition — and far outside of American taste culture in any case. Localism is likewise a pipe dream, a pastoral poem sung at court. Southern cooking, though the most vibrant force in American food to come along in a generation, also has a built-in limit: it defines itself by a tradition and region whose whole identity is based on exceptionalist insularity. As a result, it can only make so much headway into the North before being turned back by Union forces. That leaves the oldest kind of cooking there is: live fire. Wood and coal and smoke and fire are not flavors or techniques but elements of life and nature, with cast iron, roasted meats and vegetables, and the alchemy of flame and food not far behind them. Whether we march together toward the Trans-human Singularity, or backwards to a New Stone Age, wood fires will come with us.