Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Take Me Home Country Roads

I've been thinking lately about how busy we've been at the Inn and how time seems to slip away from us. It seems like just yesterday that we were excited about starting seedlings in the carriage house and the prospect of the first asparagus of the season. Now, fall is upon us and I don't really know where any part of summer went. With colder weather fast approaching, I thought it would be a cool idea to hop in the car and take a short drive so that when we're freezing our asses off this winter we'll be able to look back at fall and remember this trip.

It turns out that the weather cooperated, so Karen and I jumped(don't you like how I use the terms 'hop' and 'jumped' to make us sound extra energetic?) in the car and headed south toward Virginia. I've spent a portion of my life in Virginia between undergraduate school and cooking at The Inn at Little Washington, so it feels a little bit like going home for me and I know some cool spots along the way. First stop....The Apple House in Linden, VA. This place is about 30 minutes from The Inn and I used to drive up there on my days off and get their apple butter doughnuts in addition to a huge breakfast.
I don't think I've ever had their bbq before but after seeing their pig smoker, I had to give it a try. Yes, folks....it's a smoker that has been outfitted to look like a pig. Yes, Kathy...I'd like to have one of these in the back lot. It's AWESOME! So, after getting our fill of doughnuts(we bought 12), breakfast and a BBQ sandwich(seriously, the girl behind the register looked at me wondering who the hell else was eating with us) We leapt back in the car and continued our fall drive toward The Inn at Little Washington. I always like heading back to Washington, VA because I have so many memories(both good and well, dishwashing) of the magic that is produced there. It's very restorative for me to go back and see the 'machine in action'.

From the Inn, we ventured west toward Skyline Drive and a ton of fruit stands(complete with 'mountain honey') and even Ben 'Cooter' Jones and his Dukes of Hazzard car. Awesome. We saw some leaves, bought some honey and all in all had a memorable day in the Shenandoah Valley.

Alright, if I was reading this post, I'd be thinking 'Andy, we really don't care about how your weekend was. We wanna see you cut up a whole pig or talk about how people that buy asparagus in December are idiots'. Ok, so here's the point. I recently got my copy of the Alinea cookbook and I'm really struggling with what to think about it. I know this goes over the deep end for a lot of you because the 'food intelligencia' has fallen in love with everything Alinea and for that matter everything El Bulli. DISCLAIMER NOTICE: I've never been to Alinea or El Bulli, so if you're reading this Grant and Ferran, I'd certainly be willing to accept round trip airfare and dinner for two if you'd like to change my mind.

Listen, I can't argue with the creativity expressed in today's 'avant garde' cuisine. I just can't. It's some creative shit. However, I'm not sure that it's food in the traditional sense anymore. It's been manipulated, hung from pins, put in pillows, shot out of syringes...Heston Blumenthal asks you to listen to an iPod that plays sounds of the ocean as you eat one of his courses. I don't want my food manipulated with methylcellulose or Activa GS. I want a true expression of the food, raised by a farmer who is innovative in their husbandry techniques(Here's lookin' at you, Beau, Will and Hendricks)...The Avant Garde Army will say that with these additives(haven't we been working for years to get these additives out of our food?) they can make an egg taste more like an egg. How about this guys? Work with farmers who can produce you an egg beyond compare(www.whitmorefarms.com). Present it so that the egg is the star. It can still be interesting....but there's really no need to bring liquid nitrogen to my table to make me ice cream tableside. No need at all. Thanks, but no thanks. I've been called a classicist. If that means that I believe that the dining experience should be restorative and should center itself on the clean presentation of pristine ingredients, thoughtfully sourced in a welcoming environment with flawless service, then sign me up. I'm a classicist. Oh, and for the record...I put people who plate their food with tweezers in the same category as people who buy asparagus in December. That's just not for me.


Kathy said...

Careful what you wish for, Andy. Now i know what to get you for Christmas.....

oh so hungry said...

I have to say that I agree whole heartedly, BUT that doesn't mean I won't be waiting with baited breath to see what Carol does with Alinea at Home.

oh so hungry said...

And one more point. On Parus/del Grosso's blog a wonderful discussion on "itness" began a few days ago. To me the Alinea concept really challenges what is "it?" I would love to experience the theater of this way of cooking, but I also don't want my "it" messed with.