Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Beauty of Disagreement

This comment was posted to my last entry by and anonymous writer:

'I was born and raised in Lancaster, but had the good fortune to be schooled in New Orleans. Although I am the first one to stand up for many things South Central PA; I am also the first to acknowledge that our PA Swiss/German cuisene is no match for the Spanish/French/Creole/Cajun flavours that South Central LA is famous for. I think what you are doing is wonderful, but our culture is what it is and as my grandfather said..."wishing won't make it so." '

I've thought of a number of ways to respond to this comment and have settled on addressing it in a full post.

There are a number of ideas that jump to my mind with regards to this comment. First and foremost is that you can't simply say 'we're better' without something to back it up. That's like the team that wags their finger saying 'we're #1' without putting on their pads and stepping on the field of play. Louisiana has beignets, PA has faschnauts. New Orleans has King Cake and PA has shoo fly pie. LA has jambalaya and PA has slippery pot pie. Both areas have a rich history and heritage with regards to charcuterie and using every bit of the animal.....and so on.....I could do this all day.

The part of this post that I actually wanted to address is the idea that 'our culture is what it is and wishing won't make it so'. I was born and raised in central PA and have CHOSEN to come back to this area to do what I love to do and celebrate the flavors of my area. I appreciate how diverse our American food culture is and especially appreciate those who work tirelessly to represent the individual flavors and culture of their respective areas. I think it is unfortunate that the person who posted this comment doesn't feel the same way about where they were born and raised, and quite frankly doesn't stand behind the flavors of south central LA enough to post their name along with their words. I'm not 'wishing' for anything with regards to MY culture. It stands proudly on its on, just like the foods of the American Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, New England and Louisiana. I don't need to think that any one is any better than the other. They are all special in their own way and we should be proud to live in a country where such a diverse food culture is represented.

I have to be honest here: I'm pissed off. I'm pissed off that somebody's picking on the area that I love. However, I'd like to thank you, anonymous poster. Your post has made me take the time to sit down and write this response. Your post has stoked an already raging fire in my belly and now I'm going to work even harder to make sure that people can be exposed to the flavors that I love. The flavors of my childhood. Listen, I'm not 'wishing it'.....I'm DOING IT.


chris edwards said...

you are the man! what you do and how you do it is an inspiration. you have chosen a noble path and not many people nowadays are brave enough to do the same. i don't recall you ever saying that PA dutch culture/cuisine was better than anyone else's. why would anyone make such a claim, that's ludicrous. every culture/cuisine has it's place and means alot to it's people for different personal reasons. you have made a commitment to represent your time and place through your restaurant, and i admire you for that. your food rocks, and so does PA.

Beau said...

Well, it's up to your bashful doubter to come in and see what the "New" in New PA Dutch is all about. Perhaps once they see the food done with artistry, imagination and flawless execution, they'll come back and root for the home team...

Emily said...

Let's not lose sight of the fact that Chef is saying (from what I can tell, he is free to correct me) that he pays homage to PA Dutch cuisine because it IS good. Not that PA Dutch cuisine CAN be good when done the way it is done only by him. It saddens me so much that the perspective on PA Dutch food is increasingly based on the cheap eats served up at Shady Maple. I love what Chef is doing at his restaurant, but I also love the food of my heritage when it is done well in its traditional forms.

I didn't know until my teens that saffron was exotic, let alone expensive. My family is from the "saffron belt" of Eastern Lebanon and Southern Berks Counties - my mother would never consider making something as everyday as chicken noodle soup without it. Bone marrow spread on a cracker was the treat shared at the end of every pot roast meal my entire life - my mother nearly fell out of her chair laughing when I told her it was becoming a "gourmet trend" among chefs a few years ago. Snapper soup, shad roe . . . these are all the foods I associate with my culinary heritage as well as the pot pie, hog maw, pork and sauerkraut and those really amazing sugar cookies that my grandfather's mennonite friend would bring him by the dozens every Christmas. Oh, and my mom's pies - there's absolutely nothing better than those, all of them, but esp. lemon sponge, something I've never seen anywhere outside of this region.

The point is that the cheap, greasy, carbo loading slop often passed off as PA Dutch food really isn't. I had the pleasure of dining at an Amish farm picnic this past October, thanks to my membership with Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative CSA. None of the food served by these wonderful farming families met the stereotype of starchy, heavy food. There were tons of vegetables offered, farm made cheeses and yogurts, and yes, possibly the best chicken pot pie I have ever had (and my family has some pretty good cooks). We were then invited out to the farm fields to pick leeks, collards, and butternut squash.

Sorry, I know this is long and preachy, but it is something about which I am extremely passionate. :)

Chef Andrew Little said...

Emily, you are correct it your assumption that I am paying homage to PA Dutch cuisine because, at its root, it is a great regional cuisine, worthy of interpretation. It does matter who is cooking it as witnessed by the bastardization done to PA Dutch foods by many a tourist trap buffet.(we LOVE buses!) You won't have to look far to see this relative bastardization in every cuisine throughout the world.

The bottom line is that it's GREAT food. It's food I grew up with and the flavors that continue to inspire me. Being inspired by/paying homage to PA Dutch cuisine and terroir is no different than a chef looking to France, Spain, Vietnam or the swamps of Louisiana. Each is a great cultural cuisine worthy of being interpreted.

The difference here and I think it's an important one, is the inspiration and interpretation. What I'm doing is taking these flavors of my childhood, flavors of the region, flavors of our culinary garden, mixing them with my life experiences and providing an interpretation of a great regional cuisine.(that's the 'New' part) If you see shoo fly pie on my menu, it's not the same shoo fly pie you'd see at an Amish picnic. It's important to eat food at its root.....I think it's also important to see the same principles of that food from another perspective.

Emily....I'm wondering if you could share some more intimate details regarding the lemon sponge pie....I'd love to eat one of those and see where it takes me!!!

Rebecca Yount said...

P.S. The anonymous poster didn't spell "cuisine" correctly????