Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From beanies and weenies to chevre

David Kamp's The United States of Arugula is the cheery, optimistic companion to the reflective, worried Omnivore's Dilemma. Michael Pollan's book focuses on the American food supply today, while Kamp explores how the US went from a country that made Dr Pepper-based olive jello molds, to one with dozens of pastas and cheeses in a non-specialty store.

Kamp identifies the beginnings of taste in American cuisine with the rise of the Big Three, James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne. Claiborne created the serious food section and restaurant reviews at the New York Times, and may be less known that the others. These people built the world of food writing, which hadn't existed before in the United States.

The next sections deal with the rise of specifically American high end restaurants. Much of this section is devoted to the story of Chez Pannise, which emerged as a post-hippie idea that local ingredients were best. While the writers and the high end restaurants certainly motivated the elites, the related rise of the celebrity chef spread the foodie culture to a broader slice of society.

This is an upbeat book that views American cuisine and food culture at a high point and climbing. He points to the introduction of more options at fast food restaurants as a sign that tastes are changing at all levels of society. While Kamp may be a bit too optimistic, this is a fun read with amusing gossip and great stories about the world of food.


Anonymous said...

I think you would enjoy "Heat" - the story of one man's midlife crisis that led him to start down the path to celebrity chefdom. He didn't get very far, but it's a great tale. NBK loves it and commended it to me.

Tripp said...

I liked that book too, especially the New York restaurant sections. So good.

Anonymous said...

If you like Buford, seek out his "Among the Thugs". He spent a while traveling with soccer hooligans. Rough trade but a good book. SCM