Friday, April 15, 2011

Peasant Food is Soul Food … Sourced Locally!

Okay, first the serious stuff … many people claim that local food is "elitist," some of the world's great cuisines - Chinese, Italian, country French, Indian - come from people who had the least to work with - peasants. However, few of us are farmers so unlike peasants our livelihood is not directly focused on feeding ourselves. Still, the point is this, the food we consider sometimes to be beneath us, “food for the poor”, is best because it focuses on food sourced at the source ... if that makes sense!  And, more often than could be explained in a blog, it is soul food!  Many, and I mean MANY famous and not so famous chefs are leaving their Michelin 3 Star restaurants to open small, cozy little places where jackets are frowned on but the food is elevated peasant food! 

The “local” angle is explained like this … peasants are small-scale farmers, ranchers, herders, hunters or fishermen and this means that they are close to their food source - they are “Localvores” by necessity. By US standards, peasants appear to be poor and many of us feel sorry for the "meager" lives peasants lead. In fact, peasant culture is rich in traditions passed down through the generations along with recipes for dishes like Cassoulet and Osso Bucco. These classic recipes are typical of peasant cuisine with often translates into hearty one-dish meals that combine "lesser" cuts of meat cooked in a savory broth with seasonal vegetables and some form of bread. Think Beef Bourguignon and a French baguette; Ribolita, which is a Tuscan bread soup, or Huevos Rancheros and you are thinking peasant food.  How about Coq Au Vin … stewed Chicken with Wine and always served with bread!  This is peasant food at its best and if you are lucky enough to know someone who really knows how to prepare this dish you are money!  Each of these dishes reflects a side of our culture that is pure, rooted in common things.  And, the genuine connection between peasant food and soul food becomes obvious!  In words you can simply say … it is any food that makes your heart warm!

Now, the fun stuff and more to the “ranting” point!  You can go out to fine dining establishments all over the world.  Pay a small fortune and have a nice meal.  But isn’t it kinda stuffy?  The freaking opposite of quant?  You go in, order something off the menu and get a child’s portion that costs $40 and usually is out of season!  What the hell is up with that? One thing is certain about peasant food and soul food ... it is always SEASONAL and usually made from what is available.  And all the while you are enjoying Beef stew or Shrimp and Grits you are full of love for life … filled with the laughter that surrounds this kind of dining experience.  No tie’s or jackets required … not waiters telling you what wine to drink with that fish!  And the best part is … it really  is more enjoyable (spoken aloud with a higher pitch voice).  Two of the best restaurants in Paris right now are serving casual “peasant food” with an upscale twist.  And the price asked reflects this … $20 for that same piece of fish, ½ the price of the Coq au Vin at the POSH beat you down the road to the bank high-end establishment.  Do you know what being over charged really means?  Being cheated out of a moment in life!  It isn’t the money, well sometimes it is, but it is the simple fact that you know, deep down in your heart that you could have had just as good a meal, paid less and not felt like you would be scolded for dropping your knife on the floor! Come-on ya’ll, as we say in the South, get off your stupid think you are better arse and get back to just cooking!  I don’t care if you have Michelin 3 stars … I wanna know if you can cook something simple and beautiful, using what you bought at the market today!!!
I believe that soul food and peasant food are intertwined in a relationship of love … they both nurture us with aromas that makes us want family nearer, friends abound and love one’s within hugging and kissing distance!  If you don’t know what I mean then you are missing out …