July 31, 2009

Julia, Julie, Michael and me. My un-review.

Food Guru Michael Pollan throws out some thought provoking words, a lot of the them, in his NY Times article dedicated to Julia & Julie, food TV and... why Americans in love with food don't really cook.

Meryl Streep, Julia Child and fellow food bloggers aside, I couldn't help but get caught on a few words that struck me so personally and timely that I had to jump ahead of the movie review (which doesn't come out until September here anyway, dubbed in French, of course) and get straight to the Pollan-ization.

Like preaching to the choir whose mouths are full, I was mumbling "Amen" and singing "Hallelujah!" until I got to the end of the article. Pollan uses food marketing researcher Harry Balzer for a bushel full of figures. But when Balzer announces that Americans will never go back to real cooking I took up arms. Balzer says “Why? Because we’re basically cheap and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it."

Sorry Harry. WRONG! While many of you are going to sit in a darkened theatre for 123 minutes and watch mouth-watering food porn while munching junk food, I am going to be cooking. I am going to be cooking everyday because I eat everyday. I'll be cooking from my garden, the markets of Gascony, and even from supermarkets and the corner grocery store. If you all spend 123 minutes cooking dinner for yourself, family or a few friends, we could prove Mr. Balzer wrong.

Cheap? The average movie ticket price in 1963, the year that Julia Child appeared on PBS, was 86 cents. This year it is $7.18. I know I can cook my dinner for this much money even translated into Euros.

Lazy? I don't know about you, but even here in back-of-beyond southwest France, to go see 'Julia & Julie' when it comes to France I'll have to: a) drive into Agen b) find parking for the car c) walk to the cinema d) stand in line ( about 1 hour) e) walk up three flights of stairs to the salle de cinema, watch the movie f) chew the French version of Popcorn (yes, with sugar on it) g) have a drink at the cafe afterwards, and then repeat steps a-e before returning home to Camont. That's somewhere between 4 and 5 hours. Balzer, in way less than 123 minutes I can easily cook a a decent dinner. In 4-5 hours, I definitely can cook a bang-up not-so-lazy 4-course dinner for friends.

Lost Skills? Ok, I am not a X-generation (or any other letter that follows) but I have played host (or Auntie Kate) for 20 years to many cooks much younger than me. They can cook. They can cut, chop, saute and grill with the best of the old school cooks that I know. There is just one common flaw, even in those in-debt graduates of Prestigious Culinary Institutes, a serious flaw. They know little, very little about food. If it's not shrink wrapped, labeled or in a refrigerated walk-in these otherwise talented cooks are lost. They buy out of season fruit, immature and industrially raised poultry, and otherwise flounder on the shores of real food islands so close at hand. Thankfully Pollan touches on it's cure here "Cooking’s fate may be to join some of our other weekend exercises in recreational atavism: camping and gardening and hunting and riding on horseback."

I was no better then my students and interns when I came to this France of mine in 1988. But I learned. Not overnight, but slowly and at the hands of caring people- neighbors, farmers, and market vendors. A wildly fertile, diverse agricultural landscape fringed with wild as well as cultivated food surrounds the Kitchen-at-Camont. Buckets of pea-sized blackberries are ripening along the canal towpath. The neighbors are tending a lace-net draped apple orchard that will yield several tarte tatins this fall. Too many tomatoes are turning red, yellow and green in our own organic potager. Fresh eggs in the hen boxes appear with much clucking and boasting every afternoon as I check the growth of two new chicks and the swimming skills of ducklings #1,2 & 3. I must wait for the green gage plums- the real Reine-Claudes, to ripen more before the birds peck my share.

Planting the gardens at Camont taught me as much about waste as it did cooking. I cook more economically now that I grow, harvest and weed these abundant summer harvests. I learned to can and preserve this seasonal bounty. The piggery pantry is lined with this years glass-encased jewels already. And fortunately, our weekly farmers' markets are year-round all over France. After shopping at producers' markets for 20 years, I know my butchers, bakers, etc... I invite them home, sit down with them at my table , and serve them the good food that they have dug from the French dirt. We talk about how it all works- from the past to the future.

Who is going to teach the next generation to cook?

I am. And friends like me who love good food and are willing to share. For twenty years I have cooked, served, taught and written about the food I found in southwest France. There are people like me teaching cooking all over the globe. You can read about some of them here. My colleagues and friends are as passionate about cooking in Italy, Mexico, New Zealand and Thailand as I am about Gascony. But for everyone of these teachers there must be students. That is your job.

The Kitchen-at-Camont.com

Camont is the gift that fate gave me. A place to learn about food... in France. I share this gift with you- a place to learn about food, both in person here in Gascony and now at my new blog site- www.kitchen-at-camont.com.* Come discover, reconnect and learn to work with food in a creative rural setting in France. there are some new economic programs including residencies and fellowships beginning Fall '09 and next summer we set up Camp Camont under the singing trees.

And for those of you seeking much more than a 123 minutes of food inspiration, do what Julia did.. get off the couch and come to France!

*While we are still tweeking, adjusting and getting the photographs in place, please be patient. This blog will eventually transfer automatically to the kitchen-at-camont soon.


Passport Foodie said...

What a great photo.

She is amazing! Brought so much to the foodie world. Before there even was a Foodie world.

In the US anyway. :)

Passport Foodie

Ed Bruske said...

right on, Kate. The kids in my "food appreciation" classes are having great fun learning where food comes from and how to cook it. There should be classes like this in every school. We're gearing up for the fall semester and, like you, cooking like crazy out of the garden in the meantime. We have to race to keep up with the okra and tomatoes these days.

Diane said...

I can't wait to see the film. I quite like director Nora Ephron and was delighted by her character who always cooked in "Heartburn" (also played by the lovely Ms Streep) - loved the book too. Cooking from scratch is begining to have a resurgance here in the UK again - partly through financial hardships. People have discovered the joys of eating real food again.

jsl said...

I agree with you completely! Like most so-called foodies, I can't wait to see the movie. Here in our part of California, farmers' markets, good food, good wine, and cooking for others have a high priority. By the way, Michael Pollen is coming to San Luis Obispo in October. Jeanette

mickey said...

Well, exactly, but as an old sage used to say "many were called, but only a few respnded." Terrific and passionate essay, BTW-I was feeling much the same as you when I read that article last Sunday.

Loulou said...

I loved reading the passion in your words. You are an inspiration Kate.

I'm sharing this on Facebook and Twitter right now!

Kalyn said...

Great post, and I *do* hope to be able to come to France before too many more years go by!

April said...

I agree with you! As soon as I got home from the movie I was scouring through Mastering the Art to find out what I was going to make! And I've been teaching my nieces/nephew how to cook and will definitely pass it on to the next generations. If I ever make it back to France again, a weekend at Camont sounds terrific!

misterrios said...

Great Post! I have to wait a month until it comes out in Germany, but am lucky to be able to see it with subtitles instead of dubbing.

As a self-taught cook, I have always advocated cooking to everyone I know. It's a way to make something magical, and even if people I have over for dinner don't see me cook, I always explain how easy it is to make things.

Anonymous said...

Merci pour cette excellente blog post!!! Very well written and so timely. Reading your blog makes me look forward to the day when I leave the US to forge a new life in France with my French husband - I look forward to some delicious challenges!

B said...


Like ur answer to that article. I do agree with Pollan that may be now only those people who love to cook, cook. And those people who just cant stand to eat bad food. My kids are cooking and tehy know where food comes from. they can make me pancakes for breakfast, omlette for lunch and cake all from scratch and they are only 9 and 10. So I am not worried that the skills are lost or that we wont cook at all

Anonymous said...

From where I live, my weekly farmers
market is very busy and people are
buying real food to cook. Also we
have many cooking schools around town
and, hopefully, people are using the
skills demonstrated when they cook at

Sylvie, Laughing Duck said...

oh... some of us are teaching hoe to cook fresh seasonally and locally too, about the importance of first rate ingredients (which is NOT the same thing as expensive) and the conviviality and civility of family and friends gathering around the table.


Rachel said...

I can't speak for all of America, but I plan on teaching the next generation to cook just as my mother taught me. I plan on trying to add to my skills and techniques as well as expand my knowledge of many cultures of cooking in addition to what I already know. I love to cook.. and i generally cook the majority of the week... just like most of the human population I have my days where i am tired and don't have time to cook, so I occasionally go out, but I think it is important to instill cooking into the next generation and not lose those "family" recipes and original techniques of cooking.

Kathy in Gers said...

Fantastic call to action, Kate. My Millennial kids and nieces and nephews ( in the Midwest!) cook. They are they link - sorry Gen X. As our my grandkids. I've been cooking with and filming my granddaughter (now 6) since she was 3. She can break and separate an egg with the best of them (we make cookies and good things...). Older brother is good, too.
My friends Christina and Bill returned from France and opened a gastropub in Springfield, Mo. (heart of American farmland, Christina's home) The focus: fresh, local, sustainable. Opened at the height of the depression Oct 09 and they are doing great.
We want to eat fresh. We want to eat well. We want to eat.