For October the selected book subject for my online book club, The Kitchen Reader, was Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear.
I really enjoyed this book. First of all, it really worked out in terms of timing, as I cracked the book open in the airport. The first chapter, Scavenger, which was my favorite chapter of the book, highlights immigrant food and how interesting cuisine comes out of poverty and necessity eating. At the same time, the food of the poor people is now the food being seeked out by the New American gourmet for pleasure.
This chapter focuses a lot on Jonathan Gold (of the LA Times… their food section with their large gorgeous photos sadly has no comparison in Portland, despite all the foodiness we offer) and also Javier Cabral (of the blog The Glutster). Both Gold and Cabral food coverage stomping grounds are nooks and crannies of the very city my plane was heading towards as I read this book: one of the ultimate immigrant cities in the United States, Los Angeles.
I looked longingly out the window of the car after landing as we drove by Brooklyn Bagel Bakery (mentioned by Gold as the “single source of every good bagel in Los Angeles”) but reminded myself my sister DOES live here and I had time to visit again. In fact, while reading this book in LA, I ended up visiting two of Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants during my stay, Newport Seafood (a family favorite that I previously showed off their famous house lobster) and also Son of a Gun Restaurant (in this post here).
The San Gabriel Valley area of LA, referred to casually as SGV often in the book, is covered extensively in this same chapter of the book, highlighting the specialized Asian food in the area because regional cuisines remain intact, traceable almost to the villages of origin of the restaurant owners. The SGV is also referred to in other chapters of the book. Other Asian foods, particularly the wonder of Thai Town and all it has to offer, are also mentioned in this chapter and I enjoyed hearing the love for this authentic home-cooking.
Stewed Pork Hocks: I love it, and very common in Thai food. Would you eat it? Next, Kai Jiew Kai Mod – A Thai dish of egg omelette with ant eggs. Would you eat it?
I’m not actually that much a fan of LA as the traffic scares me and everything is so spread out, but the food, oh the food… It is worth coming to LA for a food vacation alone, despite the distance and traffic. Gold, who the book reports drives twenty thousand miles a year in search of food, himself admits it in the book: “I go into a fugue state, like the Aboriginal dreamtime, when you go on long aimless walks in the outback,” he says, “That’s how I feel driving on the endless streets of Los Angeles County.”
I took some notes on my phone as I was reading the book of places I might check out in the future. You might find yourself doing the same thing.
In so many ways, this book really is a love letter to the food in LA, which is refreshing since so often the focus ends up in New York City. The book does cover New York (in the second chapter, Grub, about purveyors of specialty food in the gourmet industry, particularly exotic animals and insects), and also Las Vegas (in chapter 3, Backdoor Men, about the suppliers of the outrageous and obscure ingredients from truffles to caviar to foie gras and the storytelling or conning that may be involved).
Inevitably though, the book always returns to LA and California (and also Gold, who is mentioned often in the book).
Foie Gras and Caviar and Truffles, oh my
The book also presents interesting political and ethical questions. Chapter 4 (The Rawesome Three, covering those who want raw unprocessed food, particularly dairy) and Chapter 5 (Double Dare, questioning the FDA and food regulation and how that creates conformity, and the role of corporate farms in the need for rules and regulation versus small farms) makes book readers to think about the line of government’s need to protect versus consumer freedom of choice.
There are also questions about our cultural sensibilities and environmental and animal rights stands of what is ok to eat. Chapter 7, Guts, centers around offal and the many parts of animal that are wasted in the American meat industry, including profiling one the Offal Prince himself, Chef Chris Cosentino.
Sweetbreads with Glazed Bacon/White Polenta/Shiitake Mushrooms / PDC, or Fried Pig’s Foot (Pied Cochon) with vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffed with foie gras inside after deboning and then topped with foie gras. Would you eat these?
On one hand, I side with this mission to honor the sacrifice of life and use whole animal. On the other hand, this chapter is where I was disgusted at some of the extreme food concoctions that clearly are challenges for a dining as sport and bragging rights. I can admire pig snout with escargot and watercress because pigs in nature like to eat snails and vegetation near streams. But, raw venison heart on a brioche made with pig skin, and mention of a goose intestine soup Consentino called “anal-tini” is a culinary dare that crosses to way too much for me.
The much more tame meat plate of Ox‘s Asado Argentino for 2 includes Grilled Short Rib, House Chorizo & Morcilla Sausages, Skirt Steak, Sweetbreads, or Roasted Marrow Bones appetizer at Little Bird Bistro
Chapter 8, Off Menu, continues that line of thought of what is ok to eat and what is not, and what defines that line, as it tells the tale of investigating a restaurant serving whale meat and horse meat. This was the most off putting chapter for me. Also mentioned in the book is eating dog, or live octopus. But, it did make me think about how casually, particularly in Portland, we eat pork… pigs are smart animals too. There are people who keep pigs as pet. Why is it acceptable to still eat them? I have to admit sometimes that line can be arbitrary… but at the same time, I can’t shake that line.
Meanwhile, Chapter 6, Haute Cuisine, is just wicked fun (and my second favorite chapter in the book) as it covers the wild wild west feel of food culture in exploring modernist cuisine and experimenting with food utilizing marijuana as an ingredient (with several hilarious tidbits and tales). Author Dana Goodyear observes, “Food, in the foodie movement, is often treated like a controlled substance”.
No, I have no photo of any food with pot in it. All I have is this playful dish by Homaru Cantu of “Roadkill of Fowl” which is a braised duck with beets. Notice the yellow dotted lines of the road and rice krispy maggots… Actually this was a really tasty dish.
Overall, author Dana Goodyear has a very engaging voice and keen eye. In bringing her research/observational ride-alongs throughout the book, she describes the way people look and act in a way that succinctly embodies them. She tells specific side stories and uses metaphors and similes to really bring any subject or the way food looks and smells and feels to life in a way the reader can understand.
I already liked her when in the introduction, she described herself with this short story while simultaneously providing the credentials of why she was the right writer for this book: “My relationship to food is that of an acrophobe to a bridge: unease masks a desire to jump. A well-fed child with the imagination of a scrounger, I remember holing up in the back of the station wagon eating the dog’s Milk-Bones, which were tastier than you might expect.”
Dana’s writing includes profiles of everyone, both big and small in this adventurous eating world. The critics, the famous chefs and staff of famous restaurants or local pop-ups, the food suppliers both grand and small (from those in suits with exquisite butters and saffron to the tweakers who may forage your mushrooms), the food bloggers, other dining guest foodies eating with her, federal investigators… all are included in her scope of view.
Because of that diverse scope of anyone in the food scene is part of the story, the food culture that Dana depicts is rich with so many real characters that as a reader, you feel that the food world described seems very accurate in parting the curtain that a normal consumer does not know.
In observing the food scene, in particular some of the more extreme food combinations, Dana functions as our eyes and ears and grounds everything more in reality. She will admit when she leaves a pop-up still hungry and need to stop to get a hot dog, or that she’s impressed, or alternately that she is afraid for her health because of a dish.
In one example in the book, she explains “that dish – quiver on quiver on quiver – epitomized the convergence of the disgusting and the sublime typical of so much foodie food. It was almost impossible to swallow it, thinking ruined it, and submission to its alien texture rewarded you with a bracing, briny, primal rush”
I waited 2.5 hours to eat at Sushi Dai in Tokyo. The one to the right, the clam, was still moving when the chef put it down.
I shared a lot of photos of various foods that I thought tried to illustrate some of what was talked about in the book… are there any that you would eat?
Have you visited the food scene of LA, and did you know that the San Gabriel Valley of CA was such a hotspot for food?
What do you think of how Jonathan Gold, as noted in the book, subscribes to the following translation of the county health inspection ratings which are posted by law in every restaurant: “A stands for American Chinese, B is for Better Chinese, and C is for Chinese food for Chinese”?
And if insects were presented in some of the ways written in the book from the cooking competition at the Natural History’s Museums annual bug fair (most of the judges are children because of their openness to new foods):
- bee patties for Bee L T sandwiches,
- tailless whip scorpions in a tempura with spicy mayo,
- fried wild caught dragonflies with sauteed mushrooms with Dijon soy butter,
- Ugandan katydid and grilled cheese sandwiches,
- a spider roll with rose haired tarantula (hair burned off, don’t worry – usually spider rolls are made with bottom feeding crab while spiders eat crickets that only eat grass- one young girl declared “It’s sushi. With spiders. It’s awesome”)
would you try it?
And, because I can’t think of any other time I could use these photos (which come from an exhibit on insects at the Seattle Pacific Science Center called Insect Village)… ha. The eating cookies with insects isn’t as far-fetched as you think. In my local paper, they just ran an article about kids pondering a mealworm chocolate chip.
I hope this has been an interesting recap/review of the book for you. For next month, the November book for the book club is Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite by Frank Bruni.