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The College Essay: American Gourmet: Fact or Fiction?
"Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a lawyer by profession, wrote "The Physiology of Taste" with two purposes in mind. The first purpose was to present the basic theories of gastronomy in order to establish it as a science. The second purpose, and more importantly.."
Before even defining gourmandism, Brillat-Savarin goes out of his way to state that the word has been misinterpreted to mean the same as gluttony and voracity. This is obviously not the case, as he goes on to define what it actually means: "Gourmandism... unties an Attic elegance with Roman luxury and French subtlety, the kind which chooses wisely, asks for an exacting and knowing preparation, savors with vigor, and sums up the whole with profundity: it is a rare quality... and which is at least one of our surest sources of pure pleasure" (Brillat-Savarin177). By this definition, it is apparent that the purpose of gourmet is to go above and beyond that of ordinary food. Whereas regular food is simply meant to satisfy hunger, gourmet does more than that; gourmet food is an art. Emerson does not specifically define what gourmet is, but makes a few relevant statements in his article addressing art. The first point he makes is that "No man can quite exclude this element of Necessity from his labor" (Emerson 2). It is obvious that this is also the case with gourmet foods, since the original necessity is to refill the body with nutrients to keep it running. However, that doesn't exclude the possibility of making the foods as stimulating to the senses as possible. The second point made by Emerson is that "the individual, in whom the simple tastes and susceptibility to all the great human influences overpower the accidents of a local and special culture, is the best critic of art" (Emerson 3). This corresponds with Brillat-Savarin's belief that gourmet should be enjoyed by everyone (with the exception of those who lack taste, and those who choose to stuff themselves), and not just the elite. Essentially, gourmet food should be enjoyed by everyone, no matter the race, religion, or gender.
The United States of America was founded on the belief that people would not be discriminated because of differences in any of the previously mentioned factors. People from all over the world have come to America to enjoy these privileges. It does not matter if someone's family is originally from Ireland, Russia, or Madagascar because once they get to America, they are essentially American. The same can be said for food. For the most part, American cuisine is compromised of a magnitude of dishes that were originally brought from other countries. When people traveled from their home country to live in America, they brought over their culture, which included food. Someone who has live in Italy all of their life is going to have a different set of cultural values than someone who is of Italian decent, but has grown up living in America. It is likely that the Italian-American will have merged their original culture with a specifically American culture.
This same idea can be applied to American food. One example is the different between 'real' Chinese food, and then the American version of Chinese food. Many American Chinese restaurants include items on the menu such as cheeseburgers and French fries to accommodate Americans who don't like the other types of food. But even then, the dishes served are very different than the dishes they are based off of from China. If one was to visit China, it is unlikely that they would find duck sauce served with meals, but it is always given with American Chinese food. Another example of a type of food that is considered 'Italian' but is distinctly American is meatballs. Perhaps it is considered to be Italian food since it is eaten with other Italian foods like pasta, but it is a creation of the United States. After doing a quick 'Google Search,' hundreds of recipes for gourmet meatballs pop up. Also, an issue of "Fine Cooking" magazine, it suggests using parmesan as a flavorful way to give the meatballs a nice texture. This could go along with Brillat-Savarin's idea of gourmet, because it would stimulate more than one of the senses (Fine Cooking 80).
Obviously, meatballs are not the only food to come out of America that can be made gourmet. After browsing through a few more articles from "Fine Cooking" magazine, it is plain to see that turning the ordinary to extraordinary is not necessarily very complicated. This is the first type of American gourmet food, and it can be accessed by almost anyone. As long as the person has the know-how (or at least access to directions of how to prepare the food), and the resources available, they can create gourmet food. This resembles the ideal type of gourmet suggested by Brillat-Savarin, in which preparation is of the utmost importance.
As well as the article which explores how to maximize flavor by using parmesan cheese, the 39th issue of "Fine Cooking" magazine features articles that discuss ways to prepare gourmet foods appropriate for the summer. In "Cool Pastas To Make Ahead," the article suggests ways to take something that can be as bland as pasta, and make it exciting. It discusses adding certain ingredients that will give the pasta a better texture, as well as a great taste. Pasta salads are the perfect side dish to go along with other foods served in the summer time, and the techniques suggested by the magazine will allow people to have a gourmet experience. There is another article called "Barbeque Chicken without Burning it." Barbequing in the backyard is the epitome of a summer activity in America. The article suggests keeping the heat on low, and then applying the sauce towards the end. Since so many Americans hold events where food is barbequed, the information provided allows them to turn something average into gourmet. Out of curiosity, I decided to go on the magazine's website, and search for the word gourmet. I took a look at many of the pages, and the only time the word 'gourmet' was used was to describe stores to buy spices and other things to add flavor to dishes. While the magazine never comes out and defines any of its own food as "American Gourmet," by using Brillat-Savarin's definition, the food discussed in it is, in fact, American Gourmet.
My findings in the magazine reinforced Brillat-Savarin's ideals, in which gourmet is for everyone. However, the other type of gourmet that exists in today's society, is not for everyone. This is the type of gourmet that most Americans think about when they hear the word. Unlike what Emerson suggested, it is impossible for this type of gourmet to be experience by everyone, since few can afford it. Rather than being about the best tasting and most stimulating food, this type of gourmet is more about a symbol of social status. For example, a person may choose to purchase a two thousand dollar bottle of wine, without having ever tasted it. According to Brillat-Savarin, they are doing it out of the wrong reason. They aren't consuming it because of how it tastes, but rather because of the image that comes along with it.
While other cultures are known for their rich histories and excellence in food preparation, most do not consider America as a country capable of producing gourmet foods. However, this is not the case, since many American dishes are loosely based on dishes form other cultures, but have been given new life. Other cultures have borrowed ideas from each other in the past, as it has been confirmed that pasta, mostly considered to be Italian, was originated in Asia. By using Brillat-Savarin and Emerson's definitions, this type of gourmet can be enjoyed by anyone, since it is about taking something as simple as eating, and transforming it into art. Most people have a distorted view of what the word gourmet actually means, but it does exist in America.
Brillat-Savarin, Jean Anthelme. The Physiology of Taste. Washinton DC:
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Art." Essays: First Series 1841:
"Fine Cooking Home." Fine Cooking. 22 December 2004.
Kirk, Paul. "BARBECUE CHICKEN WITHOUT BURNING IT." Fine Cooking
June/July 2000: 37.
Revsin, Leslie . "Flavoring Food with Parmesan." Fine Cooking June/July
Weir, Joanne . "COOL PASTAS TO MAKE AHEAD." Fine Cooking June/July 2000: