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COMFORT FOODS...
and All The Others I Have Survived
By Doral Chenoweth

In my deep south from whence all American cuisines originate, there wasn't much difference between comfort and soul food. That has changed, possibly in deference to political correctness. Today we attempt to dispel all thoughts that all soul food consisted of eating pig parts such as chitterlings. Or chicken gizzards.

We now call it Lowcountry. I go along with that.

What troubles me is the 1990s attention given to fusion food. Jot that down: Fusion as in confusion. I did not invent the con-fusion application. Every food writer in this hemisphere has used that word play.

Fusion in my Funk & Wagnall's is the melding, forced, mixing of oil and water, Asian with Mediterranean. Fusion the word works best in describing energy or energies meshing to bring about combustion. That's dangerous. Get out the Tums.

Fusion in foods is the mix of traditions. I don't think mixing curries with sauerkraut is a good idea, but there may be at least one reader in my audience who could stomach curry in kraut. That one, he or she, fits right in with those Alaskans who fancy a dinner of fermented beaver tails. I have yet to classify beaver tail into any acceptable food group.


To aid digestion, however, and assist want-to-be restaurant reviewers in this day of restaurant plenty, I have compiled a list of cuisines experienced in my tenure as your Grumpy Gourmet du jour. In my eat-for-hire career, I tried and consumed from the same landscape as did the patron saint of all restaurant reviewers, Duncan Hines. His initial food forays were in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, very Midwestern steak and potatoes country. Consider steak as upscale comfort food.

When it comes to any list of cuisines, I give partial credit for my graduate course to the two French reviewing organizations, Guide Michelin and Gault-Millau. The latter deserves most credit for telling us what we have to write about.  

Gault-Millau texts demonstrated to other reviewers that two or three cuisine "types" are necessary to describe a restaurant's culinary style or menu. The guides suggested examples of French/Mediterranean, contemporary/pan-Asian, or Japanese/sushi, all in their style of writing when Henri Gault was in his reviewing and writing prime between 1961 and until his bitter split with Christian Millau in the early 1980s. (Gault died at age 71 in St.-Sulpice-en-Pareds, France, on July 10, 2000.)

The descriptive "contemporary" is trickier, an innovative cuisine that appears on many menus these days. I like this definition: "Contemporary cuisine is concocted of fresh regional ingredients and combines various cooking styles from around the world." Mobil Guide should take lessons.

Gault-Millau went into detail: Pan-Asian, dishes from different Asian countries, i.e. sushi and dim sum. As for the commonly used "new American and Pacific rim," both are gone from the critics' vocabulary.



Read, understand knowingly: Before dumping on the Grump for daring to package all food and cooking styles under the "cuisines" banner and dumping them into one culinary pot, know how Noah defines the French- derived word. Cuisine means "the food prepared, as in a restaurant."


Partial credit to Gault-Millau: great credit to my quick reference tools
compiled by food lexicon authorities John Mariani and Quentin Crewe.


African-American
Appropriate to head any list in this country composed by me, a fancier of heavier foods, politely called comfort food. Every food writer must have an enthusiasm for food, its meaning, its history, its sources.

My roots grew to the level of a discriminating connoisseur by first appreciating the robust lustiness of what we call today, Lowcountry, nee soul food. Black slaves cooked for themselves what is still appreciated across the country.

Name the ingredients, see the Afro influences today: Cheese grits, collards seasoned with hog fat, fried catfish, cornbread, crawfish stew, banana pudding, rice pudding, chicken gizzards, mango sauces. Practioners of soul today are few and still under-praised.

From the top down: New York's prestigious Tavern on the Green was the domain of one of America's few certified master chefs. Patrick Clark died in 1998. Only then did his talented name make news outside the Black world. Today, if one seeks an American original in my world, he treks from New York's Sylvia's of Harlem or flies south to Charlotte's Soul Food Shack. Even the name is savory.


American
Best to call it iron pot cookery originating in Barbados where everything edible went into a communal pot, pigtails to breadfruit, writes author Austin Clarke. It came to our shores when the slaves cooked for survival;  soul food now politically correct as Lowcountry infused with Barbadian ingreasements, or, as Clarke records, a "rendering of ingredients."

Many believe Soul-Lowcountry precedes Cajun-Creole. I am in that number. Pot cookery fits America because of the melding of all cuisines brought together by our great ethnic muddle. Stir generously.


Argentine
Beef, and where cholesterol was invented.                        



Australian
A spread called vegamite that tastes like dirty socks is a yeast paste, salty, and goes great with Aussie beer;  considered nutritious, for packing on outback treks.





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