Quotable Kamp

November 23, 2007 at 2:51 pm 19 comments

Watermelon Radishes freshly harvested 

This is going to be a quick post, mi amigos. As is the case with many of us this long holiday weekend, lots of family, cooking and shopping on the agenda. Not to mention that giant stack of pots and pans still in my sink from yesterday.  But I did want to share another great book with you in case you have a foodie on your holiday shopping list that would like a humorous and comprehensive insider’s look at how America’s food culture got to where it is today. 

The United States of Arugula, penned by David Kamp, is “the sun-dried, cold-pressed, dark-roasted, extra virgin story of the American food revolution,” as it proclaims on the book’s jacket.  And so it is.  Considering this is a non-fiction work covering more than a century of history, I was quite impressed with how Kamp manages to hold a legitimate storyline together that makes for an easy read.  I do have to admit though that once or twice each chapter I had to thumb back through previous chapters to remember who Forgione or Gault were since the text is riddled with the names of foodie legends and pseudo-legends that the author introduces in full once and then later hurriedly refers to by their last name several chapters later.  It’s a lot like playing “Memory”.  But considering the breadth of his topic, it’s completely understandable (even admirable if you’re like me and don’t want to read an additional 300 pages of recap text) that Kamp asks his readers to put 2 and 2 together from time to time.

Thanks to this juicy text flecked with a rarefied form of celebrity gossip about the bygone stars of this nation’s gastronomic revolution, including Julia Childs, James Beard, Alice Waters, Pierre Franey, and Craig Claiborne among others, I now know so much more about the foundation of our modern passion for food, especially food driven by seasonal and locally grown produce.  America really struggled to get a food “identity” and I’m glad this book is out there to help readers appreciate what it took to get where we are today and how “nobody” can quickly become “somebody” in the food world, given they have passion and creativity that’s fueled by good ingredients.

Leaves turning on the farm

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t lend itself to many good quotes – not because it’s poorly  written but because it’s so richly entwined that pulling a short quote out voids all its contextual meaning.  Still here are a couple to ponder. 

Quotes from The United States of Arugula by David Kamp:

Taken from an article by Sheila Hibben in The New Yorker in 1941 where she reported that she found “A farm cheese from Wisconsin that was one of those honest products that prove ours is going to be a great cheese country once the flood of processed stuff subsides.”   

“In [Elizabeth] David, [Alice] Waters had at last found a food person in the Anglophone world who was speaking her language, calling for an honest, straightforward cookery, ‘carried out with care and skill, with regard to the quality of the materials, but without extravagance and pretension,’ to quote from French Provencial cooking (1960).”

To paraphrase a quote that I sadly forgot to underline, Jeremiah Tower of Chez Panisse fame, abided by a philosophy of “Get the freshest ingredients and get out of their way.”


Which brings me to the discussion question for this post. What figure of the food world sticks out the most to you, for good or bad reasons?  While I know he was once reputed for his seasonal cooking, I personally have huge problems with Emeril.  I don’t think the man knows a lick about fresh produce since I’ve seen him repeatedly refer to a certain vegetable by the wrong name or properties.  I greatly admire Alice Waters for her dedication to using simple fresh ingredients to inspire her menus.  But she also had a sordid personal life and wore herself way too thin, traits that I hadn’t known about until reading this book. 


Entry filed under: Extra Credit.

Inside Out, But Oh So Right The Jury’s Out

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tim M  |  November 23, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    100% Sandra Lee, because her show has no place being on Food Network. While she claims it’s semi-homemade, it’s usually at most, semi-home assembled. There is very little actual cooking and half the show is spent on creating a useless centerpiece. Whenever someone asks who sticks out in the food world for a bad reason, she always comes to mind!

  • 2. taylor  |  November 23, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    So many people stick out – thanks to television and the celebrity phenomenon of chefs. I have problems with making someone into an idol, and realize that all people are just people, after all. Maybe after I read the book. Are you a lending library?

  • 3. Jennie  |  November 23, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    Tim – I couldn’t agree more! I actually didn’t even register her on my radar because she’s not a chef/cook of any kind in my mind. Plus she’s just scary looking…seriously, I’m afraid she’s going to crumble before the cameras into a pile of dust. No one that frail can be eating anything good.

  • 4. Jennie  |  November 23, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    Taylor – if you don’t mind the occasional underlined sentence, you’re always welcome to borrow any book from Library Jennie. Are you a Paula Dean fan? Sorry, didn’t mean to pigeonhole you just cuz you’re from the south. 😉

  • 5. Jan  |  November 24, 2007 at 8:32 am

    The chef celebrity who stands out for me the most right now is Alton Brown. I love, love love that he talks about the history of a particular food, what chemical compounds it contains, why it cooks up the way it does, and how to prepare it in inventive ways.

    He doesn’t put a whole lot of emphasis on seasonal cookery, but I have seen him talk a little bit about to zucchini season and blueberry season. And I think he’s the one whom I first heard suggest that if tomatoes aren’t in season, don’t bother with fresh — just use canned.

    Plus, he’s kind of a nerd, which makes me love him even more.

  • 6. Jennie  |  November 24, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Jan – I definitely enjoy Alton’s nerdy side myself. I find him a bit theatrical though so sometimes have trouble watching his show(s). That being said, I usually learn more watching him than I do watching someone like Giada or Emeril. My favorite for “learn as you watch” food programing is America’s Test Kitchen. They have so much info packed into each episode.

  • 7. Taryn  |  November 26, 2007 at 1:58 am

    Since Alton has already been mentioned, I’ll talk about Daisy Martinez. I don’t know why, but I like her! She’s ridiculous much of the time and that definitely gets annoying, but I enjoy her passion for food and love of where she came from. She’s always telling stories about her mother cooking. And I’m a sucker for good latin food.

    When I was in elementary school I had a crush on David Rosengarten and wanted to cook buttered fava beans because of him. I don’t know what happened to him. He kind of fell off the radar.

  • 8. Jennie  |  November 26, 2007 at 9:36 am

    Taryn – Ya know, I’ve tried several times to watch Daisy. I actaully like her peppy presentations but find her recipes almost too ethnic in the sense that I rarely have or know where to get half her ingredients (haven’t found a good latin market near me yet). But it’s still fun to watch! 🙂

    As for David Rosengarten, I never actually saw his Food Network show but do like some of his cookbook/review stuff. That’s so funny that you had a crush on him! He is rather dapper.

  • 9. Jennie  |  November 26, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    Thanks for all the great comments, everyone! I have another question for you, if anyone cares to chime in some more. Everyone has been mentioning TV personalities. A chapter in The United States of Arugula talks about how in the ninties, the food world exploded and it was almost necessary to have 15 restaurants, a TV show and a product line to even get a slight nod from the foodie world. Is this ture? Do we only notice the chefs that go on TV? (To answer my own question, yes, I’m guilty as charged.) Where else do you find out about rising stars in the food world? I know a couple food bloggers have hit bottom tier fame by releasing their own cookbooks. But are chefs who are just cooking in restaurants getting their dues anymore? Wadda ya think?

  • 10. Taryn  |  November 26, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Gosh, I’m only 22 so I haven’t spent much time in fancy restaurants where there is a head chef that takes his/her food that seriously. So other than food bloggers and big name chefs on tv (although I don’t have cable), I probably don’t know about them. I also live in Sacramento and let me tell you, it’s not the best place to find restaurants where they take their food seriously.

  • 11. Jennie  |  November 26, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Didn’t mean to put you on the spot, Taryn! 🙂 It was just a general question to everyone. But you bring up a good point…that a lot of cities don’t have chefs that take food seriously. It helps me clarify my question. Does it take celebrity status to feel “accomplished” in the culinary world today?

  • 12. taylor  |  November 26, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    A chef has to be some major bad ass (and probably old and paid their dues) for the world to take notice…without the help of T.V. or internet…but that’s the speed of things these days. You don’t have to be old and wizened to get a nod. Sure, it cheapens the fame, but at the same time, shines a light on some that are brilliant who may not have ever seen the limelight.

    Speaking of not brilliant, Sandra Lee can bring her Duncan Hines cake and cocktails to my house anytime! She’s not a chef, and she doesn’t pretend to be. She’s just talking to all the busy people out there. Like it or not, Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker make a good, all-purpose, no-fail cake.

  • 13. Jennie  |  November 27, 2007 at 9:33 am

    Taylor – Couldn’t agree more with the bad ass/not wizened/limelight statement. 🙂 Going to have to agree to disagree on the Sandra Lee thing though. I hope our relationship can overcome this hiccup. 😉

  • 14. therealpotato  |  November 29, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    On the famous names– everyone’s already mentioned Alton Brown, so I’ll have to say Anthony Bourdain. The man paid his dues– thirty years or so in kitchens, working his way up, before he wrote a memoir about it that skyrocketed him into fame. His writing is smart and funny– even in cookbooks. He takes such joy in being a chef– I don’t have much desire to be a professional chef, but I always daydream about it after reading one of his books or essays. He also can’t say enough good things publicly about the Mexican cooks/chefs/dishwashers he’s worked with over the years, and is just about the only famous person out there who’s willing to defend immigrants’ rights unequivocally.

    And his travel/food show No Reservations is top notch. It’s just about the only travel show I can stand watching. He goes to great lengths to treat the people he meets with genuine respect, and not just politeness– he gets drunk with them, relaxes with them and treats them like REAL PEOPLE. He travels all over the world eating street food, and actually learns about the cultures he’s visiting, both socially and culinarily, and doesn’t gloss over the ugly parts either.

    Plus he’s a badass judge on Top Chef. Yep, I’m a fan. 🙂

  • 15. therealpotato  |  November 29, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Oh yeah– I really enjoyed this book too! I got it while recovering from surgery, so I was home from work and devoured it in a couple of days. SO gossipy and fun.

  • 16. sue  |  November 29, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Hi. I’m new to commenting but I’ve been reading your blog and using your recipes all summer. Thanks for lovely way you have of presenting the food and for giving me new ideas as to what to do with the produce I get from the CSA farm I belong to. I don’t have TV reception at my house so I can’t watch any cooking shows. I have a favorite chef out here in the rainy northwest. Greg Atkinson is his name. I have two of his cookbooks and use them when I’m not using your recipes 🙂 I listen to him on my local PBS affiliate which is how I discovered him and he has a way of talking about food that makes me want to go home and get busy in the kitchen. He has some great recipes on his web site too.

  • 17. Jennie  |  November 30, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Sarah/The Real Potato — Do I sense a school girl crush….? 😉 I know Joe’s the only man for you but perhaps you wouldn’t mind too terribly if you and Mr. Bourdain were the last two people on earth? Hmmm?

    Just jokin’ with ya. I totally agree that he’s one of those true blue chefs that’s really earned his stripes. Believe it or not, I haven’t actually read Kitchen Confidential yet (although I’ve heard plenty about it). It’s on the list for this winter. Not that surgery is a good thing, but I’m glad you had some downtime to read United States of Arugala. I’m sure it kept you entertained. 🙂

  • 18. Jennie  |  November 30, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Sue — So glad to have you comment!! It’s great to know that I’ve been able to help you out with the CSA all summer. That’s exactly the mission of this blog after all. 🙂 What I love more is that you’ve done exactly what I was hoping someone would do…introduce me to a relatively unheard-of regional chef! I googled Greg Atkinson and like what I see of his site so far (readers can find him here: http://www.northwestessentials.com//index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1). Definitely seems like he focuses on regional seasonal offerings. Just my style. 🙂 Thanks so much for the tip and I hope you’ll comment again!

  • 19. therealpotato  |  November 30, 2007 at 11:49 am

    hee hee! *blush* maybe just a lil…


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