While working on an upcoming article for Boston’s Stuff Magazine, I got to exchanging words with Boston’s own gastronomic Midas, Christopher Myers, who 1st struck gold with legendary destination Radius & now glitters with his lovely lady, the equally brilliant Joanne Chang of celebrated bakery Flour, at funky Asian hot spot Myers + Chang.
As full of passionate insight as the extremely erudite, fellow former PhD candidate in literature is on the subject of the American dining scene, I couldn’t let his wise musings languish in a private e-mail. With his blessings, then, I’m sharing everything I couldn’t use for the article with you—Denverites, Bostonians, & anyone interested in postmodern prandial philosphy of the intensely personal kind.
Sustainability. The Movie. I mean the trend. If you’re not thinking about it, you’re not thinking. Or caring. Or more than likely existing on the planet. We—& apparently everyone else—are looking to make every decision a touchstone for environmental friendliness. Whatever that means. From our to-go packaging to the hand dryers we use in the bathroom (Flour has one that saves thousands of trees annually, so “they”say) to our cleaning products to the origin of our food to the composting that we do behind Myers+Chang….
But we’re still confused about what we’re doing; every day we question ourselves. A brief digression. When we were investigating our takeout packaging for M+C we did a lot of research. Exhaustive? (I don’t know, I was beat!) Yet at the end of the day, you know what the most environmentally friendly product would have been? Styrofoam. STYROFOAM!!! Why? Sure, it’ll take a zazazillion years to decompose but it requires the least amount of energy to make. It’s a wash. But it—styrofoam—apparently has the worst PR man on the planet so everyone thinks styrofoam sucks. Even the paper companies that we were engaging in these chats were astonished or embarrassed. So, if we’re still not sure who won the “paper or plastic” argument—& I’m not—then who can say if we’re doing enough or if we’re doing what’s right? I remember when I was in grad school, first going to Bread & Circus, the original one on Prospect St. in Cambridge—damn if that query didn’t flummox me every time! Both, I’d say! What did I figure? I could use both bags & not buy plastic inserts for my trashcans! So, I was saving myself some money, the bags were made already, they were giving them away….win/win, right?
I’m sure there are about 10 miscalculations in my judgment. My digression has a point. Paper or plastic? That quandary is really basic math compared with the sustainable seafood issue—the sustainable anything issue. Salmon are way more complicated! Grouper off of South Carolina? Way dicier!! There are too many ifs in that equation to even begin to consider here. Where’s your chocolate from?, Jo hears every day. Is it sourced from environmentally friendly cacao forests? Is it local (e.g. Taza)? If it were me? “Arrrgggghhh!!! I’m trying to make an effing cookie here, kids!!! I’m not raping the Amazon!!!” Thankfully, I rarely field the queries! And so it goes (a nod to our departed friend Vonnegut).
So, in short, the trend? If I were to sum it up? Thinking & caring. Believe me, for business, small or large, to add consideration of others, the environment, into the equation—not as an advertising point or marketing tag, but just because it’s right to do & inevitable—is more than a trend, it’s a movement. It’s here to stay & to be improved upon. I’m sure you’ve seen the documentary The Corporation. Big business is sociopathic. Little business needn’t be….But you have to look at it from every different direction or you’re not really doing anything.
If we had just listened to our older brothers and sisters from the ’60s, we could have avoided this, perhaps….A few more words on sustainability: Life must exist outside the locavore bubble. The last thing New England needs is to be more insular. [Ditto the Rockies—Denved.] At some point there has to be a larger set of values to choose from than simply an arbitrarily drawn carbon footprint. There has to be. We must believe in a world, or create one, that allows for decisions to be set against a backdrop of color, humor, innovation, mystery, excitement, flavor, & romance. I love Duxbury oysters as much as the next guy, but come on!!!!??? Every day?
On Facial Hair
The one trend that won’t go away is our young staff’s aversion to shaving! Beards. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE! It’s like being surrounded by Manson, the Unabomber, & the exploding-shoe guy all day long! The scragglier, the better, apparently.
On the Era of the Small Plate
The small plate is here to stay. I think it’s wise & fun & shows America’s typical openness to other cultures. We grew up on a Western European plating model [a.k.a. service à la russe]. The meal was there on the plate. That’s what mom put in front of us & that’s what the rarified French & Continental restaurants did, the ones that began our restaurant explosion years ago. But look around the world: very few cultures eat that way or present food to the table that way.
I think small plates introduce more of a helter-skelter atmosphere to the table—to further the Manson theme—reaching over, passing food around, it’s far more chaotic. And it makes for far more chat about food than ever before, because everyone at the table is typically eating the same things & therefore sharing common ground for discussion. Used to be you got fish, I got meat. One bite was shared. A few yums. That was that. Let’s talk about the kids or work. Now, it’s an exhaustive sharing of flavor values, balance, comparisons with similar dishes down the road. It’s great. Sorta. What is regrettable about this, for me? In many cases IT’S THE ONLY THING PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT. Not politics, not religion, not the environment, not sex, not sports. It’s maddening, this food obsession….Casual is not yielding ground. Ever. Which saddens me greatly. Casual often means noisy. Noisy always means nonromantic. Barely conversational. That’s why I got into this biz—to create atmosphere. Much harder to do when all anyone wants is to eat. To dine? Methinks it’s a verb that might go the way of the dodo.
Ever about to rock, Mr. Myers—I salute thee.