Not without hesitation do I send food through its inevitable course along the Artisanal Flowchart. We love to eat–especially if it’s good. And it so often is. I do not except myself. I mean, what would life be like without my mother’s rouladen, each rolled-up beefy morsel drenched in flour, not to mention the delectable gravy it makes. . . gravy that must be poured liberally over both the meat and the homemade spaetzle. Oh, sweet heaven! Her recent foray into Moroccan food has left us all wishing she’d give up gardening and reading and all other earthly pursuits to do nothing but cook.
And it’s not just my mother’s cooking that sends me. There’s a little Indian grocery store near my workplace that makes the best samosas I’ve ever had. Just last week they served up dish that looked like rolled up cigars made of golden pasta–I didn’t catch the name–that I fear I’ll never taste again, so delicious was its every bite. I could eat Indian food every day of my life, but then when would I fit in all the other wonders of world cuisine? Don’t even get me started on Ethiopian or Hmong or Cuban or countless, countless others.
And so, dear readers, what I’m about to say may come as a shock: no food is artisanal unless it exists solely as art, never to be eaten. . . need I even mention the travesty that would be?
I will leave it to you to follow food’s course along the Artisanal Flowchart for yourself. You will, no doubt, get stuck where I got stuck. For food to be called artisanal it must possess both utility and artistic expression. I can’t think of a single food that does this. Certainly bagels don’t. Nor lettuce. Maybe fancy cupcakes made by a small-scale bakery? Maybe? Let’s not forget that an artisanal cupcake–an artisanal anything for that matter–must express the inner artistic vision of its creator. The fancy cupcakes I’ve seen are just that: fancy. And if you can’t eat them because they’re so beautiful, then they’re art, which is another matter entirely.
Then there’s cheese. I’m a cheesemaker myself, so I know that the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée has its categories and that artisanal is among them. To them, I say touché. You have defined your system and stuck to it. More’s the better for you. In my system, a cheese must express artistic vision and I’ve never seen a single cheese that does this. One can admire a cheese for its form, its aroma, its bloom, its texture, its taste. You can sample this year’s Brillat-Savarin or Forme d’Ambert and pronounce it ambrosia. But it must also speak as art, and this it does not.
I harp on this, my friends, because art makes a difference. We cannot put a cheese or a bagel next to a handmade textile on display at a gallery and call it the same thing. And why should they be? Let them each have their glory as the things they are. Why must we search for success anywhere else but where we are?
Ah, but this is an age-old problem for people, too, n’est pas?