Friday, November 11, 2011

Searching for flavor

In my first class of Freshman year of college-- a class called Classical Cultures, where we studied Plato, Aristotle, and the like-- my professor, a Jesuit, read the eighteen of us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Honors students the opening passage from the introduction of Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food:

"... I was searching for flavor, not philosophy, but what I found was that the people who were growing the tastiest food were organic farmers in my own backyard."

Now really, this whole thing seems absurd. A priest, in a suit, reading us a passage from a cookbook I'd never heard of. In a Philosophy & Classics course. Except that priest became one of my two closest mentors, that class became my inseparable, devoted group of friends, and that cookbook became both a love and a wealth of knowledge. Not unlike the other two, I suppose.

Two years later, I was halfway through an intensive Physics sequence of summer school, and my friend suggested we go eat our way through the City. We started at Mama's Cafe with a Norwegian omelet and French Toast, wandered over to Tartine for coffee and lemon tart, and ended up in Berkeley at a restaurant Jennifer had said she'd heard of. I had no idea where we were going, let alone where we were, so we arrived at 8pm on a Sunday-- her in jeans and a top, me in black leggings, flip flops, and a J. Crew sweatshirt. She asked if they had space for two, and they asked if we had a reservation. We said no. Within five minutes, we were in the upstairs dining area-- a treehouse, cabin-y sort of place-- cozied up between a wood-paneled wall and a young married couple dressed to the nines. I ordered the lamb-- the most melty, delicious lamb of my life-- and had a glass of red wine. So thank you, Chez Panisse, for not being too snobbish or inaccessible for a couple of curious college students. For being the most unassuming, perfect end to a day full of incredible eating. And for being one of the more memorable meals of my life-- if not only for the deliciousness but also for the laughable fact that I ate at Chez Panisse sans reservations in refined sweats.

Norwegian omelet from Mama's Cafe

Lemon Curd Tart and Espresso from Tartine

I had no idea this was the restaurant, the food culture, or the lifestyle I had been less-formally introduced to during my first timid weeks in the Bay Area, nor did I ever realize that I'd be making my home in this same wonderful region. Little did I know that the idea of searching for flavor, not philosophy pervades throughout my life: friends, careers, classes-- and obviously, eating. Things taste better, moments feel more perfect when they're unplanned, impromptu, organic. The standing dates I have with my housemates for dinner on Mondays and with ten friends for pub trivia on Wednesdays? Those are some of my favorite parts of each week. But the impromptu weekday breakfast with a friend visiting from out-of-town, the spontaneous texts, the weekends where the four of us decided to shove two couches together, binge on a box of leftover Halloween candy, and watch Modern Family for hours on end? Sometimes, they're even better. Moments like that create philosophies I hold. And here's the funny thing about being almost-23 and single: I'm putting myself into categories of things I like and hoping it's somehow original. All of a sudden, I'm very aware of who I am. Not just how I look, or how I'm perceived, but the kind of person I'm becoming.  I can't really philosophize maturity, nor can I search for philosophy. I'm just looking for it in the details... searching for flavors, for enjoyable moments, for spontaneity and wow-I-can't-believe-we-pulled-that-off kind of hysterical moments. The fun stuff.

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