Recently, a heated food debate has surfaced between the dyed in the wool “food expert” Michael Ruhlman (he’s written some fine books on food, appeared on TV, and speaks at conferences) and the food philosophies espoused by celluloid FoodTV starts such as Rachel Ray and Jamie Oliver. In a Huffington Post article, Ruhlman argues that people should make the time to cook a whole chicken (w/ potatoes) in the oven for an hour and that if you, as an American adult, choose to heat up a Lean Cuisine meal instead of cooking that chicken it’s not because you don’t have the time, but rather you choose not to make the time to cook, from scratch, food at home.
Personally, I’m torn with Ruhlman’s assertion. On one hand, my nose turns ever so northward when I hear the phrase cooking is too complicated and takes time (and as Michael asserts, I say, bullshit!), yet I can clearly see the want and need to cook a quick meal in under 30 minutes after a long day at the office and a screaming baby. However, there is one thing that I do know, and assert boldly; that is, the American public should stop listening to so called “food experts.” And, moreover, it’s ok to read Ruhlman’s books, watch Pepin on PBS, and maybe even spend a few minutes with Mario Batali and Rachel Ray on FoodTV, but please think for yourself e don’t take what food stars say as “food truth.”
I’ve arrived at my food philosophy via my Italian heritage. I grew up with “from scratch” food and, on the occasion, was allowed to dabble in the processed food world (my mother allowed me to eat potato chips and the occasional “Steak’um sandwich.” So, I cringe whenever I hear someone in the food industry utter the words local, organic, Sous vide (French for under vacuum), micro-gastronomy, etc. as a reference to some sort of Über-cuisine. To anyone looking to appreciate food, I say to them go out and buy nice ingredients (the best you can afford – see my article on the myth of equating good food with spending power) and experiment with cooking at home.
Specifically, and as an example, go and buy some good dry pasta, a nice bottle of extra virgin olive, and a hunk of Grana Padano. Thereafter, go home and cook the pasta and combine it with the olive oil and grated cheese (that will take you 15 minutes; hence a “15 minute meal”). Is this a bad thing? No, rather it’s a pragmatic truth that modern life does have drastically different time constraints (regardless of how a family or individual made their way, or “choose their way”, into this situation) and that most individuals want to eat tasty meals that do not require excessive amounts of time to consume. Given a long day at the office I’d rather, for example, purchase a rotisserie chicken from my local market than spend an hour watching it roast in my oven (including the minimal prep time). If I had a light day and I’d like to stand in my kitchen come dinner time for about an hour and half, I’ll roast a chicken, make risotto, finely chop some fennel and parsley for a salad, and even make a small appetizer of toasted bread with homemade ricotta.
The point is that it’s too easy to say that folks should both turn away from 30 minutes meals and healthy and high quality foods prepared by an outside source. Yes, on most occasions, folks should find time to cook from scratch meals at home (as we do here on Scordo), however there are pragmatic times when “making time to cook” is truly not a possibility (this is a hard truth, even epistemic if I can get fancy!).