After a challenging dinner party I went to the other night, I have to share some concerns I have with America’s image abroad. I've encountered many situations where people say what American culture is without ever having set foot in the "big bad" United States. What most don't consider is America is a huge country and each state has it’s own identity similar to France and it's regions (pays). This concept is very hard to explain just like it’s hard to explain that all New Yorkers aren’t gang members and all Texans don’t ride horses and carry rifles...
I was told last night that Americans don’t eat organic food, the wine is horrible, we know nothing about cheese making, our cuisine is based on fast food, and everyone is fat. All quite ironic considering that Paris farmer’s market’s produce and meats are rarely organic (even though people think so), Cowgirl Creamery cheese recently beat the French in an international competition, West Coast wines (example: Stag's Leap Cellars) consistently score high internationally, and the French obesity rate in children is steadily increasing (Economist Article: Gross National Product.
I feel that America is going through a food Renaissance and more people need to know that. In San Francisco we are adamant about our organic produce. We encourage heirloom fruits and vegetables and we recognize and are willing to pay for organic products. There are huge stores like Whole Foods that encourage organic produce as well as a myriad of smaller ones like Rainbow Grocery. Our Safeway's (like Monoprix) now even carry good organic produce. San Francisco is known for it’s diversity and the cuisine reflects that.
Finally after being scolded for jogging (it’s bad for you–who knew?) and told that Paris is pollution free, we were asked to describe San Francisco cuisine. We looked at each other in disbelief: What is San Francisco cuisine!?!? How can we answer that question? It is not simply coq au vin or a cheese soufflé or a sauce bordelaise over filet! We stumbled over the question…it’s kind of like fusion food with, uh, organic heirloom produce, and lot’s of sea food, and great wine, not too much butter…olive oil, we’re really into olive oil. We were bumbling idiots!!! There was our big chance to prove to the French just how inventive we are and we couldn’t think of anything!
So, in search of the ultimate reference book to use for self-defense in the future, I bought the new San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook Volume II (which is just as good as Volume I) and the recipes reflect the amazing world cuisine in San Francisco restaurants. There are Regional Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, French, Malaysian, American, Mexican, South American food recipes from my favorite eateries. But how to explain this to people without throwing the cookbook at them?
The next time some one asks me the same question I would like to have an answer prepared. So I guess my question is: what is your impression of American cuisine and specifically, how to define California Bay Area food? I’m also interested in how other American cities describe their cuisine. I would be grateful for any words of wisdom….