If you read People magazine, then you know that the food stories filling out the news of Prince Harry’s firm ass and Bethenny Frankel’s sagging marriage bristle with exclamation points:
• “Gwyneth Paltrow Likes to Celebrate Hanukkah with Ice Cream!”
• “Jenny McCarthy Enjoys a Colada Cocktail Poolside: See Photo & Get the Recipe!”
• “Miley Cyrus Samples Lemon Cookies on Philly Trip!”
Those are real headlines.
But a couple weeks ago, People readers were treated to something more surprising than Miley’s taste for lemon sandwich cookies, or her sassy new sun-bleached boy cut: a recipe by two-Michelin star chef Daniel Patterson for pea salad with spring onions and mint.
The surprise isn’t the recipe—it’s a gentle tweaking of a recipe from cuisine ménagère, the traditional cooking of French housewives. What’s surprising is the source.
Patterson’s cooking at Coi, his restaurant in San Francisco, is intricate, elegant, and as geo-targeted to the Northern California landscape as Rene Redzepi’s is to Scandinavia’s. No surprise that there’s a chasm between high and low in food, but it’s notable when a chef attempts to toss a rope bridge across it.
Alexis Soyer—a French chef who cooked at the highest level in Victorian England—is the most famous chef to perform outreach to the gruel-fed masses. Soyer’s 1854 book A Shilling Cookery for the People attempted to teach the fundamentals of good cooking to people unable to afford much beyond subsistence food.
Of course, things in 21st-century America are more complicated. When it comes to food, the line between high and low is smudged—a lot of wealthy Americans eat shitty. Cheap, prepared foods don’t belong to the underclass, in the same way that carefully worn-looking blue jeans can be the public uniform of a mega-millionaire like Mitt Romney.
These days the simplest foods are the rarest—you can drive your late-model Escalade or your ’92 Camry to Whole Foods and drop a hundred bucks on groceries, but will those fresh peas you’ve hauled home be sweet and tender enough to succeed with only a bit of mint and scallion? As nice as it is to see a quietly accomplished recipe in People, Patterson’s simple salad of peas is so unlikely to shine with the produce most of America has access to that it’s as much of a fantasy as, say, Katy Perry’s 10 Simple Steps to Looking Good.
Photo from Coi Restaurant / Facebook