Thursday, December 31, 2009

The (food) moments that shaped my decade.

The aughts are coming to a close tonight, and I've decided to join the frenzy of lists appearing across the interwebs. Mine is a fairly personal, navel-gazing sort of list; instead of naming the biggest events in the food world in general, I've decided to focus on the most significant moments of my food- and drink-centered life over the last decade.

I turned 21 in 2000 and graduated from college in 2001, so the aughts have encompassed my early adulthood, my twenties. They're the years I spent finding my home (Hello, New York!), my career (user experience research and design, for now) and my taste (Sriracha, bacon and Vietnamese food, FTW!). In fact, it's pretty darn hard to distill the most important moments of my eating life down to a list of just ten top ones, so please forgive me for any that seem like I'm cheating by, say, essentially granting a tie to every single moment of my 2006 trip to Europe. Please?

All right, here goes!

Number 10: My first taste of Far Niente's Dolce.
As you all know, I am a huge fan of dessert wines both funky and sweet, and particularly of those that combine the two. Before I tried Sauternes or Banyuls, though, I drank Dolce - which is America's most delicious answer to the former. I still remember my first sip, which took place one boozy Saturday night in 2004, at Ouest with Nick and Louisa, when Nick ordered a 375 ml bottle for the three of us to share. I'd never tasted anything quite like it - syrupy, but not sickly, and infinitely musky and complex. I'd go on to tour the winery in 2006, where my mom practically had to restrain me from buying a whole case.

Number 9: Dinner at Alinea.
This one just made it in under the wire, happening as it did in November 2009. My first (and hopefully not last) dinner at Alinea was predictably delicious, and - despite the giant spoiler effect of following Grant Achatz's restaurant for years - surprising and exciting. It was a meal unlike any other I've ever eaten, one where craftsmanship was present in every bite and whimsy never once trumped flavor. A truly incredible experience.
Number 8: Discovering the wonder of Vietnamese food.
Gradually, over the last eight years, my Asian cuisine of choice has slowly shifted from Chinese, to Thai, and finally alighted on Vietnamese. The original Asian fusion, Vietnamese food combines Asian ingredients and flavors with French technique, and has given us such culinary delights as pho (a noodle soup like no other) and the currently super-trendy banh mi, a sandwich full of terrine, herbs, pickles and pate, served on that most French of breads, the baguette. It's slightly funky, thanks to the ever-present fish sauce, but also refined, thanks to a balance of flavors and textures. And I just can't get enough.

Number 7: Making banh mi at home.
Speaking of Vietnamese food - but, seriously, folks...I'm including this past summer's banh mi-fest not only because the results were delicious, but because I think it marks a culmination of the collaborative cooking and exploration Louisa and I have done together. We push one another to try new and different techniques and ingredients, using our time together each summer to tackle a couple of new projects. These banh mi, for which we made everything from scratch - even grinding our own meat - save the bread, are our proudest achievement to date. A repeat performance is planned, and we'll be upping the ante by baking our own baguettes.

Number 6: Ditching vodka for booze with actual flavor.
Just as there's a place for water in the pantheon of great beverages, there's one for vodka. That place, however, is not in a cocktail, and certainly not in a martini. If there's one thing for which my boozehound side is most grateful to the aughts, it's the cocktail craze, and, in particular, the resurgence of brown spirits and gin. Gin is just...better. As is bourbon. And dark rum. And...everything. Vodka is great in a Russian restaurant, served ice cold alongside caviar, but that's about it. I know some of you disagree, and that's your perogative. But, you're, um, wrong.

Number 5: Discovering Thomas Keller.
Obviously, I didn't discover Chef Keller, but he didn't mean much to me before, oh, 2003 or 2004, at which point I became obsessed with eating in at least one of his restaurants. Since then, I've cooked from three of his cookbooks (Bouchon, The French Laundry and Ad Hoc), eaten at three of his restaurants (Per Se, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery) and become a devoted fan. His mashup of American ingredients and know-how with classic French technique may no longer be revolutionary, but it's still revelatory: I dare you not to fall in love with Bouchon's entire menu. Go ahead - in fact, I double-dog dare you.

Number 4: Joining eGullet.
I joined the internet food fray in 2005, when I became a member (and, eventually, a staffer) of eGullet. For a time, it was my absolutely favorite place on the web. Full of interesting, smart people who knew a ton about home cooking and the restaurant world, it was where I first stretched my food-loving wings, and, in particular, my food-writing muscles. It's where I learned about Sriracha and how to make puff pastry. It's where I learned how to take decent photographs of food. And, most significantly, the two week-long foodblogs I did there in 2006 and 2007 gave me the confidence I needed to start my own blog, which is coming up on its (gasp) third anniversary.

Number 3: Making my first mayonnaise.
I read Amanda Hesser's memoir Cooking For Mr. Latte when it first came out in 2003. It was a sweet book, but I was more interested in the food than in the love story, and was determined to become as sophisticated an epicurean as Ms. Hesser herself. Thus inspired, I made my first mayonnaise from her recipe, and have been whisking ever since. It marked the first time I ventured into truly classical, technique-focused cooking, and the deliciousness of homemade mayonnaise convinced me that (most) shortcuts are, indeed, for suckers.

2. My trip to Europe with Louisa.
Louisa and I spent two weeks in Prague, Strasbourg, Champagne and Paris in 2006. The trip cemented us as best friends, thanks in great part to the enormous amount of bonding we did over food and drink. Whether it was duck in a Prague pub, flutes of Champagne in a Reims tasting room, or steak tartare in Paris, the food we ate and the sights we saw created a common set of memories and experiences that will be ours, alone, forever. It also happens that the trip included two of my top meals of all time (at Chez Yvonne and Camille in Strasbourg and Paris, respectively), the best eclair in history, and the most satisfying doner kebab ever. All in all, two weeks that will live in memory - actually, in perpetuity, thanks to the internet.

1. Shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Blame it on Dan Barber, Michael Pollan - whomever. For a myriad of reasons, I started shopping seasonally and locally a few years ago, and have no plans to go back. Oh, sure, I still buy frozen vegetables, and I do buy cucumbers out of season - not to mention the occasional flown-in fish. But, thanks to New York City's incredible Greenmarket network, I've been able to do a remarkable thing: support local businesses, reduce my carbon footprint, and make super food - all at the same time. Nothing's changed my eating habits more drastically in the last decade than my effort to shop as much as possible in Union Square (or at one of the other Greenmarket outposts around the city), and, for that I am grateful.

So, folks - if you've managed to stick it out this long - what were the formative moments of the aughts for you? Share in the comments - and Happy New Year!


Alison Kosakowski said...

I love your blog. Makes me wish we had a kitchen when we lived together. Clearly I was missing out.

Your weeknight-friendly dinner recipes are my favorite! What a help! Keep'um coming!

Happy New Year!

Meg Blocker said...

Thanks, hon! I definitely didn't have these skills back then, so don't worry - in fact, the only kitchen-related memory I have of our roommate-dom is when I spilled boiling water on my hand in the pantry. Ouch.

And, I promise more weeknight-friendly recipes soon!

Wendy said...

Great list Meg!!

Meg Blocker said...

Thanks, Wendy! It was hard to narrow it down, I must say.

Term Papers said...

It was a sweet book, but I was more interested in the food than in the love story, and was determined to become as sophisticated an epicurean as Ms. Hesser herself.

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