Monday, August 13, 2007


I came up with the idea for "Food Forms" while I was eating a sandwich. I don't remember where or when, or even what kind of a sandwich it was, but I remember that it was topped with a red-cabbage slaw.

"Red cabbage slaw, huh? That's kind of cool. And tasty. Wonder where they came up with that idea?"

I went on to speculate about how you could riff on the basic sandwich, take what might be regarded as an ossified food and re-interpret it to make it interesting again. I realized that "sandwich" was an archetype, a template that the creative chef could fill in to interesting effect by varying the breads, the fillings, the garnishes, etc. That was followed by the (not entirely original) understanding that the sandwich is, to a large degree, a universal concept. Many cultures have their own variation of the sandwich, putting various fillings between sundry breads and bread-ish products.

Thus was born the concept of a "food form". There's a finite number of things you can do to/with food; the ingredients may change, but at a deeper level the cook is also following a meta-recipe, an overarching framework for the preparation of the dish. Some of these meta-recipes are familiar and obvious: sandwich, salad, stew. Some are less so: fermented product, emulsion, charcuterie.

The goal here is to examine these forms, see how they express themselves across time and culture. This will allow us to understand not only what is done to food, but also go deeper and find the underlying "why" behind the "what". Ultimately we'd like to be able to look at a dish and understand the role that each ingredient and technique plays, providing us with the ability to riff on the dish in the same way that that cook riffed on my sandwich.

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