“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” —renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1825
Food has always been at the center of my family gatherings, as it is for most families, I’m sure. Especially on my father’s side, food is typically the main event of daily activities at reunions. All of us—aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents and cousins—would gather for what we deem the “epic meal” of the day.
Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had with family, as well as with friends, have been attached to food. At a recent family reunion last December in Hong Kong, my cousins and I held a creative pizza-making party at our uncle’s house, where we served up innovative pies to our relatives, including a baked potato, Chinese sausage and oyster-and-barbecue pizza that was—interestingly enough—a hit!
In fact, eating and sharing meals together dates back to the beginnings of the human race, when hunter-gatherers would share game and other food. Of course, as humans evolved over time, our relationships with food and how we “gather,” cook and eat it have changed as well. While most of us don’t spear our USDA-approved prime rib anymore, we’ve developed relationships with food that go beyond just sustenance—they’re about experiences, traditions and cultural values.
For example, in India and some Middle Eastern and African cultures, people don’t use cutlery when eating. Rather, the process is seen as a multisensory experience, with the more staunch traditionalists consuming foods such as curry, rice and naan bread using their hands. In many other cultures, food is an integral part, or a symbol, of cultural celebrations. In France, a “buche de noel,” a classic yule log cake, is likely to be found on family dinner tables on Christmas, while in Mexico, “bacalao,” or salted, dried cod, captures the essence of the holiday. In the same breath, Thanksgiving for Americans wouldn’t be the same without the signature turkey with all the fixings.
As James Beard, a chef and central figure in establishing gourmet food in America during the 1950s, said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” This couldn’t be a truer statement—food brings people together and transcends cultural and linguistic barriers. Likewise, it’s the universal “language” in kitchens across the world, where chefs make statements through masterful dishes. This is evident in our feature (page 44) that looks at some of the best chefs in town who seamlessly work together to make culinary visions come to life.
These days, our culture altogether is more conscious of what we eat and where it comes from. As seen in “Green Cuisine,” (page 60) consumers and chefs alike here in Laguna Beach are making concerted efforts to ensure the food we eat—as well as how it’s prepared—is sustainable.
From what we eat to how we consume it, food is a form of communication rich with meaning—a symbol of love, traditions and values. So this season, eat, drink and be merry. We’re sure you can find a reason to celebrate.
Editor, Laguna Beach Magazine