Global Food|Local Perspectives Symposium (Follow up)

This afternoon we were treated to an insightful conversation (and delicious tastes), thanks to Kera Lovell, Dr. Simone Cinotto, and the panelists. It was a perfect example of a global community of considerate hungry philosophers coalescing around a table of diverse international, transnational, post colonial, immigrant and local tastes.

Dr. Simone Cinotto opened the symposium with a multidimensional talk addressing the unique immigrant conditions that included class, race, policy and lead to chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs on the The Italian American Table.

The first panelist, Kirsten, shared sausage pasta (sausage sourced from Sheep Dog Farms) and the challenges of developing the menu around local produce and concerns of food sensitivities, of the dominance of standardized processed foods, of her own evolution as an eater, a farmer and as a restaurateur of La Scala and Restauration.

Next, Minal talked about the difficulty of procuring spices and Indian ingredients, about moving to West Lafayette, about the diversity of her menu and the value of authenticity, about her joy in serving the student community through fun snack foods, like the samosas she offered from Shaukin.

Finally, with two beautiful Thai desserts Chef Ake spoke of constant learning, of food waste, of social media and reviews, of Thai culinary history and of running Thai Essence.

It was certainly one of the most interesting (as it was supported and/or attracted multiple different disciplines that included Hospitality and Tourism Management, Linguistics, Italian Studies, American Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies and more) and definitely the tastiest symposium I have ever had the pleasure of attending.

The Thai desserts were very new to me. Loved them. One was a cross between a cake and a custard, while the other sweet egg flower dessert was very delicate. Both beautiful. I’ll have to learn more about those. I’d also like to learn more about the farms that Kirsten sources her produce and meats from. I’d like to conduct a “tour of India” through Minal’s regional snack foods and discover the seemingly familiar anew. I’m ready to learn more. And eat. More.

Excellent organizing and curating, Kera!

For those of you unable to attend, please support these local establishments, stretch your mind and your stomachs. For those of you far away, please support your local restaurants that work hard to create fresh delicious experiences. Try something different. Give a new taste a mouth hug. Spread the curiosity and joy.

May we all together cultivate a community of considerate consumers (sorry, couldn’t help that easy alliteration).

Wishing you a flavorful weekend ahead,

Hungryphil

#globalfoodpurdue

Food as Gift, Interview with Thai Essence Chef Ake Waratap, West Lafayette, Part 3 of 3

  

 (con’t) Thai Essence, Chef Ake’s insistence on intention, quality, energy and heart is palpable. When asked what would he considers his ‘signature’ dish, he refused to answer with a single dish. Every dish, he said, is made with care. In order to “show” me his philosophy, he pulled out some julienned ginger, thin slices of red and green pepper. “You have to feel it, like cutting through your own skin, smooth slices, no chopping,” he beams. Cooking is not about speed that bruises ingredients, or sloppy wasteful whimsy. It is intentful, considered and respectful. He shows me a beautifully carved radish flower (I am shocked to hear that he learned how to do all his vegetable and fruit carving on his own over YouTube!) and says that he was asked, “Why do we take the time to do this when most customers don’t even notice?” In response, he had answered that the flower is a symbol of care and even if only a few customers notice, it is still worth the effort. So instead of a signature dish to show us his philosophy, chef Ake offers us intricately carved flowers, precisely sliced vegetables, carefully concocted sauces and only by default deliciously executed dishes. As I suspected, he is an exemplar of an object-oriented practice invested in the recognition and respect of each thing as a gift.

True to material thinkers, Chef Ake continues to be fascinated by things and processes that fuel or challenge his commitment to gastronomic appreciation. For example, he is deeply concerned by buffet formats of serving that threaten attention to quality, care and detail. Similarly, he is excited by current farm to table philosophies that respect local ingredients and their producers. He recently returned from an exploration of ramen making in Japan. Curiosity and generosity seem to be driving principles in his food thinking and travels. The major drawback of his attention to detail and personal care is that he has little time to pursue and cultivate his wide range of interests. Creative people suffer this dilemma that leads to frustration or burnout all too frequently. Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister famously takes a “sagmeister” by closing down his office for a year, every seven years. The famed chef of El Bulli, Ferran Adria closed his celebrated Michelin-starred restaurant and instead launched a “food think tank.” I sincerely hope Chef Ake finds a way to sustain his spirit of learning and experimentation. In the meantime, for those of you in the area, I encourage you to meet Chef Ake and visit his restaurant for a regular meal and then a special event (when he experiments with techniques and menu items). Traditional eastern cuisines in the West are both difficult and easy to innovate depending on the gastronomic experience level of the guests. This challenge makes the experimental special events at Thai Essence so fascinating to me. Thank you for sharing your philosophy of food as gift with us, Chef Ake.

Looking forward to many delicious experiments ahead,

Hungryphil

Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,

I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:

  1. Consumption: What are your memories of food?
  2. Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
  3. Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?

Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!

http://www.thaiessence.net/

http://www.ted.com/talks/stefan_sagmeister_the_power_of_time_off?language=en

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/business/ferran-adria-the-former-el-bulli-chef-is-now-serving-up-creative-inquiry.html?_r=0

Food as Gift – Interview with Chef Ake, Thai Essence, West Lafayette, Indiana : part 2 of 3

  
  
(con’t) Chef Ake’s early culinary career as a cook, as a caterer and private chef was fueled with the deep belief in food as a precious gift to be shared. He spent his time generously, he cooked extra portions and a variety of foods, all in an effort to make people feel nurtured. He wanted everyone to feel that they had more than enough to eat (the opposite of his childhood limitations). This spirit of generosity served him well by attracting the goodwill of his customers who happily received his culinary gifts. He managed to translate his childhood moments of “slow” consumption, of making enjoyment last, into making food worthy of slow considered eating. Attentive consumers, one could argue, make attentive makers. Chef Ake’s story reminds me of how designer Raymond Loewy speaks of Biberin, a French drink powder, in his autobiography as his first awareness of passion. After all, how can one reproduce a feeling for others without having experienced it oneself?

The lack of Thai food restaurants drew him and Nan to West Lafayette. If “food as gift” sums up his lessons as a consumer, then “we care” is his primary restaurant philosophy. With no formal culinary schooling, his insistence on detail, caring and learning is evident in every aspect of the restaurant. As we walked through the kitchen, he proudly showed me every spotless detail of the kitchen he and Nan designed. His equipment now five years old looks sparkling new. The screws in the mis-en-place tables are cleaned with pins! All sauces are made in house, what is purchased is of high quality. He only serves what he would eat himself. And, from what I saw, his standards are quite high.

Next time, he shows us his philosophy of “intentful” cooking.

http://www.thaiessence.net/

Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,

I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:

  1. Consumption: What are your memories of food?
  2. Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
  3. Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?

Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!

Food as Gift – Interview with Chef Ake, Thai Essence, West Lafayette, Indiana : part 1 of 3

 

Few food memories begin with abandoned corpses in Buddhist temples, as Chef Ake’s does. Raised in a struggling family in Thailand, young Ake would catch and sell catfish gathered after the rains under the platform of abandoned dead bodies. Lowering his gaze he says that he can still smell the stench. Despite his mother’s warnings, he did this to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola worth less than 5 cents. By chewing and constricting the straw and taking the smallest of sips, he learned to extend his enjoyment of that hard-earned bottle. Opening his second restaurant in West Lafayette, Indiana, he installed a coke machine, but now, ironically he no longer craves the taste. The poverty, he says, pushed him to dream of ice-cream, coke, beautiful houses, of televisions in every room and of playing the piano. His family of five shared every meager meal as a gift. “Food is a gift,” says Chef Ake repeatedly.

The days between growing up in Thailand and opening his first restaurant in West Lafayette, Indiana is a classic immigrant story of persistence, resourcefulness, hard work and struggle that includes, working every possible restaurant position (front and back of house), multiple jobs, janitorial jobs, catering and being a private chef at a sorority. In addition, he astonishingly managed to keep his dream of being a filmmaker alive by earning a M.F. A from the San Francisco Art Institute (in Thailand he worked in the film industry on television shows and advertising): amazing and humbling to hear him recollect those years. He poetically talks about seeing only two sunsets his first year in the U.S. (Christmas and on 4th of July). He also talks about meeting his wife Nan who like him had hotel and restaurant experience and an M.F.A (in theater). On their first date they watched a movie, separately, unable to decide on the same movie. Their second date at 2 a.m. in the morning was spent in a cemetery (Presidio of San Francisco) after a late night work shift. These two unique individuals had found their match. Their shared love for film, theater, books, museums and galleries, of learning brought them here to West Lafayette, Indiana, the home of Purdue University.

How does a childhood consumer of coca-cola become a chef who champions attention to detail in a small Mid-western college town? Tune in next time as slow coke drinker Ake evolves into Chef Ake of Thai Essence, West Layette, Indiana.

http://www.thaiessence.net/

Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,

I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:

  1. Consumption: What are your memories of food?
  2. Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
  3. Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?

Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!