Food and cooking, for Kurt, were components of ritual, an opportunity to connect everyday activity to the sacred. When writing about food and cooking, Kurt used the opportunity to bring ritualized awareness to others, in hopes perhaps of imparting some sense of sacred wisdom to his readers. This essay contains a recipe, of course, but also much more. "In our sated sophistication, many of us are all to eager to cut ourselves off from the mass of humanity whose daily concern with basic conservation, filling the belly, is not to be gainsaid. We are enjoined, therefore, to regard cookbooks, injunctions for the preparation of food, as closely analogous to sacred scripture--indications for feeding the psyche and practicing the arts of clearing consciousness."
In this letter from 1983, Kurt addresses the remarkable attention received by food and wine in California. "The most civilized conversation these days, with incisive intelligence, a sense of the poetic and theatrical, delicate perceptions, and robust innovations, is all about food (not music, not painting, not architecture)." Yet, as with all things, Kurt was looking at the topic of food at a deeper level, concerned about the loss of indigenous traditional cultures and starving nations. "We live in a time when many of the surviving traditional cultures are threatened with extinction, and their lessons must be recorded or lost." Never one to shy away from difficult matters, his letter is polite while pointed. No reply has been found in his archives.
Here's biographical snippet, an excerpt from an early draft of Kurt's history of the Diamond Sutra Restaurant which he did not include in its completed version. Turns out a Carmel High School Home Economics class played a vital part in his culinary preoccupations. "Mrs. Bourne graciously took the boys into her Home Economics classroom and taught them to cook it all, from soup to roast turkey and the trimmings, to baking bread and cakes (with measuring)."
Here's yet another article by Kurt on the nature of good food, but this one--written over several days in July of 1984--is highly self-referential. There's an extensive explanation of the derivation of Kurt's alter-ego Jose Que, the impact of the Diamond Sutra Restaurant, recipes and examination of the roots of "California Cuisine." He sagely predicts the coming of celebrity chefs, "Both the ink and the electronic attention given to California cuisine in the last few years prove that it is perhaps THE leading domain of cultural, artistic expression. And why not? The arts--the so-called fine and fancy arts--so seldom make the stuff of any real conversation these days."
Nowadays Indonesian food is fairly common in California, but when offered at Kurt's Diamond Sutra Restaurant back in 1970 it was quite rare. Here's Kurt's recipe (via his alter-ego Jose Que, the fourth-world dishwasher at the Diamond Sutra) and treatise on GADDO GADDO, (sent to Helen Civelli Brown, Food Editor at the SF Examiner newspaper), a traditional, Indonesian, chile-infused peanut sauce that's tossed with greens. His discourse veers into matters distinctly non-recipe, including the avenue of Tantric enlightenment.
Kurt's interest in haute cuisine drew him to explore the ancient origins of human diet--cannibalism, and grain agriculture--and speculation about the shift in eating from mere necessity to matters of "style, art and ritual...the distinction between filling the belly and appreciation of fine food."
Kurt's alter-ego Jose Que has the munchies. A fact-filled and meandering discussion about American food, Peyote (the sacred food of the Huichol people) and Teachings of Dog Juan follows. He sets off on a systematic analysis with "Category One" but never gets to "Category Two:" It all ends with the invocation of a good Molé.
Here's a delightful, and unusually autobiographical essay by Kurt about his mother's apple pie. It appears to be from around 1985, or at least that's how the manila folder was labeled. Kurt fancied writing a cookbook, and this short essay was to have a piece in it. He never did write the cookbook, but he certainly was one fantastic cook.
In this essay, Kurt's reflection on Chinese food leads to the topics of the history of food, agriculture, the neolithic revolution, population growth, chopsticks, and enlightenment. Judging from the references, it appears this was written around 1982 and it's interesting to note the ways in which Kurt's concerns and predictions have come to pass, or not. There are no references in his files indicating it was ever published, submitted for publication or even completed. However, it also includes some autobiographical information, an uncommon element in most of his essays. (Photos and hyperlinks have been added; the photo above is of a chopstick holder produced in China during the Cultural Revolution).
Kurt loved hot and spicy food and chile peppers played a starring role in his cuisine. Naturally, his taste inclined him to scholarship and this short essay written in 1984 about chile peppers, their discovery and use. He also provides an in-depth and amusing discussion about preparing Pasta al Pesto.