Professore Dottore Jose Goldophin Que y Porque
“You can eat anything that doesn't eat you first." So goes the generalized injunction according to Genelli., the truth of which has been realized by the world's great traditions of the kitchen. In China, for example, whole classes of herbage that might not otherwise be considered edible do provide a reserve food supply in times of famine. And it is precisely the genius of the Chinese cook that permits the eating of such foodstuffs in as nutritious and palatable a way possible. Or, though it might seem to be meager fare for setting on the tables of gastronomes, the aborigine in the Central Australian desert relishes witchity grubs, desert raisins, and ngapere--a sugary exudent scraped off the underside of a certain kind of eucalyptus leaf--a delectable feast and dessert where we wouldn't see anything to eat at all.
When the Tibetans were walking over the Himalayas toward sanctuary in India and away from the Chinese in 1959, they chewed leather from their horses' tack.
How refreshing that historians and analysts are pouncing on the tradition of California cuisine while it is still alive and warm to the touch. Now is the time--after almost fifteen years of high realization--for the appearance of expert books on theory and practice, commercial purveyors, exploiters, and the cash-in/rip-off artists.
We know that people have been coming to California for a very long time--perhaps for tens of thousands of years--many different ethnic and linguistic groups in America, even before the European settlers began to arrive. We all know why it started in California: its abundance of comestibles. More good food feeding more people is produced here in California than anywhere else in the world. It was always fertile, Lotus-eater land--long before the white man--a place where people from everywhere and anywhere came, bringing their eating tastes and cooking traditions with them.
Most of these food styles were possible to repeat here; many were improved. And this process continues: witness the recent flourishing of Thai restaurants where, although one lacks the incredible range of choice available from simple street stalls in Bangkok or Chaing Mai, still one eats raw salads with an easier mind.
The melting pot of the Golden State is what the rest of the world is going to be like in the 21st century. First the movies, then rock and roll paved the way for the creation of international forms of mythic proportions. It is not surprising that after the whole world has been entertained by Hollywood and boogied together, we should want to sit down for a bite to eat. But the impact of California cuisine on the rest of the world is also very new. San Francisco has forever been a great city in which to dine, with a rich array of international options, but without any unique style or flavor all its own.
What it took for the idea of a real "cuisine" to come together was the evolution of California wine--first and most famously in the Napa Valley, and then in Sonoma, Monterey, Amador and other counties of Northern California. When the quality of our wine achieved international excellence, the consciousness of cuisine had to follow, if only because of the economics of the matter. If lots of people begin drinking exquisite bottles of wine for which they are gladly paying premium prices--THAT is the hard part--they can surely arrange to have concocted tasty morsels of comparable quality.
The story of the Diamond Sutra Restaurant and Tantric cuisine is as much a part of the history of Buddhism in America as it is of the history of food in the Buddhist tradition. Many American sustain simple-minded notions of Buddhists as vegetarians, or as Oriental versions of West Coast hippy health-food addicts. While it is true that conventional Buddhist practice frowns on killing in general, and upon taking life with one's own hands in particular, there are several traditions of Buddhism--principal among them that of the Vajrayana in Tibet--in which meat is an accepted, regular, and sometimes essential part of the diet.
Although some residents of San Francisco's Noe Valley may remember the Diamond Sutra as one of the earliest exotic neighborhood eateries, a modest enough heritage, it may also be regarded (as a matter of objective truth and historical record) as the seminal site, the critical event in the evolution of a California cuisine. At the time we didn't call it that. But everyone knew that we were onto something fresh and exciting: a style, an approach to food and to the art and pleasure of eating that was at once new and real.
While a very great deal of the food prepared and served was indeed organic, for sure all of it was chemical. Anyway, self-righteousness probably causes more cancer than burned toast. Just as well, perhaps, for the annals and encyclopedias of posterity that we snatch some of the objective straws still blowing in the temporal wind, and weave them into the record of what actually occurred.
The following is fiction, and not very good at that, but does represent a possible springboard, appealing to the ANGLOPHILIAC SNOBBERY of my distinguished academic colleagues:
While on sabbatical leave in the spring of 1984, I had occasion to visit Oxford University's Pitt Rivers (marvellous madhouse of a) museum. Interested in the relationship of domestic arts and crafts (such as weaving, wood carving and ceramics) to music and musical instruments on the one hand, and to cooking, eating and its implements on the other, it was felicitous that I crossed paths with Norman Akaya, head of Tantradine International, who shares, though with greater fervor and accomplishment, my attraction...well, enough of this, but the idea is to associate real beings, such as Lama Chime, Rinpoche, Keeper of the Tibetan collection at the British Museum, and former visitor to the DSR (Diamond Sufi Ranch, though not the DSR) with Norman, a fictional Nirmanakaya Buddha.
July 11, 1984 - A bagatelle from Buddy Meier:
I met Jose Que first at the UCLA Experimental Arts Festival in 1967. The radical so-called Mexican-American artist was scheduled to perform a piece on the program called "Auto da Fe"--as it turned out later, the title of one of Nobel laureate Elias Canetti's books--which involved the burning of a tower of books. Que was suppoawedly holed up in the mountains somewhere in the Sierra Madre Occidental, involved in revolutionary activity. At the time there was such in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and elsewhere. We are now beginning to see the rationale for the sense of outrage against the ripoff government of Mexico that were bleeding oil profits into private Swiss and Bahamian accounts (they took more out of Mexico than the Conquistadores). Anyway, Que couldn't be there , so the piece was performed by the UCLA Professor of modern art, Dr. Kurt von Meier, and reported by him in a later edition of Arts Canada, as well as in an article in the Los Angeles FREE PRESS, and with photo in the UCLA campus newspaper, The Daily Bruin. The burning tower of books was related to other radical art of the times by Arts Canada editor Anne Brodsky, such as the SKOOB, or BOOKS spelled backwards, pieces being performed in Europe.
The name, JOSE QUE, is a Mexicanification of "Josef K." or "Joseph K." from the Franz Kafka text, AMERIKA. K=Kurt. Jose=Josef, which was the middle name of Kurt's father, Julian Josef von Meier. Que, in Spanish, means "what?" and also "that which," "how," etc. The initials J.Q. suggest English words: joke, jocular, jock (both athlete and athletic supporter). The Qabala (letter/number value) of the initials may be reckoned J=I=10, Q=90 as qoppa, so JQ=100=R. Note that these values differ, depending upon which system (Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Latin or English) is used. This mention is intended to draw the editor/reader's attention to the connections with Qabala/Kabbalah/Cabala.
Jose was described in the review of the Diamond Sutra mentioned by Genelli that appeared in the Examiner as "Third World." This should be understood in the sense of The World of Space, The World of Time, and (thirdly) The World of Information. According to The Teaching of Dog Juan, that oft-cited kryptopoeic document so intimately associated with Que, the Dutch architect, Aldo van Eyck, brilliantly pointed out (in Team Ten Primer) "Whatever space and time may mean, place and occasion mean more." To this we add, whatever information may mean, consciousness means more. And consciousness is the key, because it is what transforms space into place, time into occasion, and information into...into what? Why into consciousness, i.e., into "itself"!
The title Teachings of Dog Juan is a parody of the Quer litos Qastanoodles books of pseudo-shamanic enterprize. That should read "Carlos Castaneda," of course. Ha, ha.
Anyway, in "Teachings" the Spanish honorific title "don," as in Don Juan (and may God truly shower blessings and mercy upon his soul if it ever existed, or even upon the very idea of a soul such as his if it did not), is transformed into "dog," a despicable term among many, especially Muslims, and traditionally perjorative in the English language, but surrounded with an air of affable sagacity in the Tantric tradition of Tibet where one of the loftiess states of world-side Wisdom (Prajna) and Skillful Means (Upaya) is characterized as the consciousness of an old dog. See especially the writings of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, whose own birth or rebirth as a Tulku was indicated by the presence of a red dog, having been dreamed and predicted by His Holiness the Karmapa. And don't forget who is man's best friend and has been for some fifty thousand years since domestication. Even the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him), so they say, did not forbid dogs in the tent--however, they had to be Salukis, or hunting dogs, which is to say dogs that earned their own keep rather than scavengers; it was the scavenging that seemed to be the problem rather than the objection to the species.
It is true that Jose Que presented the Examiner with a replete recipe for gaddo gaddo salad, worthy of the Sundanese courts. A manuscript version of this survives in the 1/2 Vast File of Trivia beneath the transparent top of the Crystal Navigation Table. Sundanese civilization survives in Western Java. It makes the Balinese look like parvenues. (e?) For classification purposes--systems, systems, everybody has their systems, as Jetsun Rainbowchez sez--the Sundanese recipes are filed under "Java" which is "Indonesia," although that is far from a real nation, being mostly in the fantasy of a powerful military claque composed of a secret society from Yogyakarta and the American CIA. May Allah protect us in our humble opinions about the Truth: Ya Haqq! Among the other items from Teachings that might be of interest in the present context are the transcriptions from the Explicatory Menu of the Tea House of Necessity, some of which may also be encountered in La Cuisine Imaginaire.
Given the time of day and adequate breathing space, good food ultimately depends upon the quality of your water.
Comment: Given the growing threat of desertification, a large part of the so-called sophisticated world has something to learn from the older desert civilizations, such as those surviving (or their vestigial remnants) in the Middle East. For example, it is the custom among Muslims to give thanks to God upon drinking water: Al hamdulillah! Again, the Gypsies are very clear about upstream/downstream water access in the traditional camp: drinking water upstream, then general purpose water, then downstream, animals and menstruating women. A lot of flowery-eyed backpackers in California now have a real gut feeling for the need to preserve pure, fresh mountain streams, following the recent epidemic of giardia (whatever the bug is).
Also from the Teachings comes the injunction to "Wipe!"
Comment: If you've ever watched a really good waitress at a basic, down-home lunch counter, she has a side towel constantly in motion, wiping. Not only does this help to maintain a tidy appearance, out of respect to hygiene, and the appetites as well as the subtler sensibilities of customers, but it also demonstrates an evolved level of professional consciousness. With a superior waitress, the side towel itself will also generally appear to be clean. You can tell the level of consciousness of a kitchen (or of a restaurant, of a house, or whatever place in which people dwell) by observing how clean it is. Of course, so much is obvious, even without white gloves or Michael Jackson. But places can be tidy (neat, orderly) without being clean. And then there's really clean. On the other side, there is kvetchy fussiness. And some of the stuff people use to clean with is worse than the dirt. Even things that work well enough present severe problems to the esthetic sensibility, such as Lysol and Ivory soap--no one who has ever enjoyed the delicate aroma of Italian white truffles in an egg dish has permitted either cleaning agent in the kitchen. And at the Kryptozen (Secret Meditation) level of consciousness, check out the cleanliness of the tools themselves that are used for cleaning: has the dust been taken off the broom? Is the broom in good repair? Are the garbage cans clean?
Rules are conventions to make movement and change easier and safer. They are not of the same compelling force as laws. In an environment such as a kitchen, with the potential of much energy and movement, rules tend to abound. Many reflect the idiosyncracies of cooks, compounded and frequently laced with contradictions when there are more than one, worse when there is a hierarchy, with a chef at the top, unless the chef is a saint as well as an artist. The Teachings refer to the "First two rules of the kitchen," which are said to have been carved into the menu board of "Adam and Tina's Cafe" one of the avatars of the "Teahouse of Necessity" (Chaikhana Anangke):
DON'T BURN YOURSELF! (don't burn yourself!)
DON'T CUT YOURSELF! (don't cut yourself!)
Comment: The polymath G. Spencer Brown has alerted us to the difficulties frequently brought about by negative injunctions. Nevertheless, there does no seem to be an easier way to say these things. The bit about burning comes first, appropriately enough. That would be because if it were not possible to burn yourself, if there were no fire, then it would not, technically, be a kitchen, and we would not be talking about "cuisine" or about cooking, since all of these words directly imply the use of fire. We all know what may happen when we play with fire, which is what humanity has been doing for about a half a million years. The evidence for this, from the physical anthropologists and archaeologists can thus be seen as dating the invention of "cuisine." It derives from field work at two famous sites, that of the Trinl River in Java, and of the upper cave at Chou kou T'ien near Beijing in China. At the latter site there is also incontestable evidence of a rather highly refined technique for breaking out a portion of the human skull with a specially developed implement so that the brains of a freshly killed human being could be eaten. Grisly though it may seem, this is the locus protoclassicus for "La Cuisine Imaginaire."
July 12, 1984
The other bit, about cutting, is a million years older than being burnt--the half million year old question of the controlled use of fire. Cobble tools, first perhaps a hammer, then with some kind of cutting edge, have been found in early hominid or hominoid sites in Africa that date from two, three, four, maybe five million years ago. The history of the knife begins with man's incisor teeth, an awareness of which is then seen reflected in a sharp rock. There was cutting of plants and slicing of meat, but none of this had anything to do, yet, with questions of cuisine until there entered the critical function of cooking. The old chefs were first of all fire chiefs, with which special magic and knowledge as fire-making skill set them apart from other members of the band; everyone had their knife. Now, the fire, the stove, oven or barbecue pit tends to be taken for granted, although it still must come first, even if only a hot plate. After which the chef has his knives--the serious cooks travel with their knives. They are the true Samurai swordsmen of everyday life.
Another lesson from the Teachings deals with the first and the last questions of the kitchen. These don't have anything to do with security control, such as access to a building, looking for keys to unlock the pantry or bolting the door and turning out the lights. All of these are quite new issues (for example, electric lights and work while it is dark except in emergencies are concepts barely a century old).
The first question of the kitchen obviously has to do with fire: WHAT'S COOKING? What is cooking of course may not be dinner; it may be the roof over the stove. When one senses heat, smells smoke, or sees flames, it is a very good question to first ask, if only to oneself. And too, it is a good question to ask if someone else is already in the kitchen. It pays to know what is already in process before starting a new or complementary dish. If nothing is cooking, or if nothing is burning, then it must be asked, "Why not?" The next order of business is to see about getting a fire started. If this is a matter easy as flicking a switch, fair enough, and the food prep can commence; but if the cooking fire cannot be taken for granted, then naturally fuel must be gathered, matches, flint and steel or fire bow brought into action, and so forth.
The last question, after the fire has been put to bed is WHERE'S THE BROOM?
According to one ethic of the kitchen, the floor is swept up after everything is wiped off the table tops, the chopping blocks and the counters. If this doesn't get done, then the job is not really complete. It will be noticed the next time a cook enters the kitchen--and after determining what's cooking, the basic ground must be cleared for action. Kitchens are such intrinsically dangerous places--with fire, sharp edges, swift motions and slippery water--that one cannot compound the risks with booby traps underfoot.
The Teachings go on and on, a cord, warped and woofed, which is sometimes wound up like a clew, the golden hair of Rapunzel or Ariadne as the Muse: thread, the sutram in Sanskrit, line leading to the heart of the matter, the eye of the Labyrinth, the ball of twine called the Sounday in Bhutan, the apparent, external universe of space and time wound around the eternal core, which itself is imagined as containing as its seed and origin, that which we call, in the conventionalities of language, "the void," or some such, as sunyata or absolutely nothing whatsoever, etc. They have been fabulized as the Ti C'hing in a well-known oral account of the Teahouse of Necessity. Buddy Meier represents the "Teachings" in a scholarly study of Marcel Duchamp's "A Bruit Secret" and thereby reveals simultaneously what it is that Mr. Walter C. Arensberg inserted in that seminal piece of twentieth century sculpture, how it relates to the principles by which, among other things, the logic that underlies the invention and formulation of the traditional Tarot deck was determined, and how this logic is expressed in mathematics, philosophy, Buddhist thought, and so forth. Look for it on your newsstands soon! By the way, with publication of this piece of scholarship, Buddy Meier will be technically completing the original work of art in the direct line of transmission from M. Duchamp himself, at the Cordier & Ekstrom Galleries in New York, in 1965, on the occasion of an impending exhibition of his there Not Seen and/or Less Seen by/of Marcel Duchamp/Rrose Selavy on the day before it opened, having ridden the bus in from Princeton, and finding M. Duchamp left alone in the gallery to inspect the installation), and also via Walter Hopps (in Pasadena in 1968, when Hopps was curator/director/honcho and organized the first major Duchamp retrospective).
Worth noting here, however, are another few entries from Jose Que, acid-eyed dishwasher at the erstwhile Diamond Sutra Cafe (Restaurant, if you prefer). Never mind Que's authoritative commentary on Great White Mexican Restaurants of Central California, or The Nine Categories of Mexican Food, or Two Secrets of Tamale Pie, except to note the following about the last. One of the secrets--WHICH WE ARE NOW BRUITING--is the inclusion of vanilla in the recipe. There! Big Deal. However, as Chef Michael Wild of Oakland's renowned BAYWOLF was the first to call to our attention, there may be problems with the indigenous Mexican vanilla. Ah, sad day in the Sierra Madre, very bleak in Vera Cruz, yucky in Yucatan. They discovered vanilla in Mexico! As far back as the Olmecs, Mexicans--however they called their own names at the time--having discovered the tropical orchid that produces the vanilla bean, then invented its use as an AROMATIC element in the Nine-pointed Mandala Star of Basic Tastes, just as, say, saffron provides the aromatic element in a comparable enneagon for the Old World. The problem is that now the vanilla orchid appears to be afflicted with a plant disease, consequences of which taint the vanilla, rendering it toxic when consumed by human beings. The remains of the refilled Smirnoff vodka bottle that contained La Vittoria Mexican vanilla, in a water--not alcohol--solution, just went down the sink of the kitchen of the Teahouse of Necessity. Now we must use Madagascar vanilla. We await the outcome of a botanical inquiry in order to determine if the vanilla from Madagascar is of the same species as that which will have been used in the pre-Columbian New World.
July 13, 1984.
Friday the thirteenth, and the moon, although it's been full today, will rise still full tonight, as the Grateful Dead are scheduled yet once again to play the concert...where will it be? In the outdoor Greek Theater on the University of California campus at Berzerkly. So let us reflect upon where we are today, usually a wise proceedure as one begins to compose.
Outstanding article in the San Francisco COMICLE, page 28, Larry Walker's byline, "Taking a Deep Look at Food." It's a tout for the American Institute of Wine & Food. Pix by Mike Maloney shows editor David Thompson seated before an old-fashioned typewriter presumably banging out the first edition of the Inst's newly founded JOURNAL OF GASTRONOMY. Thompson is an Englishman who came to the US in 1975 to lecture on film at Dartmouth. He is quoted: "The interest in food is greater on the West Coast. Also, and I think this is important, there is less a sense of food being a doctrine here, more of a sense of fun about food." Which led, (in Walker's words) naturally, to the subject of the much-touted California cuisine. Myth or reality?
It's real, I think. It has a lot to do with the availability of fresh produce. Of course, there has been a lot of press hype. But I think a lot of things have come together here. The influence of Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower, people like that, who are not afraid to experiment. So here's me, Buddy Meier, sitting at the new-fangled IBM PC (personal computer) logged in on Osborne's WORDSTAR, wondering whether or not we can print the substance of Dr. Jose Que's outrageous communication, let alone the actual flaming words. Que's language sometimes smokes as hot as his chillis. "Taking a Deep Look..." Har! har! HAR!
Hey, never mind the deep look, the trenchant inquiries into the psycho-historical origins and Krypto-cosmic implications of La cuisine californienne. No, no, nooo....Let's just take the most superficial, fleeting, allusive look at the food phenomenon in our fairest of Golden States. Let's just slip onto the court and pick up on a few of the names dropped, say on the first bounce. May the spirit of Dionysos bless the Waters/Tower Experiment, and all its successors--for we have fine fine feeding of bellias these days in the totem land of the Golden Bear. Bahl gorms abound. But with these due respects out of the way, dear David, Giant fan out of Dartmouth ought to be well-warned: THE TRUTH IS KNOWN. Now whether or not the truth can be told is quite another matter. We may jolly well see.
All the real truths are in the tunes. That is one of the most precious aphorisms from THE TEACHINGS OF DOG JUAN. The tunes of the times--when California cuisine was being invented--are rock and roll. And the tune in question, that one which provides the answer, was by Skip and Flip. Name it and claim it! What is the name that has to be dropped if we really DO want to take a deep look into the origins of California cuisine? Answer: IT WAS I.
Jose Que. The one and the same character interviewed in the San Francisco EXAMINER waaay back in 1970 where he revealed the recipe for gaddo-gaddo, an Indonesian vegetable dish made with a piquant peanut sauce. Que's full-blown monniker sometimes includes the prefatory titles Professor Doctor (or sometimes "Professore Dottore" suggesting that the titles are not technically legitimate in the academic and professional sense, but rather on the order of honorifics, just as almost any distinguished gentelman with, say, white hair or a gold-tipped walking stick in an Italian provincial city might be addressed "Professore.") Following the Mediterranean tradition, Jose in a formal mode suffixes his mother's family name, "Porque," and infixes his middle name, "Godolphin." This yeilds the following: PROFESSORE DOTTORE JOSE GODOLPHIN QUE Y PORQUE. The Porque is suspect, but is glossed as a "Spanglish" (Spanish/English) representation of "pork." Indeed, Que is far more renowned for his chile verde made from pork than chile colorado traditionally made from beef. According to Que's colleague, Norman Akaya, former busboy at the Teahouse of Necessity, the reference to pork contains loftier allusions, amongst which are the visualization of the Divine Mind in the Tibetan Vajrayana teachings as DORJE PA-MO, who may be seen as a ravishingly beautiful naked lady, resplendent in glowing red skin, adorned with a necklace of human skulls, brandishing a ceremonial sword or dagger, and crowned with the image of a pig--symbolic of Ignorance (but that is Ignorance with a capital "I," indication a divine state of consciousness in which as yet no distinctions have been drawn, so which symbolically represents the primordial state of unified consciousness.) No question about it, Que is a great pig cook.
Last night it was Pig and figs: slowly simmered pork steaks. Now since pork is a meat with high fat content--not bad, since this is what carries a lot of the flavor-‑there is good sense in serving it with fruits, the acidic nature of which aids in the digestion of the animal fats. Fresh, ripe, black mission figs, a sliced pear, seedless grapes go into the pan stew, along with shredded beni shoga (a salty preserved red Japanese ginger root), a splash of Tamari (fermented soy sauce), Mirin (a sweet sake), and just before serving a squeeze of lemon.
July 19, 1984
A little warmup here, reflecting on what is in our bellies since the last writing. An outstanding lunch at Square One. Eleanor gave Buddy Meier and Michael Wild the corner seat from which to survey the floor. Started with a plate of very delicaste Sengalese (Singhalese) soup: chicken bits were a little drier than perfection--the only way to ensure juicy tenderness is to saute very lightly or steam to underdone, then pop them in the pot as it is brought up to serving temperature. Little chopped chives were nice, but perhaps an unnecessarily cholesterol-conscious avoidance of the dollop of sour cream we like to see floating. After all, it is a cream soup, the dairy element being so important in cuisine of the Indian subcontinent. The name of the soup does not refer to Senegal on the western tip of Africa, but to Singha, or Ceylon, called after the Sanskrit word for lion. And to be at all lion-like, the creamy, slightly sweet soup should have more than just the whiff of pepper. Most traditionally, the pepper bits would be black Telicherry from the opposite Indian coast, the mildest of the genus piper, or perhaps a variety of peppercorn from the nearby Malabar coast, somewhat hotter. Lovely Krista brought us braised baby leeks with a mustard sauce that was the delight of the table. The chef (Ms. Goldstein?) provided a smoked pork loin, which elicited the observation that Wild at the Baywolf was surely a candidate for the premier pork cook of the area, but that the pig standard was indeed high. Deserts at Square One can be good, they say, although not up to the Chez Panisse. Nevertheless, both the peach sorbet and the chocolate-cherry ices missed.
For having just been up a few months, the restaurant already seems to be finding its rhythm and style. The most innovative and sensible architecture in San Francisco these days shows in the design of restaurants, as in the exciting building and finishing activity along the sidewalks of downtown. The Moscone Center--or such of it as can be seen--has all the charm of a command bunker, probably designed on secret commission as such with a fall-out shelter for the City's notables and large contributors. The Meridien Hotel rises in the forbidding vertical planes of Castle Bleak, as severe as anything conceived by Albert Speer of the Third Reich. But wander into the places San Francisco eats and there we begin to feel welcome, in a graceful sense of scale, psycho-visually stroked in the ambience of materials carefully chosen and combined for their qualities of color, texture, sound, and even aroma perhaps, as much as for their unfeeling rationale of supposed functionalism.
The good news may that the building of restaurants appears to be the principle attraction for enterprise in the City. Why not? Particularly if they are just about the only places one can feel in harmony with the nature of space and materials, scale, light, and all those other abstractions that together still admittedly fall short of defining the art of architecture. And rarer, with relief, these days are the dark interiors, the pretentious and pseudo-romantic settings where one is asked to eat without being able to see what it is on the plate. Relegated to the erzatz franchises foisted on the fast food class of gourmandise are interiors that mimic Swiss chalets, tratorias in Sorrento, bistros on the left bank. Now we can look back at all that with a handy guide to interior cliches.
The Mexican wrought iron fixtures, bullfight posters and red glass candleholder with the plastic netting around it will immediately indicate what Jose Que calls a "Category 4, or Gone Uptown" Mexican restaurant of the old days. For a while there was a marvellous Mexican seafood restaurant over in Marin county that mainifested a new style--we would have to say "Category 5" in the elusive handbook cryptically titled GREAT WHITE MEXICAN RESTAURANTS OF CENTRAL CALIFORNIA--this is a style of cuisine, still in the process of reemerging, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of a once great tradition now called Krypto-Aztec cuisine. We are beginning to se lots of Italian restaurants of the "Category 5." It is where the food interfaces with the essential principles of California cuisine: the insistence upon freshness; the bias toward whole, natural foods; the care, attention, say love, focussed upon the preparation and presentation of the plate. Connoisseurs of California cuisine are willing, indeed eager to pay a little more, because they know that false economies necessarily block the fullest appreciation of eating. It does take more time to prepare high-quality food, healthy and looking good. Implied are newer, safer, cleaner kitchens, generous work areas, and a high ratio of staff to seats. On the famous bottom this also means paying skilled and sensitive staff as much as possible rather than as little as possible. Naturally the tariff will run higher on the little silver plate. But Americans--anyway, in New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Francisco--are willing to spend a great deal more on food than they have been accustomed to before. In this, they are coming to be much more like the French and Italians, and leaving the ways of the swift, cheap and nasty.
Jose Que cooks mostly at home. That is the big secret, the answer to a recurrent question (Where's the best place to eat in town?) Of course there's a world of difference between the worlds of home hearth and commercial hospitality. "I'm in awe of real cooks," sez Que, "let alone the great chefs. They do something that is not only totally beyond my capacities, but even if I could do it--I have made the occasional cameo appearance--I am quite certain that I do not care to."
The serious cooks of out time are true culture heroes. They quite properly receive public honors coming to them of late. A half a dozen cooks, let us say chefs, from the Bay Area have brought more renown than the refurbished cable cars. They really have: you could get out the scissors and see which pile of clippings from daily newspapers and Sunday supplements across the nation reached the ceiling first. 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. Oh, sure. The symphony and opera are heavily sold out to nouveau-snots. But Philip Glass is about the only composer to stimulate real interest in a living tradition of music--THAT kind of music. But it's hard to find a discussion of KOYANASQUATSI or Glass' revivification of opera in the salons or the saloons of the City. For that matter it's hard to find civilized conversation about music. OK, Maybe something seen as well as heard on MTV, or the social experience of the Bach Festival...but music is not the exciting, driving art form it was in the 1960s. Upon reflection, don't most people remember who they were, what it was like, what was happening, who else was there, and so forth, when SERGEANT PEPPER first came out.
Tantric food is food that gets it on. Food that doesn't hold back. Intensity of flavor, taste, aroma--yes--but with consciousness, with subtlety, balance, harmonic combinations, and with an underlying awareness of the spiritual as well as the social nature of sharing meals together. We eat because we are alive. Making no mistake about that one: life feeds on life. OK, there's a little necessary salt in the diet--and salt is not alive. There are minerals, and occasional substances that are not and never were alive. But for the better part, what we eat has eaten something else before, because it too was alive. This is the meaning of being in a food chain, indeed, at the omnivorus apex of a living and eating pyramid for perhaps a more accurate graphic image. Human beings are rather like bears, omnivores, eating pretty much what they want to, from fresh blueberries to salmon sashimi. But of course how the food is prepared makes certain distinctions, as tooth and claw in lieu of Japanese steel. The paramount distinction between man and beast in practice is that we are cooking animals--a fundamental realization long emphasized by anthropologists such as Claude Levi-Strauss.