Roasted Vegetable Napoleon redux: Meals requiring a day of prep, Is it worth it?
December 2, 2010 § 1 Comment
You may think I’m referring to Thanksgiving here, as it just passed and holds title for the one day of the year that Americans collectively come together to really enjoy their food. But, I’m not. This brief missive is inspired by a dinner a small group of friends shared in which our host, good friend R., gathered us to serve the savoury Roasted Vegetable Napoleon she had recently made from the Real Food Daily cookbook and was quite excited about. I’m guessing this napoleon took away half of R.’s waking hours to put together, and I say this because I arrived at 3pm in the afternoon to do a bit of learning at which point she was only about half way through her prep. work!
The dinner was lovely. This is the sort of food that puts the cloud of vegan or vegetarianism aside, and rests on the fundamental merit of excellence. In the midst of enjoying the wonderful meal, we wondered if it was really worth R.’s time to make, considering it took nearly her entire Saturday to prep and cook. Of course being on the receiving end, our answers were unanimously yes. R., however, describes the experience as a process that she enjoys immensely, and not necessarily as a finished product with a ‘worth’ stamped on it, measured in time. R. takes great pride in her work, in the technique, the process, the construction, all of it, and that pride of practice is apparent in the plate. Creating inspired food is a hobby not unlike sailing or running, only at the end of the day you’re able to share the benefits of your hobby with others. The evening meal becomes an added bonus to top off a day spent practicing something you love to do while discovering, experimenting and creating something new and tangible during the process.
I have to say, my social life has transformed in response to my new appreciation for food. Sit down dinners over wonderful meals and good conversation have taken over from the consistently interrupted restaurant dining experience that often restricts the time period of your evening and carries over into other less meaningful activities to fill in the space. The new delight in researching techniques, playing with ingredients and making things I might never have otherwise is an active dialogue shared amongst foodie friends at the dinner table. I don’t know why it is, but discussions about food open people up in a way that no other topic, short of war stories, tends to do. Maybe it’s that feeding and nourishing a person at your table is a means of creating a unique bond that mimics an aspect of the parent-child relationship in some way. Perhaps I’m stretching here.
In The Making of a Pastry Chef, a book I’m currently reading, Andrew MacLauchlan traces the history of the pastry from the first crackers cooked on sun-exposed rock and man-kind’s first ovens made to bake some of the world’s first recorded breads (at least as we know them, courtesy of the ancient Greeks), all the way to modern times. He describes the evolution experienced by the ancient Romans in which food’s role in life moved from the center of sustenance to the center of celebration,
Cooking, up to that time considered a lowly job, became known as high art and was heavily influenced by the food of its conquered territories. Early Roman feasts included many new tastes as trade with Asia, Persia and the Middle East introduced apricots, peaches, plums, quinces, and raspberries to Rome’s orchards, spawning the first international cuisine. The convergence of many ingredients gave rise to a culturally specific and complex cuisine. Food and dining held significant meaning beyond mere sustenance; they now related to celebration and revelry in the form of banquets and festivals.
In my own evolution, abundance of time and resource has spawned meaningful preparation and frequent revelry around large dining tables with good friends and many who have become so after sharing in the experience of witnessing someone’s laboring in a kitchen for half a day to ensure that each layer of a Roasted Vegetable Napoleon boasts the flavors and textures that will make the whole a masterpiece. So, is it all worth it? That entirely depends on what food means to you. If you’re reading this then the answer is most probably a hearty yes.
How has your culinary experience evolved or flourished over the years?