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« An elder statesman reminisces and cautions ... | Main | Teeth of Tyrants »

May 11, 2011

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The 'show kitchen' and 'dirty kitchen' are a curious feature that I first encountered in, you guessed it, an Indian friend's house, built to their specifications. What happens to the 'dirty kitchen' is anybody's guess, when the house is eventually sold. Will it be remodelled as a sitting room or bar or into a mini bedroom suite? Why even have a 'show kitchen' at all?
I think that the fancy kitchens promoted by builders of Mcmansions are totally useless from a working perspective. The triangle between the sink/stove/fridge is either distorted into a weird quadrilateral or too large to be practical. Hence the smaller 'dirty kitchen' with its conventional galley or L shape, burners that can be as dirty (or 'succulently spice/oil encrusted' as the cook chooses), while the 'show kitchen' merely serves as an extended side board with gleaming granite.

Several years ago, my aunt had told me that during desi parties, she often found that the oily cooking, frying mostly, was done in the garage rather than in the official kitchen. I guess the architectural innovation is but a logical outcome of that practice. But still, the idea of a "dirty" and "show" kitchen is rather bizarre. I have linked Dean's post on my Facebook. One person left the comment that the idea for him was beyond a Kafkaesque nightmare; it is Vonnegutian!

Sujatha, You are absolutely correct about the uselessness of large kitchens. We once lived in a house with a superficially lovely kitchen, but every time I needed a stalk of celery, I'd have to stroll from the counter across the hypotenuse of the kitchen to the 'fridge, retrieve it, and stroll back to the counter to chop it.

Ruchira, Yes, Vonnegut! Now I wonder: between Facebook and AB, which is the "show" social networking site and which is the "dirty"?

The only house with two kitchens that comes to mind from my personal experience was the large Bel Air mansion of a childhood friend who's family had moved there from the San Gabriel Valley (where we met) after striking rich as a dentist to the stars. The house had belonged at one point to a wealthy, Hollywood connected Jewish family, who had built and maintained separate meat and dairy kitchens. My friend's family, which had imigrated from Korea, used one kitchen on a daily basis, and consigned the other to the use of my friend's grandmother, who lived with the family, and used it for making kimchi. I still remember that one of the rules of playing at my friend's house was not to leave open the door of grandma's kimchi workshop. I guess that made it the dirty kitchen.

I like and get along well with my in-laws. They care for my son one day a week, and we not infrequently see them on the weekend, as well. That said, and without disrespect, I would not want to live with them. Near is great; within the same sound and activity spaces, not so great. Family dynamics are notoriously rough, but any group dynamics are difficult. I wouldn't want to live and raise children with the parents in my exercise group/son's playgroup. I wouldn't want to live and raise children with my office colleagues. I wouldn't want to live and raise children with any of the many roommates I had through boarding school, college, or my early years after college. It's hard enough balancing views on how and when to clean or supervise our son with just my husband.

Also, I read that article on the tandoor manufacturer, and thought only--I like tandoor cooked food and the aesthetics of clay ovens, but I'd never get around to firing up a tandoor, even if I had one. Also, the subtext to me seemed to be the novelty of a Jewish man designing tandoors, built in the heart of America for export all over the world. That subtext strikes me as a little aw-shucks in the face of modern manufacturing, where Europeans design American beer cans for manufacture in Brasil (or whatever), but not offensively silly. The article brought to mind how it used to warm my heart that the best, most authentic bagel bakery near Columbia University was owned and run by a Thai family-- glad to see an embrace of the traditional form pass into the mainstream instead of just the tasteless doughy rings available in supermarket freezer sections (alongside the terrible imitation tandoor chicken). But then, food writing bothering me is the exception rather than the rule. I save my ire for the Thursday Styles section.

Ruchira, Yes, Vonnegut! Now I wonder: between Facebook and AB, which is the "show" social networking site and which is the "dirty"?

You know Dean, I couldn't tell for sure! I "show" off at both places and am "dirty" at neither. But for some reason, I feel, probably correctly, that the people who read me here also know me better than those who only see me on Facebook. So I guess that makes A.B. my "kimchi / oily" kitchen and Facebook serves as the superficial decorative meeting place. Naturally, "dirty" is where I am much more comfortable and creative, just like the desi cooks and Anna's friend's grandmother.

what a great post and thread! i find about half of all supposedly vetted food writing inane. to read the good stuff, go to mfk fisher, richard olney, john thorne, and a very few others. there is little so off-putting as the work of a person who comes on like he knows his subject but does not. writing well about food is like writing well about sex or maternity or loss -- it's not for every hack.

love it about the show kicthen. most american kitchens are show kitchens, now, so thinking to add on a real kitchen is just brilliant. i have cooked dinner parties in mcmansions, and a skate board would have helped. as with every room that goes mainly unused, the kind of design that would make it functional is too unimportant not to fall away.

i would actually like to live with my family. we'd all be better at it now that childhood is truly over.

Elatia, Right on! I'm not familiar with all of the writers you tout, but I'd add Elizabeth David to any list of digestible food writers, and I'd edit your simile thus: Writing well about food is like writing well about anything. Yet for some reason cheesy food writers think they can get away with "uncommon succulence." Even that Bittman guy, whose trademark is simplicity, has seduced a lot of smart readers who ought to know better to consume non-nutritious filler. At random I found his column from a couple days ago in which he debates the merits of pasta primavera, asking whether or not the dish is a "good idea." "I’m all in favor of pasta with vegetables," he pronounces, "but I want to be able to taste them. And I want them to be prepared thoughtfully." I don't recall every reading a recipe prescribing thoughtless preparation of anything.

Anna, Don't you need a license to make kimchi? That stuff is lethal! Yummy, too. No wonder grandma was assigned the remote laboratory to pursue her concoctions. Your remark about bagels reminded me of the Brooklyn Bagel Co., which is located...west of downtown Los Angeles. After catching a show by the Germs and the Weirdos in Hollywood, my buddies and I would head there for a late night, early morning snack, anticipating the shopping carts full of freshly baked bagels.

Ah, LA's music heyday. My residual 13 year old self is green with envy. Brooklyn Bagel Bakery, on Beverly at Alvarado, and yes, it's quite good. I used to go there when I had business at the ACLU's old offices, which were just a couple blocks away, down Beverly (less romantic than your associations, though still positive).

And I see now that Absolute Bagels, run by the Thai family, has my distinguished uncle's vote for best in NY (or among the best), as well: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/31/dining/was-life-better-when-bagels-were-smaller.html?src=pm


1. Though I just ate, I got hungry all over again.

2. In old Italian or Sicilian families, when a daughter got married she moved into an apartment, rent free, if her parents owned and occupied a rental building. Sometimes a couple would buy a house with a downstairs/basement area that could be turned into a private apartment for the bride's mother. We called it a mother-daughter house.

Dean's polemic "skewered" the modernization of the tandoor and "broiled" NYT's Dining journalism as inauthentic; perhaps as inauthentic as the modern tandoor? He his misguided on both counts. What next? Pick a quarrel with the Korean Kimchi and the modern appliance being used by Koreans to make it?

http://www.chungs.co/products/Earthenware-Kimchi-Jars-항아리.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/15/world/asia/15kimchi.html

Dean should instead attempt a column like this where both his blog-journalism and profound knowledge of ethnic culinary artistry are put in full display:
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/11/some-notes-on-the-grammar-of-the-curry-to-someone-from-the-subcontinent-it-is-hard-to-believe-that-indian-restaurant-own.html

I'm not interested in securing authenticity, although I can see how the post might lead a reader to assume I were. In fact, I cringe when I read food journalism going on about cooking "like a (real) Italian." I cook better than some (real) Italians, worse than others. I have almost no knowledge of ethnic cooking. (In addition to western European dishes, I've taken a stab at Thai and Indian, er, South Asian, with decent results.) My gripe, Moin, was with the offhand dismissal of what the article itself deemed "original" (in its simplicity and unsophistication), its positing a standard of authenticity met (of course, how else would the story have ended?) by an innovative modern guy with entrepreneurial drive.

As for the curry à la Barthes, I find it instructive if also just a little insistent. Rishidev equivocates, but not confidently. (An exception is the best line in the post, respecting hot chiles: "They have a lot of flavor.") And while I like the parody of semiotics, I'm not sure how ingredients evolve into signifiers here.


@ Moin and Dean: Food fight?

I'll lob the first tomato Provençal, followed by a velvety nettle velouté with wild Burgundy snails.

Dean, your gripe is a valid one and it is well taken. And I do agree that Rishidev stretched his piece not too convincingly in a few places in the style of Roland Barthes using the structures of Charles Sanders Pierce. Probably Heidegger's meaning of being (in terms of the phenomenology of gustatory experiences) would have been a better comparison. :)
Norman/Dean, I will defend with Mortar & Pestle and belch out garlic fumes to keep Dean at bay. :)

Good article will carry it on Brown Pundits.

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