Psycho Kaler…. Qu’est-ce que c’est


Despite my age I remain for the most part in touch with the fads and fancies of the young. I engage in most of the social media sites and no, I’m not a stalker, just like to stay in touch with the youth because quite frankly for me they are no loner the future, but the present. One way I accomplish this is to listen to the popular music of the day in an attempt to shed a light of understanding their concerns. Music reflects each generation and much of it is born of anger or frustration and by design sound like crap to the older generations. I can relate to that sentiment and like most generations believe mine even invented it. I remind myself how I was as a youngster the media dictated much of my emotions and how I felt, for me the Viet Nam war the defining event. So I get how much of an impact media events can seem monumental while young. Crisis today such as Solange vrs. Jay Z in elevator UFC or the marriage of Kanye and Kim, (a figurative and literal big ass wedding) can have lasting effects on the physiological status of the young and hip. So I dig fads and try to remain aware of what is “hip” or popular.
In my days as a chef in New York City it was essential to be keenly aware of any and all food trends and to follow their lifeline. As an example I’ll chart the course of the darling of the dairy industry through the eighties, goat cheese. What could possibly sound more delicious than curds of aged smelly goat’s milk? But it was tasty and it hit the culinary world balls out. (Or should I say it was a Hella hit?) Prior to its mainstream culinary popularity it was consumed mostly in posh (or arrogant, depending on your view) French fromageries by intelligent beret wearing cheese lovers. But in the early eighties it made appearances in many fine NYC restaurants over salads, such as Aged goat cheese coated in crushed philberts, sautéed and served over a bed of mesclun lettuce with a warm raspberry hazelnut dressing. Many upper eastside bistros served a similar dish and eventually goat cheese made its way downtown to some of the more trendy restaurant, grapes, pear, and goat cheese sautéed over fresh baby spinach with walnut vinaigrette. Not long after that it settled into Greenwich Village where it cemented its place in hip culinary culture by becoming a cheese choice on burgers and as a pizza topping. These days its found its way into the family chain restaurant industry at TGI’s and the like. It was one of the food trends that successfully made the transition to culinary fame.
I supported the goat cheese movement the moment I tasted it, stigma of nanny goats gruff aside. There is another new trending food though I am having difficulty getting behind. Kale! Kale is nothing more than a spinach imposter that even gets snubbed by Brussel sprouts. Touted as the worlds healthiest food and despite its attractive purple variety kale tastes like bitter angry collard greens dipped in ipecac and sautéed with fine metal shavings. While I will admit to its health benefits and its outstanding array of vitamins I come from a time when kale was considered urban seaweed. And I also admit it had a rough upbringing, it could not have been easy in a family consisting of broccoli, cauliflower, and collar greens, between the constant harassment of children who despise the entire family as early as its pabulum eating stage, and then the horrible George Bush moment when a sitting American president admitted openly to not liking broccoli, kale had to live in some pretty dark shadows. And yes the cute curly leafed veggie held prominent status in the middle ages, but at that time chastity belts were all the rage as well, and well… when’s the last time you hear of anyone wearing one of those things? Hell I’ll even cop to have used purple kale in many a crudite display in my career, but for me kale has a special dark spot in my heart, I once confused it for spinach in a high pressure moment.
I was in culinary school, our chef instructor was know for handing out reports when he caught you off guard. Its well documented the times he had students scratching their heads trying to guess at the height of a curry bush while most of the other students chuckled. Many a student was given an assignment of listing the 16 essential ingredients in curry or the genetic difference between fruits and vegetables and so on. With only two days left in his kitchen I had so far escaped being given a report an was certain I could finish the last two days without consequence. I experienced a minor lapse of attention during the height of service the chef handed me a pan of braised kale an yelled “JT, take this spinach over to the veg kitchen right away” I obediently grabbed the pan and offered a smug “yes chef”….. That’s when he stopped me. “Oh so this is spinach huh? Suppose you bring me four page report tomorrow on difference between spinach and kale?” Busted! Caught off guard that sneaky premeditating chef had me cold. I have never forgotten that stupid report. I was up until after midnight working on the damn thing without the benefit of Google or Wikipedia!. Perhaps that’s why I know so much about this new and hip uber-healthy bitter star of a veggie, and maybe, just maybe its why I harbor some degree of anger as well. Perhaps the bad taste in my mouth is not the result of this leafy wonder cooked incorrectly but the taste of a memory scar from my school days. That’s it, its time to forgive and show what a big person I am so right this minute I’m gonna cook up some braised kale with caramelized leeks. Wait, I almost forgot, no hip new dish is complete with a tried and true food fad, so I’ll top it off with some broiled, ash covered aged goat cheese…

2 thoughts on “Psycho Kaler…. Qu’est-ce que c’est

  1. Loved this! I too come from that age when Vietnam was the big event, and now have a daughter who is always touting the merits of Kale, even sharing a delicious sounding receipe on her blog recently. I’ve yet to try it, although I have graduated to loving swiss chard. Anyway, caramelized anything sounds yummy to me, especially when served with goat cheese.

    1. Thank you so much, I truly appreciate it. It certainly was a great time to grow up although at the time I believe it was the worst. Many causalities of the era not just from the war but from many other events. I a will check your site over the weekend.

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