Monday, February 1, 2010

Who Will Be the Czech "Jamie Oliver?"

There are two spheres of life in the Czech Republic that are wide open for the right talent to walk into and call their own - giant gaping voids that just scream "opportunity!"  The first sphere would be politics which I've written about in other posts.  The second sphere of life in the Czech Republic that is in need of new voices, new talent, & new thought is cuisine.

British Chef
Jamie Oliver
Where is the Czech "Jamie Oliver?" He's the British chef who said "we could make our national food and cuisine and what we serve our kids healthier." The Czech Republic is in bad need of this kind of culinary cultural leadership.
Food author
Michael Pollan

It's interesting to compare what needs to be fixed in American diets and what needs to be fixed in Czech diets.  My hero, author Michael Pollan, writes extensively and entertainingly that Americans eat a lot of "edible food-like substances" rather than real, actual food. He has said Americans are unconscious when they eat processed food.  It's not really "real food." It's an "edible, highly-processed food-like substance" that has been created because processed food adds more profit to ag companies than commodities.

Americans are so guilty as charged! Pollan says it would be hard to create an eating culture that resulted in more heart disease, obesity, and chronic disease than our own, but we Americans have managed to do it.  Most likely, because each one of those health problems is a profit opportunity for someone. So ag companies can make profit on creating unhealthy food and drug companies can make profit on fixing all the health problems created.  You are not a person - you are a profit delivery system for large companies in the American food landscape!

So Michael Pollan asked all of his readers ("The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food" were each chosen as among the top ten titles in the year they were written - both of them are fantastic) to send him their family "food rules" so Americans could begin to develop an eating culture that would not poison them. It has resulted in his new book "Food Rules," a collection of the rules people sent in.

The most well-known food rule people sent is this: Don't eat any food your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize.
Pork knuckle.

What a conundrum. Everything Czech people eat is food their great-grandmother would recognize! If we were doing manual labor on a farm it would be the perfect cuisine: bread and potato dumplings, deep-fried cheese, piles and piles of potatoes, loads of beer (and not light beer either), and inexpensive cuts of beef and pork (did you know pork had knuckles? Pork knuckle is a famous Czech dish). So far, the Czech people look pretty skinny.  But I was seeing the pedestrian Czechs for the most part - not the driving Czechs.  Now that Czechs are beginning to buy cars, I wonder how long they'll stay skinny.

I say the opportunity is right for an inventive Czech chef to update Czechs to the beautiful, wondrous, variety of vegetables out there beyond cabbage and potatoes.  Communism is dead! Czech people, you don't have to eat like a communist or a member of the A/H Empire anymore.  You deserve vegetables in every possible color, not just white. You deserve high-quality meat! There are more exotic things for you to discover beyond bananas!

This mythical chef could possible update gender roles a bit too.  In America, every man I know proudly kicks ass in the kitchen.  Czech men have no idea how fun it is to cook!
Travel Channel host and chef
Anthony Bourdain

Tonight, Anthony Bourdain's American travel show "No Reservations" travels to Prague to see how cuisine has evolved post-communism.  I'm so excited to see what he has to say.

Related posts:
Armchair Traveling With Tony
What Flavor Do You Associate With the Czech Republic?


Chaplain said...

Hi Karen - Nice to see you commending a Brit - Jamie Oliver! He has done much to challenge traditional British attitudes to food and to improve the diet of British children and young people.

In answer to the question, "What is the major ingredient of Czech cuisine?", my wife always answers "Cholesterol!!" However, despite this, you do not see here, the amount of obesity that pervades the US population and, to a slightly lesser extent, also pervades the UK population. Most young Czechs, particularly the young women, tend to be tall and slim. This is partly due to a greater willingness to walk from place to place combined with using public transport. Sadly, it is also partly due to smoking which suppresses appetite something we discussed in comments on one of your previous posts.

Anonymous said...

Keep on posting such themes. I love to read blogs like this. BTW add more pics :)

Karen said...

I would love to add more pics but I just switched to the new version of Blogspot and I can't figure out how to center my photos with the new format! I'm all ears if anyone knows how to do it - I designate each one to be centered rather than on the left. Teach me!

Karen said...

Don't know who Jamie Oliver is? He recently was the 2010 TED prize winner for best idea. His 20-minute video is a must watch:

Ashleigh said...

So what did Anthony have to say, Karen? This is a great post. And as to the pork knuckle thing...they serve that in the Barvarian part of Germany. We tried to order one at the Hofbrauhaus in Germany, but a Russian tour guide kept making our waiter gives my husband's to her continually arriving charges. I hear we have a similar cut in the States...a pork shank...don't really know what a shank is either though...Left Germany without ever trying it...Oh well, next time...

Karen said...

I thought Anthony Bourdain's show was FANTASTIC! I respected his two choices of commentators: David Cerny (who unfortunately used his precious minutes to feed his male ego rather than brag about his homeland) and Evan Rail (who writes on the Czech Republic for the New York Times). I especially enjoyed seeing the village pig butchering and would be sad if Czechs gave that up to comply with EU regs. Czechs, hang on to that! Don't let the regulation types keep you from having local butchering expertise. It's disappearing in American except where deer is heavily hunted. American meat processing is concentrated in the hands of about 2 or 3 companies that now control the entire market. The man making sausage in the video hand-squeezed the sausage contents into each casing with incredible finesse and grace. Bourdain was in awe! He had never seen that anywhere in the world. Czechs, I hope you treasure this.

There was too much blaming of the Commies for what ails Czech food culture. Czechs have an open slate now! In discussing the program with Czechs afterwards, they said the same thing.

Most impressive is that Tony went out to Sapa, a Vietnamese community of wholesale merchants that most Czechs do not even know about or appreciate. He had a terrific Vietnamese meal there.

He didn't cover gypsy food culture. I am not familiar with it so I don't know what could be highlighted.

Bourdain did eat a pork knuckle as I expected. The accuracy of the show was amazing. He highlighted the famous Czech fine restaurant that relies on a cookbook from the 1880s. That only proves my point that Czech food culture is soooo READY for an update.

Karen said...

Grant over at the Gusto Blog recently had a meal that proves my central premise: Czech cuisine needs new voices! Enjoy Grant's meal with him:

Unknown said...

Great post - to be fair to David Cerny though, shows like this are by nature heavily edited. Who knows what all he and Mr. Bourdain talked about. My guess is the editors just decided to go with the saucy bits (food pun intended).

Anna said...

Hi Karen,
it's interesting to hear about our customs from the other side. I am Prague native so I kind of grew up on dishes like pork knuckles (it's our traditional New Year's food I guess because once you eat it you can drink a lot without actually getting drunk-at least that's the idea) By the way have you tried Halusky yet? It's my American husband's czechoslovak dish number One!

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