As we've attempted to make moves with Diaspora, I find myself re-writing business plans, excel spreadsheets, and affirming both visioning exercises and mission statements to help focus the core values of the business, both to make it more holistic, as well as to provide the root of the systems that will make it work. But the one sticking point is when I continue to evaluate menu development, and recipe testing, I find myself somewhat flummoxed.
Creating a menu of things that reflect culture or background require you to dig deep -- to go back into time and memory and relive experiences, places, things that have stuck with you. Meals sit in memory, memories beget contexts, and that thing that you were reflecting on when you had that bite of something you found phenonenal suddenly comes rushing back. It's first times and last times, moments you think will happen another time and never come again. It's times that were magical because of who was behind the wheel at a given restaurant, or a certain time of year. They are whispers, sometimes sweet, sometimes sad, and there is never a time when you can seperate the dish from the context.
Finding coherence in memories and whispers of taste can be a challenging proposition. I draw the lists of endless meals and dishes and divine the things that bring back floods to mind: The mel-y-mato at Cesar in Berkeley. My dads brownies/the brownie at Du-Pars. The lumberjack cake at Frances. Roasted pluots and noyeaux ice cream at Pizzaiolo. Apple dumplings made by a fellow resident in the Stebbins Hall co-op at Berkeley. Bakewell slice in the UK. Trazee peaches from Peacock Ranches. Vickis Tarocco blood oranges from Bernard Ranches. 6-hour long lunches at Aunt Mina's in Tel Aviv, finishing with mint tea, Turkish coffee, home-made schnapps, and baklava, small cookies, and most likely a pound cake of some sort after 13 previous courses (the original tasting menu endurance test). New York crumb cake from Seattles Best in LA. Kanelsnegls in Copenhagen. The babka and various sand cookies of a long-forgotten Jewish bakery in Studio City where there now stands a Panera. The white truffle hazelnut macaron at Pierre Herme in Paris. And let's be real, anything to step foot out of the bakery at Tartine. Deeply caramelly steamed puddings from The Robin Hood, our Van Nuys, CA British pub. Foccaccia with red onion "bruscetta" from our local Italian white tabelcloth joint Spumonte, also in Studio City.
Things like this lend a lot of the mind, and its easy to get lost in fogs of forgotten moments, unlocked feelings for peoples and places where I am not nor ever will be again. It's nice to know my sense of recall is working, and that indeed there are moments of food that permeate strongly through time. Perhaps it's the red wine -- Broc Cellar's 2012 Vine Starr Red Zinfandel, as awesome as the last two vintages I've had the pleasure of having -- that's leaving me a little unfocused in all this listing and reminiscing. But without these memories, the use of personal and cultural history can become an empty, hollow thing, without attachment or purpose. It can become rote, or deeply cynical, or worse, both. A menu, ultimately, reflects much of this. And so focusing on the past is as much attempting to find inspiration as it is to root it down to something meaningful, prescient, and much more powerful.