THIS WEEK IN NYC 
 
 
MANHATTAN CHRONICLES GLIMPSE
From CULINARY SUCCESSES IN AMERICA
 

CULINARY SUCCESSES IN AMERICA

 
 
"We are publishing our own cookbook: LUKEWARM FUSION." Chef Pelzer

What’s wrong with cookbooks: the recipees. No matter how perfect they are or how much asidousness goes into them they will never be anything except a small part of the culture they come from. Recipees are a primitive form of language, a kind of baby talk transcribed by missionaries. Sure, your food engineer of another place and time can reproduce them, but they will always be surrounded by the culture of the student, not the culture they spring from. A Wasp-made Mexican dish will be Wasp, just like the Jewish food still cooked by the Puerto-Rican cook at the B&H deli is Puerto-Rican, no matter what shape the dumplings. The current cult of exotic food in America is just affectation like everything else worshipped for its oddness: it’s just an attempt to cure boredom by changing formal, not substantial elements. Decor and decorum. Host display. Time and timing and atmosphere are culture, everything else is random notes.

 
"Is anything Wrong?"
Japanese chef at tourist trap seafood joint in Spokane
 
After we traded in wonder the tiny pieces of boring half-cooked not-so-fresh salmon atop the exhausted garlic mashed potatoes ladled from the bottom of the pot by a hateful busboy, the panicked waitress appeared at tableside with a dramatically worried look in her running-mascara eyes. Don't you like the food? she alarmed. The forty dollar entrees sat between us like dirty towels. They are boring, we are from New Orleans, I said. Do you want some Tabasco? she permitted herself a joke. I would like you to put a bottle of Tabasco up the chef's ass, is what I wanted to say. Instead, I said: forget it! Thirty seconds later the restaurant manager appeared: Don't you like the food? Would you like something else? I would like to forget this place, I said. Ten seconds later, a Japanese chef with a sushi knife appeared at their side, his head hung in shame. It is fresh fish, he said. The manager looked hard at him. The waitress looked expectantly at the manager. I would like you to apologize, I said, pointing at the sushi knife. The chef, who had been snagged from his failed sushi place by the tourist trap and forced to cook the salmon he'd otherwise had filleted raw, bowed to the ground, then straightened up and made a swift incision across his stomach with the sushi knife. Blood spurted over us and the tired salmon. The waitress licked her lips when blood drops fell on them. The manager wiped her spattered forehead. The salmon looked speckled with red dots. It's much better now, I said. That was definitely worth the price. By the time they carted the chef away and the manager had been arrested, we had a satisfying two hours in the tourist trap. The waitress quit and left with us for the hotel where we had a threesome.
 
 

                                                                                                                     Andrei Codrescu is a poet, novelist, and NPR commentator living in New Orleans.