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Eat Out

(It seems to me that the RCBfA have been AWOL lately, so why not dress up this rant with a nice illustration?)

Fellow port-swillers who also dip in from time to time over at the Llamas will know that Robbo has found himself immersed in a project to re-do the countertops and cabinets in his kitchen, the old 70’s stuff finally having decided to start crumbling precipitously.

Fortunately, between the time I started this post and the time I am completing it, the headaches associated with such immersion – principally centering around a surprisingly violent disagreement over the choice of countertops – have been resolved.  So instead of using this space to vent about any one person in particular, I can instead settle in for a good, old-fashioned, generalized rant.  Here goes:

One of the most irritating irruptions of modern architecture to me is the advent of the “gourmet” (pronounced “gerrrr-may”) kitchen.   No McMansion is au courant without one the size of a young basketball court.  And anyone with a house older than ten or fifteen years who hasn’t dropped 100K to graft such an outsized growth on to it is, well, what can we say? NQOKD, my dear.   And as soon as one even begins to consider even the most modest of upgrades, one suddenly realizes that the propoganda is everywhere: whole forests are felled for the purpose of selling John Public on the promise of turning his humble little hot-plate-and-percolator corner into a glittering center of haute cuisine and social prestige.

Feh.  As you may suspect, I cannot stand the gerrr-may kitchen.

First of all, almost none of this has anything to do with the traditional function of the kitchen.  It is my experience that for all the whizz-bang gadgets and high-tech gear put into them, all the multi-temp ovens, digital climate-controlled refrigerators, precision gas stove-tops and the like, to say nothing of the no-stick cooking surfaces and high-end, garish cabinetry and counter tops,  most of the people who have them don’t actually…..ah….cook, in any meaningful sense of the word.  When on their own, they usually seem to bring home something pre-prepped at Balducci’s that could be reheated using nothing more than direct sunlight and a large bowl lined with tin-foil.   And when entertaining, they usually cater anyway.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I am revolted by the modern custom of entertaining in the kitchen (which, of course, is the real justification behind shelling out so much jack for both the aforesaid gadgets and the infrastructre surrounding them).   To me, hanging around the kitchen watching the hostess cook reheat oversee the catering of dinner is really no different than hanging around her bathroom watching her get dressed.  For Heaven’s sake, whatever happened to privacy in preparation? 

When I was a boy, we had an enlarged, framed, New Yorker cartoon hanging up in the kitchen.  In it, a flustered woman is hard at work in her kitchen amidst the chaotic detritus of her preparations for a dinner party.  Her husband is standing in the doorway along with their guests and saying, “Blanche is a gourmet cook.  Aren’t you, dear?” 

I always found that very funny.  I still do.  I strongly suspect that most owners of modern gerrr-may kitchens wouldn’t get it at all.

(I should mention here that the Mothe was, and still is as far as I’m concerned, the best chef I have ever known, which is why we had the cartoon.  During our recent hols in Maine, I watched her make the most tasty blueberry pie from scratch in the very modest kitchen of her summah cottage.   No yo-yo with a gajillion dollar gerrr-may kitchen could have come close to such a yummy dessert.  But like me, she is also a firm believer that there is a reason for that swing door between the kitchen and the dining room.)

Now, some readers will say here that that such ignorance, and the trend in kitchen socialization as a whole, are functions of the modern emphasis on casualness.   And there is something to that, of course.  But in the specific case of the gerr-may kitchen, I think the root causes go beyond the mere hippyish revolt against formality.  As I say,  the main raison d’etre of the modern gerr-may kitchen is not, in the end, utlitarian.  No, it serves strictly as a status symbol: You install your top-o’-da-line*** granite countertops and your Mongolian grill with the silent ventilation system not because it matters a wet slap to your actual culinary output, but instead because you want to show all your friends and acquaintances that you have the readies to blow on such installation.   And being modern themselves, they instinctually know this, which is why they almost invariably congregate in the kitchen.

As I say, Feh.


*** Spot the quote.  Hint: It has nothing to do with kitchens.

Baby BottlesCourtesy of H.M. Government

Time is being called on the traditional beer glass as the Home Office calls in experts to develop a safer pint pot. The move follows growing concern at the number and extent of injuries caused in violent incidents involving glassware each year.

Over the next four months a team of designers will produce a range of drinking vessels that are not only a safer pint glass but, crucially, find favour with the public.

Although there is confidence that the designers can produce a safer glass, the key problem is overcoming the drinkers’ attachment to the traditional pint glass.

Sebastian Conran, who heads the Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance Against Crime, said: “There are existing plastic glasses and if you go to a baseball game in the United States you can buy beer in a paper cup.

“People are quite used to drinking beer out of plastic and paper things but there is a feeling that in public, it is a traditional thing to drink beer out of a glass.”

The dimpled pint glass with a handle has been in long-term decline for decades, replaced since the 1960s with a lighter, straighter pint glass. The new glass, with a bulge about an inch from the top, is easier for staff to collect and solves the problem of straight glasses chipping at the rims.

Mr Conran said that reducing the estimated 87,000 injuries caused every year by glassware is the key behind the initiative. “We want to find something that will end the situation where shards of glass can inflict quite horrible injuries,” he added.

The ambition is to design a more attractive pint glass with a material that will not shard on breaking, he said.

Ye, Gods.  Doesn’t the very title “Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance Against Crime” just give you the screaming heebie-jeebies?


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August 2009