“Go to your record store. Go all the way to the back on the left hand side and look on the bottom. On the bottom they have a record box called miscellaneous. We, unfortunately, are miscellaneous. It means no category. Just in this box here.” — Gil Scott-Heron “Is That Jazz”
I’ve watched for years as journalists and media outlets have created names, labels and tenuous definitions for cooking styles and restaurants and foisted them on the public. And, to be fair, I’ve done my part adding fuel to this fire. It’s “Southeast Asian Barbecue,” “New York Malaysian,” “Malaysian influenced American Cuisine” or “New Brooklyn Cuisine.” The contrived and obscure definitions that have been tagged to creative projects in which I’ve been involved in makes for a long list. Do they offer real insight into what is happening in my restaurants or others… well, maybe, sometimes…? The answer: Nothing is so clear.
Back in the early 2000s at Chickenbone Café we used the term “Brooklyn Global” to define the cuisine. Why? Because we needed to give it a name, give people a point of reference, even if said point really had no point at all. What the term did require was a back-up statement of “well, you know, I buy from the Polish grocer in Greenpoint, the Hasidic appetizing store on Lee St., the Sicilian gelateria in Bensonhurst, the pig farmer in Sullivan county and, of course, Chinatown.” The ethnic diversity of the places I shopped formed a definition for the cuisine but the cuisine had no clear link to the ethnic cuisines tied to those shops or locations. It is and was New York.
New York is miscellaneous. And, unlike the above quote from the great Gil Scott-Heron, this is not unfortunate. This ethnic milieu is a category unto itself and, creatively, at least as far as my world extends, I like the idea of stopping the naming process right there. We cook New York cuisine.
Pitting one style against another is not New York style. New York style is picking out one piece from this style, one piece from that style and combining it to create something unique, something that consciously, or not, takes advantage of the city’s incredibly diverse resources. Something that could only be created in New York because we are all jammed into “this box here”.
This is what is Happening Now. This is fucking cool. Whether it’s one of the Fatty stores, the boys at Roberta’s, Torrisi, Ignacio Mattos at ISA, one of Chang’s spots, Carmellini or Vinegar Hill House (the list goes on and on and so many are far more worthy of the New York stamp than I…) we’re all cooking New York food. But let’s not call it a “redefining” of New York food, let’s refer to it as the “next movement,” for there have been many before and will be many after. And, within this “next movement” let ambiguity, equivocation and experimentation thrive and polarization, parameters and themes fade to the background.
This is somewhat of an expansion on an idea posited in a previous Alimentary Canal column we called “Just Cookin’”. To refine that idea, we’re “just cookin’” in New York. And we’ve stopped searching for names and have focused on searching for substance.
Of course, in the spirit of this idea, it does not apply to all….
Last week’s The Alimentary Canal: A New Type of Bottle Service