What would RTH do?

That is the question.

If I were in a highschool yearbook, they would vote me most likely to die of a lynch mob. That does not prevent me from opening my mouth and serving a warm hearty cup of STFU to people who deserve it. My dark scathing humor will leave no matter of existence untouched. My innocence will touch your soul.

Welcome to a warped world turned inside out and upside down. All sorts of discretion advised.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Burgers, Fries, All things tasty and nice

That's what America should be of.

Here in Madison, we have a great local brew pub - The Great Dane. It is your quintessential Wisconsin brewery that produces a wide range of exquisite craft brews. Along with the seasonal ales, lagers, stouts and porters their menu boasts of some delicious good old fashioned pub food burgers, fries, chicken wings and all the jazz. This is Madison though, and in a true Madisonian twist their menu is quite eclectic and international serving unique and global foods. You can have an Asian influenced sesame seared tuna salad or have a classic Middle Eastern falafel. Perhaps your palette craves something out of the ordinary like an African styled peanut stew or perhaps something spicy to tingle your taste buds like a Jamaican jerk or Indian tandoori. At The Great Dane, you could take a culinary tour around the world and come back extremely satiated.

My favorite item on their menu is the Brat & Bacon Pretzel burger. This is one whopping burger. Big, juicy, messy, cardiac arrest on a bun, but oh so very tasty. First they take your traditional beef burger patty, then top it off with a quarter pound of bratwurst patty. If that is not enough they top your patties with strips of thick cut applewood smoked bacon. Of course you get your usual fixings of lettuce, pickles and tomato. Then they take fixings to a whole new level of goodness with caramelized onions and sharp cheddar adding that kick of zest. A masterpiece like this cannot be served on any ordinary wimpy burger bun. It requires something special to hold up to all that flavor. Soft fresh baked pretzel bun is the perfect bread to pull together this burger. The burger is then served with your choice of side and a Pilsner mustard. Screw cardiac arrests, this is heaven in a mouthful.

The reason I really love this burger is because it has taken the state of Wisconsin and compressed it all into one burger. This is no ordinary burger. Every bite is bursting with the culture of Wisconsin, the heritage of Wisconsin, and the history of Wisconsin. We are after all a blue collar state, a state of immigrants, meat packers, brewers and dairy farmers. Our shared culture gives us the love for beer, brats and cheese and of course the Green Bay Packers. What better way to represent all than than the Brat and Bacon Pretzel Burger.

That is the power of food. Food is not just about eating. It is a means to nourish the body as well as the soul. Spices and flavors don't just make food taste better, they tell stories about people, their culture, their history. Restaurants, diners, cafes, food trucks and the likes don't just serve meals, they serve a community. They bring people from diverse backgrounds and diverse beliefs together around the table to share a meal and the passion for food.

For the longest time food and foodies in America received a bad reputation. Only the lazy, unfit or obese would obsess with food and the world that revolves around food. With channels like Food Network and Cooking channel, food has finally received a makeover and is getting its fair due. There is a food revolution going on in America. Eating, our long neglected cultural ally is finally making it back mainstream and earning the reputation it deserves. Various food related shows now highlight the fresh produce and ingredients found in America and the wholesome as well as indulgent foods that are made from it. There are shows that pay ode to our small towns, urban scenes, immigrants, micro cultures and all the various things that meld together to form Americana.

A personal favorite of mine is Guy Fieri's Diner's Drive Ins & Dives. This show is not about the elite restaurants catering to the rich or sophisticated. This show is about the smaller guys, the home style cooks, the family owned little joints, the eclectic & eccentric highlights of quaint little towns across the American landscapes. This show is about food that wraps itself around your soul, comforts you, loves you and takes you to a happy place away from all the worries in the world. Of course part of it is with the layers of grease and fat hugging your organs while adding inches to your waist, belly, hips and butt - but there is good stuff too - and in this crazy crazy world we live in, we could all do with some grease and fat in our lives. Its cheap and tastier than recession, depression and unemployment.

Another favorite is Eat St. on The Cooking Channel. Street food and farmer's market are booming in the United States. People had limited incomes in developing countries of South America, Africa and Asia. So students and working professional relied on street foods, good delicious, cheap foods that reflected local products and cuisine. With food trucks bursting onto the scene Americans are quickly adapting to the street food scene. Why go for the same old junk fast food when inexpensive and tasty alternatives are available on your neighborhood food truck. I always find it amusing that back home in India people are quickly being enamored by supermarkets, fast foods, chain restaurants and abandoning years of mom and pop stores, street food and local produce while here in America we have received a wake up call and are abandoning our commercialism to retrace our roots our blue collar and immigrant heritage.

Cooking Channel recently had a pilot show called Eden Eats, where a gorgeous former culinary student Eden Grinsphan eats her way around the globe in one American city. In the pilot she tasted African, Mexican, Eastern European, Moroccan, Filipino, Lebanese and Cuban cuisine within twenty four hours at Austin,Texas. I dearly hope that they make more Eden Eats shows in different cities because this is another show that reflects the multiculturalism that gives each American city its flavor.

Call me crazy and weird, but the truth is sometimes when I watch shows like these -I often find myself holding back some tears welling up in my eyes. Its the nourishment for the soul, there is an emotional and cultural experience to food that most people don't get. It warms my heart to see a young teenager eagerly learning and preparing their grandmothers recipe that has been passed on through generations in their family. I can feel the passion when an immigrant family shares their journey and how they share their culture through food. I feel as part of a community when regulars visit a joint over and again and tell us how the place has been unchanged since their childhood days. I can feel the love and commitment when people buy joints or communities come together to save a local favorite from tanking or being shut down. I totally get it when doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers and all sorts of fancy job holding folks take a leap of faith quit their day jobs and follow their passion for food.

Food sometimes can often bring out the best in people and bridge gaps. For example I'm cynical of American Christians, especially evangelical Christians. I often feel that they are holier than thou and extremely judgmental. I get sick and tired of their endless ramblings about Jesus and being saved. Their prejudices against homosexuals, immigrants and other religions make me furious. So chances are that in most other settings I would have not warmed up to Christian chef Lance Nitahara. He is a chef at Camp of the Woods a Christian Conference center with ministries that subscribe to some very hard core fundamental Christian beliefs the kind that irks me.

However, because my introduction to Lance was in the land of food my perspective of him is completely different. I actually admire him, adore him and have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Cast aside the cocky ass hole chefs you see on shows like Hells Kitchen or Top Chef. They are not true chefs with a passion for food but commercial puppets. Lance Nitahara is a chef in the truest sense. It definitely is a combination of his Hawaiian heritage, love for food and Christian beliefs that make him a graceful man. He was graceful in defeat his first time around on the show Chopped and honorably acknowledged his competitor Madison Cowan who beat him in the final round. Then he was graceful in victory in the redemption episode where he considered his competitor Yoanne Magris whom he beat that she was equally the winner and chose to share his prize money with her so that she could visit her grandma. I'll admit, I definitely welled up when he did that.

Put a plate of delicious food on the table and the walls that divide just fade away. We enjoy the warmth and comfort of food, and sharing the joy of food, we have that in common and perhaps we can start there. I may have a lot against southerners, we may clash violently on our political and social beliefs, but we all will probably agree there is nothing like shrimp and grits or biscuits and gravy and perhaps we can start by sharing a hot southern breakfast. Up here in Wisconsin we may kick and scream over Scott Walker, government and politics, but we all will agree over our fine Wisconsin brews and cheeses and perhaps we can start at the pub with cold beer and a cheese plate. No matter what your views on immigrants or Jews or Muslims or Asians, we all could do with delicious tacos, matzo ball soups, spicy kebabs and melt in your mouth pot stickers, perhaps we all can start at our multicultural dinner tables.

All our lives we are taught to chase success. Our commercial culture is enamored with big corporations and bustling metropolis. We've forgotten our farmers, our small towns and our blue collar workers. Even our voted officials probably don't know we exist, but these diners, drive-ins, dives, food carts, farmers markets and kitchens all over America have not forgotten us. They have diligently been serving us for decades, feeding us, nourishing us. What would we be without the dear old lady whose happiness in life is rolling out pie dough and baking pies to feed us? What we be without the line cooks serving up pancakes, crispy bacon, skirt steaks, fries, greasy burgers 24/7, 365 days a year? What would we be without all those little  family owned places that brought a whole new world to our dinner plates? I don't adore celebrities, business tycoons, successful managers, politicians, managers or any of those people we ought to. I look up to that guy who peels potatoes all day, does that all his life and his content about it. I look up to the people who flip burgers all day and are happy because they feed people. I look up to those who sweat it out in kitchens whether its in a small home or a big restaurant and take delight in serving people. I look up to people to whom success and reward is full belly, thankful taste buds and a content smile.

If you think about it it is these food places that have held America together. Today these are the few places where the American dream is still alive. They represent our history of a hard days work and making it. They probably hold the secret, the glue to make us forget our differences and bring us all together. So the next time you are pissed of over the government, stressed out over the economy, upset over differences in social, economic, political or religious views - keep the guns, the swords and even the pens away and grab the kitchen tools. Bake dozens of cookies and share it with the neighborhood. Lets go back to the days where we have more pot lucks and share more dinners with neighbors. Ditch the superstores and super chains and go to your local farmer, local diners, and local joints. Throw away the differences and enjoy the feel of community at a local hang out. Get over your prejudices and immerse yourself in a new food culture and we might find surprising common ground.

There is a lot driving America apart, but if there is one thing our size XL roly poly nation with beer bellies, jiggling bits and chubby cheeks has in common is the love of food. We all have the love of burgers, fries, all things tasty and nice. Let that not be an embarrassment to us. Let us use our love common to bring us together. Corporate America, Government and everyone else has failed us. But we still love burgers, fries, all things tasty and nice. Let that be what America is made of.

Bon Apetit.

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