Peasant food: Gourmet cooking, recession style


The history of cuisine is pretty fascinating stuff. It's amazing to realize that, with a slightly different climate here, a different trade route there, and a different economy over there, many great foods might never have developed. I can even see this process over the course of my lifetime; for example, America's economic recession in the 1970's sparked a home cooking revolution that was absolutely revolutionary, changing almost every aspect of the culinary landscape. Even now, decades later, it is still playing out.

When I was a little kid, my parents worked and studied in Georgetown, a ritzy district of Washington, DC. The fact that we spent so much time there, combined with my parents' healthy incomes, meant that we ate at upscale restaurants three or four times a week. As inflation increased, however, I noticed that my family spent more and more time sitting around the dinner table. My mother, who had learned a few dishes while living with my father in Korea, started out by cooking either the bulgoki that we loved or a pasta recipe that she had picked up from her Italian godmother. As time went on, though, she got subscriptions to Bon Appetit and Gourmet, picked up a copy of Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and began stretching her skills in the kitchen. I don't think that her original goal was to replicate the fine dining that she and my father were used to, but that is what she ended up doing. Although they couldn't afford to eat at their favorite Georgetown restaurants, my parents discovered that they could easily afford to make top-notch gourmet food at home.