Food for the Body and for the Soul

 

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When I started to share my new Young Adult novel with my writing critique group, everyone asked for more food descriptions. I have several scenes set in French restaurants and picnics in the California foothills. I knew there would be food in the story but not that food would somewhat play a role. Now that I’m deep into revision I realize that beyond the general “food” thing I intended to write about the value of nature, the impact of commercial real estate on our cities and towns, the importance of the places where we eat, whether they are homes, restaurants, or the outdoors. Of course, there is no way to develop each of these themes in one novel, especially for teenagers.

So, no, my new novel is not about food.

But.

Food is often on my mind.

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One thing I witnessed shortly after arriving in the US was how food seemed to be something people wanted to put out of their way. Grocery errands and cooking from scratch appeared to be a total waste of time. Eating was probably the same since I often saw people snacking or even having lunch in their cars and at the office while working. Also guilt was often associated with food. I had never heard the word “diet” as much as in the US.

“Are you done or still working on your plate?” is still the strangest American question one can ask me.

Since the 1990s when I was the weird mother who cooked and baked (nothing complicated at all), never used paper napkins, paper cups or plastic utensils when my kids’ friends came over for lunch, countless mothers and fathers have changed their cooking, eating and food culture habits.

The farm to table movement, the come back of farmers’ markets, the search for locally grown food contribute to reinforce the idea that we are what we eat and that food is more than just food. There is a true revolution around the way we grow and raise what we eat, naturally linked to politics and ecology.

And I had never met anyone who embraced this revolution as deeply and sincerely as David Levi, the executive chef of Vinland, a restaurant in Portland, Maine.

Everything he and his team use in the cooking and baking is from Maine. Including the coffee. This is why there is no olive oil, no lemon and no black pepper and that the wines come either from other parts of the Northeast or from Europe.

Vinland is not a vegan restaurant but vegetarians will find plenty options and anyone is asked about dietary restrictions. David Levi’s cooking and baking is organic and gluten free.

Price is a valid reason for avoiding renowned restaurants. But if you are lucky to live close enough to Portland, look for the off-season special menu that offers a five-course meal for less than $40 per person. I promise you that you’ll feel like tasting food for the first time and you’ll leave wanting to try to eat more consciously. For you. For your loved ones. For the world.

It is always best to let the people behind an extraordinaire project talk for themselves. If you believe in change one plate at a time or are simply intrigued to learn how a chef manages to run a 100% made in Maine restaurant, read Vinland Manifesto here, listen to David Levi’s Ted talk here, and go to Vinland.

I had been once to the small sparsely decorated restaurant shortly after its opening. I know that it is sometimes a mistake to return to a place that has left an unforgettable impression on the mind.

But.

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From the first leaf of salad to the last spoon of the salted blueberry semifreddo, from the knowledgeable but never pushy waiters to the Swedish-like soothing décor, from the gorgeous earth ware plates to the restrooms (yes, they matter in a restaurant, and at Vinland I could stay there indefinitely to read and re-read the beautiful poem written on the wall, wash my hands again and again just to dry them with the individual hand towels scented with a subtle blend of herbs), from the wild flowers in the small vases to the flickering votives I knew I couldn’t wait to come back. Again.

Because such a place leaves you transformed, wishing you never had to eat anything else, anywhere else again.

Sounds exaggerated? It’s only due to the explosion of flavors, to the freshness of the produce and the perfectly cooked meat and fish, to the exquisite presentation, and to the loving purposeful care put in every plate.

Some people cook and bake like gods and goddesses. Very few have a human plan behind their cooking. And only one in the entire world is doing that from a 100% local perspective.

Chapeau. Hats off.

I bow.

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P.S. Although I wish I could eat more often at Vinland, I can’t. But the place inspires me to make better food choices that respect our bodies and the world around us. I’m also very lucky to live with a man who makes godly ceviches and basil and lime sorbets, among other awesome dishes. His food sustains me as I revise the food scenes in my novel.

P.S.#2 The photos for this blog post are 100% made in Maine.

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Comments

  1. Portland is such a food city. Thanks for pointing out one place that deserves some attention.

    • You’re right about Portland. In the late 1990s, though, it was mostly the small eateries near the harbor. In the last decade so many high profile have settled there that it gets busier and busier and also probably hard to compete. This specific restaurant is unusual and the people behind quite interesting. I loved the food and although none of us can cook and even find all the ingredients used in the kitchen, it’s a unique experience. Try it if you happen to be around once. But check for their special events, otherwise it can be pricey.

  2. I loved that you said, “…change one plate at a time.” This is what it comes down to in our kitchens.

    Having two vegan sons blew my mind, as a harried single mom, trying to get dinner together, but this change in our household (although I’m not vegan) really made me slow down and think what I’m putting into my mouth. This helped me to slow down with preparation (plus the boys took over the cooking) and the enjoyment of food like you reference that Americans don’t usually do.

    The idea of food, in a YA book, is so cool because I do believe more youth are aware of their food choices and how those choices impact the environment and their health.

    • Thank you, Mona, for your meaningful comment. One of my daughters is constantly playing with the vegetarian and even vegan lifestyles, so I’ve learned quite a few things too. But she’s still very young and too busy to take it as seriously as she wished. However, like your sons, she is more conscious about food and its provenance that most young people.
      I hope you’re right about the idea of food in a YA novel. Honestly, it took over at some point and I figured it was for one reason.
      Thanks again for stopping by.

  3. mais c’est tellement bien écrit, tout ça…je pars en vacances, tu me fais une petite traduction in french, chère Evelyne ? Pour le blog ? Bises bises

  4. Two of the main characters in my novel in progress (both of whom are also in novel #1) would live on pizza and canned soup if left to their own devices. One of them now has a live-in partner who likes to cook, and they live in second-floor apartment above the former’s mother, who cooks in the Portuguese-American style common to southeastern Massachusetts. The other has been taken under the wing of her longtime neighbors. What I’ve noticed in this book in particular is how many crucial conversations take place at the supper table — and maybe a third of the current manuscript takes place over Thanksgiving weekend. So the social aspect of eating (and cleaning up) is as important as what they’re eating.

    • Oh I love that! You are so right about what goes on around a table. So much more than just eating. Have you read The Table Comes First from Adam Gopnick? It’s not my favorite book of his but he’s writing about this concept. I cannot wait to read your novel when it’s out.

  5. What a great post highlighting such a unique Portland destination. I’ve never been to Vinland but will have to keep an eye out for their special events. More area restaurants are incorporating local ingredients which is wonderful.

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