They gave the world leaders, in town for the opening session of the United Nations, lunch in New York the other day and all they got was swill. The leaders munching on the people's dime said a good time was had by all, but that's only if your taste runs to garbage. The chefs cheerfully conceded that that garbage is what it was.
It was all about celebrating global warming, to try to make a point that food and sustainable agriculture are an important to something called "energy transition." Only world-class diplomats could make up argle-bargle like this, that there's a connection between food and farming. Food actually comes from bottles, cans and burlap bags, doesn't it?
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, was the host and everybody sat around the table telling each other how smart they were to make the connection, and to talk about a big meeting coming up in Paris to "finalize" an accord on global warming. They hope to further open the spigot to liberate geysers of money for the authors of learned papers about the great scam of our time, and how to redistribute income from the treasuries of the prosperous countries to the pockets of tyrants and abusers of the poor nations.
The food was an afterthought, and a good thing. "It's the prototypical American meal but turned on its head," one of the two chefs, Dan Barber, told the lucky eaters. "Instead of beef, we're going to eat the corn that feeds the beef. The challenge is to create something truly delicious out of what we would otherwise throw away."
The other truly delicious dishes on the menu were a "landfill salad," made from vegetable scraps salvaged from unspecified places, rejected apples and pears and dressed with liquids drained from cans of chickpeas. "Spent grain bread" was made of grain mash contributed by brewers and distillers.
A veggie burger of "off-grade vegetables," scraps of cucumbers from a pickle works, pulp reclaimed from juicing, served on a "repurposed bread bun. Perhaps "repurposed" is, like rock music, better than it sounds. "Cow corn fries" were made from field corn, not the familiar sweet corn that is a treat of summer, but the corn grown to feed the beef that gives the food police such heartburn. The guests could dip their cow corn fries in "bruised beet ketchup." The dessert everyone was waiting for was "cocoa husk custard, made from the outer shell of the cocoa bean, and the dried skin of nuts left over from pressing nuts for oil.
Sam Kass, the other chef of the day, formerly of the White House kitchen, had the inspiration for the lunch when he learned of the climate negotiations in Paris, and thought such a lunch would get the world leaders to talking about food waste. Wasting food is indeed something to talk about; the shame is that such a worthy concern is tied to a scam that is not a worthy cause. The politics of such a demonstration lunch is enough to give a world leader indigestion, even if a landfill salad and scraps of off-grade vegetables won't. Cocoa husk custard probably won't kill anyone, either, but it sounds like the dessert that Winston Churchill, a trencherman of note, once sent back to the kitchen because "this pudding has no theme."
The world leaders, including the president of France, who you might think would recognize haute cuisine, all said the grub was good, understanding that it was all in the name of the good cause of global warming. They could only dream of the lunch of the day before, stripped of politics and worries about the hungry of the world. On that happier occasion they dined on smoked trout, cucumber timbale, caramelized beef short ribs and spiced wild berry compote. The two feuding presidents, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, toasted each other (even if they didn't really mean it) with a French rose that would have been "inappropriate" for landfill salads and veggie burgers made of garbage.
Chef Barber might be on a garbage binge. He ran a restaurant earlier this year that served dishes made from food scraps. The foodies ate them up. "The idea of a waste dinner would not have existed in the 1700s," he says. "The Westernized conception of a plate of food is enormously wasteful because we've been able to afford waste." That's when celebrity chefs set out to discover the stratospheric limit of how much they could charge the celebrity suckers for a plate of dinner.