Food: For Thought
I’ve always felt I was born in the wrong time. Being twenty in the 1920s would have suited me just fine. Wearing sweater sets over a bullet bra while listening to Dion and the Belmonts sounds peachy to me. Mod dresses and mood enhancers were stitched into the fabric of my actual twenties, though unfortunately for me, they occurred in the Bush/Obama-era naughts as opposed to the swinging ’60s.
Right now I’m nostalgic for another time that I missed: New York in the early 1970s. Imagine SoHo before it was a shopping mall, as a neighborhood where a couple of young artists could afford the rent on a storefront and turn it into a restaurant. That’s exactly what occurred when Gordon Matta-Clark and his girlfriend Caroline Goodden appropriated an old bodega and turned it into Food. Staffed entirely by artists and performers, with guest “chefs” who used exotic ingredients like raw fish (oooooh!) and bone marrow (scrubbed and re-assembled as jewelry for the patrons to wear home after supper!!), Food was a meeting place and a melting pot, a laboratory for edible artistic expression.
Could Matta-Clark and his cronies have imagined that their rebellion against the status quo would become the status quo? Open kitchens, farm-to-table fare, crudo….many of the concepts that were shocking at Food are standard to any new restaurant that opens downtown now and hopes to attract those young artistic types, wise in the ways of eating organic and local.
How many young artists today could afford the rent in SoHo, or anywhere west of Pitt Street for that matter? Still the artist and artistry with food persists. If Matta-Clark hadn’t died at age 35 in 1978, he’d be the same age as my dad. My contemporaries and I, we are the children of the Matta-Clarks and the then-young New Yorkers who pushed the envelope in the early 1970s. Now we are trying to carve out little places where creativity and gastronomy meet. Salons that feel like adventurous versions of home in which to eat and drink and exchange ideas over briny oysters.
It’s a lot harder now. It’s a lot more expensive. Many ideas have gotten stale. But it can be done. Gems can be made. Bone necklaces can still be strung.
To watch a video by Robert Frank of Food and its makers, click here.
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