Art and Craft

Good morning. Ramadan has begun, and it seems wrong just to jump into recipes when people are fasting. So let me tell you a story. I was up in Hartford a few nights ago to moderate a discussion about art and food with the chefs David Chang, Tom Colicchio and my “Eat” column colleague Gabrielle Hamilton.

It took place on the wide stage at the front of the beautiful Bushnell Theater on Trinity Street, a program of the Connecticut Forum. The evening was great. Gabrielle and I got into it like siblings in a Wes Anderson film, arguing my thesis that restaurants are cultural expressions same as dance or music or poetry.

Nope, she said. No way. Cooking is craft. “We’re just making dinner,” she said. (Colicchio shrugged. “I named my restaurant Craft,” he said.) Chang nodded, and brought up the Japanese concept of “shokunin,” or the mastery of a profession. He wasn’t sure that rose to the level of art with a capital A.

Gabrielle for sure did not. When great tragedy befalls us, she said, we’ll be canceling our reservations to dinner at fancy restaurants; it would be obscene to eat at such places in the wake of the suffering of others. What’s needed in the face of violence (say) is poetry to name and organize our thoughts.

Always, yes, for a time. And cooking is craft, absolutely. But I don’t think those facts sit in opposition. They do not mean that a restaurant cannot be an artistic statement, and that eating in one cannot be an experience that contains and expresses emotional power. Have dinner sometime at Prune, or Craft, or at the Momofuku restaurant in or near your town, and see if you don’t agree.

Meanwhile, work to improve your own craft in the kitchen, even if you know it’ll never rise to the level of art. The whole idea of NYT Cooking is just to bring comfort — either to others or yourself.

Julia Moskin wrote about one aspect of that in The Times this week, in an article about the concept of “procrastibaking,” or the practice of baking something completely unnecessary, with the intention of avoiding “real” work. It’s a fun piece, and brings two excellent new recipes online, for a juicy orange cake and for kitchen sink cookies (above). Please try one of those out this week when you should be doing something else.

Tejal Rao brought us a new recipe as well, in her article this week about the cookbook writer Sameen Rushdie, whose cult-favorite “Indian Cookery,” first published in Britain in 1988, is coming out in America for the first time this month, as “Sameen Rushdie’s Indian Cookery.” Both Tejal’s story and Rushdie’s book make for great reading. And Rushdie’s recipe for a whole roast leg of lamb ought to be in your plans for dinner very soon.

You can find many thousands more recipes to cook this week on NYT Cooking. (Here are some recipes to break the Ramadan fast: some main dishes; some side dishes; some desserts.)

But you don’t need to cook with them. I don’t, always, on Wednesdays. I make no-recipe recipes instead. Like, pan-fried fillets of whatever white fish you can find, the flesh aggressively seasoned with salt and pepper, then dipped into a marinade of egg white and rice wine and cornstarch and a dash of sesame oil? Fry those fillets in hot oil and, while you’re doing so, heat through some oyster sauce cut with soy sauce and a little fish sauce, along with some grated ginger and garlic, a splash of water or stock. Drizzle that hot sauce over the crisped-up fish on a platter. Finish the whole thing off with ground cumin and chopped cilantro. Eat over rice.

Get in touch if you get in trouble: [email protected]. We’re here to help.

Now, not so very far from our immediate interests, Lucian K. Truscott IV is back in Salon with another memoiristic essay, this one on the romance of kitchens.

Roxanne Fequiere gave us a beautiful view into her family’s feast making in advance of Haitian Flag Day on Friday, and a recipe for crisp-fried plantains to go along with it.

And sad news from Palm Beach: The chef Jean-Pierre Leverrier has died at 62. I ate at his Chez Jean-Pierre once with Steven Stolman, the elegant designer whose recipe for chicken Provençal is a favorite of the NYT Cooking set. The food and people-watching were superb. Here’s hoping that continues.

Finally, if you’re in Washington, D.C., our pal Jennifer Steinhauer has put together a keen event for subscribers to The Times this evening at the American Revolution Institute, exploring American spirits. Get a ticket and head on down to imbibe. I’ll see you on Friday.

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