Sobremesa: Authenticity and How We Need More of It!
So recently I’ve been reading a book called Sobremesa, A memoir of food and love in thirteen courses. It’s written by an Argentine American lady called Josephine Caminos Aria. It’s a really sentimental reflection of life that unfolds through each course as we go through each chapter of the book. Josephine tells us all about these classic dishes and links them to specific memories throughout her life. I super identify with this and the book. I think it’s a beautifully crafted reflection on family and love and how the simple and often forgotten art of gathering together for meals, passing on recipes, teaching and learning traditions, taking the time to talk and listen to those you care about is so important. This was certainly the childhood I grew up with and I know these things are a huge foundation of who I am today. When I was very young I grew up with parents, and my paternal grand parents and great grandmother, who were all Serbian immigrants. If anyone ever came by, my Grandmother and Great Grandmother and Mother would whip up 5 course meal for them on the spot. To me these meals seemed to last for hours. Everyone would be up late in the evening sitting around the table talking, sharing, drinking coffee, whisky, singing sometimes. Everything seemed slower and more meaningful. Connections were deeper.
My Grandfather, who I called Deda, I remember as a really smooth host. My grandparents were social butterflies for sure. My Grandmother was a fierce woman. Fierce in her love, fierce in her kindness, fierce in her fierceness! Not someone you’d want to cross. There was passion in her heart that’s for sure! But you’ve never seen such kind and hospitable people, which is very much part of who they were and their culture. They were such social people. And in my family food was EVERYTHING. Those early days drove that for me. I don’t recall having store bought bread in our house until my Grandmother got older and couldn’t do it so easily anymore. They may have toast bread laying around in the freezer, but honestly, fresh bread was life. Bread was with every meal. It wasn’t a meal without bread! Home made bread… or in very rare occasions, from exceptional bakeries. It was only in later years that I realised how fortunate we were. Where I grew up in Quebec there were lots of bakeries. Every neighbourhood seemed to have it’s own bakery. Like French bakeries… maybe not as fancy as a Parisian bakery, but full of life. Full of community. A centre for the neighbourhood. That and the depanneur, as they are called in Quebec, which was the local corner store. When I realised that this is what it’s like in France many years later, I could see the direct lineage of these traditions from France to our French colony in Quebec. Pretty incredible how this remained after centuries. I left Quebec 30 + years ago, which is depressing, but I suspect a lot has changed, but some key stalwarts of the fabric of the city remain. Like St Viateur bagel shop, which I go on about ad nauseum, only because it’s so authentic, and still done slowly, and by hand and it is real.
Everything in life can be so fast these days, it’s refreshing to feel transported back to simpler times. And not just simple but authentic. There is so much fake rubbish in this world, Sobremesa is a wonderful reminder how the best
things are simple and authentic. I decided to cook a few dishes out of Jospehine’s book for a video, and I actually reached out to her in Instagram, which turned into a phone call! I was interested in hearing more from her about her about the food and I wanted to make sure I was doing her recipes justice. I made a comment that one of the dishes would be simple… she paused and reflected that to her the dish I was referring to was actually more complicated. And that’s been
sitting with me, and I’ve been thinking about that for a while now. At first I thought oh gosh, I hope I didn’t cause offense. I’m not an expert of Argentinian cuisine at all, maybe I’ve got some learning to do. And learning I did! Go check out my video I made for Empanadas al Cuchillo and Milenesas. The recipes from Sobremesa are linked there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LStXIAWDQj4&t=176s
Authenticity often loses out. At risk of sounding like a grumpy old chef, I think it’s important to call out things for what they are. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been part of the fake gimmicky restaurant seen for longer that I liked. Being authentic unfortunately doesn’t always sell in this day and age, and certainly in some markets. Sometimes passion, skill and love isn’t enough to support yourself. Sometimes something vapid but eye catching will get all the attention and sell for you! Even though it is absolute crap. But people will buy it. I know it certain markets, and probably in bigger cities where people are after trying the new thing, like a stupid big milkshake or rainbow coloured cheese sandwich, this is more often the case. People need to get a photo of it and post it to show that they did the new thing. I feel like reason, skill, and quality often get dropped for hype, fake substance and pure bullshit. This bothers and disappoints me. Lately I’ve been bothered by stupid burger trends. Without giving too much away, I’m making a video on them as we speak. Suffice it to say, if you think cooking a burger with an ice cube on it somehow improves the burger, you are a gullible idiot. “But it looked so good and seemed so logical on that social media post?” Get where I’m coming from?
I think I’ve just described social media in general above. And don’t get me wrong my hypocrisy of criticizing social media, while building my own platforms on it, is not lost on me. I’ll admit it has become a necessary evil to give yourself a voice. I hate it deeply. I hate how I had to give up a degree of authenticity when I owned restaurants, just so I could pay my staff and the bills. It truly chipped away at my soul after a while. But yes stay tuned to see some salty videos and writing and I’ll dive into some specifics and we can have a laugh and hopefully learn a few things from it! In the meantime, grab a small slice of authenticity that’s left in this world, and have a read of Sobremesa. I found it inspiring.