Friday, May 20, 2011

It's okay to be driven by flavor

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2011 at 4:30 PM

Dan Barber
  • Dan Barber
Probably my favorite radio program is "Krista Tippett on Being." Her weekly interviews take up many of the same subjects I examined in my old "Headcase" column for Creative Loafing.

This week's episode is a must-listen for foodies. Entitled "Driven by Flavor," it's an interview with visionary chef Dan Barber. Tippett begins her interview this way:

Dan Barber is a celebrated young chef, thinker, and social visionary. Pleasure — maximizing flavor — is his way in to what he calls the greatest social movement of our time. And his two award-winning New York restaurants — Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Pocantico Hills — are rooted in a working farm and educational center, the Stone Barns Center.

Dan Barber is one of those voices who stays with you and changes the way you move through ordinary time — the vast ordinary time, that is, that we all spend thinking about what we will eat, buying food, storing it, preparing it. His knowledge is as infectious as his passion. He wants us to enjoy our food. And if we become "greedy" for flavor, he says, we will also reform our agricultural ecologies and economies.

It has long fascinated me that puritanical bias against pleasure remains strong in our culture. In my work in psychology, I often ask clients how they would feel about living a life devoted to pleasure. They almost always balk at the idea, listing everything from religious to humanitarian objections. "That would be selfish," they usually say.

But, as Barber points out in the case of food, if we devote ourselves to pleasure in meaningful ways, lots of other things fall into place. The challenge of course is embodied in those words "meaningful ways." A critical self-examination of what is meaningful and pleasurable is essential to this process. Food, as essential to existence, is certainly meaningful.

As I've written before, it's also true, interestingly enough, that broadening taste by experimenting with flavors, tends to make people more generally curious about the diversity of existence. The French recognized this when they began making education in taste part of the public school curriculum a few years back.

I've discussed with several taste-obsessed chefs over the years about conducting classes or workshops in the psychology of taste. Dan Barber is an inspiration in that regard.

You can listen to Krista Tippett's On Being at 4 p.m. Sundays on WABE-FM or via the link above.

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