September 7, 2009
The September 12 Issue, a documentary about the quirky behind the scenes dramas at Vogue magazine, recently inspired me to contemplate not eating for a while and going into old age not wearing make up. Fashion isn't dominated by the young and beautiful, as you might think, but by two canny women, both over 60 -- Anna Wintaur, the elfin Vogue editor that wields such power in the industry (and wears make up), and Grace Covington, a former model who has been Vogue's creative director for years (who does not). Surrounding this mighty, if discordant duo, are a bevy of rakishly thin, high-cheekboned women in their 40s and 50s who, at work at least, sport no make up at all.
When she wears make up, Covington, who is not so thin and in her late 60s, applies only a thin brushstroke of lipstick. She struts about, an unflappable authority herself, her wild red mane somehow reminiscent of a peacock's feathers in full bloom.
Imagine a film focusing on the accomplishments of two women past 60 in their professional prime whose work isn't remotely domestic. Now that is rare, and delicious!
In the world of couture, fashion is food. There are the same obsessions with color, texture and display. You wear what you love instead of eat it.
The Vogue film was very conceptual, very un-sensual. There is a lot of thinness to like here, but sorry, no food. There is one moment in the Vogue film, after a long shoot in Paris involving a tight corseting, when a coquettish model plucks up and ravages a cherry tart that has been sitting in a box; there is a quick pan of an insipid-looking salad on Covington's desk; there are Wintaur's Starbuck's runs -- Wintaur appears to subsist only on coffee. But otherwise, food is malaprop, the forbidden fruit here.
Imagine being a fashionista and a foodie, obsessed by food, but also thinness!
Speaking of those who can make remarkable objects of art, unexpected and delightful -- but in the culinary realm -- let us turn now to the inventive Spaniard Ferrán Adrià, the chef at El Bulli, one of the great eating establishments in the world. Once you have seen an array of his concoctions, anything else will seem ordinary.
Adrià, who is, alas, not thin, but nevertheless great, has expanded the dimensions of culinary possibilities, challenging standard notions of what an edible should look, taste and feel like. For example, he makes espresso foam and meat foam; he makes caviar out of apples. Looks and feels like, but surprise! An artist can create conceptually-- as Adrià does -- or simply let instinct and the senses guide.
As I am now exploring the culinary arts intellectually, I'd like to think that I am becoming more of a conceptualist, but I myself am instinctual at heart. I work best hands-on, just as I think best talking out ideas.
I am fixed still on the idea of making the perfect egg -- as if to learn to make one thing well might open the door to all culinary possibilities. I've been experimenting with folding my scrambled eggs just so, cooking them slowly, perfecting my recipe, Scrambled Eggs Parmesan al Pesto -- scrambled eggs with Parmesan flakes on which at the final moment, you douse a teaspoon of pesto (at room temperature, of course) and sprinkle Spanish paprika.
So much of life is all about food -- whether you are celebrating it or trying to pretend it doesn't exist. Beneath the trappings of style and couture, beneath the flesh, we are all the same, hungry beings trying to stave off the inevitable. We can't. But, in the meantime, let's toast to life, let's live -- a little!