I’ve had tongue on my mind lately. This past fall I enjoyed a wonderful tasting menu while sitting at the bar at Craigie on Main that included, among a trio of lamb delicacies, a cute and tender tongue. In the cold days of winter these memories of warmer times have a strange way of creeping back in. Not to mention my predisposition for offal. Luckily, with friends like mine, a grassfed cow’s tongue isn’t too hard to come by. So tonight I set about starting a braise of tongue and heirloom Jacob’s Cattle beans. Cattle with cattle was just too much fun not try.
You might be wondering, at this point, why I’m telling you all this. Most of what I learned about food I learned living in Italy; most of what I learned about cooking I learned working in the kitchen at James. Italians taught me that food is tradition and community and Jim and Kristina Burke taught me, among other things, that whether in your home or in a restaurant the person you cook for is always a guest.
This idea as food as tradition came back to me the other day at the Chefs Collaborative office when I picked up a communiqué on heirloom beans, and this probably more than anything, is what sent me into the kitchen tonight. How many traditions come together in a pot of beans.
Tomorrow some friends of mine from Virginia will come over and we will have baked beans and tongue with corn bread and braised kale, and a little bit of the south will go into the pot of beans. So too will a little bit of the time I spent in Italy, and in Philadelphia and every other field or kitchen that I’ve been fortunate enough to stand in. Not to mention the legacy of baked beans in New England, of braises in winter, of heirloom beans themselves—and I could go on.
Ultimately as cooks we too are just guests at the bountiful table of the farmers, foragers, and fishermen who provide us with the raw materials. And what gracious hosts they are. Reach out and touch your community. Food is nothing without the tradition that surrounds it and with high quality, local, sustainable food we can give our guests the visceral feeling of tradition that, from the highest heights of haute cuisine to the lowliest peasant stew, is the flavor of excellence.