America's new culinary renaissance
We're becoming a nation of food fanatics, signing up for cooking classes, turning into gourmets in the kitchen, and making dining in or out the equivalent of a cultural event. Is America the new France?
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Like any art, it takes considerable skills to master, which is where the guidance and ingredients of others comes in. In the past year, sales of "cooking/entertainment" books have jumped 4 percent in the United States, while all other categories of adult nonfiction dropped 2 percent, reports Nielsen BookScan, which compiles statistics for the publishing industry.Skip to next paragraph
Classes for both the hobbyist and serious chef are thriving. Enrollment in the gastronomy program at Boston University has tripled in the past three years. "A lot of them don't want to go to culinary school and become a line cook, but they want to do something [meaningful] with food and education," says Rachel Black, the coordinator of the program, which was started by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin in the 1980s.
Le Cordon Bleu, which operates 17 culinary institutes in the US, reported a 20 percent increase in students in 2010. In San Francisco, a venture called Hands On Gourmet, which teaches clients to cook through private and corporate parties, now reaches almost 5,000 people a year.
"A lot of people who come through our doors don't know how to cook, but most people want to learn," says chef Stephen Gibbs, who runs Hands On Gourmet. "When they learn how to make their own Indian or Thai curries ... they say, 'holy moley, I just made that?' They are flabbergasted."
The proliferation of new media is adding to the foodie culture. No longer do you have to thumb through some Italian cookbook you may or may not have to find the best way to make shrimp fra diavolo. You can find as many recipes as you want – for the novice or gourmand – with the click of a mouse. Want to know something as mundane as how long it takes to boil an egg? Type the query into Google's search engine and you'll get 40,600,000 suggestions in less than one second.
Something more obscure? Try vichyssoise, a seasonal soup, usually served cold, that is made of scallions or leeks, potatoes, and cream. An online search will yield 640,000 hits, including a debate over the soup's origin (best guess: either a French chef or one at New York's Ritz Carlton in the early 1900s).
If finding a recipe and a little sociology behind it isn't enough, you can always register with Foodista.com, an online cooking encyclopedia, where you can post your own recipes and have others rate – or edit – them. Foodista now has 20,000 registered users, 110,000 Twitter followers, and 25,000 Facebook fans.
"People have always talked about food," says NYU's Professor Ray. "The difference is, with [the proliferation of] new media, the conversation is now reaching everyone all the time."
And it isn't just talking. The ease of publishing has given rise to legions of food bloggers who swap not only favorite recipes but also personal narratives centered around their creations in the kitchen. Many digital cameras now include a "food setting" that enables online foodies to capture the wisp of steam, the sheen of oil, and the flecks of pepper on their plate of grilled asparagus, all in high focus.