Geniuses in the Kitchen

I started reading, “10:04,” the new novel by Ben Lerner, which opens in Chelsea, NYC, and describes with poignant vivacity a meal he had of a whole baby octopus, and the intensity of the writing vacillates between his preoccupation with the writing itself and the real effort to describe with pith his observations. I’m not sure he succeeds, but the work is unlike most other writing these days, except for Dyer and Ferrante and Knausgaard, and for that it’s instructive and worthwhile.

Nowadays, the celebration of cuisine is bigger than ever in the States, and this Fall alone literally six dozen or more new restaurants have opened in NYC.  How does one keep up?

I am finding that my favorites in town are few, and that the list of regular places is small.  I keep adding names, taking away a few, but in sum, as with books, not many make a lasting impression or are worth a return visit.

I think that’s because what’s attempted is so very difficult, and that chefs add more rather than take away. The French way of layering ingredients ultimately convinces chefs that their interpretation matters more than their observations.  It’s the same tension that Lerner writes about: His internal view, and the view of things around him.  It’s true genius to reconcile those two seemingly disparate experiences, but, let’s face it, percentage-wise it’s just impossible for more than about 5%, and that’s generous.

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