Imagining the Mediterranean in the Kitchen

tomates confits

How can we define the Mediterranean as a unified geographical unit? Is it possible? This is a question I have spent a lot of time thinking about anthropologically. While teaching a course on the ethnography of the Mediterranean a few years back, I came to the conclusion that the Mediterranean is an imagined place. It is culture works like Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad that fuel our imagination about a place unified by this wine dark sea. Even if we see this body of water as the connective tissue between diverse countries, it is hard to deny the cultural contrasts of the countries that surround the Mediterranean–Catholic and Muslim, affluent and poor, Arab and Latin, and the list goes on. Particularly in the kitchen, these differences become strikingly apparent through the flavor of spices, the cuts of meat, and the variety of cooking techniques.

Wheat, olive oil and grapes may be the iconic crops around the Mediterranean, but can these ingredients create a unified cuisine? During week 6 of my culinary course, we focused our attention on dishes from around the Mediterranean. Most of the recipes were Ducasse’s French interpretations of classic recipes such as Moroccan Pastilla, Spanish Caldero, and Italian Risotto. At first, I was taken aback by the disregard for the original recipes of these dishes, as we add butter and jus de beouf as we stirred. To my palate everything tasted French in the end. As the week progressed, I came to see it differently: the Mediterranean is an imagined place for M. Ducasse as much as it is for the cultural anthropologist.

For the chef, the Mediterranean is made-up of the flavor narratives that tell the stories of cultures that are closer together than further apart. This reflection caused me to take stock of my own preconceived notions about the dishes we were cooking. There is no authenticity (a point I am always preaching to my students). The food we made represented a historical mixing together of places, cultures and their changing traditions. When thinking about the Mediterranean, whether in the kitchen or at the library, it is important to take into consideration time, the porousness of cultural traditions and the fluidity of conceptions of place. Looking at the Mediterranean through food allows for a complex and delicious exploration that will always be undergoing transformations as we continue to imagine and reimagine this place.

Culture and Cuisine of Québec: Only a few seats left!

 

There are only a few seats left in my Culture and Cuisine of Québec course this fall at Boston University. This is a graduate-level course that is open to BU and non-BU students. Exceptional undergraduates will also be considered. This course counts as 4-credits (72 credit hours) of graduate course work that should be transferable to most American and Canadian universities. It is a great course for those interested in Canadian culture, history and foodways. There will be an emphasis on experiential learning and student engagement in all activities.

The course can be taken on line and it includes a week-long trip to Québec.

Course Description: MET ML 639EL Culture & Cuisine: Québec

Moving beyond the stereotypes of poutine and maple syrup, this course will explore the rich contemporary and historical foodscapes of Québec. The cuisine of this predominantly French-speaking area of Canada has been marked by the lasting legacies of French, British and a variety of immigrant cultures. The result is a combination of fascinating traditions and some of the most exciting new culinary trends in the Northeast—from ice cider to head-to-tail eating. This course will look at questions of identity politics, heritage preservation and the development of sustainable local food systems, as well as the everyday culture and life of this unique Canadian province. Offered in a blended format, class will meet once a month face-to-face (optional – on-line format available for distance students) before and after a weeklong trip to Québec City, Montréal and surrounding rural areas. While in Québec, students will have a chance to meet farmers, artisans and culinary professionals and engage in a number of hands-on activities. Our guide in during the trip will be renowned Québecois food and wine journalist Rémy Charest.

Register here or contact the Gastronomy Program for more details. Class starts Sept. 13, 2012 and the class will be going to Québec from Oct. 13-21.

Culture and Cuisine of Québec

I am offering a new on-line course with a travel component in Fall 2012 at Boston University.

ML 639EL Culture & Cuisine: Québec

Moving beyond the stereotypes of poutine and maple syrup, this course will explore the rich contemporary and historical foodscapes of Québec. The cuisine of this predominantly French-speaking area of Canada has been marked by the lasting legacies of French, British and a variety of immigrant cultures. The result is a combination of fascinating traditions and some of the most exciting new culinary trends in the Northeast—from ice cider to head-to-tail eating. This course will look at questions of identity politics, heritage preservation and the development of sustainable local food systems, as well as the everyday culture and life of this unique Canadian province. Offered in a blended format, class will meet once a month face-to-face (optional – on-line format available for distance students) before and after a weeklong trip to Québec City, Montréal and surrounding rural areas. While in Québec, students will have a chance to meet farmers, artisans and culinary professionals and engage in a number of hands-on activities. Our guide in during the trip will be renowned Québecois food and wine journalist Rémy Charest.

I will be holding an interactive webinar about the course this Thursday, May 3. Register here.