Okay, I’m taking advantage of controversy to get your attention. I do believe that food can help people to calm down and take a breath, though; sitting around a common table partaking of a meal is a good time for discussion. We learn other people’s points of view. The news about the upcoming Oscars being “so white”, that is, not having any nominees who are black – it is worthy of serious consideration. I don’t think that a specific colour is the issue, but rather that colour of any kind should not be part of the discussion, just like gender shouldn’t. The only reason I like the idea of Best Actress and Best Actor categories is that it offers a chance to recognize two performances. But we don’t give an award for Best Female Director and Best Male Director, or Best Film with Women and Best Film with Men, so why do we need to differentiate?
Thankfully, food doesn’t seem to end up in this pitfall often. Wolfgang Puck is preparing the Governor’s Ball for the 22nd year in a row, and he has a plethora of dishes for people to taste, with many flavours and backgrounds.
In an effort to bring together the many sides in this argument, I thought I would offer a few menu suggestions for Oscar night celebrations that featured a range of food from various cultures and countries. Perhaps I could encourage people to look past borders in the same way we should look past the mirror when we see people. They are all people, and this is all food. Beyond that, it’s just meant to be enjoyed, and savoured.
How about an international menu? You know, small plates from around the world, in celebration of all the countries that make great movies and have wonderful stories…
- Spanish tapas, like chorizo & prawn skewers or a Spanish tortilla of potatoes & onions… and a bit of Sherry of course
- Italian antipasto, like warm olives with some capicollo and Asiago… and maybe a glass or two of Prosecco
- French canapés, like cheese straws made from puff pastry and cherry tomatoes stuffed with salmon mousse… and a lovely aperitif like Lillet
- Indian street food, like samosas and pakoras with some mango and tamarind chutneys for dipping… and a bit of Gewurztraminer to wash it down
- British nibbles, like mini “jacket potatoes” filled with sour cream and chives or slices of roast beef with horseradish mustard on toast points… you could save the Port for later in the evening
- Hungarian sausages with a paprika mayonnaise for dipping… and a refreshing Pilsener
- German pickled white asparagus wrapped in ham… with a lager, or do you prefer a Doppelbock?
- Scandinavian smorgasbord items, like smoked salmon on dark rye or pickled herring or Swedish meatballs … and a bit of Aquavit for toasting?
- Asian bites, like wontons and spring rolls or maybe just a platter of freshly made sushi… with sake, because why not?
Or perhaps we should stick to North America, more in the range of “comfort food”:
- BBQ ribs, slow cooked to perfection? would we have to argue about what kind of sauce they had?
- chicken wings – we could have some hot, some teriyaki, some salt & pepper… but we have to include the celery sticks and blue cheese dip
- a cheese ball? or is that too corny? or maybe designer grilled cheese is better
- corny, that reminds me – we need to have chips and salsa!
- Okay, seriously now, how about quesadillas, and pulled pork sliders, and lobster rolls and salad wraps?
- If we wanted something more Canadian for fans in the Great White North, we could offer salmon jerky, fresh oysters, Alberta beef in mini Yorkshire pudding, prairie chicken drumettes in saskatoon berry sauce, Winnipeg goldeye on bagel slices, poutine (of course) and grilled scallops with fruit salsa… not to mention there’s plenty of wine and craft beer to choose from
Even with food it’s easy to fall into a stereotype of what one expects to experience; meanwhile chefs and home cooks around the world are busy knocking down the walls of tradition all the time.It is possible to celebrate history and at the same time look forward in appreciation of the innovations that came later. Sometimes there is a natural evolution to things getting better, and other times we have to think and learn from our mistakes. British food for some means overcooked roast and bland mushy veg, but that is not the case in most places anymore. By the same token I think we can work to make sure that an evening like the Academy Awards night recognizes good work, regardless of where the work came from or what kind of person (or gender or colour) created it.
I for one will still be watching, as I want to remember the many excellent memories I had in theatres this year. I want to spend an evening celebrating with my movie-going partner and soulmate. Perhaps we’ll make a list of our own and toast our very own winners. And we will continue to look for good movies to see, just like we look for new kinds of food to enjoy. A good job deserves to be appreciated, always.
When I travel I love to gather recipes and even just ideas for food combinations. When I lived in France, I gathered so many ideas I turned them into a cookbook, in large part inspired by a friend I had made who was from Lebanon. His Mediterranean recipes are still many of my favourites, and hommous tops the list.
You might be wondering why I would even bother to make something that is so readily available in plastic tubs in every deli section of every grocery store in North America. Well, I can tell you I’m old enough to remember a time when things like hommous were not as common as peanut butter, and I am also a devout fan of homemade versus store bought goods whenever possible. Hommous was inexpensive and simple to make, so it was a great place to start my ethnic cooking experiments.
Over the years simple hommous has become a trendy food, being made from all kinds of vegetables. It seemed to lose some of its cachet in the excitement, but now like many food trends hommous is returning to its Mediterranean roots for a more rustic presentation. The rendition I offer up here is one I tried recently in London with my good friend on a girls’ lunch date. We were at a place that serves dishes with harmony and grace – recipes with humble roots being taken to a new level while still retaining a beautiful simplicity. It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Beak Street in Soho called Polpo. If you can get in, it’s worth the wait. If you aren’t planning to get to London anytime soon, their cookbook is most inspirational. I was fortunate enough to get a copy as a gift from my girlfriend. 🙂
Polpo serves everything on small plates, so you can share and sample as a group. Their rendition of hommous when we were there was a crostini, a delightful cacophony of crunch and smoothness that made my tastebuds wake up to the range of flavours available from only 6 ingredients. Paired with the house Prosecco it was truly a divine experience. I loved learning that the restaurant owners were devoted food lovers, and they opened a year after the crash of 2008. Their restaurant has been packed since day one, and deservedly so. I know my kitchen is always full of happy souls when I make hommous!
Anchovy & Chickpea Crostini (makes 10 pieces – spread will keep up to 1 week refrigerated. Bring to room temperature to serve.)
1 – 400 g tin chick peas
10 brown anchoy filets, plus some of their oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 handful of flat (Italian) parsley leaves, chopped
1 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
about 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 French baguette, sliced and lightly toasted
Drain and rinse the chickpeas and roughly chop the anchovies. Mix together with the lemon juice, parsley and tahini. Add 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper. Pulse in a food processor, with a little anchovy oil from the tin or bottle and enough olive oil to create a chunky paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning (there is no need for salt with the anchovies).
Toast baguette slices under a broiler or in a toaster oven just until golden. Spread paste roughly on the crostini and serve. (If you want a gluten-free version, serve the paste on cucumber slices or wedges of sweet pepper.)