Julie and Julia

Well, that was… a movie. I regret spending any time watching it, although thankfully I watched it on 2x speed so I didn’t have to suffer as long as I could have. If I wanted to watch a half-baked dramatization of a half-baked chef I would watch Top Chef or something. Not only was the movie a typical representation of bland cinematography and writing style, Julia Child is one of the least interesting chefs that has ever become famous. She was a decent TV personality and managed to entertain an American audience, but she developed her cooking style through imitation of French cooking, which is counterproductive. Of course it is important to learn the technical skills that French cuisine requires, but attempting to replicate a cooking style is never the way to go. An American will never be better at cooking French food than a French chef of the same caliber. The American can become passable, decent, even good, but this requires extensive work with the knowledge that you will never surpass them. It is a much better investment of a cook’s time to learn techniques and apply them to foods of one’s own cultural background, so that you gain a basis for cooking. With this basis and feeling for the techniques and ingredients, you can begin to develop your own style and ingenuity that is the marker of a good cook – maybe even eventually a great chef. Child’s emphasis on the “frenchness” of her cooking leads to discouraged cooks and countless imitators of a cuisine full of history and culture.

Okay. Rant over. Other than those few things, I think that the movie was fine. One thread that I found between this movie and the previous shows that we’ve watched is the theme that cooking can “save” a person. In Cooked, Pollan is trying to encourage cooking so that our health and culture can be preserved – saved. In Chef’s Table, each of the individual chefs was saved by food in their own way. Cooking gave them a purpose and a craft that they can master, as well as a goal that they can strive for – much like it did for Julie in this movie.

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The Bad Show

I’m not really sure what to say about this episode, other than it was very depressing. Hearing stories about the worst types of humans is not exactly uplifting. I think that the stories about the creator of Zyklon B and the Green River killer were interesting, albeit disturbing, but I don’t quite understand how they relate to the topic of rhetoric and composition?

I do understand the link between research ethics and the Milgram experiment, though. I’d studied the experiment before, and I go back and forth as to how I would respond in that situation. I would like to think that I wouldn’t hurt another person, but I’m honestly not sure I would care in that situation, particularly if I was being paid and had faith in the researchers. Thinking about it is scary, nonetheless.

I am also ambivalent about the morality of the experiment. I understand that being put in that situation might be unsettling and perhaps scarring for a person, but I think that some things cannot be tested properly and confine to APA guidelines. I’m also not entirely sure whether this experiment was necessary; did the researchers really learn anything that they couldn’t have got from other sources? I think that a more clear-cut example of a breach of research ethics might be to explain the actions of Imperialist Japanese Unit 731, which is something that lots of people aren’t aware of.

I think another interesting question that is somewhat related is whether it is ethical to use the findings of unethical experiments in current research. Despite the atrocities committed by the Nazis and Imperialist Japanese in World War II, some of the research that they conducted led to things that could be potentially useful in making people’s lives better or even saving lives. I’m not completely aware of what the official stance on this is, but I think it has something to do with the use of these experiments somehow encouraging further unethical studies.

Chef’s Table ep. 1-4

Full disclosure: I’ve watched Chef’s Table before, and it’s one of my absolute favorite shows. The cinematography is astonishingly gorgeous, and the storiesrecomposed_by_max_richter_-_vivaldi_-_the_four_seasons_front_cover and intentions that the chefs use to create their art is inspiring. The soundtrack of some of the episodes is also noteworthy – the show uses selections from Max Richter’s re-orchestration of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to elevate some of the silent food and cooking montages to artistic perfection.

When I rewatch this show, it’s striking to me how often the theme of sustainable ingredients comes up. For some such as Dan Barber, it’s more ecologically driven. But other chefs emphasize the quality of locally-grown, individually beautiful ingredients as a key part of their cooking, even without the global effects. Both of these schools of thought have two things in common: absolute respect for one’s ingredients and a connection to one’s surroundings. This is similar to how Pollan notes the importance of diets that vary by region and the benefits of whole ingredients as supposed to chemically-synthesized foods.

For me, one of the most intriguing things about the chefs on this show is how they communicate their life stories through their cooking. It seems that Niki Nakayama is a perfect example of the effects that patriarchal societies, both Asian and Western, can have on an ambitious woman. However, Nakayama does not allow these detriments to slow her down. On the contrary, she uses the determination that she has gained from these experiences to create another language with her food. She allows her food and ambitious hospitality practices to speak for her strength and creativity. Francis Mallman uses his cooking to communicate his appreciation for Patagonia while showing how he has managed to escape from the confines of traditional French cuisine – and therefore attain his own personal freedoms. This use of food as a tool for communication and as an alternate form of language is also present in Pollan’s Cooked, when he emphasizes the social significance of home cooking and the history of food traditions.

The most striking aspect of Chef’s Table is the absolute passion and ambition of the individual chefs, and the emotion that transfers into their craft. There is an otherworldly aura that comes with being the best in one’s craft that some interpret as arrogance, but I’m not sure that this the case with these chefs. The amount of dedication that these individuals have is remarkable and enviable.