Fri April 8, 2011
The Stinking Rose
Garlic! It’s hard for me to imagine cooking without it. I can eat so much of it that my skin smells of it, it leaks from my pores, and I am asked to sleep on the couch. Most people nowadays will tell you that they love garlic, too, and use it liberally when they cook. There is even a festival named after it where you can eat crazy things like garlic ice cream (which is actually kind of addictive) and they crown a Garlic Queen. I think I might try to have a shot at that title some day.
Garlic’s popularity in the U.S. is fairly recent. Not long ago, pre-nineteen-fifties, a whiff of garlic was considered not only crude, but suspiciously ethnic. Garlic was too stinky for well-bred people to enjoy. Remember, this was a time when now-common Italian food was thought of as “foreign food”. Luckily for us, the experimental sixties and jet-set seventies made exploring the cuisines of other cultures not only interesting, but fashionable. Kansas, which until recently has been anything but trendy, caught on to garlic a little slowly…my mother remembers not being able to find any fresh garlic in any grocery store when she moved here with my decidedly ethnic dad from the East Coast in 1972. She could only get it at the China Market in Wichita. Things have changed a lot on the garlic scene- you can now buy it in nearly every form, and it is present in nearly every savory product on the market.
As I have matured as a person and a chef, I know now that garlic has rules. A little really does go a long way, depending on how you treat it. Raw garlic is a potent and volatile ingredient. Too much of it can ruin your day. I know that I have been guilty of perpetrating excessive garlic crimes in my life as a chef. I have joyously and indiscriminately shoveled garlic into any food that would take it. I can only imagine what it would have been like to go back to the office after eating my garlic soup with garlic croutons. You would have to be sequestered in a closet until the smell of lunch wore off. These days, I try to use it as an accent, instead of whacking everyone on the head with it. I still occasionally go overboard, but that’s only because I might need street cred for my campaign for the Garlic Queen Crown.