Wednesday, December 2, 2009


The day that Archie Singham cooked a curry in our house was the day my culinary provincialism came to an end.

As the kitchen filled with the scents of peppers, ginger, cardamon and tumeric I knew there’d never be another fully satisfying cafeteria meal. I made up my mind right there to be an internationally adventurous eater. And, although the hormone years soon hit, sidetracking me into fields that had little to do with food, eating globally was a vow I’ve sustained.

Not that this was always easy. I’ve ordered “Hound dog” in Austria when I meant “Hen”, had a bad experience with coffee ice cream from a street vendor in Lima, Peru and struggled to figure out soups on a menu in Eastern Slovakia.

Nor have I always lived in places where internationalism was possible. At Ohio State University in the 1970’s, “Exotic” meant “From Michigan.” Things were better in Salzburg Austria where I went right after college, or at least they were until I chewed my way through all the regional cuisine.

By the time I was back in the ‘States in l976 the World Food movement was well underway, at least in Providence Rhode Island. But it wasn’t food that drew me to RI, even though there’s a branch of Johnson and Wales College there – it was art school. Specifically, the MFA program at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Collage from the immediate post-RISD years

Art school changed me yet again. My thinking, which had always been “Do it different,” matured and was validated at RISD. I delved deeply into the chemistry of photography, discovered alternative processes, and worked to make lens-created images “plastic.”  It was a time of inflation and energy crises, and I discovered that the best way to keep my apartment warm – as well as save money – was cooking my own hot meals. What I knew about curries helped.

Also I learned that the surest way to romance was often a well-designed meal.

After grad school came urban pioneering in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was 1980 and no respectable middle-class adult would touch the place, but the art school crowd was moving in. Hoboken was gritty and stinky and cheap. A buddy and I bought and renovated a building. I grew tomatoes and dwarf peach trees on the roof. The latter, visible from City Hall, must have looked like marijuana, because one day a heavily armed gang of narcs showed up. They confiscated some of my best Red Havens but were 20 years too late to get me for pot.

To be continued.

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