In Praise of Ugly Food:
Let’s start with chicken and dumplings.
Few dishes come closer to what I imagine the cafeteria rations in heaven will mercifully taste like than perfectly executed chicken and dumplings. Then again, perhaps no other dish looks quite so, well, regurgitated, either. So, at a recent Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in Oxford, Mississippi, when world-renowned chef Sean Brock served up a batch he’d cooked—with his very own mother—some of my fellow diners were in a visible tizzy about what to do.
Throughout the event, we’d all been posting hundreds of images of each course to our Instagram accounts. The slice of golden skillet cornbread, the glistening bowl of butter beans, and the Technicolor-green pickles were all objectively lovely. But chicken and dumplings, it seemed, was the whiz kid who couldn’t find a date. And as people wavered and then lowered their cameras without snapping a shot, I found myself downright upset. I mean, this was a rare privilege: An A-list chef and the woman who’d pretty much taught him how to cook, putting their down-home dish on a pedestal in front of some of the biggest names in the food world. And we were shying away because it was homely? Screw that, I thought. This is honest food, and it should be honestly portrayed. I steadied my phone, clicked, and posted. The caption: “Some food isn’t pretty and does not need to be.”
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