Thursday, May 17, 2018

the galloping gourmet saunters

It has gone everywhere in the world where I have lived.

Oregon. Texas. Colorado. California. Greece. Great Britain. Nevada. And, now, in its last burst of glory. Mexico.

It, of course, is The Graham Kerr Cookbook. And, as the cover would have it, "by The Galloping Gourmet." Not The Galloping Gourmet Cookbook by Graham Kerr. That is not how celebrities think of themselves. And it is how we think of them.

There was no other word than "celebrity" to apply to the Graham Kerr I first met back in the late 1960s. His shtick defined what we now know as celebrity chefs. Before there was Rachel Ray, or Iron Chef, or the fascist tantrums of Gordon Ramsey, there was Graham Kerr, the galloping gourmet. Or, as it later turned out, the gulping gourmet, who was always seen on camera with a goblet of wine.

Of course, there were the stars of the era. Charles Beard. Julia Child. Chefs of great renown whose wit was as dry as the tarragon sprinkled in their filets de sole sylvestre.

There was nothing dry about Graham Kerr. His goal was not to teach methods of cooking in the traditional sense. He found traditions to be stifling. What he wanted was cooking techniques that were practical -- and that were subject to constant revision. That paragon of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham would have found a soul mate in Graham Kerr.

But Kerr was, most of all, a showman. His trademark leap onto the stage set the pace for the rest of the show. Along with some groaning jokes that would have not passed muster at the Brighton pier. But we loved him. He had enough energy to be the Jerry Springer of sauté.

The Galloping Gourmet was first televised in 1969. It is hard to believe that it was only on the air for three seasons. Three seasons of hyperactivity that almost ruined the marriage between Kerr and his producer wife.

Then, disaster struck. An automobile accident that almost killed both of them, and left them badly injured.

Since then, his life has taken several different paths, including a deep commitment to Christianity. But, the food path has now come full circle.

In his introduction to the original cookbook, he candidly noted: "I am equally certain that, in the years to come, our advances in food technology and kitchen appliances will require revisions being made [to this cookbook]." And so they have.

At least, food methods have changed. Kerr's reliance on clarified butter (I heard the term first from his lips) and butter seem to be from a different era. An ea when we loved the food we ate, instead of thinking of it solely as another form of gasoline.

Kerr has now published a new cookbook. But a cookbook that defines his more conservative self. It is a re-issue of the old cookbook -- with annotations in his neat, rounded script.

I gave away most of my cookbook collection when I moved to Mexico. I long ago discovered Kerr's basic philosophy was true for me -- cooking traditions are boring; i constantly need to have my food preparation techniques challenged and renewed.

Most cookbooks do not do that. But the internet does. I am not certain Kerr was correct when he predicted changed in appliances and food technology would be the force to revise his research. But the internet is.

A quick search through food sites will usually give me the impetus to try not only new food combinations,but new methods of preparation. Living in Mexico has also given me a new food palette to work with. I am constantly running across vegetables or fruits that I do not recognize -- or cuts of meats I would not have imagined.

Having said that, I may buy a copy of Kerr's revised cookbook. Mine is getting a bit tattered. The pages that open to peas 
à l’étouffée and chicory meunière are smeared with the residue of more butter than went into either dish. And that is a lot.
There is something nice about physical cookbooks. It is not just the tactile sensation of holding a book in my hand, even though there is that. In the case of the cookbooks I have kept, they are all friends. Some I bought. Some were gifts. I treasure one from a woman I should have married.

And, even though some of the cookbooks were quite revolutionary when they were published, they now represent the cooking establishment. But all revolutions build off of the establishment. So, I keep them to act as prods to creativity. Each recipe whispers to me: "You can do better than this." And I often do.

Kerr's life moves now at a saunter, not a gallop. He recently told a group of students who were visiting him in his Seattle home that celebrity is a hollow goal. "If each of us thought we are not likely to get a major TV show, but we are likely to have neighbors -- and if you could contribute to neighbors, like growing a garden or sharing produce -- there's nothing like it."

That is reason enough for me to buy the book. As a witness to the man who grew from the center of the limelight to being a man with peace at the center who finds contentment in reaching his hand out to others. And, as Voltaire would have it, making his garden grow.

There is a lesson in that for all of us.   

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