There was no reason for me to ever meet Elhadji. Barely awake through a long, charmless airport layover, I didn’t have much need for the stuffed animals he was selling at his kiosk. But I asked him for directions to a makeshift stand where I’d heard African cabbies eat, and soon we were talking about his wife.
He told me about the grilled lamb she makes, how it reminds him of Senegal, how the smell of it makes him the star of the employee break room. He told me about growing up in Africa, about sending money back to raise his children, about missing them, but also about living with no regrets.
Eventually, my flight began to board. We exchanged e-mails and warm smiles and a promise to share a plate of lamb whenever he makes it up to New York.
Food is the thing that connects us, the thing that can give me and a man whose circumstances I will never understand a reason to stand together and share our lives for an hour. It’s the thing that reminds you, when you taste something new, or better yet when you taste something old again for the first time, how much bigger and better and more wonderful the world can be than we ever realize.
And so food writing has to be more than simply talking about the delicious. What we’ve planned for Salon's food section is food coverage for curious people, for people who care about people, for people who are passionate about finding new ways to look at the world, whether they are "foodies" or people who think foodies’ main contribution to our society is allowing us to call wine dorks "winies."
We’ll examine the bigger questions of what food does, of what food is: Food is art. Food is practice. Food is work. Food is politics. But sanctimony is the world’s worst dinner guest, and so food should also be fun.
We’ll tell the stories behind the food, stories about cooks and eaters, about what happens between people at the table, especially if that table is really just a shelf bolted to the side of a taco truck.
And we’ll cook. We’ll share recipes, walking you through the steps, showing you how things should look, smell, sound and feel, so that you might discover something new even in the recipes you don’t end up making. We’ll spend time with masters, trying to learn what they do, trying to see what they see.
But we’re not going at this alone. For starters, we’ve lined up our Kitchen Cabinet, a crew of seriously brilliant chefs, cooks, wine and beer geeks, explorers, and at least one dude who cuts up cows and pigs for a living. They’ll be here to help us answer your questions (send them here!), whether you want to know how to fix your shoe-tough pie crust or you want to know about the philosophical implications of butter versus Crisco.
Join us in this conversation. Cook with us! Rock out with the Salon Kitchen Challenge! And share with us your thoughts and your stories, because that’s what this is ultimately about. When we were talking about the goodness of his grilled lamb, Elhadji told me he always offers some to the people sniffing the air around his lunch. He smiled, opened his hands, and explained, "When you share, you are happy."