Breakfast is a fundament of American cuisine and American culture. A change here marks a change in other things.
Consider these early warning signals from today’s New York Times.
Mark Bittman confesses,
[A] year or two ago, I started eating things at breakfast that you would more likely associate with dinner: black olives, quinoa, miso, dried tomatoes, sesame oil, bok choy, wheat berries, roasted carrots.
Mark says he eats these as left overs. There is something odd about this. Breakfast is for breaking the fast, not for renewing the meal after a longish pause.
When Thomas Keller was creating French Laundry, his Napa Valley restaurant, he decided to raid breakfast for other meals. He made doughnuts and coffee a dessert. Julia Moskin explains,
Other top kitchens followed suit, starting with doughnuts and then strip-mining the entire breakfast menu, transforming greasy-spoon staples into minutely detailed desserts. Now, the familiar flavors of granola, scones, bacon, waffles, pancakes and even soggy cornflakes have become materials for the artists at the very top of the inventive and competitive pastry world.
Maybe it’s me, but “breakfast” and “minutely detailed” don’t look right in the same sentence. Breakfast, as I understand it, is supposed to be rich, reckless, and in its very humble way sumptuous. It’s supposed to be a reminder of the paradise lost that was sleep. It’s supposed to be an apology for our rude awakening and to supply a culinary platform from which to survey the coming wonders, curiosities and challenges of the day. If it’s “minutely detailed,” I think most of this is lost. Lost on me, in any case.
Should breakfast be subject to these cultural transplantations? Should it have to suffer the indignity of higher cuisines now prepared to slum their way into breakfast time? As Russell Davies demonstrates in his superbly interesting study of the English case in point, breakfast has earned the right to traditional treatment.
And I don’t think elevation to fancy restaurants, the last meal of the day and the last plate of the meal is any real compensation. Breakfast has no aspirations to upward mobility. It knows who it is and where it belongs. It shuns exposure to the vagaries of fashion, because in our culture it is one of the places to which people retreat when in retreat from fashion.
If we are on the verge of a great restoration of traditional values, the better to batten down the hatches, as we ride out our latest perfect storm, I think breakfast may look forward to a restoration of its own. Let us drive out the pretenders. Let us repudiate the culinary experiments. Make that two eggs over easy. Black coffee. Oh, and a large orange juice, please.
Bittman, Mark. 2009. “Your Morning Pizza.” The New York Times, February 18 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/dining/18mini.html?_r=2&th&emc=th (Accessed February 18, 2009).
Davies, Russell. 2005. Egg, Bacon, Chips & Beans: 50 Great Cafes and the Stuff That Makes Them Great. HarperCollins UK.
Moskin, Julia. 2009. “Ending the Day Where It Began.” The New York Times, February 18 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/dining/18dess.html?th&emc=th (Accessed February 18, 2009).