Erway Cathy - The Art of Eating In

Author : Erway Cathy
Title : The Art of Eating In How I learned to stop spending and love the stove
Year : 2010

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I first became aware of Cathy Erway two years ago. As I sat eating in a fancy midtown restaurant, a dining companion leaned over his foie gras torchon and asked confidentially, “Have you ever heard of Cathy Erway? She’s decided to not eat out in restaurants for two whole years, and she’s blogging about it.” I suppose he expected me to express contempt or outright derision, since my livelihood as a restaurant critic depends on everyone eating out as often as possible. I harrumphed something noncommittal but felt a rush of excitement. What a cool idea, I thought. As a fan of performance art— which this project surely was—I was instantly intrigued. As a blogger and gung-ho home cook, I couldn’t wait to visit the site and see how she’d translated action into words. Her blog—“Not Eating Out in New York”—became a favorite of mine, and over the next year I checked it often to see what she was up to. The site offered a fascinating potpourri of culinary punditry, practical cooking advice, social observation, and recipes that often featured a running commentary. Moreover, much of her cooking incorporated novel elements that owed nothing to any hidebound culinary school. She was an improvisatory cook, par excellence, and seemed to prefer freestyling with stumbled-on ingredients to simply reading and executing predictable recipes. She also backed up her recipes with details about how much ingredients cost, making her website consumer friendly. A year later, Erway’s two-year experiment was up, and I wondered whether I’d run into her at one of the culinary events that kept herds of foodies wandering across the city like nomadic tribesmen. I didn’t have to wonder long—soon after her experiment ended, I met her for the first time at the loft of Winnie Yang, a mutual friend from the Slow Food Movement, who frequently hosted events in her Fort Greene loft. Cathy was as skinny as a rail, and half Chinese, two things I hadn’t expected from her blog and her name, respectively. She proved a keen conversationalist, and when she told me she was working on a book about her experiences, I wanted to get my hands on a copy. I convinced her that once the thing was finished, she should send me the manuscript. When it finally arrived in my e-mail inbox with a resounding ping, I sat for several hours reading it. While I’d feared it would be merely a collection of material cadged from the website, the book turned out to be quite a different kettle of fish entirely, a narrative for which the website was only a starting point. Not only had she not eaten out, but she’d explored all avenues of not eating out, including forays into freeganism, urban foraging, bread baking, competitive cook-offs, agricultural sustainability, and amateur chefing at the dining clubs that were currently popular all over Brooklyn. And who but a virtuoso writer could make the act of cooking itself seem as interesting as a car race or a shipwreck? She began by pondering, “How can you date if you can’t go out to dinner?” From the answer to that fundamental question flowed new friendships, and, eventually, romance. We see her moving from apartment to apartment, sometimes lucky in love, sometimes not so lucky. One boyfriend continues eating out, even as she cooks delicious food at home. One kitchen is large and commodious, while another is so small she can barely turn around in it. Gadgets come her way; she keeps some and throws others out. We meet her parents and musician brother, along with a cavalcade of other memorable characters, some celebrities in the sphere of foodism, some just extras. In total, the book is really one woman’s coming-of-age novel, with recipes, a sort of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cook. Cathy has a real eye for pictorial detail and knows how to tell a story, complete with dialogue and denouement. Moreover, the book is a bird’s-eye view of the youth culture—we might call it a “counter culture,” due to its kitchen orientation—during an era that will be gone in the blink of an eye. Cathy is a combination of Holden Caul-field and Henry David Thoreau, and if she gets her readers out of the restaurants and back into the kitchen—at least a few times a week—her experiment will have been a complete success. Robert Sietsema, food critic, The Village Voice. ...

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