Why Do We Suddenly Want to Eat Dirt?

Categories: Doggy Bag

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Suzi Edwards/Flickr
Potato, parsnip, and roasted chicory "dirt" on a Manresa platescape.
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The Atlantic's Tejal Rao scratches around in the curious growing fascination with dirt as an ingredient in cooking. Both dirt ― as in a sauce at Spain's Restaurante Arzak, one that contains "a tiny amount of composted dirt" ― and "dirt": dried and charred ingredients, faux humus, that some chefs are spooning onto their plates to form trompe l'oeil naturescapes.

Time's David Kaufman offered a take on the latter last month. Rene Redzepi's dried malt and beer, spooned into terra cotta pots "planted" with a whole radish; Jennifer Puccio's pickled radishes with dried-olive "soil" at Marlowe; David Kinch's "dirt," composed of potato, parsnip, and roasted chicory. Even as fabulous fakes, these signify extreme longing for the thing we call "terroir," which has come to mean place-ness. No longer content to taste "place-ness" in panna cotta made with Straus milk, or in a Pinot Noir made from grapes grown in the alluvial soils of the Russian River, we want to see soil, at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. And hell, if we can find a culinary use for Connecticut Broadleaf, we might as well find one for San Joaquin brown loam.

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