The following is reprinted with permission from Lucky Peach #4, published by McSweeney’s. It is on sale now. And, yes, payment for this essay will require co-publisher David Chang slaving over a hot stove.
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I want to embrace the best of the kitchen.
But if DNA is destiny, and genetics holds any sway at all over the human palate, then I have much—probably too much—to overcome.
The Simons come from peasant stock, and by that I don’t mean the countryside of Alsace or Tuscany or any other place where cuisine makes the days true and beautiful, where gardens and orchards and farms and village butchers conspire for a cuisine both purposeful and ingeniously simple. We are not the progeny of any agrarian ideal worthy of Impressionist paintings.
No, my father’s people were kicked-to-the-ground-by-Cossacks peasants, wandering Pale of Settlement Yids who lived with one or two bags always packed and spent the early moments of the last century running ahead of whatever Jew-hating militia was on whichever side of the Polish-Russian border. Like fodder for an Isaac Babel story, we hauled ass from pogrom to pogrom, dragging our huddled mass west until a sign said NEW JERSEY.