Comfort food, to me, is the best food and the best comfort food is artisanal; well crafted. Comfort food is rustic food, conceived and executed with the purest plainest of intentions: love for both the food and whomever to you're serving it. As a visual eater I have to like the plate I’m looking at to fully enjoy it. I like my food and art the same way; bold and straight forward with an aesthetic ease. Comfort food doesn't try, it just is.
For me comfort dishes are often more difficult to pull off because the stakes are higher. Humility is required in cooking a comforting dish. Theres no room for bravado in a pot of perfectly prepared bolognese. I feel immense pressure to get a classic comforting dish right, especially when serving it to others. Its my belief that every time you crave a comfort dish, you're actually craving a moment in the past it reminds you of. There is some moment tucked away in the archives of your brain that you want to relive when you have a taste for your mothers tomato soup. The bowl of oranagey red has the potential to ignite memories of the who’s whens and wheres of your best, often times initial experience of the dish.
I tend to believe the best comfort food comes from home , but that is not to say that comfort food cannot be made in a restaurant. However dedicated a chef is to the process of conduring their own memories to execute a comfort dish for their customers there immense potential for the essence and intent of a dish to be lost. The emotion one brings to to conception of a dish is often difficult to sustain ticket after ticket. When eating a comfort dish outside of my safe place(s) the measure of success lies in wether or not it feels like it was meant for me. No matter how large the party or how many people ordered it before me I need to be left knowing the chef intended for me to feel some emotional connection with the dish.
One of my favorite wine bars in Brooklyn, brook vin, serves what is now my favorite bread pudding. The first time I had the bread pudding it was new to the menu. The bartender couldn't stop raving about it, so I ordered it. It was made with sourdough and served with bacon caramel and whiskey vanilla ice cream. I knew after the first bite my life had changed forever. What I had come to know about bread pudding in the past was all a lie.
When the chef stepped out of the kitchen for a smoke I stared in disbelief that I was seeing to the man who's work had just moments before elevated my understanding of dessert. I knew he made that bread pudding for me. He had undoubtedly toiled for months, maybe even years developing that recipe for me. At night he sat on his window cill smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey doting on me, his muse, to spark some divine and inspirational inkling . Im sure he scribbled on countless Moleskine pages driving himself mad developing what would come to be one of my all time favorite dishes. I like to imagine on one fateful night in the kitchen of his studio apartment he took that knowing bite and stopped. He knew that the texture of the crust like a prima ballerina stood delicately on pointe. One move in either direction would have been potentially disastrous. He made the custard only a minutiae more sweet than savory and knew that that tension, almost sexual, would arouse some untapped carnal desire within me. He knew I'd the find the caramel cloying almost repulsively sweet, so he burned burned it just so for me. He made the bread pudding for me.
No matter where you find it a successful comfort dish has to be made for you. It must bring you to place where if even for just a moment you experience bliss. Whether that bliss comes from the who when or where of the dish is not important. The opportunity to taste heaven on earth and know it is though.