One of my favorite books is chef Robert Arbor’s (2003), Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living. This isn’t a book about food, although food features very prominently in it as part of Arbor’s description of everyday French living. His description of his typical breakfast of bread, butter and jam struck a chord. There’s nothing exclusively French about this; it was very much my own typical breakfast growing up in a Greek home. I’m sure it’s probably a “classic” for many people of European descent.
Good bread toasted on the BBQ, fresh unsalted quality butter, and homemade orange marmalade from a variety of oranges including bitter Sevilles and Bloods. This remains one of my all-time breakfast favorites and I had it again this morning.
One thing did strike me however: Utter simplicity, while holding great promise of sensual satisfaction, is also extraordinarily fragile. For it to work, simplicity requires that every component be of outstanding quality. Poor grocery-store bread, topped with the finest butter and homemade marmalade, is a disaster. Awesome bread from Arhoma, topped with inferior mass-produced whipped butter and the finest marmalade, is a catastrophe. And great bread, wonderful butter, topped with some pectin and thickener-loaded orange marmalade is a vile and unsatisfying product.
The reason for this relationship between simplicity and fragility is that with simple things one has less to hide behind; each inferior ingredient represents a larger proportion of the total experience.