Monday, October 25, 2010

Chili Musings from Cantina's Chef

Our new friend Jon Jividen, Chef at 12th Street Catering, which also operates 12th Street Cantina at Reading Terminal Market, was chatting chilis with us the other day.  He invoked a version of the old adage "You are what you eat" and discussed the fact that he can glean a lot of information about people by their food selections.   Jon elaborates, with respect to chilis:  "Why is it that when we eat spicy foods containing hot chilis, we suppress the initial ‘burn’ of pain, only to consume another mouthful and repeat the process?  That behavior has been coined ‘mouth surfing’. When our taste buds detect capsaicin,  (the chemical in peppers that causes the burn), our brains release endorphins; a natural pain killer ‘feel good’ chemical. Our unconscious response is…'The pleasure was worth more than the pain;' quickly followed by 'I want to do it again!'".    Kind of explains why people have more than one child.

Unless you are like Ben Stiller's character in Along Came Polly, in which case, chilis are not for you.

Fortunately, we are not in this category.

Jon also described a theory of his that is often discussed among food historians and culinary anthropologists.  The idea is that spicy chilis have played a major role in contributing to the aura of particular societies.   Consider Mexico.  We associate Mexico with lots of color, conviviality, fiesta and excitement. Could part of this social behavior be due to extensive use of chile peppers in their diet??  He brings the point home with the following suggestion:  The next time you are with friends sharing a bowl of extra spicy salsa, watch the mood of the group ramp up as more salsa gets consumed.  (Leave Margaritas out of the equation….maybe try a Hot Mango Mess instead?)

We are also indebted to Jon for this fab photo, an idea on how to use chilis in a creative and colorful centerpiece.  This is for a rather elaborate buffet but a scaled down version would be hot hot hot at your next dinner party.

Finally, we tip our toques both to Jon for his interesting insights into chilis, and to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) who is the author of the quote  alluded to above; the original translation is:  "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are."  Brillat-Savarin could be called the godfather of all food bloggers.   A French lawyer and politician who gained fame as an epicure, Brillat-Savarin is  largely credited for founding the whole genre of the gastronomic essay. Merci, Monsieur.

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