I took a trip this week to San Francisco to attend the IACP conference and mingle with like-minded eaters. IACP (not this one; this one) is an annual conference and awards ceremony that recognizes excellence in food writing and media, and awards a lifetime achievement prize to one long-standing foodie. This year’s winner was Alice Waters.
If by some unlikely chance you don’t know who Waters is, well, know this—she’s the grandmother of modern American cuisine. I know you all think that was Julia Child, but Child was a Francophile who spread the word about good food; Waters was the first chef to move beyond Europe’s influence and focus on regional, seasonal produce here in the U.S. This was back in the 1970s, before anyone even used the word “local” in any food context apart from describing a bar. She’s the reason the White House has an organic garden. She claims to have invented mesclun mix. She’s a big deal.
As she accepted her award this week for being a big deal she reminded those of us in the audience that we need to keep spreading the word about the local, sustainable mantra. Because—and she’s right here—even if we Americans like to talk about eating seasonally, most of us just don’t. We like the possibility of roasted asparagus in October and slurping oysters May through August. We buy and eat tasteless tomatoes in February because we can. But why, when we know that everything tastes better when it’s ripe?
Neither Alice nor I have the answer. All we can do is preach the gospel. Of course, that’s exactly what this column is about.
So while I’m in California, at the end of the local citrus season, I’m going to milk it for everything it has to offer. And I’m going to vow that once I’m back on the East Coast, I will steer clear of lemons and oranges and grapefruit because they don’t grow in Pennsylvania, where I live. Until then I’ll enjoy them for all they have to offer with a savory citrus salad that feels so California and tastes so, well, modern American.
Savory Citrus Salad
3 large oranges
2 blood oranges
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh mint leaves
Remove the top and bottom of the citrus with a sharp knife, exposing the sections. Run the knife down the sides of the fruit, removing the peel and pith. Holding the citrus over a bowl, cut the flesh away from the membranes letting the flesh fall into the bowl. Squeeze the remaining membranes into the bowl, then discard the membranes and any seeds. Pour off any juice and drink it.
Gently toss the fruit with the oil and shallot, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Place on a serving plate and scatter with mint leaves, then serve.