Alice Waters‘ contribution to the culinary arts is remarkable, to say the least. The chef of the world-famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California has done more for food, for eating, for restaurants, and for the nutrition of America’s children than most. Among her many accomplishments: making micro, mixed and field greens a staple of salad plates at homes and restaurants across North America.
You know the ones I’m talking about: chervil, arugula, endive, baby spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, dandelion, frisée, mizuna, mâche, radicchio, sorrel; often, together or in any combination thereof referred to as mesclun.
And it’s for that reason I shake my fist at her: among my many tasks this summer: picking through cases of mesclun to rid them of even the tiniest wilted leaf, bit of rot, or dead fruit fly.
Of course, no one wants that on their plate or, worse, in their mouth; it’s just the ubiquity of these greens — they’re the standard mix for most tossed salads nowadays and available in the produce section of even the smallest grocery stores — means we have to bring in so many cases, and the task of picking through them so long and tedious.
Hours pass, cases emptied, leaves sorted, greens repacked for service. My back aches, my eyes blurry.
To be fair, Chef Waters, herself, has acknowledged what she’s wrought:
I’m sure I have contributed to the awful demise of the concept of mesclun, just by promoting it in many, many, many ways. And now, of course, one of those big companies has grabbed on to the idea, and they cut up big lettuces and put ’em in a bag, mix ’em up, and call ’em mesclun.
And indeed she has a point about what passes for mesclun now that it’s gone mainstream and mass-market. Still, it’s little consolation when dinner service is about to commence and I’m staring at a half dozen cases of the stuff yet to be gone through.
So I say, forget mixed greens; this season my vote’s for a simple, single green salad of arugula. Who’s with me?