Going to the Museum?

You're headed to the museum, you say? The one that looks like a big, white cube (oh, wait, it is a big, white cube), or the one that hearkens back to ancient Greece, with those stately pilasters and that endless face of acanthus-topped columns (I especially like the cherubim, carved just so, blessedly & eternally picking mangoes and apricots from the lovingly wrought pedimental trees)?

No matter. It's pretty much the same wherever you go.

But it's a serious matter. In going to the museum, you're going to have to navigate some of the trickiest social shoals this side of Monte Carlo. So before you step into the marbled, echoing chambers, please do consider asking yourself the kinds of questions that I'll be periodically posting for you up on this blog:

Ready? Have a pencil handy, or some kind of iPad writing interface or smart phone voice recorder? Awesome - Phew! Wouldn't want you to forget this crucial, socio-economic-disaster-preventing info.

Question I:

Top hat...do you own one ? No? Well, by George, call your personal assistant and tell him to find the nearest haberdashery. Yes? Brilliant. Jet black, right? Thank g*d. Now, before you put it on, inspect it thoroughly. There shouldn't be any of those little, dastardly lint thingies that regularly cling to such fine materials...It is made of silk, yes? What about unsightly smells and/or stains? Remember the night you were out a little bit late at the club, and smoked that last cigar with that final Highball, circa 3 AM or so? You didn't accidentally burn a hole in it, did you? After all, you were gesticulating rather wildly in response to your friend's Keynesian views on the precarious re-nationalization situation down south (when will that pesky thing resolve itself, already?!)...cigar-hole-making territory, if I've ever heard of it. Take a look, at any rate, just to be sure.

Lastly, height: It's still of fashion? I know, I know, you say, "The higher the better." Fair enough, I'd usually agree with you. And still, there's a rumor floating around that Count Edenmarch (Oh, you're not familiar with him? He's the one who bought that Champions League team from Cyprus - or was it Armenia? - last year) has been wearing a hat 5 millimeters lower than average since last season. Can you believe it? That kind of alteration takes major, major panache. From anyone else it'd be total effrontery, you know? But he's like...such...such style, grace, charm, and old money....like, his cave ancestors were the kind of cave ancestors that had like 1000 boulders to everyone else's 3 or 4. And their boulders were all perfectly wabi-sabi, whereas the others' were a little...pathetic. More like 3-days-out-in-the-sun-and-crumbling Play-Doh pieces, or skipping stones.

So yeah, be sure to consider the 5 mm issue. I'd err on the side of the Count, if I were you.

Oh yes, yes, I know I already put my "last thing" up and all, but this is the final piece of advice. On doffing, use circumspection. You need not expose your coiffure more than absolutely necessary, and when you do, adhere to the "yawn" rule: The time between doff and don should last roughly the time it takes to complete the average yawn, which, having read my latest McKinsey & Co. report, is about 4.75 seconds.

Quest of Conscience

One quickly gets the impression that Max Levy doesn't waste time or energy on trivialities. Life is short, and who knows what happens afterward? Chances are this is the only go-around. So, as people say, "Carpe Diem." Waaaaaaaaaaay overused platitude. An old Latin student, I cringe every time I hear it bandied in film and/or everyday life, often sarcastically or thoughtlessly, by people who clearly have little sincere intention in getting to the marrow. But Max seems different.

 Chef Max Levy of Okra  (C) Michelle Proksell, 2014

Chef Max Levy of Okra

(C) Michelle Proksell, 2014

Listening to him, I know he embraces the phrase instinctively (and perhaps it's the mark of such individuals that they never have to say such things; whereas others might need to remind themselves of the obvious - e.g., the dude on his 42nd consecutive hour playing some Call of Duty iteration online, neglecting wife (conversation, sharing of tales, outrageously mind-expanding lovemaking), laundry, books, taxes, and countless other possibilities...He really might do well to take stock every now and then and tell himself, "Yeah, tempus motherf****** fugit.") It makes sense, then, that Levy, Chef and owner of the award-winning Okra Sushi and Cocktail Bar, was already cooking up gumbo at an age when a lot of his cohort were still tasting sand at recess; seriousness, dedication to craft, and appreciation of the mortal clock is just hard-wired in him. Possessing such qualities is one thing, and a restaurant with a chef armed with them is in good hands indeed.

 (C) Okra Sushi, 2014

(C) Okra Sushi, 2014

And yet Levy's fertile mind elevates him well beyond the level of expert technician-craftsman. He's a kind of artist-philosopher-natural scientist chef, and with him, talking about a plate of food is more than a basic enumeration of ingredients, prices, markets, etc.; you're going to get treated to a meandering, yet fully engaging discourse on the history of various species of pig, their migrations/introductions from country to country, and among other things (the following is purely my speculation), the ways in which various environmental stressors can render rib fat "tough".....To those who enjoy hitting the trendiest spots, though, and eating the hottest, newest foods, take heed: Max Levy is not a chef who panders to the hordes. Some people will go into restaurants and order whatever people are talking about, regardless of quality. He joked that some people will go to places and order shoes/boots if their friends tell them to do so: "Yeah, can you believe it?! It's great! They've got the only boot in town!" In a society that often seems to confuse novelty with richness / depth of quality and/or meaning, I really appreciate the kind of person who is willing to take the occasional hit in popularity in the service of truth. People often say that everything should be tried at least once, but this is totally & utterly hogwash - pure logical drivel. In a matter of 10 seconds (really, please do this exercise with me), I can think of several acts, ideas, experiences, etc. that I'd rather never, ever try. And that goes for my friends and family, and hell, even people I don't particularly enjoy (everyone deserves mercy, after all, in the end). I'd rather them be safe than sorry or repentant....Some things just aren't entirely smart or fitting. So I dare you: Go into Okra, and ask Max if for $5 million he'll serve you up some animal crackers, deep-fried Snickers bars, and ketchup atop a choice cut from one of his specially-bred pigs.

 (C) Okra Sushi, 2014

(C) Okra Sushi, 2014

I bet my bottom dollar he'll respectfully - we are talking about a gentleman here, after all - refuse your mountain of cash. Go to someone else. Plenty of other chefs will take your money and indulge caprices ranging from the whimsical-but-misbegotten to the purely boredom-induced. When it's a matter of conscience, and when every dish you put out is a natural extension of your mind and cumulative taste, nothing less than Good - the capital "G" kind: unsullied, bathed in light, washed in mountain streams - will do.

Aitor Olabegoya & the Art of Business

In April's A.M. Brainstorm, attendees were treated to the sun-dappled charisma, humor, and thoughts of Aitor Olabegoya, award-winning executive chef at Migas Restaurant and Bar. Discussing his research of local and regional Chinese ingredients, Aitor showed a video of his investigations into sesame oil production. To many here, sesame oil might seem an ingredient of such prevalence and everyday use as to be analogous to the butter of certain Western countries and kitchens: Always the bridesmaid (or for that matter, always the DJ/Spinner of predictable 80s and mid-90s crowd pleasers), never the bride. Yet, Aitor's video and his enthusiastic portrayal of the life cycle of sesame oil metamorphosed this culinary workhorse into a kind of dietary muse worthy of depiction by Homer ("Sing to me of the Olympian seed...") or the Pre-Raphaelites.

 (C) Michelle Proksell, 2014

(C) Michelle Proksell, 2014

It is this dedication to local, unpretentious ingredients, combined with a desire to continually experiment with both process and possibility, that make Aitor's particular brand of new Spanish cuisine a very welcome presence in the Beijing dining scene. At one point, in discussing the natural tension between culinary artistry and the need to keep a business in the black, Aitor mentioned McDonalds' offerings to be both tasty and creative, in his opinion. This writer wanted to press him further on this - assuredly, back in the mid-20th Century their assembly-line-ization of food service was probably revelatory, but I personally can't find much novelty or genius on endless riffs on various hues of deep-fryer brown, and the dozens of ways in which one can posture at ushering in health to menus bereft of it with pathetic sprinklings of ill-looking shards of iceberg lettuce, purple cabbage, and/or yellow corn...but I suppose one could argue there is certain genius in successful posturing, no? - but there were many other, equally engaging questions to field.

Plus, at the time I think I was so absorbed in relishing one of pastry chef Pol's (are-your-salivary-glands-ready-for-such-elegant-temptations) cupcakes that formulating any kind of coherent word pattern would have been a fool's errand...Darn you, Pol, for reminding me how incurable and will-crippling my sweet tooth actually is!

 Pastry Chef Pol's unbelievably yummy cupcakes  (C) Michelle Proksell, 2014

Pastry Chef Pol's unbelievably yummy cupcakes

(C) Michelle Proksell, 2014

BYOB Beijing

Moving Image Producers. Submit your work to be part of BYOB on June 28, 2014. Submissions due by Monday, June 9th! Check out their Tumblr.

Inspiration of the Day

"The identity of the mental image and the imagined work is a basic tenant of one's subjective being, without with there would be no link between one's physical and mental activities. One is able to conceive of this because one feels the abstract experience of words and images arising within oneself." - Li Xiaodong

"这种精神意象和想象艺术的特性是个人主观存在的基本原则,没有它,人的肢体活动与思维活动将失去联系。个体能够产生想象是缘于其感受到了自身对于文字和图像的一种抽象体验”。-李晓东