Is comfort food the new molecular gastronomy? On plates nationwide, what’s old is new again, thanks no doubt to the anxieties of the last two years, which have made diners eager to reach for the familiar.
“As we are emerging, people want to celebrate life, grab friends, go out,” chef Andrew Carmellini says. “They want to lean into food and experiences that make them feel comfortable and loved.” At Carne Mare, his new Italian chophouse in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, caviar-topped mozzarella sticks—the epitome of comfort food, albeit with a super-luxe touch—are one of the most popular items on the menu.
Food that conjures childhood memories is also making a comeback—for example, the crowd-pleasing “Cheetos” at Chicago’s Esmé, where sous chef Sebastian Cruz sought to recreate one of his favorite snacks. In this upscale version, Cruz spikes a corn puree “batter” with truffles and coats the puffed treats with a powder made of dehydrated fermented lobster mushrooms and parmesan to guarantee the finger licking that is an essential part of the Cheeto-eating experience.
While high-end takes on classics can be delicious, when I’m craving comfort I always go back to Chinese home cooking. Whether it’s a bowl of my grandmother’s velvety chicken congee spiked with ginger and chunks of century egg or a heaping plate of my mother’s simple stir-fried noodles, these dishes always hit the spot. They are the recipes I crave, and what I make to soothe and nurture the soul. Restaurant interpretations of old favorites may be fun, but there’s nothing like the food you ate while being cared for. Like Proust’s madeleine, these are the dishes that trigger memories—of love, warmth, and a simpler, more innocent time. What could be more comforting?
This story appears in the February 2022 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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