“Authenticity” is a term all too often misused and abused in the popular press, and thoroughly distorted and maligned in the academic milieu. This leads to the peculiar situation that one of the most common terms in both gastronomic writing and the popular culinary imagination has been almost completely excised from academic discourse by an overzealous ideology critique. This conceptual blind spot arose because the topic suggests a valorization of origins, hierarchies, and certitudes, all anathema to postmodern critique. I wish to propose a reconsideration of the term that saves its descriptive and theoretical values from both a naive, unreflective, often reactionary popular usage and from a stultifying politically correct automatism on the part of many scholars.
In the West, pottery is usually deemed ““craft”” rather than ““art”” and has long existed near the bottom of the aesthetic hierarchy. In Japan, to the contrary, pottery is among the most highly regarded forms of art, in great part due to its role in the Zen-inspired Tea ceremony. Because the Tea ceremony effectively creates a link between several art forms (landscape, architecture, poetry, calligraphy, pottery, cuisine), a profound and highly codified symbolic system has developed that articulates all art forms, all the while celebrating the chance effects of the heat of the kiln and the cycles of nature. This complex aesthetic system has a radical impact on formal Japanese cuisine, which is of startling complexity and symbolic profundity.
The phoenix is the rarest of game birds, indeed so rare that its snob appeal by far supersedes that of all other luxury foods. As described by Ovid in his classic account, the Metamorphoses, this mythical creature spontaneously bursts into flame at maturity, to subsequently be reborn from its own ashes. The life cycle of the phoenix is thus the very allegory of cuisine, taken in its structural instance, as it spans the antithetical conditions of raw/cooked, cold/hot, fresh/rotten, dry/moist, aromatic/gamy. The phoenix would therefore be the perfect dish and the ideal offering, paradoxically encompassing the contradictory possibilities of diverse cooking techniques, inherent alimentary differences, and sacred symbolism. Like the trans substantiation of the host, or cannibalistic communion, the eating of the phoenix would constitute a truly transcendental gastronomic act. Given the phoenix's origin and its habitat in biblical lands, as well as its transcendental destiny, the question as to whether the bird is kosher is of the essence. Such an investigation will illuminate not only the symbolic structure of koshruth, but also the imaginary of gastronomy, untainted by prejudiced considerations of real cuisine.