The Digest

Food From Outer Space & Other News

9th September 2017

Words: James Hansen

outer space

In this week’s food writing round-up: the art of craft beer, authors and their sandwiches, and the myths of farm-to-table

Jonathan Gold goes to outer space for dinner at The LA Times. His destination, the interminably hyped, hyper-interminable Vespertine, with Jordan Kahn at the wheel/hyperdrive/pass. Naturally, Gold doesn’t actually go to space. He does review a newly-opened restaurant with pretensions to international notoriety, and a mission to rip apart the template for fine dining: “You are not sure exactly what you are eating. You are not meant to know. You have traveled from darkness into light, and that is enough.” For all Kahn’s pronouncements on Vespertine’s otherworldly origins, architecture, and cooking, it is still a (very expensive, at times brilliant) restaurant, as Gold concludes – but the questions Vespertine raises about “restaurant criticism” are more pressing. Can a normal restaurant review do justice to a restaurant from another world? Kahn’s overstatement is, too, a position of strength.

Ian Seiter asks a platter of writers how they like their sandwiches for LitHub. More disturbing choices include Tom Sleigh’s “towering fishstick abomination” (Seiter’s words, not Sleigh’s) and Katie Kitamura’s meatloaf sandwich, which she immediately retracts as a favourite. Seeing the sandwich as “the great equalizer” (which football fans and music buffs would dispute), Seiter’s project, The Signature Sandwich, goes beyond the scope of the article to cover more than 150 writers. Take a look and see what your favourite writer might put between two (or more) slices of bread (or something else entirely).

From bread to beer, Tony Naylor documents the aesthetics behind the craft beer movement, specifically its eye-catching, irreverent labelling. A jazzy piece of bottle art is as useful a bellwether for beers as it is for natural wines, often pointing to something out-of-the-ordinary (or at least independent). As Nick Dwyer – illustrator for Beavertown – has it, “The big guys are fascinated by it to the point of confusion,” and it’s clearly a boon for labels carving a place in the market. More importantly, and interestingly, it’s a rejection of ale-labelling conventions – “craggy moors, steam trains, adolescent fantasy imagery and lazy sexism” – for an abstract, often psychedelic aesthetic that makes no judgments about who is drinking from the bottle or can.

Our final two pieces this week are taken from More Than 100 Exceptional Works of Journalism, a digest of 2016’s longform writing from Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. To save the long scroll to the food section, we’ve picked out Laura Reiley at Tampa Bay Times and Carolyn Phillips at Life & Thyme, writing on the myths of farm-to-table and confessional family meals respectively. Reiley questions restaurant after restaurant’s commitment to localism, calling up suppliers and calling out chefs in an admirable, necessary display of culinary integrity. Farm-to-table’s mythmaking has undeniably engulfed the way we eat and changed it irrevocably, and Reiley lands on the following, stark conclusions: it’s a trust-based system, and far too often eaters are being lied to. How much do eaters buy into the myth unthinkingly? That’s another question. Phillips recounts dinner with her Chinese mother-in-law, who is suspicious of her culture and roots despite Phillips’ seeming simplicity: “Still quite oblivious to my role in this drama, I have invited her over just to feed her, to get to know her, and to give her a chance to know me.” Having gone to great mental and physical pains to serve up her favourite dish, wowotouer (Chestnut dumpling), trepidation is palpable: the story that unravels is a heartening reminder of what food can do when people eat together.

Image: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Posted 9th September 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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