The Digest

Cooking for Critics & Other News

14th July 2017

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s food media round-up: a uniquely British controversy, eating in the sky and a style guide to food and drink.

Luke Groskin kicks us off with a look into the office of US food writer and scientist Michael Pollan for Science Friday. Individual objects, from potent Peruvian ceremonial tobacco to a mushroom knife, act as touchstones for Pollan’s wider mode of working and thinking about his subjects. An intimate look at a deeply personal space, the documentary also delves into Pollan’s fraught but inspiring relationship with his grandfather, and gives his own pithy summation of his daily schedule: “Desk, kitchen, desk, kitchen, desk, kitchen”. Food writing in two words.

Nick Solares is the inadvertent creator of #mincegate at Eater. The mince in question is the mince on dripping toast at Quality Chop House in London. As with most gates in most fields these days, controversy has stemmed from the online backlash, predictably ranging from the reasoned to the sweary – not that the two can’t co-exist. The bone of contention is the description of the dish as a quintessential British classic coming from an American website, canonising beef on bread alongside fish on chips or beans on… bread. It’s probably fairer to say that it is a classic of modern British cookery: tradition symbiotically informed by innovation. Pair with an investigation of “influencers” from George Reynolds and an interrogation of the coverage of Women In Food from Victoria Stewart for Eater London, the magazine’s latest city branch.

Peter Lawrence Kane invites us to nerd out over food in style over at SF Weekly. We’re not talking plush backgrounds and high-class dining rooms: we’re talking written style, specifically the latest edition of the Associated Press Stylebook. As a governor of how so many eminent publications discuss food and drink, its inclusions and exclusions, official versions and acceptable alternatives have the power to direct the terms of our collective culinary conversation. Particular highlights include IHOP (a US pancake chain) and MSG needing no spelling out: other abbreviations require translation on first use. There’s also a slightly bizarre solution to the whiskey/whisky debate: the former for producing countries with an ‘e’ in them; the latter if not.

Armen Stevens recollects the unique pressure of cooking for a critic at Grub Street. Assessing the relationship between critics and restaurants, Stevens’ piece goes down to the microscopic: the individual chefs, on their individual sections, who are tasked with putting together the elements that will cohere into a certain number of stars in a few hours. As much a window on to the lengths restaurants go to prepare for a visit, as a memoir of cooking “the best fritto misto of my life”, it inspires empathy for both sides: the critics wary of walking into a stage-managed situation, and the cooks fighting to prove themselves, and their mise-en-place, worthy.

Nina Martyris tells Amelia Earhart’s story through the food she ate at NPR. Martyris’ piece pivots on a radio interview given between 1935 and 1937, wherein Earhart describes tomato juice as her perfect “working food”, owing to its palatability both hot and cold. Her three rules for dining are clear: eat enough to be neither tired from too little nor drowsy from too much; select food for ease of consumption; travel light, with as little as possible. Her most precious food memory during her historic flights is so beautiful that it must be reproduced in full, to close us out:

“Above, the clouds they hung so close it seemed I could reach out from the cockpit and touch them. And there, 8,000 feet over the sea, in a very solitary world with only the stars for company I luxuriated in a cup of cocoa — altogether the strangest midnight lunch I can remember.”

Posted 14th July 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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