The Digest

Hell’s Chicken & Other News

7th April 2017

Words: James Hansen

This week’s food writing survey takes in coffee culture, meditations on bread and the art of toasting marshmallows

We begin this week with Danny Chau at The Ringer and a tribute to Nashville hot chicken, with its “lurid, reddish hue that, depending on the spice level, ranges from California sunset to the bowels of hell”. Chau tours three of Nashville’s most infamous spots, on a three-day commitment: it should be noted that this commitment is not connected to the eating, but to what comes next. The piece is packed with fine detail on origin stories – revenge on serial philanderers is best served cayenne-hot – and the science of capsaicin, but bears reading most for what it lacks: qualitative comparison between the three experiences. Chau eschews arbitrary yardsticks, and the tired trope of culinary high arbiter, paying attention instead to “how something resonates in a given time and place, and why“, finishing with an out-of-body floatation down a Nashville street, lost in “the great relief of succumbing”. Pair with a piece founded on ratings: Sophie Davidson’s latest Women Cook for Me newsletter, with a ketchup test from Georgia Haire.

From true presentism to food memory with the aptly named Food Memory Bank. Stevie Mackenzie-Smith reminisces on caravan marshmallows, and all that surrounds them, and there is little more to say. Mackenzie-Smith knowingly details the teasing intricacies of marshmallow toasting, from the integrity of your stick to the importance of embers, cleaved from “these great bits of chopped up tree” she and her dad assembled. Framed by glances at food, and the world, according to a seven-to-14-year-old – apples are “small and funny looking and too sharp to eat” – it’s just a beautiful bit of writing.

Over at The California Sunday Magazine, Daniel Duane profiles Daniel Patterson, chef and co-owner (with street food impresario Roy Choi) of Locol. Picking apart the story of Locol’s reproducible restaurant model, designed to provide affordable, delicious fare in food deserts, Duane weaves the restaurant into Patterson’s own story. Thoroughly excavating his background, including this archive piece on California cuisine’s cult of personality, Duane transparently documents Patterson’s many conflicts: with others; with cooking; with himself. Spanning culinary identity politics, the gildings of fine-dining and, yes, that Pete Wells review in the New York Times, it’s a pensive, deeply involving read.

From words to video with Chris Baca on Youtube. A co-owner of Cat & Cloud Coffee in Santa Cruz, California, Baca’s Youtube channel is a mine of coffee information, outspoken opinion and an awful lot of fun. Instructional series and gear reviews sit alongside the vlog itself, which takes you inside Cat & Cloud’s daily operations and coffee events around the globe as well as his day-to-day schedule. Whether testing roasted coffee for its solubility or picking a new rig for his trusty skateboard, Baca is an engaging presenter, a skilled editor and a true ambassador for the often alienating world of specialty coffee. Pair with the Cat & Cloud podcast, which he produces with co-owners Jared Truby and the infamous, lesser-spotted Chuck.

We finish for this week with two pieces on bread. Begin with Rustum Kozain at The Chimurenga Chronic, considering the history of bread as his own sourdough lazily ferments. Knowledgable of bread technics and sensitive to its geopolitical ramifications – the constancy of grain likely put an end to nomadic culture – Kozain is also, refreshingly sceptical of the cult of sourdough. The gratification borne out of taming the wilds of fermentation is genuine and tangible: a boon for the home baker. This contrasts with Alec Lobrano an old friend of ours – and his whirlwind experience of a Parisian bakery, documented for Saveur. The work and culture of the baker is foregrounded as Lobrano recounts his weakness for baguettes, their chewy indulgence far surpassing the “foil-wrapped supermarket ‘Italian’ loaves sprayed with something oily and yellow” of his childhood in Connecticut, USA. Both pieces interrogate the exacting science of baking bread from a learned perspective – the kind of experience that lets touch and instinct take the lead, as science quietly runs the show. One to read as you cut into your loaf, be it for morning toast, a restorative sandwich, or something else entirely.

Posted 7th April 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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