The Digest

In Praise of Burning & Other News

31st January 2017

Words: James Hansen
Photograph: Emile Dinneen

In this week’s round-up of food stories from the web: culinary recordings, a refugee restaurant and the art of the dinner party

We begin this week’s digest not with writing, but with voices. The British Library houses a vast oral collection in its online archives, with 1579 curated recordings devoted to food. Pick from their highlights – Claudia Roden on food writing, Norman Robson on broken biscuits – or browse at your leisure. Perfect for whiling away an afternoon, or even a whole day, in the kitchen or elsewhere.

“When I was growing up, my mother, who is Indian, embossed her soft chapatis with tiny, crisp bubbles of black char, the pattern like a signature.” So remembers Tejal Rao, in her essay on the burnt, the blackened and the browned for The New York Times. This is both a treatise on the maillard reaction and a global miscellany of smoke, and the breadth and depth of Rao’s research cannot hide her relish for the food at hand. For blackened food of different kin, check out the ChefSteps recipe for cod with jet-black purée. Don’t skip over the evocative introduction.

On the Lucky Peach website, Tamara Micner profiles Syr, a restaurant in Utrecht, Netherlands, dedicated to employing refugees. It’s a succinct, informative profile – Micner’s narration quietly framing the story of the restaurant and its employees. More than anything else, it’s a timely reminder of food’s social elements, couched in the community that a restaurant provides. Pair this with “Who Is This Restaurant For?”, a three-part series from acclaimed podcast The Sporkful.

Over at The California Sunday Magazine, we revisit René Redzepi’s mission to spread Noma as an idea, a philosophy, a translatable state of mind. His Sydney residency, as documented by Tienlon Ho, makes for a captivating read. Ho’s writing teems with fine detail; the development process is captured in stunning photographs from Mark Mahaney. Much more than a record of Redzepi’s time down under, this is biography-as-manifesto, a testament to the biodiversity of Australia and the spoils of paying attention to surroundings.

Back in the UK with The Guardian, we find Kay-Plunkett Hogge reminiscing on the art of the dinner-party. Her memories flit from “the ladies in their finery [and] the smoke from their Sobranie cocktails” to her wry recollection of “research into the Secret Life of Grown Ups”, anchored by a warm fondness for cooking and eating together: “It’s actually just about being human.”

Finally for this week, a contrast. Betty Fussell – a veritable grande-dame of US food writing – talks through 50 years of a life lived through food with Shauna Sever over at The Splendid Table. You can listen to it, or you can read it, or both. Whatever you choose, it’s a rangy, insightful interview, attuned to the forms and functions of food writing: “That’s how we learn about other people. That’s how we learn about the outside. To eat is to know.” Pair it with the below from Seth D. Michaels: read first, then take a look at its original form. The mosaic of food writing grows ever more colourful.

i have not eaten
the plums
that were in the freezer
i am not
in plum juice
forgive me
i disagree
that the plums
are even gone

Posted 31st January 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen
Photograph: Emile Dinneen

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