The Digest

A Life Through a Bottle of Gin & Other News

28th July 2017

Words: James Hansen


In this week’s food media round-up: the mythology of the Big Mac, the dilemmas of modern-day whaling, and the rise of the technical cookbook

Earphones out to start this week: Kerry Diamond interviews food writer and chef Samin Nosrat at Radio Cherry Bombe. Nosrat recently published Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, an elemental expression of her pedagogical approach to cooking. Nosrat relates how she fell in love with, and over, food and poetry, quirky San Francisco pizzerias and hefty triangles of Brie. Formative experiences at Chez Panisse – as both worker and diner – give way to an exploration of cooking through sound and smell as much as sight and taste. A meditative look back at the way eating and cooking change the way we think about life.

Nick Rose surveys the McMythology of the inescapable Big Mac for Munchies USA – “the burger that became edible Americana”. Beef, cheese, onions, lettuce, pickles, that sauce: “These ingredients, forever immortalized in a jingle, became greater than their sum, and today, the impact of the Big Mac can be felt far beyond the grease and griddle of your local golden arches.” Between reflections on the combination of tastes that renders an eater putty in the burger’s hands and the burger’s status as an economic yardstick, chef Nick Liu skewers McSnobbery: “I think it’s wrong for people to be like ‘Ah! McDonald’s! Blah blah this and blah blah that!’ because everyone ate it! When you were fucking young, you fucking loved it! Don’t tell me now you fucking hate it, because I know you fucking loved it.”

“Before his story made the Anchorage paper, before the first death threat arrived from across the world, before his elders began to worry and his mother cried over the things she read on Facebook, Chris Apassingok, age 16, caught a whale.” So is the searing first sentence from Julia O’Malley at High Country News, with a dispatch from Gambell, Alaska. Whaling is the hunt by which the Gambell community subsists – to a host of social media commentators (some undeniably trolls), it is a stick with which to beat them. O’Malley analyses the economic and social realities of whaling with the lives its necessity touches – ethical revulsion is in many ways a luxury perspective, which quickly sours towards ignorance.

Alexander Chee recounts his turbulent relationship with gin for Tin House. Beginning with a foray into his parents’ liquor cabinet – as so often the way – Chee goes in search of magic. “But if gin was that sort of magic, the spell’s first price was a day and night of pain.” The seismic impact that a violent first reaction to food or drink carries is clear: a seemingly unshakable aversion, stitched through nascent flirtations and tremulous walks across steakhouse dining rooms, tray of martinis precariously in hand. With continual exposure, and a little help from the Negroni, Chee settles on an arresting conclusion: “If, before, my gin reveries were dreams of the future, and might-have-beens, they are now as often memories.” Pair with Richard Godwin on really, really, really, really expensive booze for Mr Porter.

Sarah Whitman-Salkin explores a lineage of cookbooks that Samin Nosrat embodies for today at Food52: back-to-basics, technique-focused tomes from the likes of J Kenji López-Alt, Michael Ruhlman, and Nosrat herself. “What’s notable among these books is the variance in approach to these basics,” writes Whitman-Salkin. “Individually, each of these authors can teach a person how to boil an egg or braise vegetables; together, their combined voices offer a holistic portrait in what, how, and why to cook.” As food culture develops its starry role in day-to-day life, with more and more people eating better out than they can cook at home, intimidation is on the rise – and is exactly what the books seek to obliterate. Pair with the latest Recode Media podcast from Peter Kafka, as Tastemade CEO Larry McGibbon and Eater editor-at-large Helen Rosner discuss the cultural boom that has inspired books such as those above.

Image: Gordon’s Gin by Richard Estes (1968)


Posted 28th July 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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