The Digest

The Meaning of Cheese & Other News

30th June 2017

Words: James Hansen

Cheese Painting

In this week’s food media round-up: chefs vs TripAdvisor, eating far away from home, the lunacy of brunch and a philosophy of cheese

Kathryn Murphy kicks us off with an analysis of food’s role in Dutch art for Apollo Magazine. Consider Fruit Piece (1722) by Jan van Huysum, “an exhilarating combination of precision and indistinction” – fruits and vegetables of all seasons tumbled together but rendered distinct. Compare, as Murphy does, with Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels (~1612) by Clara Peeters: treated or prepared foods, arranged separately. Having reflected on the compositional dominance of stacks of cheese, Murphy considers the place of flies on food – loathed at dinner, loved on canvas – as well as introducing a simple, if staggering query: “Is cheese rational?”

Matt White dredges the murky waters of Tripadvisor in his new Youtube series, Fodder. The premise is simple: White interviews a chef from Manchester, his local area, and confronts them with their most vitriolic reviews on the platform “riddled with fakes and idiots”. The first episode sees White sit down with Gary Usher, the infamously outspoken owner of three restaurants in the area. Those familiar with the “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” format will be instant fans, while the general appeal of logically skewering mean-spirited diners is undeniable. Pair with this compilation of the harshest – professional – reviews of 2016 from Eater.

Subtle Cheddar, aka @shitfoodblogger, rips into Mark Bittman on Twitter. The subject of the ire is this recipe on Grub Street, detailing Bittman’s process for butter-roasted carrots and his philosophy on roasting vegetables as a whole. The ingredients: carrots, butter, salt and heat. The takedown, by turns eloquent and raging, taps into troubling aspects of food media: the all-encompassing need for content, the relationship between influence and accuracy, and the prevailing air of sanctimony that can permeate value judgments around cooking and eating fresh food. Best read in the context of this thread from the ever-thoughtful Helen Rosner.

Heather Hartley tackles brunch scepticism in an archive piece at Alimentum Journal: “Tell a Neapolitan that you’re serving broccoli and banana bread at 10:00 a.m. and they will ask incredulously, ‘But why?'” Hartley weaves together the “exciting and magical” numbness of over-caffeination at a Naples bar with the sating pleasures of brunch with friends: “We all looked better by the end of the meal, blurrier maybe, but brighter, more luminous.” The affection of compromise in romantic relationships is made legible through food, the clashing ideologies of Italian breakfasts – “a burst of sugar and sweets and caffeinated divinity” – and brunch, “sweet and savory and big”.

To round off this week, Soleil Ho agitates for assimilation food at Taste, celebrating “food that’s made to close the gap between homes: a critical need when one lives in exile.” Remembering her Chicago childhood eating “hand-torn slices of cheap, paper-thin cold cuts scattered over jasmine rice and sprinkled with precious drops of Maggi seasoning”, she explores food’s ability to reclaim a home far away: the ownership and adaptation of ingredients culturally unfamiliar but immediately local. Elegantly scathing of fusion – the word that “stinks of the imperialist instinct to civilize foreign cultures and rehabilitate them into respectability” – her piece “wrestles with the tragedy of losing one’s proximity to the familiar by seeing how far we can stretch a dish like pho or doro wat without losing its soul”.

Image: Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, Clara Peeters





Posted 30th June 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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