The Digest

The Tao of Coffee & Other News

24th February 2017

Words: James Hansen


This week’s Gannet Digest negotiates perilous honey, the fine art of composting and a salmon in a minibar

“Howell sits relaxed in the middle, giving me all the time in the world. At seventy-one, he is an éminence grise.” Sam Dean, writing for Lucky Peach, kicks off this week’s digest with a compelling, intimate profile of George Howell: coffee impresario; psychedelia devotee; Frappuccino inventor. Dean adroitly draws together Howell’s zealous passion and his considerable commercial success: straddled between the height of specialism and broad appeal, he is a coffee man for all seasons. While others patronise this swelling industry, it’s refreshing to see a balanced approach. Drink up.

We move from the verbal to the visual with Andrew Newey, capturing the daily lives of Himalayan honey hunters. Newey’s photo essay is a masterpiece in form: wide shots establish a setting; piercing portraits exclude the world outside to bring deeper focus. It really sings when the two coalesce: honey gatherers hang over precipitous drops, bees swarming all around, while baskets cast out in search of the sweet nectar: an awe-inspiring look at the harvesting process. If you’re after some words on the side, this archive feature on the perceiberos – goose-barnacle hunters – of Galicia from Christoph Otto at The Daily Telegraph is a perfect fit.

From Himalaya to Azerbaijan, courtesy of Anya Von Bremzen at Saveur. Von Bremzen is keenly aware that Azerbaijan’s food – “the last great undiscovered cuisine of the world” – is no “Ottolenghi-esque mirage of charred eggplants, yogurt swirls, and dried rose blossoms.” Her writing is celebratory but grounded, deferent to the difficult past that has necessarily moulded the country’s food: “the natural resources and geopolitical forces that have separated our former ‘fraternity’ of Soviet republics into the haves and have-nots.” Between the jousting smells of caviar and petrol as remembered by her mother in wartime Baku, Von Bremzen captures the country’s cuisine in its most vivid, truthful form.

Elizabeth Royte takes us to meet ‘The Compost King’ of Long Island for The New York Times Magazine. Punctuated by striking images from Grant Cornett – compost ridges, great masses of peelings – Royte brings us into the world of Charles Vigliotti. Precise exploration of the science and logistics of food waste dovetails with Vigliotti’s irresistible commitment to improving New York’s labyrinthine environmental system, with a process “that would make everyone’s eyeballs and bells ring.” It’s based on anaerobic digestion: composting’s cleaner, less smelly cousin. Pair with an interview with Dougie McMaster of SILO, in Brighton, from our very own Killian Fox with The Observer. Kin with Vigliotti in using anaerobic digestion to process waste, McMaster’s restaurant throws away as little as 3kg per day; the food is delicious to boot.

We finish this week in memory of essayist, philosopher and salmon lover Umberto Eco, who passed away two years ago this week. His 1994 essay ‘How to Travel with a Salmon’, published in The Paris Review, scrupulously details the difficulties of keeping a whole salmon fresh with only a minibar for refrigeration: a problem that everyone has encountered at one time or another. Eco finds himself in a vicious battle of wits with the hotel staff, culminating in an astronomical bill, a spoiled salmon and this sobering conclusion: “My publisher is furious and thinks I’m a chronic freeloader. The salmon is inedible. My children insist I cut down on my drinking.” It’s a sprightly, witty meditation on the perils of gastronomy: the kind of food writing to enjoy one lazy afternoon, your salmon luxuriating in the comfort of a full-size fridge.

Posted 24th February 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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