3rd March 2017
Words: James Hansen
Start this week’s Digest by putting food in your ears. Don’t take this literally. Do, however, listen to Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, otherwise known as The Kitchen Sisters, who steer a culinary podcast with a considerably sweeping frame of reference. Their titles range from the evocative – “Milk Cow Blues” – to the disarmingly literal – “War and Food and Manga”, while their modus operandi remains consistent: deeply-mined research, stories engagingly told, and a lush soundscape to sweep the whole thing along. A delight while you cook, eat, or do just about anything else, as long as it doesn’t involve putting nibbles in your lugholes.
While Donald Trump tucks into well-done steak with catsup, over at The New York Times we find Kim Severson and Marian Burros searching for a president in the kitchen. Severson and Burros succinctly and intelligently observe that the White House’s culinary choices both affect and reflect the state of the nation’s cuisine: focusing on the kitchen garden – political battleground lined with seedlings – gives their article a mooring from which to cast a wide net. Pair with our recent Q&A with Adrian Miller, a recovering lawyer who has quite literally written the book on the presidential kitchen cabinet.
Staying in the Big Apple with Talia Lavin at The New Yorker, we come across a particularly millennial title: “truffle wunderkind”. It’s the moniker of Ian Purkayastha, who found himself in Arkansas via Texas and promptly started selling truffles door-to-door; the obvious choice. Fast-forward to the present day and he can count David Chang as one of his supporters, as well as Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. Lavin captures Purkaystha’s obvious relish for the black diamonds; she too maintains a healthy scepticism around culinary bluster: the proof is in the product, preferably shaved over a creamy risotto in a decadent snowfall.
From one heady topper to another, Sam Riches tells the story of a Vermont Double IPA that went viral for Food & Wine. “One notch boozier and hoppier” than your classic IPA, this particular tipple was conceived by Jen and John Kimmich out of their modest pub and brewery. Then Tropical Storm Irene came along, and razed Waterbury, Vermont, to the ground: “John worked his way to the bar and poured himself a final pint of Holy Cow IPA. Then, with the water rising at his feet, he raised his glass skyward and toasted goodbye to everything they’d built.” Riches’ writing at times approaches an ode to beer; it also documents the day-to-day life of Jen and John, now in new premises, with an affection and closeness anchored in the candour of biography. Best enjoyed with something cold and hoppy, or perhaps this from Joshua M. Bernstein, of two Digests ago.
We move forward with a most benevolent infection: Noble Rot. Dan Keeling joins two of the UK’s most formidable food writers – Giles Coren and Marina O’Loughlin – on their ideal London “lunch”: three courses chosen each; hopping from restaurant to restaurant; martinis flowing free. Frequently explicit, bracingly frank and often hilarious, it’s a true epicurean romp through the capital, though following in their footsteps may require a strong constitution, a flexible belt and a willingness to alienate people. For more eminent decomposition, take a look at this reading list from Ben Huberman at Longreads.
It’s something of a surprise that we are yet to feature food writing about food writing: consider wrongs righted by Bryan Curtis of The Ringer, with a soul-searching essay on the boom and possible bust of eating words. While Curtis judiciously notes that culinary discourse has never occupied a better position in the cultural conversation – aided and abetted by the infinite shareability of social media – fellow critic Besha Rodell hits upon the central irony of food on Instagram: “You can’t eat food through the internet.” Absorbing, self-aware and productively disquieting: one to read, then read again, more slowly.
To finish this week, we’re going from the verbal to the audio-visual, with a witty, painfully accurate send-up of Chef’s Table from Portlandia. We’ll let their star Chef Francis have the last word this week, since he brings us…
“The most borderline not-sushi-sushi… In the whole world.”
Fishing at the End of the World & Other News – This week's food-writing trawl pulls in an ode to the apron, a fruitless approach to cocktails and Seinfeld suppers
Cooking With Wine & Other News – This week's food writing round-up covers food delivery in Calcutta, eating in crisis and the global journeys of three great ingredients
Hell’s Chicken & Other News – This week's food writing survey takes in coffee rituals, meditations on bread and the art of toasting marshmallows
Porridge Wars & Other News – In this week's food writing survey: gluttonous lunches, expensive melons and the culinary diversity of Los Angeles