The Digest

Breakfast On Repeat & Other News

10th February 2018

Words: James Hansen

Breakfast in Groundhog Day

A history of butter, the trauma of carob and a top chef’s humanitarian efforts all feature in this week’s selection of the best food media

Abbey Bender looks at the place of breakfast in Groundhog Day for Extra Crispy. Whether exposing Phil Connors’ city snobbery or showcasing the hedonism of a gluttonous meal, breakfast is a key structural component of the film. “Breakfast acts as a barometer: Phil initially seems like the type not to savour the meal, for he has too much to do and sees small town diner culture as being beneath him. As he continues repeating the day, though, breakfast becomes a site of experimentation.” Treating breakfast as the most important meal of the day might seem a cliché, but when it comes to Groundhog Day, it more than lives up to its reputation – as in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, Phantom Thread.

Jonathan Kauffman recounts a generation of carob trauma for The New Yorker. “At the pinnacle of our dietary suffering … there was carob, the chocolate substitute that never could.” The state of California imported 8,000 trees in 1854; by 1976, carob ice-cream was inflicted upon Manhattan’s shelves and children. Its short-lived time in the sun was curtailed by the irresistible rise of chocoholism – “to claim to be a chocoholic was a sort of boast, tinged, perhaps, with a pre-digested eroticism” – though its waxy, caking excuse for flavour lingered far longer. Kauffman hints at a rehabilitation courtesy of Cortney Burns at Bar Tartine, but carob’s fakery is past redemption for those raised on it: “Grownups have mastered this acquired taste for the ersatz, but children have no ability to strike the same bargain. They taste not the similarities between the foods they are eating and the foods they really want to eat, only the thwarted desire for what is forbidden.”


Angie Lee explores the “sweet-tasting, air-chilled sensation” of gan at The Cleaver Quarterly. “Peptic, but also poetic”, the word describes a singular sensation, conjured by drinking Pu’er tea. Lee’s upbringing in America is a prelude to gan acting as a metaphor for hardship turning to sweetness, a symbol and a sensation, never an actual taste or flavour: “Gan is not just a taste, it’s an often-eerie sensation that something or someone has come and gone. A little like the way ‘bittersweet’ is used more often in describing a relationship rather than a specific taste. No food actually tastes bittersweet.” In the case of Pu’er, gan comes from the mineral-rich leaves of old trees: experience slowly gained, then keenly felt.

Cathy Erway interviews Elaine Khosrova on the history of butter at Eat Your Words. Starting with a topical nod to hot wings on Super Bowl Sunday and their debt to the dairy, Erway and Khosrova discuss “the idea of butter, as well as butter itself.” Spanning the gendered history of butter processing – “women, single-handedly, are responsible for much of the craft and innovations of butter-making throughout forever” – the “sort of an accident” of its invention, and its rising reputation in popular culture, the podcast explains how butter’s history evolves in step with civilisation.

Two articles from Eater to round things off. Tiffani Faison exposes and exorcises a double standard of restaurant kitchens: women must leaven their personality to succeed; “likability” is a byword for submitting to a masculine status quo. Faison assesses this problem in the context of the groundswell around restaurant culture’s deep-rooted sexism: “if we worry less about how we are seen and whether we are liked, we can harness this movement into something meaningful and lasting.” Meanwhile, Amy McCarthy interviews José Andrés on his momentous humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico, Haiti, Houston and Florida. The piece focuses on the logistical challenges in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the efforts in the context of the Trump administration and Andrés’ views on the restaurant industry of the future. “I see a lot of leaders out there,” he says. “The young girl who helps an old woman walk with her farmers’ market shopping across the street, that’s a leader. There’s many leaders. But I think what we’re seeing is that people are looking for leaders who are trustworthy.”

Posted 10th February 2018

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

More from The Digest

Changing Restaurant Culture & Other News – This week's digest looks at changing restaurant culture, building a better table and telling difficult stories

In Parts Unknown & Other News – Remembering Anthony Bourdain, the comfort of processed food and the security of lobster rolls in this week's food media round-up

Fine Dining Goes Junk & Other News – In this week's round-up of the best online food media: fine dining meets junk food, Helen Rosner on The David Chang Show, and a quick scoop of gelato

How To Close A Restaurant & Other News – Also in this week's food media round-up: the rise of Laotian cuisine, breeding a new apple from scratch, and a new food temple gets a hiding