The Digest

The Ultimate Peach & Other News

11th November 2017

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s round-up of the best online food writing: a restaurant manifesto, meeting “Pakistan’s Martha Stewart” and a reappraisal of MFK Fisher

Daniel Patterson of California restaurants Coi and Locol writes on the structural failings of restaurant culture, and how to fix them, for Food and Wine. “It’s important to find and name offenders, but explicit personal criticism, as powerful as it can be, can obscure the deeper systemic issues that create a culture of abuse in restaurants. Maybe we can collectively find a path that allows for a reconciliation that heals some of the long-standing wounds that remain painfully open and raw. If there is such a path, it would start with an honest assessment of the underlying societal conditions that shape our industry.” Reflecting on the historical formation of the USA and its impact on the structure of restaurant culture today, Patterson advocates for practical, tangible action: “rules and laws … to govern behaviour and create accountability.” Patterson has already done so at his own restaurant group – a good example going forward.

Saba Imtiaz profiles Zubaida Tariq for Roads and Kingdoms. Imtiaz refers to Tariq as “the closest thing Pakistan has to Martha Stewart”, focusing on her rejection of what is expected of women in Pakistan, and her influence which goes way beyond the culinary: “One viewer called to ask for tips on breastfeeding. Women in much of the world might save that particular topic for home, but Pakistani women can ask Zubaida Aapa anything. She knows things. She’s your 3 a.m. call.” With a wealth of TV shows, a cultural reach that extends to being a meme, and a peculiar position between a Pakistan left behind and a Pakistan emerging anew, Tariq is, as Imtiaz puts it: “Pakistan’s older sister, disapproving of a consumerist culture as she oversees her nation’s awkward struggle toward modernity.”

In a 2014 Medium piece unearthed by John Birdsall, the late Josh Ozersky writes on M.F.K. Fisher’s stupefying influence on a generation of food writers. Assessing Fisher’s influence, Ozersky is unflinching: “And now, over 20 years after her death, Fisher’s style continues to dominate, define, and constrain the conventions of food writing. That voice – wise, self-possessed, vaguely sensual – is the default voice for belles lettres food writing.” Fisher’s work is not to be dismissed – becoming the “default voice” for a writing style hardly happens by accident; her writing empowered many more women to follow her footsteps; she, like so many writers, was writing for economic security as much as readability. Said work’s hold on what constitutes “mainstream” food writing is undeniable, though – to the exclusion of much bigger topics that affect many more people, what Ozersky calls the exclusion of “so much life”.

Fay Maschler visits the second iteration of Smoking Goat for the London Evening Standard. At the heart of both the restaurant and the review is the slippery question of “authenticity” – what it means for the Nu-Thai cabal of (mostly) white men to state that a restaurant is inspired by the “late-night canteens of Bangkok”. It would seem more honest and accurate to say it is inspired by their experience of them; a move less totalising in its approach and less stifling operationally. The food is winning on the whole, but d’tom yam broth is an apt metaphor for Maschler’s assessment: a bowl containing “huge, hard chunks of ginger, chopped up swimming crab (once considered a pest) with no means of excavation, whole chillies, large slices of Bangladeshi limes.” Authentic, perhaps, but not in the restaurant’s, nor the customer’s favour.

James Steen produces a beautiful food memory on Twitter, extracted from an interview with Antonio Carluccio. The question revolves around a common theme: what to eat for a last meal. Carluccio’s answer moves from spaghettini with tomato to a ragout of offal “and other bits and pieces”, but really comes alive at dessert: stepping away from the pergola framing the table, and out of existence altogether – as he so sadly did this week:

A white peach. One peach picked direct from the tree. Then I would bite into it and – whoosh! – the taste would take me straight back to my childhood.

Posted 11th November 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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