The Digest

The Wine Thieves & Other News

2nd September 2017

Words: James Hansen

Also in this week’s food media round-up: celery’s faded glamour, a lost Indian spice, and race and restaurants in Detroit

Kim Willsher reports on a grisly culinary heist for The Guardian. The city: Paris. The thieves: at large. The swag: grand cru wines. The joy of the heist comes in its location, as bottles and bottles are ferried through the French capital’s catacombs, the bones and skulls of French ancestors – some no doubt oenophiles, winemakers and sommeliers themselves – watching on gravely. A pleasing detail: the walls of the ransacked cellar are limestone – the very rock that lends itself to the terroir of countless wines. Plans for a film adaptation are already afoot.

Heather Arndt Andersen gives us a serious case of celery nostalgia at Taste Cooking. With a strong open – “cooked celery is one of the most universally hated vegetables” – Andersen notes that sourcing difficulty and finicky growth made celery the hard-to-obtain darling of the Victorian table. Alongside some recipes ranging from refined (celery au velouté) to frightening (celery au gratin), celery’s decline from ingredient de rigueur to #basic is both a precursor and a caution to the ingredient worship the likes of the avocado enjoy today.

Pritha Sen traces the lineage of a lost Indian spice for Livemint. Noting that chillies – now fundamental to Indian cuisine – could not have existed in the country until the 15th century, Sen dives back into the spices that provided heat in the BC (before chilli) era. Alongside black pepper and long pepper, she comes to choi jhal, known as “the horseradish of South East Asia”. Harnessing its “pungently hot, fragrant lemony flavour”, Sen cooks from Mangal Kavyas, a collection of C15-18 narrative poetry, as the lines between recipe, history, and art smilingly blur.

Tom Perkins analyses Detroit’s restaurant renaissance – and its race problem – for Civil Eats. Lester Gouvia – owner of food truck Norma G’s, soon-to-be-owner of fine-dining Trinidadian restaurant Norma G’s – puts it directly: “The reality is that most Black men are supposed to own a barber shop or a barbecue spot, so [the banks] don’t think that we should own a fine-dining restaurant.” An anecdote does not a pattern make, but a pattern is exactly what Perkins finds and exposes: “While Michelin-starred restaurateurs are filling the city with new tastes and flavors, most of those businesses operate in the 7.2 square miles (the “7.2”) that compose greater downtown… The city’s population is 80 percent Black, most of those restaurants are white-owned.” While positive news of restaurant openings and ownership of urban farms comes to the surface, the outlook is overwhelming: “Resolving ownership issues and creating an equitable food community in a city where so many residents struggle with poverty is either going to require new approaches or large structural changes.”

We rarely feature restaurant reviews in The Digest, but Grace Dent in The Evening Standard has delivered an evisceration of Rigo’ in west London that pours scorn on a particular culinary blight: “mithering“. The word in Dent’s usage refers to chefs and servers fussing over descriptions and tweezering the entire experience without regard for its evening-ruining effects. Choice lines: “If I were forced to pick an emoji it would be the flat mouth/closed eye symbol of exasperated acceptance”; “We chose the shorter tasting menu, five courses at £56, as I hoped to be home before my menopause.” The nub: “This industry is kept afloat by clapping seal TripAdvisor and Michelin bores marking these experiences off their ‘stuff I have swallowed’ bingo card.” Whether or not Rigo mortis will set in remains to be seen – Dent’s assessment that the restaurant is a microcosm of an industry-wide problem suggests that there is much more mithering to come.

Image: The Hamster Factor / Flickr

Posted 2nd September 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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