Editor’s Letter, Summer 2013

from Gastronomica 13:2

Sitting down to write a letter as the new editor of Gastronomica is a thrilling, and perhaps somewhat terrifying, experience. Darra Goldstein, the founding editor, has left large shoes to fill. As a reader, I have long regarded Gastronomica as one of the most important spaces for food writing. As incoming editor, I aspire to bring you a journal that continues to feature the most innovative scholarship and writing in the field. I envision Gastronomica as a ‘‘kitchen table,’’ a space where writers and scholars come together to engage with critical, necessary, and sometimes even uncomfortable debates about the political, social, and moral dimensions of food and eating, not just in our own homes and backyards but throughout the world. My goal is that this forum, in turn, provokes debates among readers. I have always felt that because food is a mediator between the personal and the public, it offers a unique vantage point from which to investigate fundamental questions about the human condition, whether that is by thinking about the place of technology and science in our daily lives, by considering the many different ways people throughout the world balance pleasure and responsibility, or by contemplating how food is always and in every possible way thoroughly infused not just with nutrients but with moral values. In other words, I want us to peek into other people’s pantries, see their dirty dishes, and sit with them at their tables to discuss and understand their worlds and experiences from their perspectives. This is not merely culinary voyeurism but rather a collaborative project of commensality where we all learn from one another and where ‘‘good food’’ is really about finding ‘‘good’’ company.

I was trained as a social anthropologist and have long been fascinated by the political dimensions of food consumption. My work as a scholar is focused on the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Europe, but my interests as an editor and reader extend far beyond this subject. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I teach in the anthropology department, I am surrounded by a community of scholars known for producing provocative, multidisciplinary work on food and agriculture. I am proud to be part of a scholarly community that has, for six decades, shaped food studies research and set the gold standard for social and environmental justice. UC Santa Cruz has generously supported my efforts to assume this editorial position, and I am pleased to be working with an editorial team of graduate students.

As the incoming editor of Gastronomica, I feel incredibly privileged to follow in the footsteps of Darra Goldstein, who has been both an inspiration and a mentor to me, just as she has for many of you. As a graduate student, I became fascinated by Russian food culture, and not surprisingly, my studies led me to Darra’s path-breaking work in Russian literature and on food.

Beyond her work as a scholar, Darra has defined the field of food studies as the editor of Gastronomica and as series editor of the California Studies in Food and Culture series. For more than a decade, Darra has cultivated a community of authors dedicated to probing all dimensions of food, cooking, and eating. Gastronomica transformed how we think about food and food practices, teaching us to see food practices as complex cultural phenomena. I am thrilled to carry the journal forward.

It pleases me that our first issue is coming out at the beginning of summer, a season filled with community celebrations, vacations spent with family and friends, and the gradual transition to autumn. There is something palpably different about summer, a time when daily routines slow down to accommodate trips to the lake or beach, relaxing picnics, and enjoyable meals of fresh produce al fresco. It is also a time often associated with new, if not fleeting, love affairs.

This issue nicely captures the simple pleasures of summer, as the essays, poems, and articles collectively narrate a summertime romance with food. India Mandelkern’s essay, ‘‘Does the Foodie Have a Soul?’’ begins with a look at the deep historical roots of our love affair with food—and how we love talking about food. Erica Cavanagh’s essay, ‘‘Come and Eat,’’ poignantly expresses the joy of company that is encapsulated in a simple invitation to a meal, while the essays by Jean Ende, Lawrence-Minh Bu` i Davis, and Juliet Wilson provocatively show that food can just as easily be an impediment to intimacy. Expressions of familial love and the power of food traditions to keep families together are featured in the pieces by Greg Patent, Leigh Donaldson, Mary Lyn Koval, and Gina Ulysse. Helen Labun Jordan, Jared Demick, Sharon Hunt, Jake Young, and Courtney Balestier take us further afield by revisiting places that hold special places in their hearts. Nicole McFadden, Hillary Fogerty, Emily Bright, Barbara Crooker, and Kate Lebo offer declarations of love and appreciation for the beauties of food, even as Michael Lawrence provides a cautionary tale about the consequences of unreciprocated declarations. The two feature articles build on these themes of pleasure and intimacy. Judith Fan offers a fascinating account of the ‘‘Gastronomical revolution’’ that has emerged in Peru as part of a larger project of social change to cultivate a new form of national solidarity. Love of nation and cultural patrimony come through clearly in her article. Kimberly Voss and Lance Speere examine the formation of the Association of Food Journalists by women food editors in an effort to codify and legitimize the ethics of their profession at a time when women’s food writing was largely disparaged and women were excluded from professional organizations for journalists. As Voss and Speere show, an abiding commitment to their professional craft motivated these women to pursue food writing, a love and passion that we can all, perhaps, appreciate.

I hope you enjoy this issue, and I hope the various pieces remind you of your own summertime loves, perhaps inspiring new romantic thoughts and longings that will become treasured memories. Of course, summertime and summer loves are fleeting— and autumn and the next issue of Gastronomica are around the corner. Until then, may you eat and drink well, and enjoy the many pleasures of good company.

The Bengali Bonti | Chitrita Banerji

from Gastronomica 13:1 (originally published in Gastronomica 1:2)

How big is the difference between sitting and standing? A cultural universe, when you examine posture in the context of food preparation. In the kitchens of the West, the cook stands at a table or counter and uses a knife. But mention a kitchen to a Bengali, or evoke a favorite dish, and more often than not an image will surface of a woman seated on the floor, cutting, chopping, or cooking. In the Indian subcontinent, especially in its eastern region of Bengal, this is the typical posture. For centuries, the Bengali cook and her assistant have remained firmly grounded on the kitchen floor, a tradition reflecting the paucity of furniture inside the house. A bed for both sleeping and sitting was usually the most important piece of furniture, but outside the bedroom people sat or rested on mats spread out on the floor, or on squares of carpet called asans. In the kitchen they often sat on small rectangular or square wooden platforms called pinris or jalchoukis, which raised them an inch or so above the floor.

From this closeness to the earth evolved the practice of sitting down both to prepare and to cook food. Enter the bonti, a protean cutting instrument on which generations of Bengali women have learned to peel, chop, dice, and shred. Despite the recent incursion of knives, peelers, graters, and other modern, Western-style kitchen utensils, the bonti is still alive and well in the rural and urban kitchens of Bengal.

A Bengali lexicon compiled by Jnanendramohan Das reveals that although the term bonti has been in the Bengali language for many years, it actually derives from the language of the ancient tribal inhabitants of the eastern regions of the subcontinent. Das traces the word bonti back to ancient Bengali narrative poems, such as Ghanaram Chakrabarti’s poem “Dharmamangal,” composed during the reign of Dharma Pala (775 to 810 a.d.), the second ruler of Bengal’s Pala Dynasty. In his definitive history of Bengal, Bangalir Itihash, the historian Nihar Ranjan Ray presents compelling evidence of the proto-Australoid peoples who settled Bengal long before the Aryans came to India and whose language, customs, and ritualistic beliefs still permeate the cultural life of Bengal. Ray also notes that Buddhist terracotta sculptures from the days of the Pala dynasty depict people using the bonti to cut and portion fish.

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An Interview with Praveen Anand, Dakshin, Chennai, India | Vijaysree Venkatraman

from Gastronomica 12:4

Praveen Anand is chef at Dakshin, named by the Miele Guide as one of the top twenty restaurants in Asia. His embrace of traditional South Indian food is significant in a nation that has begun discarding some of its food customs in a headlong rush into modernity.

Vijaysree Venkatraman: Tell us about the idea behind Dakshin.

Praveen Anand: The word dakshin is Sanskrit for “south.” Our goal is to present authentic culinary creations from India’s four southern states: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. The larger goal is to revive the disappearing culinary heritage of these regions.

VV: How did you get interested in food?

PA: My father worked with the Indian Railways and was constantly getting transferred, so I grew up in my grandparents’ home in Hyderabad. My grandfather was a policeman and a yoga expert, the author of books on this ancient practice. Thanks to him, I got into sports and physical activities. He also inculcated in me the habit of reading. K.M. Munshi’s seven-volume mythological series, Krishnavatara, on the life of Lord Krishna—that’s where I started.

My grandmother, who is ninety now, cooked for us all. I would accompany her to the market and carry all the heavy bags. I also tended our backyard vegetable garden. Because my uncles hadn’t married yet, there were no women in the family to help her in the kitchen. So I volunteered to be her assistant. She only gave me simple tasks like peeling garlic or shelling nuts. But being her helper meant I would get a little more than my share of the good food she made—that was my motivation, nothing nobler!

To me, she was like a magician—whatever she touched was perfect. Her cooking was in the traditional Andhra style: hot, with lots of red chilies. We had a separate pantry to store the dazzling variety of mango- and lime-based pickles she made. Food was vegetarian except on weekends, when we would gorge on chicken, mutton, or seafood. Her simple chutneys, dals and rasams, fish curry and mutton khorma—all were wonderful.

I became the family’s official taster. If I declared (even jokingly) that a dish was not up to the mark, no one would touch it. I wielded a lot of power!

VV: And you went to catering school as a young man?

PA: When it was time for college, I gained admission into two programs: aeronautical engineering and hotel management. There was no pressure on me to start earning but I wanted to be independent as soon as possible. Going to catering school meant I would be a professional in three years instead of five. So I came to the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition here in Chennai.

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Colombian Grace, Key West, Florida | Nancy Klingener

from Gastronomica 12:3

Key West, Florida, has had a number of identities over the last two centuries. It has been a shipwreck-salvaging town, a cigar-manufacturing town, and a military town. Now it’s a tourist town, catering to visitors who pay top dollar for hotels, fishing charters, and meals, and to vacationers who pour off the cruise ships that dock nearly every day. Most of Key West’s restaurants are found along Duval Street, the main tourist drag. Twenty years ago, a restaurant called Ricky’s Blue Heaven opened several blocks from Duval, on Petronia Street in Bahama Village, the island’s historically black neighborhood. Serving mostly Caribbean dishes, Blue Heaven quickly received a rave review in the New York Times and has been unstintingly popular with tourists and locals ever since. More recently, other quality restaurants have opened nearby. Two years ago, Colombian Grace, the island’s first restaurant to feature food from Colombia, joined Blue Heaven on Petronia Street. The proprietor is Zulma Segura.

Nancy Klingener: How did you arrive in Key West?

Zulma Segura: My sister lived here, and she came to visit me in Bogot.. She said, why don’t you come? You’ll like it; it has bicycles; it’s small. She likes big cities, I like small places. Here in Key West, you can be anywhere in just five minutes. I love the size of the island. I love that it’s multicultural. You can meet people from everywhere. And there are bicycles, bicycles, bicycles! When I first arrived, I worked as a waitress at Blue Heaven. I had no experience. I didn’t speak English. But I worked there and I learned English. I saved pretty much everything I made.

NK: How did Colombian Grace come about?

ZS: It was a crazy decision, an impulse. After five years at Blue Heaven, I was like, oh my God, what am I doing now? I have a degree in marketing and public relations, but I didn’t want to go back to that field. At Blue Heaven I discovered I was good with people. I like taking care of customers and spending time with them. When you add food service, I just love the combination. But this restaurant is the hardest thing I have done in my whole life. When I decided to open the restaurant, my mom came here to train the cook. After the first year, the cook left, so I had to start cooking myself. The recipes are my mom’s and my grandma’s.

Zulma Segura at her family’s coffee plantation in Colombia. She selects the beans and roasts them to serve at her Key West restaurant, Colombian Grace. Courtesy of Zulma Segura

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Fall 2012, Volume 12, Number 3

Fall 2012, Volume 12, Number 3

from the editor
Flavors of Ireland | Darra Goldstein

orts and scantlings
Eating by Numbers | Mark Morton

feast for the eye
Il Gusto: José de Ribera’s Personification of Taste | Lisa Vergara

Entomophagy | Rawaan Alkhatib

the hunt
Swimming with Spears | Tetsuhiko Endo

Eating the Hyphen | Lily Wong

Banking on Beach Plums | Les Garrick
Dishing It Out: Food Blogs and Post-Feminist Domesticity | Paula M. Salvio

local fare
Manioc: A Brazilian Chef Claims Her Roots | Sara B. Franklin

Tuesday Night Is Nut Loaf: Women’s Music-Festival Foods | Bonnie J. Morris

Regional Cooking | Constance Hardesty

Sharing mason jars | dee Hobsbawn-Smith

Eating Ukraine and Its Lard(er) | Katrina Kollegaeva

Beef Wellington | Nicholas Poluhoff

family history
Tooth for Tooth | Nicole J. Caruth

Fighting Sicilian Corruption, One Vine at a Time | Marie Doezema

You Are What You Eat | Mark Menjivar

Coney Island, Michigan | Christina Olson

working on the food chain
Kicking the Commodity Habit: On Being Grown Out of Place | Stephen Jones

Michel Guérard on French Cuisine | Barbara Santich

culinary history
Mrs. Fisher’s Cigarettes | John Martin Taylor

Swimming Upstream | Barry Estabrook

Industrialized Delicacies: The Rise of the Umbrian Truffle Business | Rengenier C. Rittersma

food play
Kitchen Hijinks | Alexander Feldman

chef’s page
Colombian Grace, Key West, Florida | Nancy Klingener

review essay
Child of Her Times | Jeannette Ferrary

the bookshelf
Books in Review

Delectable | Edward Bing Lee

Cover: Grant Cornett, Untitled © 2010.