Editor’s Letter, Fall 2013

from Gastronomica 13:3

This year marks the release of the tenth anniversary edition of Marion Nestle’s pathbreaking Food Politics. With that book, Professor Nestle shook up the food industry, food studies scholarship, and the ways in which ordinary consumers understand the convoluted and often collusive intersections of politics, industry, and science that influence the production of the foods we put into our bodies. I am pleased that this issue of Gastronomica features an interview with Professor Nestle, where she reflects on the impact of her book and offers insights into where we – as scholars, enthusiasts, eaters, and citizens – need to put our energies next in order to continue to reform the food industry.

This past spring quarter, I taught my upper-division course “Anthropology of Food.” The majority of my students are food enthusiasts in some fashion: some are active in community food justice initiatives, others are involved in campus sustainability efforts, and most are passionate about healthy eating and ethical eating, not to mention the art and appreciation of eating. But as anthropology students, they are all committed to the challenge of thoughtful critical inquiry into how people throughout the world use, think about, and value food. Class discussions often become quite boisterous as students debate what makes food healthy, desirable, and pleasurable, whether food choices should be personal decisions or are the responsibility of governments and communities, and the ethics of giving and withholding food in different political contexts. They love talking about food, and our classroom conversations often carry over into hallway chats, section meetings, and online forums. Given their enthusiasm for thinking and talking about food, I was thus somewhat surprised when they were uncharacteristically silent one day. I had planned a session on molecular gastronomy, and my father-in-law, a retired chemist, had generously agreed to demonstrate some simple molecular gastronomy techniques and discuss the science behind the techniques, thereby demystifying “molecular gastronomy” and showing how it was simply part of the repertoire of basic chemistry that ordinary cooks use at home every day. Our “equipment” included an official “molecular gastronomy” kit, basic “chemistry” ingredients such as xanthan gum and soy lecithin that I had picked up from my local grocery store, and tools scavenged from my own kitchen and my husband’s professional chemistry toolbox.

My objective for the session was to challenge students to grapple with the fundamental question of “what is food”: how ingredients and foods can be transformed from one state into another by exploring the shifting terrain between food science and food art; how expectations may differ from reality in terms of the flavors, textures, and ingredients of food; and how cultural assumptions about forms of technology, the settings where food production occurs, and the individuals who make food affect the values (and prices) placed on those foods. The students were enthralled by the experiments, the science discussion, and, of course, the samples. They appreciated the foamed fruit and the raspberry sphericals, but they especially loved the apple pie that I had made and were amazed when I revealed that it was not, in fact, an apple pie but a mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers. However, the students were reticent to engage in critical discussion afterward, which was not like them at all.

I initially assumed that, despite their interest in the principles of molecular gastronomy, they felt a vague sense of discomfort at the idea of “denaturing” food through “mechanical” means, i.e., turning food into something else, such as making Ritz crackers taste like apples, or simply at the idea of a failed experiment that might end with food being thrown away. After much probing, what we collectively discovered was more surprising: they were uncomfortable with the idea that it was acceptable to play with food. They acknowledged that they had internalized an American cultural value that it was bad manners, and even immoral, to do so. Many reflected that when they were children, they were scolded for such ordinary things as putting pitted olives on their fingers, building mashed potato volcanoes, and mixing multiple foods together into an unappetizing mush that only the dog would eat. That realization then opened up a far more interesting discussion about the seriousness of food and the importance of creativity, personal interest, and even personal pleasure. We thought carefully about how play and experimentation were necessary both to food and eating (how else would new recipes or new technologies ever come about?), and to the intellectual study of food. And we discussed how playfulness enhanced and celebrated the pleasurable parts of the otherwise serious activities of growing, cooking, and eating food.

This issue is devoted to playfulness and creativity – the tweaking of expectations, the upending of conventions and norms, the sense of adventure that comes from trying new things, the delight in the unexpected. As the contributors to this issue reveal, there is beauty, grace, humility, and not a little humor in our encounters with something new, something different. Each in its unique way, the contributions in this issue highlight the importance of play, creativity, and inspiration to how we experience and appreciate food.

In some cases, playfulness evokes the giddy thrill that comes from searching out something rare and hidden, as in Meredith Bethune’s and Jimmy Schwartz’s reflections on the pleasures and pitfalls of mushroom hunting, or in Brian Gersten’s cheekily thoughtful reminiscence of how an urban journey into the culinary wilderness in search of unusual meats opens up critical questions about taste, novelty, and ethics. In other cases, playfulness encourages us to take the familiar and find new ways to enjoy it, as with Barbara Crooker’s celebration of the nectarine or Kate Lebo’s contemplation of rhubarb. In still other cases, playfulness invites us to venture outside our comfort zones and explore new worlds and forge new relationships. R.J. Fox’s essay, “The First Supper,” delightfully recounts how the trip to meet a beloved partner’s family entails adventures in food and drink around a Ukrainian dinner table. In a similar vein, Enrique Fernández reflects on how the immigration experience itself is an exercise in imagining and encountering the Other and its food. For Amy Gentry, it is the play and creativity of Rob Connoley, an unconventional chef, that makes possible a wild but rewarding culinary ride that is not for the faint-of-heart but something to be appreciated and savored by similarly adventurous souls. Fox, Fernández, and Gentry help us to imagine how a bit of creative bravery might take us on journeys we never had thought possible before.

Creativity and play are also what drive innovation. Not only does innovation ensure the potential for newness in our lives, it allows food cultures to travel and eventually settle in distant places. In her research essay on food habits in the United Kingdom, Anne Murcott elegantly details the evolution of British cookery and the history behind such familiar traditions as a “cuppa” and the “fish supper.” Kristy Leissle provides a fascinating account of the rise of artisanal chocolate in West Africa and how West African cocoa production has been in fact the backbone of the modern candy industry. Yet innovation and change may also have unintended consequences that raise important questions about whether what is new and different is always better, an issue that Jennifer Patico explores in her research brief on the many problems sparked by a honey bun in a school vending machine. Nutritional beliefs, economic realities, and the highly charged world of moral parenting – all are evoked by a simple packaged snack.

Ultimately, the contributions to this issue highlight that much of the pleasure we associate with food comes precisely from our ability to play with it – to experiment, to venture beyond how we cook and eat in our everyday lives, and to appreciate the infinite possibilities for relationships, traditions, and imagination that food can enable. And as my students recognized, food play does not devalue the importance of food, denature it, or necessarily entail wasteful frivolousness. Rather, play is a serious exercise in and of itself. Play requires thoughtful consideration, responsible oversight, and a deep commitment to acknowledging the necessity of both bodily and intellectual satisfaction. In that light, I hope that you enjoy this issue and that it inspires you to imagine or, better yet, to engage in, some play of your own.

Summer 2013, Volume 13, Number 2

from the editor
Editor’s Letter | Melissa L. Caldwell

Does the Foodie have a Soul? | India Aurora Mandelkern

invitation to a feast
Come and Eat | Erica Cavanagh

Emily Dickinson Bakes Her Famous Coconut Cake | Emily K. Bright

celebrating family, friends, and traditions
Angel Food Cake: Just Heavenly! | Greg Patent

Dad’s Garden | Mary Lyn Koval

History in the Pot | Leigh Donaldson

Labouyi Bannann | Gina Athena Ulysse

Lemon Meringue | Kate Lebo

picnics by the sea
Clam Digging | Helen Labun Jordan

Tasting a Landscape: On the New Nordic Cuisine | Jared Demick

Rolling on the Beach | Sharon Hunt

Highway 1 | Jake Young

Can ideas about food inspire real social change? The case of Peruvian gastronomy | Judith E. Fan

Food Fight: Accusations of Press Agentry, a Case for Ethics and the Development of the Association of Food Journalists | Kimberly Voss and Lance Speere

love letters
Dearest Basil | Nicole McFadden

Of Pepperoni Rolls and Soup Beans: On What it Might Mean to Eat Like a West Virginian | Courtney Balestier

Exposition on Baking Baklava | Hillary Fogerty

BLT | Barbara Crooker

I Can’t Write a Poem About MCDonald’s | Barbara Crooker

love, anxiety, and loss
Take us off Solid Food for the Foreseeable Future: The Landscape of Food-Allergic America | Lawrence-Minh Bu` i Davis

Ina & Friends | Michael Lawrence

Foodies | Jean Ende

Papayas and Lemons | Juliet Wilson

Review Essay: What’s Growing on? | Jason Mark

The Discourses of Food in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction

The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

Breaking Through Concrete: Building An Urban Farm Revival

just desserts
How to Love Yourself After Work | Shelly Errington

Cover: ©Alexander Maksimenko, iStockPhoto.com

Flavors of Ireland | Darra Goldstein

When our daughter was little, she loved hearing legends of the selkie girls, mermaid-like creatures who inhabit the waters off the Irish coast. Sleek as seals in the sea, they shed their skin once captured and turn into humans on land, yet they always long to return to the deep. Leila is grown now, and I haven’t thought about selkies for years, but they came vividly to mind a couple of months ago when I visited the southwest coast of Ireland, where I spent a magical day on the water foraging for seaweed by kayak. Gannets and gulls swooped through the air, on the lookout for fish. As we paddled through a natural arch I caught sight of a grey seal poised on a rock. A selkie! In that misty environment all transformations seemed possible.

I had flown to Ireland to speak at the first Dublin Gastronomy Symposium, brilliantly organized by Máirtín Mac ConIomaire at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Afterwards I headed to West Cork to meet John and Sally McKenna, creators of the annual Bridgestone Irish Food Guide. For a couple of years Sally has teamed up with Jim Kennedy at Atlantic Sea Kayaking to offer special foraging trips. Jim, an international champion kayaker who traded racing for gentler paddling, guided us along the rocky coast to a trove of seaweed in vivid colors: yellow and orange and purple and pink. We found carrageen and dilisk and sea lettuce and kelp—all common along the Irish coast—and were thrilled to spot a far rarer bloom of nori. I took a bite: mineral and salt, tasting of rock and sea. I nibbled on a couple of different kinds of wrack and sloke that were mainly chewy, but I swooned over pepper dulse with its piquant bite. As we hovered by the rocks, the clouds shifted, turning the water and sky various shades of grey and blue. Changeability defines this landscape—no wonder selkie legends arose. And no wonder that the dull brown strands of sea spaghetti drifting in the water should turn emerald green on boiling. Surely the tresses of mermaids!

Photograph by Jim Kennedy © 2012

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Summer 2012, Volume 12, Number 2

from the editor
How the Other Half Eats | Darra Goldstein

Rumblings from the World of Food

orts and scantlings
The Girl with the Cupcake Tattoo | Mark Morton

Partial Recipe for Brunswick Stew | Andrea Cohen

feast for the eye
Suzanne Lacy: Chewing More Than the Fat | Cameron Shaw

Double Boiler | Lilah Hegnauer

slow food
Farming the Monsoon: A Return to Traditional Tohono O’odham Foods | Marcello Di Cintio

At Home in Kyrgyzstan | Lynn Alleva Lilley

eating out
Table for One | Matt Goulding

A Man Walks into a Pub | Ian Klaus

Women, Sabotaj, and Underground Food Economies in Haiti | Myron M. Beasley
Charles Darwin, the Gourmet Traveler | Diana Noyce

family history
Kimchi Blues | Grace M. Cho

Of Raspberries and Religion | Susan H. Swetnam

Men Who Eat Muskrat: It’s Nothing Like Chicken | William Woys Weaver

The Big Apple Exchange | Alexandra Leaf; photographs by Joel Seaman

American Processed Kosher | Jeffrey Yoskowitz

The One-Second Sandwich | Toni Mirosevich

Vendimia Celebrations | Paula de la Cruz

Sahadi’s: A Family Affair | Jason Leahey

Hogonomics | Barry Estabrook

chef’s page
An Interview with Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park | Anne E. McBride

review essays
Red in Spine and Claw | Patricia Gadsby
Gastronomy or Gluttony? | Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson

the bookshelf
Books in Review

The Mutato Project | Uli Westphal

Cover: Antonio López García, La cena (The Dinner), 1971–1980 (detail). © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid.

An Interview with Yoshinori Ishii: Umu, London | Corky White

from Gastronomica 11:1

Yoshinori ishii is a prominent kaiseki chef. Kaiseki is a meal that epitomizes Japanese taste and aesthetics. It is never the same twice, changing with the seasons, the locality, and the chef’s creativity. Ishii has cooked at two fabulous Japanese restaurants: Kitcho, the ultimate kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto, Japan, and Iron Chef Morimoto’s Morimoto in New York City. He is now the chef at Umu in Mayfair, London.

Corky WhiteHow did you get involved with food? Were you interested in it when you were a child?

Yoshinori Ishii: As a child I loved making things with my hands, and I loved fishing. When I caught a fish, I ate it. That was the first sashimi I made. I love to fish; the eating came second.

CWYou became a cook, though, not a professional fisherman. How did that happen?

YI: I went to high school in Saitama Prefecture [near Tokyo] and liked working in kitchens, so I entered Tsuji [Osaka Abeno Tsuji Cooking School] directly from high school, in 1989. Over a one-year course I learned kaiseki and Japanese cooking, Chinese, French, and Italian food. I learned how to use the finest ingredients and the techniques to bring out flavor. For example, if you make a French-style fond and use sake instead of wine and negi [Japanese scallion] instead of onions, you have the very best base for a sukiyaki. You can learn from all cuisines. I also worked at night in an ikesu kappo restaurant, a place where the customer chooses a fish from a tank or pond at the restaurant. I was chef for deep-fried dishes.

CWYou went on to cook at Kitcho in Kyoto. That is probably the Japanese restaurant best known outside of Japan, and probably one of the most expensive. It serves kaiseki food, which may be among the most demanding of cuisines.

YI: I continued to learn at Kitcho. It is a place where they pursue perfection — and I mean perfection. Let me tell you a story about Kitcho. They emphasize perfection in the service as well as in the food. The waitress pays attention to the customers so she can tell the kitchen when the next course should appear, never rushing the customer and always serving food at the perfect moment. One time a table of guests took their time before the rice course. They were talking and relaxing, so the waitress told the kitchen to stop making the rice. The cooks waited until the waitress signaled them to start a new batch, but she had to stop them again. This went on eleven times before the last batch was finally served, so important was it to deliver the perfect rice at the perfect time.

CWCooking at Kitcho with such an agenda must have been difficult. What was the trajectory of learning?

YI: My first year at Kitcho was spent learning to cut sashimi and to boil foods. I also learned about organic farming and local Kyoto vegetable varieties—like the round tama eggplant and the long, brightly colored carrots. Every morning I went to the fields to choose the vegetables for the day. My favorite jobs were arranging the display of scrolls, ceramics, and tea utensils for the restaurant’s rooms. I learned to love traditional ceramics, and I myself now make dishes and bowls. If I weren’t a cook I would be a potter.

The second year I was tsukemono (pickles) chef. I also helped prepare off-site dishes for ocha kaiseki (the tea ceremony meal) events, and I maintained the tea rooms at the restaurant. I loved cultivating the mountain land owned by Kitcho. It was a mix of activities.

In years three through five I was chef for main dishes. I also continued all the other activities, especially flower arrangement. During my last three years, I was kitchen manager and loved learning calligraphy to create the menus (I’m second danlevel) and other traditional arts. Through it all, I fished. When I am traveling, I am so fanatic about fishing that I pack my fishing rods in my bags before I pack my kitchen knives.

Grilled pigeon with Kobuyaki-Artichoke in “Bizen” pottery designed and crafted by Yoshinori Ishii. Photograph by Charmaine Grieger © 2010

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