Monday, June 22, 2015

This Week's Compospt

Had the opportunity to watch the entire 6 eps of Chefs’ Table via Netflix. The stand out for me was Francis Mallman, who I have never heard about, but who convinced me that a frozen island in the middle of Patagonia is where I need to go and eat. No fiddly fuddly micro leaves and petals in mini splodges in mid plate. Nah. My fondest image is of Mallman crucifying the carcasses of three beeves and sticking them in the snow in front of a roaring fire. Or it may also be several chooks suspended by strings from a sapling dome smoking. Or even the brilliance of a smashed Andean pumpkin that has emerged out of the Argentinean version of a hangi. The others all come across as, dare I say it, prissy; the exception here being Massimo Bottura and maybe that’s my prejudice for his food over the others, but he had less bullshit and agonising and needing to psychpatholigise than the others. I think basically I am sick to death of chefs who keep yakking on about how their food has to be an expression of themselves versus actually being about conviviality and sustenance.

The other series I have delighted in of late is Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection on SBS on Fridays. I have to admit to a total soft spot for all the series I have seen of Heston’s because of their combination of erudition, humour, and inventiveness.

I’m also enjoying Susan Parham’s new book Food and Urbanism. The Convivial City and a Sustainable Future. In her words ‘This book  explores the complex ways that food and cities interconnect through urbanism: the study of the art of building cities.’ It’s a survey of the changes in the spatial positioning of growing, marketing, cooking and consuming food working out from the kitchen table to the food region reaching as far back as written records and archaeological digs will take her focusing mainly on European, US and Australian studies (Jean Duruz it’s lovely to see you cited every several pages J ) but including material from Asia where it is available. She’s excellent on tracking the shifts toward and away from and then back toward small scale arrangements, and again the informal to the formal and back to the informal again, and the forces that have driven the changes. I’ve just finished her look at Food’s Outdoor Room, meaning markets in their many forms including and I am walking with her now through The Gastronomic Townscape of food precincts and eat streets. It’s already has me looking at the spaces I move through on my daily feeding differently; a whole new dimension to the term foodways for me to explore.

What climate change will do to your loaf of bread
‘AgFace leader Glenn Fitzgerald said the effect of high carbon dioxide  on grains is complex. On the one hand, it makes plants such as wheat and canola grow faster and produce greater yields but, on the other hand, they contain less protein. Elevated carbon dioxide also alters the ratio of different types of proteins in wheat, which, in the case of bread, affects the elasticity of dough and how well a loaf rises.

Give me protein and elasticity over high yield anytime.

Smashed avo anyone?: Five Australian creations taking the world by storm
Can you guess which other  ones?

‘Try to describe Australian cuisine to a visitor and you’re likely to struggle a little. But there are some dishes that as a nation we recognise as quintessentially Australian – and they’ve started to pop up on menus from Brixton to Brooklyn.’

Let the debates begin on which is or is not Australian – Dr Newton I turn first to thee.

Burger wars: the battle of the beef patties
‘Among the new entrants to the market are Grill'd​, Mary's, Chur Burger Express, Burger Project, Burger Edge, Burger Shed, Ribs & Burgers, Burger Bro? and Melbourne's Brother Burgers. That doesn't include the numerous pubs that offer their own versions as a drawcard. Giving the sector even more power is that these are run by an array of top chefs, including Neil Perry, Luke Powell (ex-Tetsuya's) and Warren Turnbull, among many others. Property agents say the backing of these top-shelf foodies has meant they know all about the real estate business and have exact locations in mind... Other operators such as The Pantry and Trunk Diner have created high-quality burgers that provide customers with a premium experience within a casual dining offering. ’
Give me a thick bun with lashings of butter, grilled onions, a good everyday mince pattie, some slices of canned beetroot and a leaf or two of iceberg lettuce that I can carry away in a greaseproof paper wrap and eat one hand while I walk or sit with mates in the park...but save me from a ‘premium experience within a casual dining offering’ at a price that will compete with my mortgage.
The pic this week is of a beef brisket bun from The Counter in Audley Street, Petersham

The 4 Ways People Rationalise Eating Meat
And in more news from the meat eat front, Helen sent me this.

‘This combination — eating meat while being opposed, in principle, to the acts that are required for meat-eating to take place — suggests that omnivores come up with psychological ways to justify their dietary habits.’

In case you wonder, I fit firmly into the fourth rationale – ‘it’s nice’.

Stop Romanticising Your Grandparents’ Food
‘In short, Laudan has delivered an evocative corrective to the culinary romanticism that pervades our farmers markets and farm-to-table culinary temples. Yet her "plea for culinary modernism" contains its own gaping blind spot. If Laudan's "culinary Luddites" feast on tales of an imaginary prelapsarian food past, she herself presents a gauzy and romanticized view of industrialized food.

A short critique of Rachel Laudan’s Plea for Culinary Modernism (see Compost May 30 at my blog

In praise of fast food
‘Of course, all of this is in sharp contrast to the brutalist fast-food culture that has risen up since Ray Krok wed standardized burger-and-fries production to the post-war expansion of car ownership. But the corporatized vision of fast food, as embodied by global powerhouses McDonald’s and Yum Foods, represents a mere tick of the clock in the long and mostly proud history of fast food.’

I think we have to find some other term for most of what Philpott talks about here, and what Laudan also talks about. A meat pie from a bakery shop is not fast food as far as I am concerned nor is a good snag sanger from at the footy nor a bowl of pho whipped up in a road side stall in Hanoi nor a naan with mutton curry on some dusty road in Gujarat. Street food doesn’t fit across the whole of these examples either. Convenience food would be a good term if it also were not so debased now.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

This Week's Compost

Trawling through some photos of a Hong Kong trip for a friend I came across this one of steamed sweet buns. Yes, I ate one and lived.

This Guy is Crocheting Food Hats and It’s Awesome
Toothsome, I would have said J

Wicked fat
‘I’m a historian and I don’t predict the future, but historians will say that in an area like this, it’s not likely that any current state of affairs will persist forever. When it comes to present-day views of fat, of cholesterol, of fiber, of sodium, etc., it’s only prudent to expect change. The historian knows that views of food and eating have always been subject to change, and the historian is hard-pressed to see why such change should cease.’

A follow up to last Compost’s article about culinary modernism and religion via Helen Greenwood.

Smog meringues
In any case, our hope is that the meringues will serve as a kind of “Trojan treat,” creating a visceral experience of disgust and fear that prompts a much larger conversation about the aesthetics and politics of urban air pollution, as well as its health and environmental effects. Eat at your own risk!’

I love this – quirky, technically clever as, and a terrifically direct way to raise the issue of air pollution particularly with the growth in outside dining. I wonder what Sydney smog meringues would taste like?

The inefficiency of local food
Forsaking comparative advantage in agriculture by localizing means it will take more inputs to grow a given quantity of food, including more land and more chemicals—all of which come at a cost of carbon emissions.’

I’ve read other articles on this pointing out that some food grows best and most sustainably in particular conditions and hence geographies. I am not an unthinking supporter of the food miles concept in that regard. I like my access for example to tropical fruit that will not grow in Sydney except in hothouses potentially massively inefficiently created power and landwise. In this as in other areas of foodways all is down to the negotiations and compromises we make to live within some ethical and healthful framework while also working to change the systemic failings where we can.

A culinary modernist reader: Volume One: Opening salvos
And continuing the discussion on culinary modernism Colin alerted me to this site which looks worth engaging with.

It’s raining lamb chips and pizza: the problem with sending food into space
‘There has been a cloud-bound can of Coors Light, a curry-house lamb chop sent into orbit by a novelist, a congealing pizza flung into the sky by an NYC electronic band, and a burger from a London delivery business that hoped to publicise its ability to deliver a meal by firing it in the opposite direction to all human life. Plus, there was a brewery that decided to create an imperial stout by shooting yeast into space.’

Yep, just what we need, a whole new class of space junk(food).

The naked chef? Chimpanzees can ‘cook’ and prefer cooked food  - study
‘A study found that chimpanzees prefer the taste of cooked food, can defer gratification while waiting for it and even choose to hoard raw vegetables if they know they will have the chance to cook them later on. The findings suggest that our earliest ancestors may have developed a taste for roast vegetables and grilled meat earlier than previously thought, potentially shifting the timeline for one of the critical transitions in human history.’

MasterChimp – bring it on!!! Notice I did not make a terrible joke about the apes in the kitchens around hipster cafes.

Drinking an ethical cup of coffee; how easy is it?
Fairtrade Foundation standards do not regulate wages if a smallholder employs less than a “significant number” of workers, which is generally interpreted to mean 20. If they employ fewer than 20, they aren’t even required to pay the legal minimum wage. This controversy is important, firstly because it shows how far we have come. Fairtrade is now firmly established on our supermarket shelves - a huge achievement not only for the organisation but also for the campaign groups that started the label in the late 1980s. If Fairtrade was only accrediting niche ethical products, the story wouldn’t have had the media pick up that it has. Secondly, it will ultimately help Fairtrade improve what they do. A statement at the time said, “We welcome this focus on the low wages that persist among too many agricultural workers, particularly those who carry out informal work and who are very hard to reach.”

It occurred to me on reading this that I have seen little discussion about the integral role of the informal economy in countries like PNG and how this intersects with calls for minimum wages.  That is, can the informal economy which currently provides some income for a large proportion of those able and willing to work continue if the push for minimum wages extends into small scale, episodic or seasonal work within it. Has anyone come across any material on this issue?