Aug 30, 2011

planting thoughts: a symposium without dissenting views

[the article about planting thoughts that i wrote for the atlantic is here.]

i spent last weekend in copenhagen for planting thoughts, a symposium primarily for chefs and other people connected to the food world and designed to stimulate new thinking about the food producer's role in the food system. in many ways, this was rene redzepi's brainchild, born out of a conviction that good food is important enough to warrant effort, serious discussion, and questioning. the list of speakers they'd managed to assemble was impressively diverse and accomplished, and all of them shared this basic conviction. but partway through the first session of speakers, i developed a sense of unease which grew as i listened to both the presenters and the audience over the course of the symposium.

don't misunderstand: i've never seen a group so committed to thinking about food in nuanced ways and so able to express what it is that drives them to cook and makes them cook the food they do. what's troubling is that the symposium's speakers and audience mostly spoke with one voice and one mind. i heard almost no dissenting opinions about the value of good food.

during the lunch break, i got to talking with christian nedergaard from ved stranden. he pointed out that everyone at the symposium has made sacrifices for good food but that none of the speakers had a good solution for those for whom those sacrifices don't even appear to be an option. at the end of the first day, i messaged a question to rene, who was taking questions for speakers via twitter. he asked them: "what advice can speakers give to people who don't think they have enough time to find or cook good, real food?" there was an awkward silence. finally, rene said, almost helplessly, "there is no short cut or easy answer to good food." then kamal mouzawak, who runs a farmers market program in lebanon, took up the microphone to disagree. "there's no fuss," he said "you just need access to good food. stop watching cooking shows and start cooking." and the tent erupted in applause.

i found myself nodding reflexively, with everyone around me, in response to kamal because i'm the guy who arranges meetings around his bread baking schedule because otherwise i'd have to go to brookline to buy a baguette that doesn't have a crumb the texture of a pullman loaf. i'm willing to put some money down that most people in the tent this weekend are similar. they've spent lots of effort deciding for themselves what food counts as good. maybe they take the occasional short cut and eat a microwave pizza, but they don't do it often.

but millions of people don't think they have enough time to find or cook good, real food, or that good food is worth the effort. you can't get around that. what rene said contains a hard truth, maybe the only really hard truth in food: good food is nothing but fuss and effort, often for many people. you eat a perfect grilled sardine and you have to thank the fisherman who makes less money because he fishes responsibly and avoids bycatch when he fishes for sardines. and if you didn't buy your sardines at the docks, you have to thank the fishmonger who ate the cost of yesterday's unsold sardines rather than sell them to you. and if you didn't cook the sardines yourself, you have to thank the prep cook who took the time to scale and gut the fish carefully so the stomach doesn't break (it's bitter), the grill guy who gave it just enough char without burning it. everyone who brought you that grilled sardine was free to choose: the fisherman didn't have to fish responsibly, the fishmonger didn't have to sell only impeccably fresh fish, the prep cook did not have to spend that extra 4 seconds gutting the fish carefully.

when we make choices about the food we cook and eat, we decide based on what we value and what we don't. deciding what to value means asking the really hard questions: what makes food "good" or, for that matter, "real"? if you have to choose between spending time playing with your child and spending time so she can eat good, real food, which should you choose? these questions cannot be asked and meaningfully discussed in a room full of people who believe at base in the same set of values.

nevertheless, planting thoughts brought together over 300 people, chefs and non-chefs, many working at the very edge of the innovative top end of cuisine around the world, and gave them many examples of the myriad definitions people have of "real" and "good" food. this is a staggering achievement. even at the high end of cuisine, critical discourse about values in food is the exception, not the rule. planting thoughts is a much-needed start. massive change begins when we find others who share the same ideas and values. the next step, a crucial one, will be to bring into the discussion the millions of people who--for whatever reason--don't share the premise that good food is worth the considerable effort it takes.

summariessession 1, session 2, session 3, session 4.

Aug 29, 2011

evisceration ain't fun

these little guys were unhappy but delicious.

a poached crayfish tail, in a broth of crayfish claws, on a puddle of crayfish brains, with beach vegetables and wood sorrel (made with jaw-dropping precision by yoshihiro narisawa's team, who i understood to be public relations people).

Aug 27, 2011

india in denmark

curry at ved stranden is a great way to land in copenhagen. i thought torsten was joking when he said that his favourite food to cook was indian. this curry, and the mango chutney that came with it, was killer. they also poured a 2010 souhaut domaine romaneaux-destezet from the ardeche. brilliant.

it tasted of lemon and white flowers


alex atala gives us an ant embedded in agar. crunchy in two ways, aromatic with citrus.

where part of the magic happens


tasty carrots


Aug 23, 2011


Photo_1 Photo_2 Photo_3

krispy kreme x in-n-out. more trouble than i'd expected, less tasty than i'd hoped.


 Patrick:  love that site :-)
 me:  that particular dyac is awesome
 Patrick:  your face is awesome
 me:  i am not just a pretty face
 Patrick:  neither is your mom
 me:  your mom is a damsel
 Patrick:  ferret
 me:  is your cunt humming?
 Patrick:  it's humming in aunticipation
 me:  i'm done

Aug 22, 2011



starr king




found, in case you're wondering, on the internet.

off to the races


pescadero, ca.

nice work


still missing the nission


25th and guerrero.

Aug 20, 2011

the road to costanoa

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a san francisco tradition



the blue moon diner


Aug 19, 2011

pink pearl


Aug 17, 2011



undoubtedly fresh but unfortunately also mediocre.

Aug 16, 2011

coffee with room


morning coffee

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[references: ben s]

Aug 15, 2011

charlottesville, va


Aug 14, 2011

readiness is everything


when everyone else on this flight is regretting not packing a grapefruit, we will be sitting pretty.

Aug 13, 2011

coffee omakase


last day at the hirise on brattle street. i caffeinated at the bar's pleasure, which was a single-shot clockwork gibraltar in the calibrated cup and a micro open-face sandwich of brioche with speculoos paste. haziness in photographs a side-effect of anticipatory nostalgia.

hot tomato


rye and oat sourdough, lentils, roasted eggplant, squash, and peppers, tomato, thai basil.

Aug 12, 2011

just because you can doesn't mean you should

i asked a coffee pro today if he would be getting one of the new luminaire taps. he said that it's a great concept but they'd decided not to install one because he's not willing to give up the opportunity to interact with the customer over the ritual of a v60 or woodneck kettle freehand pour. and i thought: it's just as well that we are able to evaluate a technology and decide, fully informed, that we don't want to use it. (on which also see: the green revolution in india, hydraulic fracturing, starbucks, and the fashion of the 1980s).

Aug 10, 2011



[thx josh]

Aug 9, 2011


our japanese correspondent

darryl lives and works in tokyo, where he seems to spend all his time cultivating an extensive network of good places to eat. he ran across tsuru ni tachibana and we went there for the first time when i was in tokyo this january. it was a surprising, outstanding meal: classical kaiseki feeling, but with a selected set of the classical kaiseki trappings; the full report here. out of a sense of vague obligation to the old line restaurants, i'd also been to kikunoi in tokyo. tsuru ni tachibana blew it out of the water. (what is kaiseki? see here for a partial explanation.)

sometimes, darryl sends me annotated menus from when he eats there in order to tantalise and frustrate from a distance. i guess there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

this is the menu from february, verbatim:

  • kabura-mushi (steamed quenelle of mashed turnip with oyster, shirako, nameko etc)
  • hotaru-ika two ways: sashimi and steamed with kale puree; shin tamanegi tofu (another mighty tasty square); kyoto-style omelet with tuna innard sauce
  • sawara and shirako in broth
  • horse sushi
  • another beef steak, not an ichibo, with lightly pickled mizuna and kelp
  • soba with baby onion and bonito puree, baby onion slices, fried onion bits (this was amazing - like a variation on daikon-oroshi soba, except sweeter, sourer and less astringent)
  • black sesame pudding
and the latest menu from july (7/28/2011; italics indicate "exceptional deliciousness"):
  • chilled chawanmushi with shrimp and gingko, red capsicum sauce
  • smoked eggplant with fugu dashi gelee; raw oshu free range chicken nanban ae (some yuzu kosho in there); fruit tomato nanban-zuke; grilled madai with taramo (tarako + potato) sauce, smoked mackerel with black bean puree
  • bowl course with grilled sea bass and junsai
  • minced pork, leek and myoga spring roll with pumpkin sauce
  • simmered kamo eggplant with kikuchi beef rib roast and kujo negi sauce
  • cold somen in ago dashi
  • hoji-cha ice cream

Aug 6, 2011



franklin street, cambridge, ma.

Aug 5, 2011

club sandwich returns

i've missed club sandwich this summer; it, like friday morning coffee and toscanini's, is one of the reasons why cambridge is one of the great good places. last night, we assembled at craigie on main for drinks at the bar but got shunted into the main dining room. the hordes of people lining up for the bar are in the know.*

anyway. with new faces come new appositional phrases. the original ("club sandwich: edgy but well-parameterised") now has a friend:

club sandwich: pretentious assholes.

* the three-drink cocktail special is only available at the bar, without exception. only visit the dining room if you have an expense account and, even then, think twice.

roof access has many virtues

lunch residue



Aug 3, 2011

it left paw prints in the shellac

good morning

yogurt, honey, favourite cup, favourite spoon.