Bird’s Eye: I stumbled on Yotam Ottolenghi while watching videos on Nowness’ website, and went to look at his Guardian recipe column. Wow! Exciting vegetarian recipes unlike any we’ve seen before: if you enjoy cooking and big flavours, don’t miss the link to those recipies. Slate questions why pepper is on all tables, and offers some alternatives for that non-salt shaker. And David Foster Wallace explores (in detail, with many footnotes) the morality of eating lobsters. The article, from Gourmet in 2004, might be better classified under “literature” than “food”, but hey….
* Ottolenghi: Love is the Right Word NOWNESS
Chef, restaurateur and best-selling cookbook scribe Yotam Ottolenghi touchingly shares his family-oriented outlook in photographer and filmmaker Ben Ingham’s intimate short. “We wanted to create a portrait of the way I live, the way I work; to give a picture of my life,” says the Israeli-born gastronome, who turned his back on a career in journalism to study at Le Cordon Bleu London at the age of thirty. Since opening in 2002, the chef’s eponymous eatery has gone from an upscale take-out joint in Notting Hill to a four-outpost culinary sensation, while his latest London spot, NOPI, has had gourmets lining up for its masterful viennoisierie and signature salads. Following the success of his recent vegetarian cookbook Plenty and a weekly column in The Guardian newspaper, Ottolenghi is now working on a new book focusing on the food of Jerusalem co-authored by Ottolenghi’s Palestinian head chef, Sami Tamimi. “We are trying to capture what’s going on there, both old and new, to translate the flavors of the place,” says Yotam
* Against Pepper Slate
I’ve started to wonder why pepper gets such Cadillac placement on the American table, sitting beside the salt shaker at every coffee shop and kitchen counter in the country. Why, too, do so many recipes invite us to season “with salt and freshly ground black pepper” upon completion? Why isn’t it salt and cumin, or salt and coriander, with every dish in the Western canon? What’s so special about pepper anyway? Perhaps it’s time to rethink the spice.
Salt, of course, is a seasoning beyond question. When it’s well-used, salt manages to make food taste not salty, but more like itself. Almost everything we eat has some sodium in it, and we have receptors on our tongues devoted to the taste. The human need for salt is so innate that it’s only natural to adjust our dosage at the table.
But pepper? It can be terrific: It’s a great beef spice—a rib eye calls out for a rough crack of black pepper; Caesar salad needs a little of its musky prickle, to be sure; I like a spicy ginger cookie with a bit of the black stuff. But pepper isn’t particularly aromatic, and it can bulldoze over other flavors with its scene-stealing pungency. Even the pricy Telicherry kind, served from a footlong Peugeot grinder, is strong, invigorating, but also a little obtuse. Why should this brawny spice be kept on the countertop at all? Why not stash it in the rack with the fennel seed, the mustard seed, and the cinnamon—all the wonderful spices that add life to our food but are by no means all-purpose? I think we’d appreciate pepper’s qualities all the more if we used it just for specific dishes, not universally.
* Consider the Lobster David Foster Wallace Gourmet Magazine
Several irreproducible segues down the road from the PETA anecdotes, Dick—whose son-in-law happens to be a professional lobsterman and one of the Main Eating Tent’s regular suppliers—articulates what he and his family feel is the crucial mitigating factor in the whole morality-of-boiling-lobsters-alive issue: “There’s a part of the brain in people and animals that lets us feel pain, and lobsters’ brains don’t have this part.”
Besides the fact that it’s incorrect in about 11 different ways, the main reason Dick’s statement is interesting is that its thesis is more or less echoed by the Festival’s own pronouncement on lobsters and pain, which is part of a Test Your Lobster IQ quiz that appears in the 2003 MLF program courtesy of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council: “The nervous system of a lobster is very simple, and is in fact most similar to the nervous system of the grasshopper. It is decentralized with no brain. There is no cerebral cortex, which in humans is the area of the brain that gives the experience of pain.”
Though it sounds more sophisticated, a lot of the neurology in this latter claim is still either false or fuzzy…The more important point here, though, is that the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is not just complex, it’s also uncomfortable. It is, at any rate, uncomfortable for me, and for just about everyone I know who enjoys a variety of foods and yet does not want to see herself as cruel or unfeeling. As far as I can tell, my own main way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing. I should add that it appears to me unlikely that many readers of Gourmet wish to think hard about it, either, or to be queried about the morality of their eating habits in the pages of a culinary monthly. Since, however, the assigned subject of this article is what it was like to attend the 2003 MLF, and thus to spend several days in the midst of a great mass of Americans all eating lobster, and thus to be more or less impelled to think hard about lobster and the experience of buying and eating lobster, it turns out that there is no honest way to avoid certain moral questions.
* New Timmies Sizes Montreal Gazette (photo)