EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK: EATING TOGETHER

I cannot help but mention the passing of Anthony Bourdain, the news of which broke while I was writing this introduction for our fourth issue. If there is one thing that Bourdain understood better than the rest of us and was more desperate to demonstrate than anything else, it was the power of food, and specifically restaurants, to unify people. His travels to the farthest reaches of the globe in search of different places to pull up a chair and eat were not finally about exotic foods themselves, though of course we were interested in those. Fundamentally, Bourdain was interested in the bridges that food builds between people, and I suspect that he will be remembered more for his restless pursuit of those friendships than for eating bugs or telling seamy secrets about restaurant kitchens. --Matt Straus

 

CEVICHE OF COSTA RICA

A large, bulbous termite nest swelled from the branch of a soursop tree like an injured knee. A spider monkey hung from the branch by her tail and scratched her belly. She hopped to another tree and grabbed a citrus leaf and rubbed herself. Our guide here in the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre, Juan, explained, “Citrus helps keep the mosquitoes away. And the monkeys eat lots of termites. They are an important source of protein.” He pointed out the guanacaste tree with its pods that the indigenous of the area once rubbed with water and lathered into soap. Just beyond  was a giant, glorious ceiba tree. Its crown reached high above the rain forest canopy, and its tangle of branches hosted its own botanical garden filled with bromeliads, orchids, and philodendrons. --Maria Finn

 

VENDANGE

The first morning, we awoke before dawn, ate a hearty breakfast, downed some strong coffee, and climbed into the back of the tractor that would take us to our first field. We were shown how to use a serpette—a small handheld tool with a sickle-shaped blade that you would use to cut the bunches of grapes off the vine. The whole thing was about six inches long and very sharp. It didn’t take long for us to develop a network of small cuts and scratches all over our fingers. These wounds would fill with grape juice throughout the day, creating interesting finger tattoos that lingered for weeks after we finished, a small violet reminder of our time in the fields. --Paul Schumer

 

MEDITATION ON A SALAD

We focused on soaking up the architecture and the good spirits—not only is Bilbao a friendly city, there is also a wide range of specialty vermouths to try with pintxos (small slices of bread with toppings)—while taking the pulse of this beguiling city. Exhausted and finding our top-choice restaurants fully booked on our last night, we asked the woman at the front desk of our boutique hotel, López de Haro (a stone’s throw from the Guggenheim), for a recommendation. Our criteria at this point were basic: the place had to offer more than seafood and pintxos, and it had to be close enough to walk to within five minutes. An initial suggestion ended in disappointment after a quick call to the manager at one of her favorite places; it was, surprise, surprise, fully booked. Not to worry, the woman said. There was a place she liked even better just down the street. She warned us not to be put off by its appearance; although it did not look like much from the outside, she assured us the food was delicious. And it was less than five minutes away. --Deborah Adeyanju

 

THE TIPPING POINT: CHARCUTERIE AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN NAPA

One of the first things Ryan told me when we first met and I asked him what drives their work was that they want “to have an impact on the community, and keep people here.” The question for the future will be if they can realize this larger plan of an “equalizing” community food business in the context of the derision of artisanal and heirloom as elitist on one hand, and chefs who play marionettes to chain-and-restaurant-group puppeteer owners and investors on the other. Whether they can overturn these norms remains to be seen. In the meantime, they’ll keep working fourteen-hour days, driving all over Napa Valley for catering gigs, never losing sight of the bigger picture of what they might accomplish.     --Leigh Biddlecome

 

RECIPE: IDLIS WITH AMMA

“Why won’t you let me pack idlis and chutney for lunch? You love it,” my mother said as I protested the lunch she was preparing for me. Idlis, savory cakes made of fermented and steamed lentils, are a breakfast staple in South India. They are served with spicy, mouthwatering coconut, tamarind, or tomato chutney, and sambar, a souplike dish of spiced dal (lentils) and vegetables, usually tomatoes, drumsticks (a long green vegetable), squash, and cilantro. Given our vegetarian diet, idlis provided a vital source of protein.              --Akhila Kolisetty

 

BORN INTO MEAT

In the world of observant Jews who follow kosher restrictions, my grandfather Schmulka Bernstein was a renowned butcher and smokehouse owner, praised not only for the purity of his meat and meat products but also for his generosity. To come upon him in the 1950s at the butcher store on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, you would not think him a prosperous or important man. He did not look like any butcher described in fiction nor did he look distinguished in any way. His height was barely five feet. His hands were small and shapely, more like a woman’s hands than those of a person who made his living cutting up the hulking carcasses of slaughtered steer. --Michele Clark

 

THE GIFT OF THE ROLLING PIN

Her lack of intimidation was hard won and extended beyond piecrusts. I remember a quote on the bulletin board in the kitchen that read, “No one can intimidate you unless you let them.” I was my mom’s second daughter; she’d borne her first when she was twenty years old. In the early 1940s, lack of a high school education in small Northern California towns was not much of an impediment to employment if you were an intelligent, hardworking sort, and as soon as her first baby was transportable, she took a seasonal job as a fire lookout on Black Butte, near Mount Shasta, to which she reported on horseback. Her first husband, Cactus (I kid you not), became an alcoholic and eventually my mom and her then-toddler left him. I never asked her how difficult this decision must have been and how much courage it must have taken to do this without independent means or employment, but I did absorb its lesson.--Kathy Long

 

THE GRAND GELINAZ! SHUFFLE

Six tattooed men, chefs, all in their late twenties, clustered around a small marble counter flame-torching a dozen tiny individual pizzas. The sight sent through me a shudder of revulsion that took me by surprise, as if I had somehow felt an emotion belonging to someone else. A few minutes later the little pizzas were brought to us. “In true Gelinaz! fashion,” the Australian chef said, taking a brave stance in the middle of the kitchen in front of us, “I had to fuck with it.” He paused. “It’s actually pizza and steak tartare at the same time.” I took a closer look. Indeed, the pile of beef on the middle of the plate was not, as it had first appeared, lying on top of any dough. The pizza was actually a ring, a flat, golden “O” with a mound of uncooked flesh occupying the void—not unlike, I thought, the face of the man who had just been elected. I pulled a slice away, and some of the mound collapsed into the empty triangle it left behind. --Dan Kagan-Kans

 

THE OENOLOGIC CIRCUS

The bodies of the cursing workers stink and sweat profusely in the rank humidity. But in the halls of the international hotels, this crowd gathers to exchange gossipy witticisms, asides, and smiles. At the moment of the aperitif, they gather in the bar with the oenologists and journalists, drawn together with centrifugal force, to exchange pleasantries as business requires. Then, bit by bit, as the conversation proceeds, the group, as if born from the womb, becomes a singular type so that, whether at night in London or in the bar in any piazza, the same gestures, words, and wines, all in the identical color, appear no matter where in the world. --Luigi Anania, translated by Neal Rosenthal

 

 


Subscribe to kitchen work to continue reading

kitchen work is a printed, quarterly journal.