Wednesday, September 22, 2021

An Kentucky Bourbon Update from the Male Offspring

     Connor Sites-Bowen's newsletter covers a lot of ground. I'm excerpting his most recent to give you a taste of his writing.

    Last month he joined his sister and my spousal unit on a pilgrimage and a celebration. The spousal unit had just emailed the final proofs of his forthcoming book, Understanding Computer Dynamics. I figured he deserved a vacation, and a chance to hang out with his children, bourbon lovers all. As I'm not a fan of that spirit, I signed them up for Chef Ed Lee's Bourbon Extravaganza, and I hung back in California. 

    I'm a big fan of Chef Ed Lee. In my chronicles of the late, lamented Gourmet magazine, his work marks a major transition in food journalism in the early 2000s. Before Chef Lee, Francis Lam and David Chang brought their personal history and scholarly chops to the Gourmet, the magazine's coverage of Asian and Asian American food was mostly the work of British ex-spies and restaurant reviewers

    What I couldn't imagine then, was that Chef Lee would tackle so many of the human issues in the hospitality industry, not to mention the crisis of COVID. I'm so glad my family could reune in such company!


American Spirits 

by Connor Sites-Bowen (Excerpted with permission)

[One of dozens of rickhouses Buffalo Trace is building on the bluffs above their distillery. The final project cost is expected to be $1.1 billion.]

The trip came together around chef Edward Lee, a Brooklyn-born kid of Korean parentage, whose Louisville restaurant 610 Magnolia blends Korean and Southern cooking with great delight and genius. You've probably seen him on PBS's Mind of a Chef, or on Top Chef circa 2012. His cooking philosophy is expressed eloquently and marvelously in Buttermilk Graffitti, a collection of essays. Smoke and Pickles is his cookbook.

Of the book and the man, the late Anthony Bourdain said 

Edward Lee is one of America’s most important young chefs―and what he has to say with his delicious food and in the pages of [Smoke and Pickles] will help redefine American food as a whole. Better start reading and start cooking. The future is here.

Right now, Chef Lee's focus is on fermentation and distillation - spirits. Kentucky is the home of bourbon, America's spirit, and he's been watching from the restaurant side of the business as the bourbon industry has boomed in recent years. Old players are building out huge new construction. New distilleries established in the 2010s are producing mature, fine products, at premium prices.

[Sweet Mash fermentation at Peerless. A man of military training, owner/founder Corky Taylor opted for this start-fresh-daily process rather than jumpstart each batch with the leavings of the last one, the 'sour mash' process.]

Though it comes in glass bottles as a translucent liquid, bourbon (and all alcoholic spirits) are the compressed, calorie-rich results of incredible amounts of vegetable and fungal growth. The jewel-like quality of a good bourbon shelf traces its fine colors and rich scents to a compression of thousands of years of sunlight, rainfall, soil, and plant care. 

The mash bill (ratio list of ingredients) is agricultural grains - a majority of corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain. The fermentation process is so amazingly productive that once it gets going most distilleries let it ferment in open stills. The corn beer is so rich with yeast at this stage that it self-heats and self-stirs, giving off huge plumes of carbon dioxide. You can dip your unclean hand into this corn brew and the microorganisms on it would not find purchase here - indeed, one 'trick' on many bourbon tours is letting people dip a pinky into the tank and taste the 20-proof partial product.

After fermentation and distillation, the alcohol is put into charred oak barrels, from which the spirit derives the majority of its scent and flavor, as well as the characteristic color spectrum - orange-yellow-brown. The oak is a managed natural product as well, sylviculture or forest management. Most bourbon barrel oak is quercus alba, the American White Oak, though a variety of Old World oaks (geographically from France) are also used. The barrels must be oak because oak tree cells have tyloses, special microscopic growths which under stress fall off and block the wood's internal channels, uniquely preventing leaks and most evaporation.

White Oaks can live for half a millenium, and many are harvested after they've passed their centennial year. With 45 staves to a barrel (Maker's Mark 46 refers to a mysterious extra stave for flavor), one bottle of bourbon from one barrel can represent 4500 years of oak lifetime, and the simultaneous springs and summers of thousands of grain stalks, biologically processed and then thermodynamically reduced down to a potent, intoxicating escence.

[Me, my sister Fiona, and my dad Richard, at Ouita Michel's Honeywood restaurant, in Lexington.]

Local bourbon is local food, and the distilleries we visited were accompanied by visits to some of Kentucky's best kitchens too. With Chef Lee as our ambassador, we sat down to close dinners with chefs, owners, bar managers, and other food system experts, trying flavors and ingredients tied to Kentucky's land, seasons, and ever-advancing culture.

It was wonderful to gather with family, and to gather over food - both things are even more precious in a COVID world. The rest of the group had brothers on a road trip, spouses on vacation, sisters fleeing the Texas summer for a long weekend, old friends out adventuring together - a surprisingly wholesome group of day-drinking bourbon tourers. The takeaway line from the trip was a comment made by co-guest Ian, who well into our first evening dinner and drinks, jokingly told my dad 'Hey man, control your kids.'

[The heritage rickhouses at Woodford Reserve. Note the micro-gauge rail, not for trains but for barrel transport from filling to storage.]

Bourbon has been and will be big business. It's not a fast-moving product like moonshine whiskey. The timetables involved, the storage and associated risk of capital compound to make bourbon a banker's business & a rich man's industry. Prohibition didn't shut down production completely, but did concentrate holdings down to just a few surviving firms, whose licences during prohibition did not allow them to produce whiskey, but did allow them to distribute it medicinally. These 7-10 firms cashed out the other ~ 200 distillers operating at the time, buying out their inventories, blending them, and selling it all along.

It was not until the end of the 20th century and the start of this one that bourbon became a desired, select spirit. Long campaigns for regional tourism have paid off. Single Barrel programs have proved enormously popular - bourbons are 'chaseable' the way Pokemon cards and Candy Crush trophies are. At this point, they're an American export - a luxury symbol worldwide. We were told at Buffalo Trace that a 1% rise in Chinese bourbon consumption would soak up the entire production day for the whole state.

Based on the projected demand, the industry is building big projects now, as fast as they can. At Buffalo Trace, the parent company (Sazerac) has sunk $1.1 billion into more than 20 new rickhouses (The technical term for the oak-racks-with-some-walls-thrown-on buildings bourbon barrels age in), to hold millions of gallons of aging product.

[Striking workers outside Heaven Hill Distillery, which wants to move them to a potential 24/7 production schedule, cut medical benefits, and limit overtime. ]

Heaven Hill Distillery, maker of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, Two Fingers Tequila, Blackheart Rum, and more, makes around $500m per year in revenue. The bourbon industry at large has revenues around $4.3b per year. The company just spent $19m renovating the 'Bourbon Experience" tourist area of their production campus. And yet... They offered a contract with less money, health, or stability for their workers.

Hard pass - 420+ production workers are out of contract and on strike. Support Local 23D. Boycott Heaven Hill products, and let them know why. We did not stop there on our trip.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Foods of Comfort, Foods of Loss

Note: This is the first of a series of essays I'm writing about conversations with my 90 year old painting teacher, Calvin Douglass, member of the SPIRAL group of African-American artists. After a 50 year hiatus, we speak weekly. He's in a retirement home in Florida, I've been living in the Bay Area for half that time. He still has a lot to teach me, and we share a lot of memories of East Coast times, spent between Washington, DC, New York City and rural Maine. As Mr. Douglass shares 90 years of memoires, the culinary historian in me is reminded of what Splendid Table’s Francis Lam once observed: food can unite but can also cause shame and fear. To bridge the miles and years that separate me and Mr. Douglass from the our home places and favorite tastes, I'll share recipes for Fried Soft Shell Crab, East Coast Oyster Roast, Horn and Hardart's Baked Beans (for the Georgia boy) and their Baked Macaroni/Cheese and finish with New England Clambake.

     The cook at Mr. Douglass's  retirement home in Florida claims to be “just a Georgia boy.” He makes red beans from a can, ruins even meatloaf and knows nothing of meal planning according to the Farmer’s Almanac, the original seasonal cooking. Fortunately for Mr. Douglass, he has friends in town, retired from the Navy, who love sea food as much as he does. There’s no local fish market, but an Italian restaurant serves calamari, and the Chinese restaurant serves great steamed fish and shrimp.

Unfortunately, his beloved blue crabs are not to be found. When Mr. Douglass's mother, Mercedes, from the North Carolina piedmont, married Marylander Calvin Douglass Senior, they made their home with his parents. The image of her new daughter-in-law cleaning a bushel of blue crabs with a toothbrush shocked the elder Mrs. Florence Douglass. It became a family legend; almost a century later it raises a chuckle.

My painting teacher has another Baltimore crab story. As a teenager, Mr. Douglass worked as a busboy at the whites-only Merchants Club where he observed the preparation of its famous crab soup. First, a fire was lit under a huge pot. Handfuls of spice and a gallon of beer were followed by a bushel of Wye River crabs. The chef stirred the pot with an oar, and frequently spat tobacco juice into the mix. The patrons loved that soup and good “Old Joe.” If he called in sick, and Mrs. Munder herself had to make it, the patrons complained. 

    A fried soft-shelled crab sandwich remains Mr. Douglass's dream of the perfect bite.

Oysters were another matter. He’d heard about them from his father. Calvin Douglass Sr. was the second African American graduate of University of Maryland Law School, admitted after the Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP sued. At that time “Friday Night Lynchings” were publicized events on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Mr. Douglass's father and other lawyers took the ferry and were escorted by Maryland State Police as they tried to convict the lynchers of murder. For their efforts, the African American community fed and feted them with an oyster roast. 

After Frederick Douglass High School, at the suggestion of the chairman of the Art Department, Mr. Douglass went to study at the Museum of Art School in Philadelphia. He could no longer rely on his family’s home cooking. The School Administrators told him a cafeteria would be opening up in the basement. When he went to eat there, the white students refused him a seat. He had a chocolate bar in his pocket and went to sit on the steps of the Museum to eat it.

“They treat me the same way.” He looked up and saw another student speaking to him. “I’m Jewish.” That student and two others became Calvin Douglass’s foursome. They continued to be scorned by their white classmates, who spat on them from their automobile as the four waited to take the trolley on a drawing field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. 

Fortunately, one of the nation’s first automats, Horn and Hardart, was located not far away on Chestnut Street. It was famous for macaroni and cheese, but Calvin Douglass preferred their creamed spinach. He took additional classes at the Fleisher Memorial on Catherine Street. Sometimes he’d go to Rittenhouse Square and draw portraits for sale. 

In 1952 Mr. Douglass enrolled at Howard University. Lois Maillou-Jones headed the Art Department. After he painted, at some risk to life and limb, giant angels adorning the Library Bell Tower for Christmas, she sent him to Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine for the summer. 

    Mr. Douglass arrived at Skowhegan in the rain,  after an overnight train ride from Washington, DC, and a shorter bus ride to the campus. An administrator welcomed him and handed him a mop. His was a work study scholarship. Mr. Douglass was assigned to a single room. He wondered about this, but it made him the envy of his fellow student, Robert Birmelin, and they became friends.

Skowhegan’s version of an Eastern Shore oyster roast was a Maine clambake, with lobsters, clams, corn and potatoes steamed between layers of seaweed. Skowhegan’s kitchen staff took charge of the regional education of their Southern visitor. They introduced him to roadhouses. They took him deep into the woods to community of Pinheads, likely a family of micro-cephalics, sometimes recruited to be presented in touring circuses.

At the end of the summer, Calvin Douglass did not return to Howard, but to classes at the Brooklyn Museum School. Skowhegan Faculty served there. Friends from Skowhegan, Robert Birmelin, Guy Tudor, Frank Yee and Calvin Douglass helped each other survive as aspiring artists. Guy Tudor’s brother hired Calvin to cook on weekends in his restaurant. For the first time, Calvin Douglass heard the phrase “my complements to the chef,” directed at him. Frank Yee’s father advised finding work in Chinatown’s restaurants, as you would be warm in the winter and fed. 

    Guy Tudor’s father was Charles Tudor, a legendary editor at Life Magazine. At a party for Xavier Gonzalez in the Tudor’s upper East side apartment,  Calvin was introduced to Augustus Peck, Director of the Brooklyn Museum School. He asked Calvin Douglass about his skills. Calvin replied that he could draw like Ingres.  Peck visited his cold water flat in the Village and saw that he could indeed draw like Ingres, and hired him on the spot. 

    At the Brooklyn Museum School Calvin met Richard Mayhew. When Richard Mayhew was awarded the John Hay Whitney prize to study in Italy, he was financially strapped. Calvin took him to dinner at a favorite Italian place, the Vesuvius in Greenwich Village, run by two Italian ladies with a wine server dressed in monk’s robes. 

    As the best drawing teacher at the Brooklyn Museum School, Mr. Douglass was recruited to teach painting at Vassar College. There he brought the Skowhegan spirit of hands-on work of making frames, stretching canvass and mixing pigments to the Studio Art program.

Fried Soft Shell Crabs - Allow 2 Crabs Per Person

Place live crabs face down on a board; slice across just back of the eyes. Lift apron at opposite end of crap, scrape off spongy portion beneath and cut off apron. Remove sand bag. Lift each point at the sides andd remove all the gills. Wash and dry.

To prepare for frying (1) Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice and dip in milk and then in flour. Fry in hot deep fat (370 F) until brown. Serve with Tartar Sauce.

 From The United States Regional Cookbook.

Cicero's Oyster Roast, from Bowen's Island, South Carolina

    Although I spent a few spring vacations catching crabs with bacon of the dock in front of my grandmother's home in St. Michael's Maryland, I was never treated to a Maryland Oyster Roast. So I've relied on Natalie Dupree's description of oysters roasted at Bowen's Island, South Carolina. (I wish I were related to those Bowens.) 

    Besides oysters, you will need a wood fire pit, very hot, and a sheet of heavy steel (3 x 4 feet, 1/8 inch thick) to cover it. Wash the oysters and place on steel. Place a burlap sack over them and spray with water. Steam until the oysters open just slightly. Shovel them onto a surface protected by layers of butcher paper with butter and saltines and oyster knived to finish opening. 

Horn and Hardart's Baked Beans --- for Four

    So simple, the Georgia boy just has to remember to start the night before...

    Soak 1/2 lb of pea beans overnight. Boil them for half an hour. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 strips raw bacon, diced, 1 Tbsp sugar, 1&1/2 tsp salt, 1&1/2 Tbsp dry mustard, 1/8 tsp red pepper, 1/3 cup molasses, 1 Tbsp cider vineger, 1/4 cup tomato juice, and 1 cup water. (Additional boiling water may be added to prevent drying during baking.) Bake in pot uncovered at 250 F for four hours.

 Horn and Hardart's Macaroni/Cheese --- for Four

    Cook 1/4 lb macaroni, and preheat oven to 400 F. Make a roux of 1&1/2 Tbsp butter melted and same amount flour, and dashes of salt and pepper blended until smooth. Add 1 3/4 cups Half and Half, stirring constantly until thick. Add 1 Cup of shredded Cheddar and stir until melted. Remove from heat and add cooked macaroni. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to 1/2 Cup canned diced tomatos and stir in. Pour into a buttered baking dish and bake until browned on top.

New England Clambake --- for Twelve

    The culinary highlight of my summers spend in Northwest Connecticut was the Clambake held on the shores of Lake Mauweehoo. I'm not sure how the arrangements were made to bring the ingrediants inland, but the grown-ups did the cooking. Picnic tables were covered with those indestructable checked table cloths. Messy eaters could always go for a swim to clean up.

    Another treat of those years was visiting the Mystic Seaport Museum. In 1970, Lilian Langseth-Christensen, who lived near us in New Milford, gave the following instructions for a Clambake in her The Mystic Seaport Cookbook.

    Prepare 12 large cheesecloth bags. Put 1/2 quart steamer clams in each bag. Tie loosely. Place a metal garbage can over a hot fire, and cover the bottom with seaweed and a quart of salted water. In each sack place a lobster, 4 ears of corn, a baking potato, and half a quartered broiling chicken, all interspersed with corn husks. Place the sacks in the can. Cover and cook over roaring fire for 1 hour. Add a little more water if food smells scorched.

    Remove can from heat and dispense each person their share, each with a stick of butter , salt and pepper shakers, and possibly pickles.






Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Marcus Samuelsson's The Rise: Vibranium, Plated


Vibranium and its extract; 
ceremonial bowl from Peter's Pottery, Mound Bayou, MI.
Photograph c Lucey Bowen, 2020
        If you saw the Afro-futurist film Black Panther, you will recall the substance, Vibranium, formed from a meteorite. A powerful elixer is extracted from the purple-blue flowers that grow near Vibranium. 
    In my imagination, that elixer, applied to food, is Spice. Older science fiction fans may recall that in Frank Herbert's Dune, melange or "the Spice" is a a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities, to which vibanium adds technical wizardry. 

    Although the book doesn't make this clear, the dishes created by Yewande Komolafe and Tamie Cook for the chefs honored in Marcus Samuelsson's The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food are meant to convey the style and personality of each chef, with a layer of Marcus Samuelsson sprinkled over. 

    Vibranium is already in our kitchens, in our spice drawers. You may not use spices the way Samuelsson does, but you know most of them, because they show up just about everywhere in the world's kitchens, and testify to thousands of years of exchanges, for flavor and for profit all around the world. 
    In my 7th grade Home Economics class, in my all-white suburban school, I chose Herbs and Spices for a research project. All those tins in my mother's kitchen cabinet bore the label McCormick Company of Baltimore. I wrote to McCormick. They sent me a brochure that told me something of each and where their spices were grown. I imagined a world map showing spices making a one-way trip to our local grocery store's shelves. My mother, like Samuelsson's grandmother, purchase them for use in preserving pickles and flavoring baked goods. 
    Many years of travel and education later, I know that spices have been journeying since ancient times, but seldom on non-stop routes. As on the Silk Road, they made short hauls, escorted by traders, then exchanged in markets for goods to make the return journey profitable.

    The stops were seaports, where the spices were gathered and traded along the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the islands and mainland of African to the west, to South East Asia, to China, the Philippines  Mexico to the East. Trans-shipped across the Isthmus of Panama, the next steps might entry into the web of trade between ports like Havana, New Orleans, New York, Boston, and across the Atlantic. 

    Creole Languages, at the time of my graduate work, were imagined as a part of the continuum born in the collisions and twisted convergences of different groups who met in the era of the early waves of global trade. In a paper I wrote and delivered to a Conference in St. Thomas, I wrote about Dutch Creole, whose last speakers lived in a cabin in the mountains above Cinnamon Bay National Park, given by Rockefeller to the United Sates. The Virgin Islands have been goverened by six different slave trading and colonizing powers, the last being the United States.

    In my 7th grade history class this was called triangular trade. What is really was: The Atlantic Slave Trade. In it, manufactured goods (beads, copper, cloth, hardware, guns and munitions) were shipped from Britain to West Africa to be exchanged for slaves to work on plantations in the Caribbean or America.  There the enslaved people were traded for sugar, molasses, rum and tobacco to ship back to North America and England. 

    The exchange of spices and foodstuffs across the Atlantic was a result of that trade. It is to honor the resilience of the descendents of those enslaved that Samuelsson brings us the dishes of The Rise.

Spices are to flavor as pigments to painters.
Image c Lucey Bowen, 2020

    I'm adventurous in my painting, cooking and eating, but I've an amateur's palate. Moreover, like Samuelsson, I grew up with a minimum of hot-spicey food, with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger used primarily for desserts. So how to describe and evaluate the dishes in The Rise? I'm inspired by Chef Cassandra Loftlin, whose work on America's Test Kitchen testifies to the breadth of her knowledge and depth of skills. We share a background in Anthropology, but Cassandra has literally cooked her way around the world. 
    My taste analysis is personal, subjective. Proust's famous madelaine stands for a flavor that evoked specific memories. Can a person evoke a flavor, as Samuelsson and crew have attempted to express? Is there a common vocabulary of those flavors of personalities? Is there the equivalent of the Victorians' Language of Flowers, a flavor dictionary of emotional symbols? (See Nik Sharma's authoritative The Flavor Equation for one answer.) 

    Of the individuals honored by Samuelsson, I'm priviledged to know three in person and through their work; one each from Samuelsson's Remix, Migration and Legacy chapters. For the first group, I look for a match between the recipe and the person, as I know and care about them.



    I first heard of Michael Twitty on Facebook. He was completing his Southern Discomfort Tour, cooking in the kitchens across the South, where enslaved people toiled. I was fascinated by Michael's research. The Cooking Gene is grounded in anthropology, art history, biology and personal discoveries. In 2015, we were co-presenters at the last of Molly O'Neill's Long House Food Revivals, in the wilds of Upstate New York. 

Dwelling for enslaved at Stagville Plantation, North Carolina
Drawing c Lucey Bowen, 2019

    Last year I visited Stagville, where Michael cooked over an open fire, outdoors, and received the detailed reveal of his African ancestry. I agree with Samuelsson and crews' estimation that Michael is the coolest guy at the table, if by cool, what's meant is deep and complex.  I'm aware of the pain and what it costs him.

    Remembering Michael's day long preparations and outdoor kitchen at Stagville, grilling the mariated short rib seemed appropriate. The origins of the piri-piri marinade, in New World peppers brought to Africa by the slave-trading Portugeuse, is just the sort of complex story of that Michael tells so well.

    As Michael might advise, no waste. Left over piri-piri sauce made their way into Deviled Eggs. The leftover shortribs were the basis for agredolce sauce for pasta, a nod to both the Spanish trade with Philippine trade and the Italian presence in Africa. 

     VERZUZ has broken the boredom of COVID lockdowns! It inspired me to bake two desserts for tasting. 


    My fascination with the Atlantic Creole world and the African Diapora in the American South and West, led me to the Southern Foodways Alliance. I thought this would help me understand my father and grandmother's southern roots. As one of my cousins and one of my favorite writers live in Mississippi, I travelled to SFA's Fall Conference, and there met Joe Stinchcomb and Toni Tipton-Martin. 

    Joe Stinchcomb is a gracious presence at Oxford, Mississippi where I also met his imaginative cocktails. To me his sophisticated charm is the best combination of Southern and Metropolitan, gentleman and scholar of his craft.

    Toni Tipton-Martin convened the first and ground-breaking A Soul Summit. She brought together in one place many of the Black American figures in The Rise. When her book tours for The Jemima Code and Jubilee brought her near my home grounds, I had the pleasure her company and her food.   


Tiger-nut Poached Pear Tart versus Spiced Lemon Chess Pie from The Rise

    Everyone who tasted these pies, including the life-guard staff at our city pool, had a tough time declaring the winner. Both are keepers. The stories they tell speak to the breadth of dialects, if you will, of Black food, the very topic that Toni has emphasized.

    Joe Stinchcomb is a master at combining the unexpected in his cocktails, 
Chess pie has puzzled me since I first heard my grandmother use the term. I thought that it ought to have a pattern of light and dark squares, but it doesn't. Some say it is a pie that arose out of scarcity, but this one speaks in luxurious amounts of butter, sugar, eggs and buttermilk. The secret spice in the Lemon Chess pie is Grains of Paradise, aframomum melegueta, native to West Africa. Its peppery yet citrus-y tang in takes away any resemblance of the filling to lemon curd. It is witty, but understated.

    For the poached pear tart, I was concerned I'd not find tigernuts, even in ethnic markets. Toni suggested almond flour as the best substitute. No worries, Amazon/Whole Foods could deliver tiger nuts and tiger nut flour, in a day. 

    The flour the tigernut, actually a tuber, proved easy to work with, both as crust and filling. The flavor is like almond flour, and made me think of frangipani, the almond cream, beloved by French pastry cooks. Frangipani shows up in the New Orelans Picayune Creole Cookbook, the old testament of my cookbook collection. Toni writes of and to a successive generations of home cooks, black and white, for whom French tecniques are part of the batterie du cuisine. I'm one of them, having followed the Julia Child cult back in the day. The cinnamon poached pear is the visual needed to shine on a sophisticated dessert table, whether for Jack and Jill or the Junior League. It's a recipe that lets me share with Toni evolutions in my home cooking as I traveled and moved from city to city and coast to coast.



Friday, October 30, 2020

The Rise: The Cookbook


 Samuelsson's 6 Cookbooks top;
The Escoffier Cookbook lower right.

    What is a cookbook, anyway?  Depends. The late Molly O'Neill, in her Introduction to American Food Writing, An Anthology With Classic Recipes, wrote that much food writing in the first decade of 21st Century belonged to the genre of "My Awakening and What I Ate." She credits this to M.F.K. Fisher's 27 books, describing Fisher's various awakenings and what she ate, in mildly luscivious, gluttonous prose

    Escoffier's classic cookbook is the opposite of that. It has two parts: Part I, The Fundamental Elements of Cooking and Part II, Recipes and Methods of Procedure. Escoffier was a sort of user's manual for the kind of kitchen where Samuelsson spent six months as a commis: The Victoria Jungfrau, in Interlaken, Switzerland. 

The brigade, a hierarchy of specialized operators, functions as a team.

    Samuelsson was trained in the Escoffier method, but his cookbooks show the influence of M.F.K. Fisher. Samuelsson's recipes are more than ingredients and instructions. 

    Six cookbooks and a memoir in 17 years is a lot of awakenings. In Aquavit (2003), Samuelsson awoke to life in New York City and refreshed the Swedish standards with techniques and tastes he'd learned from his Franco-Swiss training and his world travels. 

     In Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa (2006) Samuelsson discovered not only the foods and favors of Africa, but regained his Ethiopian father and half-siblings.

    The New American Table (2009) celebrated the immigrant food of the United States.  Samuelsson himself had become an American citizen a decade earlier.

    His memoir Yes,Chef (2012), divided into sections called Boy, Chef and Man, chronicled the awakening called growing up. Samuelsson made a home, started a family and opened a restaurant in Harlem. The recipes for what he ate are in Marcus Off Duty (2014).

    The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem (2016) reads like a personal diary of what Harlem taught him: the African American experience since the Civil War. The recipes also read like the notebooks of flavor possibilities which Samuelsson kept and reaches to for inspiration. (Playlists included.)

     The Rise (2020) is different, part manifesto, part homage. This is not homage in the same way that Chef Corey Lee's menu for his In Situ restaurant in San Francisco. In Situ is a tastable food museum located in the city's Museum of Modern Art, where Lee presents the signature dishes his favorite chefs, with their permission, of course. You went there, pre-COVID,  to look at modern art and eat expensive modernist metropolitan food. 

    Samuelsson's approach enables you to make and taste future classics at home, and to dream of life of eating out after COVID,

    Yes, The Rise is remembrances and recipes, but with a purpose. Samuelsson uses his Star Chef powers to elevate and make visible Black chefs and culinary professionals from all over the Country. It is, he writes, "a cookbook about race, class and the equity of the American food landscape."

    Recipes are arranged "in honor of" over fifty Black creatives, featuring intriguing histories of their culinary careers, followed by Samuelsson's riff recipes. Like a jazz composer, he encapsulates their stories and recipes reflecting on their particular style. 

    To guide you through these compositions, right up front, a Recipe Guide serves as cross-index organized by drinks, appetizers, soups, salads, fish-seafood-poultry-meat, grains, vegetables, breads and pantry staples. Mise en place lovers will find that Escoffier's Part I lives on in the Pantry Staple section's procedures and ingredients.

     Finding excellent Black chefs from across the country was not difficult. 

    The cookbook groups these talents into four sections, arranged under the headings: Next, Remix, Migration and Legacy. The Next section features  "Cutting Edge" chefs are located in New York and other metropolitan areas. Many were born in the Caribbean, and influenced by the special mix of African and European of each different island. All new to me and intriguing, as you'll see in my next installment: The Food.

    I was on more familiar ground with the characters in the later chapters. Here are figures I've relied on to learn about African American cooking. Some were founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

    Remix touches on variation in Black cooking across geographies and cultures. You'll find the food work of Adrian Miller and Therese NelsonToni-Tipton Martin brought many of the chefs in Remix, and the following chapers, to the ground-breaking Soul Food Summit conference some 5 years ago.    

    Mississippi Mixologist Joe Stinchcomb is featured in the Migration Chaper.  The Legacy chapter honors food journeys from Africa to the Americas, and stories of reclamation: BJ Dennis, Jessica Harris, Leah Chase, Mashima Bailey, Michael Twitty, Rodney Scott, Carla Hall.

    Overwhelmed? I was, and I wondered where to start, how to put together a meal. 

    Here's the secret: once you go down these delicious paths, your mouth will tell you which connect and compliment others. As a student of Atlantic Creole languages, I know that both vocabulary (flavors) and grammar (technique) survived the Middle Passage. Now I can taste the different ways these have flourished in the African Diaspora. I call them distincticve but mutually intelligible dialects.

    On the other hand, I am planning a versus between the Spice Lemon Chess Pie, in honor of Joe Stinchcomb and my Mississippi relations, and the Tigernut Custard Tart with Cinnamon Poached Pears for Toni Tipton-Martin, with gratitude for her leadership.

    As Marcus Samuelsson says: "Let's cook, let's eat, Let's Rise." 

    And may we all rise together and be free.





Wednesday, October 28, 2020

THE RISE Arrives

At your bookstore now.

    In March of this year, as COVID 19 took the country into its grip, Chef Marcus Samuelsson was in Miami, Florida, cancelling the opening of an outpost of his Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster. Like many in his industry, he pivoted to providing meals to his neighbors, through José Andres' World Kitchen. 

    Meantime, police violence against African-Americans in the United States continued. Black Lives Matter crystalized concerns about structural racism, as well as overt and implicit racial bias in every aspect of American society and economy.

    In August, the media behemoth, Condé Nast responded to racism at their flagship Bon Appetite magazine. Two women of color were named to top editorial positions. Shortly later, Condé Nast hired Samuelsson as Brand Ambassador and holiday-edition guest editor of the magazine.

    This last caught my imagination. Could this be a reason to forgive Condé Nast for shuttering Gourmet? My local library had Samuelsson's books and was doing drive-by pickups. I started reading his memoir and cooking from his five earlier cookbooks. I pre-ordered The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food, and cooked from the snippets of it, as shown on Amazon.

    Finally, it's October, and yesterday, I greeted the UPS man as he delivered the book. 

    A cookbook and a manifesto, The Rise is a significant event in the culinary history of our country. Marcus Samuelsson is a Star Chef for the 21st Century. He's the Chef from Wakanda, envisaging an Afro-futurist world cuisine. By that I mean that he enlarges Black cultural creativity to include all members the African Diaspora. Re-centering Africa make it visible as the source for the many foods stuffs, flavors and traditions essential to both New World and European cuisines. 

    But what does a 74 year old white woman who has lived in California for the last 25 years know about Marcus Samuelsson's world? I was born in New York and raised in the suburbs, on a middle class Yankee diet, only slightly less reliant on fish that the Swedish fare Samuelsson learned from his adoptive grandmother. I only passed through Harlem's bustling 125th Street on the train to Manhattan's Grand Central Station.

    As I teenager, I did become familiar with the insular WASP world of Manhattan's magazine, publishing and advertising establishments. My writer father's Ivy League credentials gained him entree, but not full acceptance. He was born in the mid-west, to a Dixiecrat and the daughter of an Irish immigrant, and his refusal to conform to expected behaviours meant limited success.

    I trained as an art historian, anthropologist and linguist. Travel and exploration of the world's different cuisines became my habit. It began in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, and later Europe and Asia, both on the ground, in my cookbooks and my Gourmet subscription. West Africa, I only heard about from my younger sister who did Agricultural Extension work in Mali and Nigeria. 

    In 2009 when Condé Nast shuttered Gourmet, I began a serious study of how the magazine presented Asian food starting in 1941. I learned that while that representation reflected changes in world politics and immigration patterns, it was governed by the tastes of same insular, mostly WASP gate-keepers: magazine editors, advertising executives and corporate vice-presidents. Until Ruth Reichl arrived in 1999, the voices chosen to tell the story of Asian cuisines were seldom Asian, and not always chefs.

    Later I consulted the archives to understand the mechanisms for producing the famous Time/Life Foods of the World series. As with Gourmet, the nominal authors of these cookbooks were seldom chefs. They were chosen because of name recognition in the literary world, often expatriats in cosmopolitan New York City.

    Seen through this perspective, Marcus Samuelsson's The Rise deserves much attention, and I plan to review it in five courses: 

As a cookbook, a collection of recipes. 

For of the food itself. (Always the fun part!)

As an extension of Samuelsson's memoir Yes, Chef, and his previous five cookbooks.

    As both defiance and confirmation of the continuing prejudices of the advertising and publishing establishment. 

As a manifesto for expansion of taste, and recogntion of the work of Black Chefs.

At the suggestion of my friend and colleague, Joi Chevalier, I'll illustrate these words with mixed media collages like this one:



Sunday, September 1, 2019

#ILoveLausanne IV --- The Remains of the Day

After it was all over and the guests had departed...

     As a veteran of high tech, I must have signed or asked to have signed dozens of non-disclosure forms. I tended to view them as something the lawyers did to make doing business more complicated.
     News flash: intellectual property protection is not just for the lawyers. Today's main event at the Good Festival was a panel, moderated by the dynamic duo that is Salt Consulting: Denise Nickerson and Michelle Guiliano. They assembled a panel which approached the question of protecting your ideas and inventions from many levels. The takeaway was the number of simple and relatively cheap ways you can and should protect your work while using it to do good.
     Here are the presenters and their ideas:
*Professor Caroline Hunt-Matthes (Faculty at Webster University, Geneva Campus and trustee and advisor to three think tanks on the rights of nature, Privacy Protection and a whistle blower protection) told the story of a U.N. logo pirated by a paramilitary organization. Upon research, she learned that no one had bothered to register it as a trademark. She strongly suggests being proactive in the realm of patents and trademarks.
*Raphael H Cohen is a serial entrepreneur who developed the IpOp Model. This is a roadmap during the pre-project/ideation stage of seizing an opportunity. You can down-load the English language version of his best selling book, read it and pay him what you think it is worth!
*Nadine Reichenthal
*Frank Persyn
*Patrica Simao-Sartorius

   And then it was time to go home and put the mise en place from yesterday to work. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Two hits and a miss

            As I wrote in my last dispatch, this biscuits-and-sausage gravy quest cannot be rushed; my progress is quixotic.
            At last Saturday’s Carrboro Farmer’s Market, I bought 4 Neal’s Deli biscuits to take home, along with okra, figs, and a cedar scarf hanger. Matt Neal’s lineage in Chapel Hill stretches into Southern culinary history. His parents, Bill and Moreton Neal, birthed two other Chapel Hill legends: La Residence and Crook’s Corner. On our second evening here we took Dick’s mentor and his wife to dinner at La Residence, their favorite for family celebrations. We haven’t tried Crook’s Corner yet, but I digress.
            You can read the full story of Neal’s Deli here: Our Reuben jones took us there, and we were well rewarded by house made pastrami and corned beef. When I encountered the biscuits at the Farmer’s Market, I didn’t resist, and I’m so glad I didn’t. They are large, crusty, and you can freeze them, slice them and toast them and they are as if fresh-baked. The staff selling them assured me that come fall, they will do gravy to go with them. I guess this means my quest won’t be finished until then.
Meanwhile, the Popeye’s/Chic-filet Kerfluffle drove me to another Chapel Institution, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, for lunch after my water fitness class. They’ve been selling their chicken and cheese biscuits at their drive-thru place since the late 1970s. I perused the menu from my car, and saw I could get a container of gravy and a sausage biscuit.  I pulled into nearby parking lot and taste tested both chicken and cheese and sausage gravy biscuit. Eureka! Another contender!
I must end on a down note.  Breadmen, another Chapel Hill classic, was disappointing: No crustiness to biscuits, gravy gelatinous. Onwards!