When Jean Bottéro penned his article,The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia, he never imagined that ancient Mesopotamian culture would appeal to the modern-day palate. In the book’s final pages, Bottéro writes:
Lastly, let me say quite plainly that it is virtually impossible for us to execute these recipes of Mesopotamian haute cuisine...I would not advise trying to incorporate their culinary tradition, just as it stands, into our own.
His comment, which follows paragraphs that dive into vibrant descriptions of the royal foods and recipes, seems rather ironic. Perhaps Bottéro’s fear stems from the possibilities of an unfaithful rewriting of ancient Mesopotamian food history or an ill-executed experiment that aggravates his picky appetite. Whatever his reason, it is disappointing to see Bottéro skip out on experimenting with his research in the kitchen.
Since his formative article about Mesopotamian food culture, historians, chefs, and bloggers have kindled a new interest in ancient Mesopotamian foods. One such chef is Nawal Nasrallah.
Nawal is an Iraqi scholar, chef, and author of Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine. She joins me for this episode to talk about how growing up in Iraq, surrounded by Iraqi cuisine, has influenced her cookbook endeavors and her recent experience reconstructing Mesopotamian cuisine at Yale University. This episode is packed with musings by an experienced cookbook writer, and the consequences of applying a western palate to a non-western cuisine.
Committing to a daily ritual requires motivation and patience, but the payoff can be rewarding. For some people, this ritual is cooking, and for other people, it’s journaling. Step in John Donohue, former New Yorker editor, cartoonist, and author. For the longest time, John Donohue’s ritual of choice has been drawing. Just hop on over to his site All the Restaurants and peruse hundreds of his New York City restaurant sketches. Pencil in hand, John has traveled all across New York City and more recently around London and Paris to document the facades of iconic restaurants. And the possibilities are endless! From sketching a secret cocktail bar above a burger joint, to drawing queues of people waiting for dinner in London, to illustrating his dish racks and toy ducks, John hopes that he’ll never run out of things to draw.
On why he draws:
“When I started drawing I realized that it makes me a better person, a much better parent, much more present in the world and I wanted to find a way to keep doing that.”
On surprising patterns he learned while drawing:
One thing that surprised me [in Europe] was that most of the people I spoke to in my interactions, who were mostly in the service business — maître d’s at hotels or clerks in a supermarket — none of those people were speaking English as a first language. They were all immigrants from Eastern Europe.
…I definitely noticed an inverse relationship between the price point and quality and the elaborateness of the facade.
On his drawing style and use of color:
There’s the rule of haiku or a sonnet: you’re limited by the form, but the limits of the form become its strength. And I wanted an aesthetic that was unique to me.
All the Restaurants Site: https://alltherestaurants.com/
Eat Draw Repeat: https://eatdrawrepeat.com/
Baking a birthday cake or sheet of cookies can be a technical process, one that requires immense preparation, precision, and patience. Take, for example, the New York Times recipe for Raspberry-Mochi Butter Cake With Matcha Glaze: 1 and three-fourths cups of sugar, 12 ounces or 340 grams of fresh raspberries, 3/4 cup or 18-milliliters of full-fat coconut milk, and the list goes on. With this extensive list, baking can be very easy to mess up — from adding incorrect proportions to misplacing the ingredients themselves — but that is what makes it an adventure.
For Claire Saffitz, baking, this methodical process, has been a constant source of joy. Former Bon Appetit Recipe Tester, Senior Editor and now Bon Appetite Test Kitchen YouTube Host, Saffitz is well known for her show Gourmet Makes, where she recreates popular snacks such as homemade Cheez-Its and Starburst from household ingredients, as well as her appearances on other Bon Appetite series such as From The Test Kitchen and Making Perfect. On this episode, Claire shares all: her X-Factor Recipe for Rhubarb Cake, why she loves reading from cookbooks more than she loves cooking from them, and the reason she’s not a snacker. She also chats about her journey into food academia and media, dissects her creative brainstorming during Gourmet Makes episodes, and previews her upcoming baking book, which comes out in 2020.
On a recipe’s subjectiveness: "In the test kitchen, it’s not that we agree all the time but I think that we all agree on a general criteria for what makes any recipe delicious — it’s well balanced, there’s the right amount of salt, there’s acid to really brighten the flavor, there’s a wide variety of textures, there’s crunchy and soft — and every recipe, no matter what it is, has to deliver on all these levels. At the same, we really disagree about certain ingredients and certain choices — if you’re going to put in a nut in this recipe which nut is it going to be? I might really want it to be pecans and Chris Morocco might really want it to be almonds and we’d debate that."
On the goals for her upcoming Baking Book: "The book is making the argument that baking is just as artistic and cool and improvisational as cooking. Because I always hear this thing over and over that is, 'I’m a cook but I’m not a baker.' And I’ve never seen the two things as separate."
On recipe ideation and inspiration: "There’s endless inspiration for recipes. The issue that I have is not coming up with ideas — I have more ideas than I need — it’s mostly a time thing. Because you cannot make a cake bake any faster in the oven."
Food writing, in its initial stages, had a particular audience and a particular face. Columns were written by older, white males critiquing restaurants on taste and texture, atmosphere, and service. Today this structure of writing, of composing food columns, is outdated. As food writing and media have further evolved, this special medium has taken on many different shades, stories and personalities. Writers pen food stories about living on Mars, deliver cutting edge research and interviews from chefs and farmers, and explore gender, race, and nationality in food.
Ruth Reichl has witnessed the weight of this transition as an insider in the food media empire. She wrote for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times as restaurant critics, published books about her experience in food media, and served as Gourmet magazine’s editor in chief during the 90s.
Ruth joins me on this episode to discuss her journey to food media, her new book Save Me the Plums, and the future of food journalism and magazines. I’m so excited for you to listen!
On her introduction to food journalism: "I saw for the first time, I was eight, that nonfiction real life could be as magical as a fairytale and from that moment on I started reading Gourmet magazine."
On food criticism and storytelling: "I probably wrote the weirdest restaurant reviews that have ever been written. I wrote stories that were set on Mars, I wrote westerns, I wrote love stories, I wrote things in diary form. I really stretched the form of a restaurant review as far as I could."
On food media's extravagant culture: "The closest thing I could compare [Gourmet] to was the Court of Versailles under Louis XIV."
I sat down with Sara Brande, Marketing Manager for Yume Wo Katare and Yume Ga Arukara, to talk about two of my favorite things: ramen and dreams. I fell in love with Yume's noodles in the Fall of 2017, first the ramen and then the udon. The noodles offer a nice bite, the broth explodes with flavor and fat, and the meat melts in your mouth. But the real reason I've returned each time is for the transformative experience, the transformative spirit that is Yume Wo Katare.
In this episode, Sara shares their experience as an employee and chef for Yume, ramen lover, and dreamer. Fun Fact: Sara accomplished their dream of eating two humongous bowls of ramen in one sitting (And for reference, I can barely finish one). We also explore Jiro ramen, the "noodle community", and Japanese Twitter followers. To all the dreamers, ramen lovers, cooks, and foodies: if you can dare to dream, you can do it, so definitely give this episode a listen!
On the Yume’s mission:
“Our owner decided that he wanted to make this style of ramen because it matched with the concept. The concept is all about how your dreams should be limitless--no dream is too big or too small...We serve you a lot of food on purpose because we want you to be challenged and we want you to see how much you can achieve.”
On The Long Lines:
“Typically when you come in, there’s going to be a line outside, but that’s okay! Because it’s the perfect time to set your goals for the day…You have the reflective time to think about what you want to accomplish either while you’re with us in the shop or outside, the rest of the day, rest of the week, or rest of the month.”
“A place for you to share your dreams”:
“We always say that we want to change the world at Yume and one of the ways we can do that is by showing you a different side of food, what food means and what it can mean. So we always say Yume is not a restaurant, it’s a place for you to share your dreams.”
On experiencing meals beyond just the food:
“If [customers are] just thinking about the meal as just food they’re losing out on so much effort and so much preparation that goes into it...I hope that even if you go to Yume just to eat some good food, that’s okay, but I hope that passively you can get a feel for what’s going on and that there's so much more than food.”
"If I can look at a drawing and I can have a little smirk on my face because it’s kind of a funny little thing then I feel like I’ve done something good." - Vance Lump
I’ve been consuming food articles (and yes, pun intended) for the past year. I’ve scoured articles about the plastic straws debate, the #MeToo Movement in the restaurant industry, and even the new Netflix hit Salt, Fat Acid, and Heat by chef and author Samin Nosrat. One thing has remained the same; I’ve constantly been enamored by beautiful illustrations and art accompanying each of the articles I’ve read. Some illustrations include a mixed media approach with photography and digital art. Others illustrations show off a colorful blend of pastels and wavy brush strokes. Throughout my process, I was particularly drawn to illustrator and comic Vance Lump, whose works constantly show up in food news sites and publications such as Eater and Taste. With his quirky illustrations, vibrant colors, and amazing attention to detail, I definitely wanted to learn more. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Vance about his unique drawing style, his previous experience living on a farm, and his process for creating food illustrations.
What's the fascination with Apple Cider Donuts, especially in New England? I journey to Boston Public Market and meet with Al Rose and Emily to talk about growing up on the farm, perfecting apple cider donuts, and serving this delicious treat to visitors from all over the world.
Tiffani Faison, chef and restaurateur based in Boston, was one of the first chefs I remember watching on TV. Not only was she a finalist on the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef, but she was also nominated for a 2018 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northeast. Given her remarkable accolades, amazingly delectable and spunky dish creations, and upbeat personality, I had to ask about her journey to the restaurant industry and unpack the differences between cooking competitively and designing dishes for menus. That’s not the only reason I admire her; Tiffani is a fierce advocate for the MeToo movement and the LGBTQ community and has written articles for Eater. And so I hope you enjoy our conversation, recorded from her restaurant Tiger Mama in Boston, MA.
When I learned that Joanne Chang (James Beard award-winning baker and founder-owner of Flour Bakery and Myers + Chang) was a Harvard Alumna, I became curious about her path to the restaurant industry. How did she dive into the restaurant industry? What cultural and personal experiences influenced her recipes for her cafe and restaurant? Through a series of questions, we uncovered some of the stories behind her decision to enter the industry and her tips for people seeking to enter the industry.
In recent years, there has been a new wave of culturally thoughtful and insightful cookbooks. One of the masterminds behind this movement is Julia Turshen. Julia is a bestselling cookbook author with cookbook accolades from The New York Times, Eater and NPR. She strives to make cooking a more inclusive conversation by running EATT, an inclusive digital directory of women and non-binary individuals in food, and advocates for changing racial disparities in food through cookbooks.
On the second episode of Gouda Talks, a podcast exploring the intersection of culture in food, Jess sits down with Ari Kendall, the co-founder and head chef for the Chik Chak food truck. After several stints as a chef in Cambridge restaurants, he entered the food truck business after working with Rami’s, a Middle Eastern Israeli restaurant, on making their kosher menu mobile. Eventually, he decided to split off from Rami’s and start Chik Chak, a kosher food truck.
Chik Chak, which roughly translates to “be more efficient” in Hebrew, epitomizes Kendall’s niche in food truck industry. Always rapidly moving, working, and cooking, the life of a food truck chef presents many challenges including truck fires, yet, according to Kendall, reaps even more rewards. This is the second episode in a series of conversations with local food trucks in the Boston and Cambridge areas.
On why he enjoys being a Food truck owner and chef:
I guess I’m a bit of a sadist. I enjoy working 14 hours a day, seven days a week.
On how chefs are selling food from different cultures:
I don’t own falafel and I don’t own hummus. I just share it with people. And that’s what brings me joy and other people joy. So as long as I can keep doing that, I’ll be happy.
On how he introduces people to ethnic food:
My favorite way to introduce people [to food] is to let them try it. People will ask what is a falafel and without skipping a beat I’ll just give them one.
On Jess Eng’s first episode of Gouda Talks, a podcast exploring the intersection of culture and food, she talks to CEO of Bon Me, Patrick Lynch (‘05). Lynch graduated from Harvard with a degree in Economics and then later attended MIT where he obtained a graduate degree in urban planning and environmental policy. As Lynch explains, when he co-founded Bon Me, he had no experience in the food industry. In this interview, they unpack the story behind Bon Me’s conception, its success as a food truck and currently budding restaurant, and the inspiration behind their Asian influenced food. Lynch also reveals the challenges of starting a food truck and managing the business side as its CEO. This is the first episode in a series of conversations with local food trucks in the Boston and Cambridge areas.
On Bon Me’s Asian-inspired food:
I don't think we're…[trying] to be authentic Vietnamese. Our sandwich is the most traditional Vietnamese dish. And the rice noodle salad that we do is also reasonably Vietnamese, but the rice bowls are much more of a Chinese dish. A lot of the fillings we use and so on are either from Southeast Asia.
On the influx of food trucks in Boston and Cambridge:
We have seven restaurants now...So we're definitely as much a restaurant company now as a food truck company. And I think since then to the last year and a half now, we've seen more competition come in. I think a lot of that has actually been driven on by the restaurant side rather than the truck side. The truck scene got pretty well saturated even as early as 2014.