The words that I wish I had written over the past year
2022 has been a strangely liminal year, one of transitions and incongruities. Even though the pandemic isn’t over, most people in the UK are acting as though it is – especially the gammons who never thought it was real/worth taking seriously in the first place. As a result, I’m still not eating out nearly as much as I did in the Before Times. That activity has been increasing, but gradually and cautiously. Having seen Long Covid ravage two people I know, if I’m going to risk my saggy arse for a meal then it had better be a mind-bending meal of a goddamn lifetime.
All of this is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that, yet again, there won’t be any sort of end-of-year reviews lookback. You’ll have to instead be content with my other annual roundup – the collection of what I think is some of the best food writing from the past 12 months. Words that are so eloquently crafted, and/or cover a subject that tickles my brain, that I enviously wish they had leapt from my own hand.
If nothing else, think of this eclectic collection as something to read while we wait to see what 2023 has in store of us.
Where the Kubba Meets the Road, Zahra Al Asaadi, Eater UK
At this waterside location with its modern Lebanese art, patterned tiles, and the sound of the Lebanese singer Fairouz playing in the mornings and live music ringing out from the oud, an Arab lute, in the evenings, it is easy to forget the factories in close proximity.
Just when I think my mental map of London is more or less complete, a city I’ve lived in for decades, an article comes along to remind me that there will always be more to learn and experience. This feature on the Iraqi and Levantine restaurants of Park Royal, and how their future may be affected by dark kitchens and the capital’s ever-changing public transport infrastructure, is as hunger-inducing as it is insightful.
To Eat a Grouse, Justin Gayner, Vittles
Most of the grouse shot in England has historically gone to clubs like White’s and the other St James’s clubs… The one thing all of them have typically had in common is that women were not allowed, unless to clean or cook, a quality they share with the most famous public (i.e. private) school for boys in the country: Eton College.
Every late summer in the run up to the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, all the usual food media will have guides on where in London to eat grouse. This piece on the culture and money of grouse shooting is a must-read, whether you intend to eat the bird or not. Although conspicuously light on the environmental costs of grouse shooting, it’s a nonetheless illuminating look at a privileged world most of us will have never thought about.
The realities of writing a cookbook for hire, Jenny Dorsey, Way Too Complicated
To date, I have written 7 cookbooks. All of them have been commissioned, meaning the publishers sought me out as the author (and usually, the recipe developer and photographer) versus me finding an agent, submitting a proposal, and having a publisher bid on the book idea. This “for hire” situation might sound ideal, but let me assure you it is not.
If you’ve ever had any romantically lofty notions about writing a cookbook, then this breakdown will bring you back down to earth with a thump. Although this won’t be news to anyone well versed in the cutthroat world of book publishing, the hard graft and paper thin amounts of money to be made for most cookbook authors is eyeopening for the rest of us.
George Geary, the man behind iconic Golden Girls cheesecakes, Melissa Elsmo, Oak Park
Some sitcoms have aged badly, if they were ever even fresh to begin with (Friends, I’m looking at you). One sitcom that is remarkably funnier than I remembered: Golden Girls. The only thing that makes rewatching episodes of this televisual classic even better is by scoffing a recreation of one of the many cheesecakes that featured in the show. As well a recipe, this article includes a brief biog of the man who created them. Golden.
Eleven Madison Park’s $300 Vegan Meal Kit, Reviewed, Jaya Saxena, Eater US
At least there’s comfort in knowing the best of the best is often pretty mediocre.
I decided to avoid reviewing meal kits (for the most part) during the frenetically uncertain days of 2020-21, but I almost wish I had if it meant the opportunity to gaze upon idiosyncratic indulgences in the vein of a $300 vegan meal kit from a haute cuisine restaurant. This weird intersection of ostensibly saving the planet and flashy status-signalling, all in a series of waterproof containers, is as strangely fascinating as it is mildly ridiculous.
Fine dining faces its dark truths in Copenhagen, Imogen West-Knights, Financial Times
It took several conversations before the penny dropped for me that the reason people recalled being kicked rather than punched is because when you kick someone in an open kitchen, it’s below the counter.
I haven’t seen any of the recent films and TV shows set in restaurant kitchens (eg Boiling Point, The Bear and The Menu). While I probably should, suspending disbelief might be difficulty given the toxic, brutal grind that takes place in many actual restaurant kitchens. While there have been numerous exposes of appalling workplace cultures in American restaurants, relatively few have taken a similar magnifying glass to this side of the Atlantic.
This FT piece helps correct that by looking at the managerial savagery enrobed in chefs’ whites at Copenhagen’s restaurants and how it’s all inextricably linked to the industry’s razor-thin margins. It’s uncomfortable reading. But to pretend that all is well would be almost as bad as scalding someone yourself.
Soon You Will Die: A History of the Culinary Selfie, Huw Lemmey, Vittles
Once, the importance of images like Peeters’, and their value, came from their scarcity, the expense they cost to make and the skill of the artist. Yet the invention of new technologies has changed our relationship with images.
Drawing a connection between still life paintings by old masters and food photos on Instagram might seem tenuous and superficial to some. But the commonalities and contrasts between these two very different ways of visually representing the tactile and the aromatic is made convincingly (for the most part). And, just as importantly, with a visceral dash of fun too.
In Sri Lanka, Organic Farming Went Catastrophically Wrong, Ted Nordhaus and Saloni Shah, ForeignPolicy.com
Having handed its agricultural policy over to organic true believers, many of them involved in businesses that would stand to benefit from the fertilizer ban, the false economy of banning imported fertilizer hurt the Sri Lankan people dearly.
In a year hardly short of international news, it’s easy in the West to forget that Sri Lanka effectively collapsed due to the worst crisis in its history. Several factors contributed to its economic implosion, one of which is its somewhat underreported attempt to shift completely to organic agriculture. While some will argue with this write-up’s conclusion that only new technological products and processes can mitigate the downsides of Green Revolution agriculture, and not organic farming, its scathing analysis of what went wrong in Sri Lanka’s attempt at a mass wholesale shift to organic farming seems incontestable.
The truth about garlic, a loved and loathed ingredient, Fuchsia Dunlop, Financial Times
there has often been a class dimension to views on garlic
I’m often slightly suspicious of people who dislike the most mundane of foods, especially when out of hand and for no readily apparent reason. So learning that many dislike garlic – of all things – while reading this article was an eyebrow-raising moment. Still, this piece is about much more than the recorded historical reasons for this dislike, snort-inducing as they are. From how various culinary traditions have used garlic to the biochemical factors that determine what it tastes like, this read is as multifaceted as it is well-paced and enlightening.
There are too many pink salmon in the Pacific, Miranda Weiss, Hakai Magazine
We often think of the ocean as this big place, as limitless… This work really challenges those simple assumptions.
The UK gets so much of its salmon from offshore Scottish farms that, until recently at least, the Scottish Government had publicly available statistics about fish mortality levels at such salmon farms. While the definitive story about the state of Scottish salmon farms has yet to be written, the potential environmental impact of Alaskan commercial salmon hatcheries on the Pacific has been extensively covered by Hakai Magazine. And that impact – on biodiversity, on people’s livelihoods and on the salmon themselves – speaks volumes about how food producers operate.
The hidden life of a courier: 13-hour days, rude customers – and big dreams, Sirin Kale, The Guardian
Khan should receive a small cancellation fee, because the order was incorrectly booked on the system. But to try to weasel out of paying it, someone has claimed that Khan was rude and chose not to take the job. After arguing about it all day, Khan eventually gets paid the cancellation fee.
The decision went his way, this time, but, as an independent contractor, Khan has no rights. He can’t make the app pay him a cancellation fee and he can’t query or negotiate the rates it offers. The only power Khan has is to accept or reject jobs that are offered to him, which, when times are lean, isn’t much power at all.
Despite years of coverage, it’s still easy and convenient for many people to forget about the drivers that deliver their Deliveroo/Uber Eats orders – because of that easy and convenient delivery service. It’s harder to do that when faced with a real-life delivery driver – his hopes, fears, dreams and the inherently precarious reality of his job. Especially the low pay which he has to live on and use to pay for the fuel and car to deliver your orders.
Italians Avoided Pizza for Centuries—Tourism Changed Everything, Karima Moyer-Nocchi, Food52
Neapolitan pizza as we know it did not have an inventor, per se. Rather, it was a socioeconomic phenomenon, evolved out of conditions that made the dish not only possible, but necessary.
If you still have room for more wordage about pizzas after reading/skimming my bumper Southwark pizza group test, then this addition to the popular/accessible history of Neapolitan pizza is well worth squinting at. Hard as it may be to imagine, but pizza wasn’t always the well-loved Italian icon it is today – for classist and regionalist reasons. As an adjunct, it’s also worth reading this oddly fascinating piece about how an American entrepreneur managed to sell a franchise restaurant version of pizza to Italy – or at least to Florence.