Eight Days (25 November 2018)

Sisto Malaspina was farewelled with a state funeral in Melbourne last Tuesday. One half of the much-loved Pellegrini's, the flags in Melbourne were flown at half-mast as the city paid their respects to the man and the institution. It is an incredible tragedy, but it is also an incredible testament to what this industry is all about, to the impact a smile and conversation can have on a city, one coffee at a time. 
- There's a lot to watch: Netflix launched their new food show The Final Table and the MAD6 videos are up online. In other TV news, 7 have announced their new food channel, 7food. I mention it, because I found their line up interesting, particularly in light of this article by Tim Hayward in the Guardian looking at the demise of the TV chef:
“… I feel confident in predicting that the worlds of restaurant cooking and TV celebrity, which for a couple of decades were mashed into a single job, are drifting apart again. Formats – both “stand-and-stir” and faked jeopardy “competitions” are dying as general viewers turn to other flavours of reality show. Meanwhile, hardcore food lovers turn to Netflix and YouTube for helpings of Ugly Delicious and Samurai Gourmet. There will always be cooks on telly and there will always be brilliant chefs working quietly, but the days of the old-fashioned celebrity chef, bestriding both worlds like a dyspeptic colossus are numbered.” The Final Table seems to suggest not quite yet ...
- As for the brilliant chefs working quietly, I loved the ideas found in this post by Puglisi on his decision to leave Relæ. The more I look, the more I see our restaurants and chefs paring things back. I’m most pleased.
“Gastronomy had matured and transformed inside me. Simple became not only a point of departure but also arrival. I wanted to focus on produce and people, less on the its-bitsy stuff, I needed a change ... Today I have the greatest privilege of being at the very crossroad between gastronomy, farming, food, people, culture and life. And I have never been happier for having listened to myself while cutting into this damn onion. Do what you want out there, not what you think people want you to.”

- Of course, it's also important to note that power can be used for good. This week, Chef José Andrés was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in disaster relief. "With an incredible spirit and an innovative mind, Mr. Andrés is solving one of the world’s ancient problems and supplying world leaders with a new road map to provide more effective disaster relief in the future."

- Closer to home, Shewry was in the papers for his work setting up a veg garden for a retirement home in Victoria. Small fry perhaps, but if you get to the thoughts on Pantelleria below, think of this in the context of major and minor chords. When I remember Nan's food in the dementia prison it makes me sad, especially when I think how happy her food made me as a child. I don't think we do a great job of looking after the older generations; I do think making sure they have happy food is a very easy place to start.

The Parabere Forum have announced the dates for 2019. It will be held on the 3rd and 4th March in Oslo. I'll be there. If you can, you should too. If you want to know why, see this or listen to this.
8Days in Pantelleria:
It’s incredible the people you meet when you travel, especially, dare I say alone. The bizarre connections you forge without thinking, the attraction of the likeminded. Mirroring the ideas in the soapbox, I came across many people cooking, making wine and eating in this pared back style on my travels. I was spoiled for excellent company and generosity.
I was invited to dinners all over the island, made from food gathered all over the island. There was a lovely conviviality to the kitchens and the meals. Meals weren’t laboured over, in fact, they were often not even considered until we were a glass or two into the aperitivo. It was rare to find the cook the same as the home owner, it was more a question of who felt like being in the kitchen when the time rolled around, or a question of who turned up with the produce.
One night it was the three eggplants on the table that fed our motley crew. Francois had seen my eyes flash to them when I sat down and proudly handed them to me to admire. He had, he explained, plucked them from his garden before jumping in the car, just in case. And so he became the cook for our evening. A boy of 23, cooking for a room of chefs and wine makers with no qualms – an easy comfort in the egalitarianism and enjoyment of the kitchen. He was right to be proud, the rich volcanic soils, combined with the late summer heat, made for exquisite flavour in that simple pasta.
Another evening, in another home, it was a feast of three octopuses. The octopus had been prised from the rocky cliffs that fall steeply under the Mediterranean - Andrea appeared with one, Gian-Vito trumped his with two. As is tradition, they had been beaten (50 times per octopus) before each being subject to a different method of cooking, each by a different guest, not because it was organised, rather because each had an idea and got to cooking it: one was thrown into a hot, dry pan until it began to expel its own juices and then was left to make friends with a glass of red wine for 40 minutes; another was served with pasta, tomato and chilli; the third simply braised and scattered with salt and paprika.

While the men cooked the octopuses (surely octopi sounds better), it was Ana’s Pantesco pesto (capers, obviously) that accompanied the hot potatoes, and her salad of purslane leaves, composed from the plants that run rampant all over the island’s floor, that really stole my heart.
Perhaps more dramatically, there was also the night a pig arrived in Giuseppe's car boot. It had been slaughtered that day and was hauled into the kitchen in a bin bag. While we drank our apero the pig was butchered, a pit dug, a fire built and the pork buried with onions, potatoes, tomatoes and herbs to cook for the night. It was to be our dinner the following evening for eggplant-boy's birthday celebration. It was the kind of party I have only seen in movies and fantasies – long trestle tables, lights strung for a carnival, laughter, shared wine, excellent music and dancing into the small hours of the morning.
There were a lot of wine makers on the island. I was intrigued to see they were all making wine in a natural way – minimal intervention, maximum flavour. The nay-sayers suggested this would be a trend, that this would disappear, but my experiences, even in tiny, forgotten corners of the world, suggest otherwise. Not just wines without sulfur, but an expression of place and a statement about the environment and their politics. (I liked Anders Frederik Steen's comment to that end this week.)
Jacopo was one such wine maker. A former chef (having worked at El Celler de Can Roca and La Gavroche before that), he was the second chef-turned-wine-maker I met on Pantelleria. He had fallen for the island with the same force I have and has now bought a small patch for his vines. He is onto his third vintage. I like the chef to wine transition – I think it brings an interesting perspective to the process and taste. Jaco explained his goal was to capture the taste of the island “the hotness, the freshness ... sour, honey, lemon ... a mess, that is more about the soil than the sea.”
Ines, whose dog adopted me and eventually brought the two of us together, was also working to distil the flavour of the island, however, for her, it was through the wild herbs found on the mountainside. Her essential oils and hydrolates, the watery by-product of oil production, each capturing and highlighting different notes of the plants and the island. I have brought some of them home with me and feel a little thrill every time I spray that fleeting perfume of the island on my body.
Of course, it wasn’t all chefs and wine makers. There was Andrea, a musician, who taught me about the happiness intrinsic to a major chord and the sadness found in the minor. I have wondered since, what is the equivalent in food? Can we play with the same emotions with the same consistency and certainty? Or, perhaps with food, it’s about the symphony, not the chord - the environment, the food, the conviviality.
I do miss the sunsets, I miss that punctuation for every day - where would we watch it, what would we drink to celebrate it. I miss the stars that would follow, as if a consolatory offering to make up for the loss of sun. I miss having my feet on the earth, I miss the people, the tangle of talent from all over the world: artists, ceramicists, fishermen, musicians, wine makers, eggplant growers, distillers. I miss those conversations and adventures.

(For Pantelleria in pictures, click here.)
Consider the chicken:
(an excerpt from 
MEAT: The Ultimate Companion)
The world has turned to a comforting chicken soup to nurture the body and soul for centuries, if not millennia. Chicken bones, with or without a little flesh still clinging to them, simmered for a number of hours, give up a delicious golden elixir with an intrinsic comfort, the warmth of a great hug in big arms. One of the great natural medicines, this broth has been used as a treatment for both the common cold and the winter blues.
The Jewish philosopher and physician Maimonides prescribed chicken soup for respiratory problems as far back as the twelfth century and, to this day, there is nothing quite so efficient at countering colds as ‘Jewish penicillin’: a chicken broth bolstered with matzo balls bound with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat).
In Greece, they boost the restorative properties of their chicken soup, avgolemono, with lemon and egg white; while in Columbia, it’s ajiaco, thickened with corn and potato; the Vietnamese have their pho gà, embellished with fresh herbs, ginger and lime.
In China, they serve chicken soup during the traditional period of self-imposed ‘internment’ following childbirth (indeed, they also use whole chickens, some women eating up to one entire chicken each day during this period); there is a similar period of care for new mums in some parts of Africa, where it is the native guinea fowl that is slowly braised in a little liquid.
King Henry IV of France, in the sixteenth century, was such an admirer of the humble chicken and its soup, that he proclaimed his desire that every home in his kingdom should have the means to regularly enjoy poule au pot, the traditional French version.
How terrible to think how we, in return, treat the chicken. The majority of chickens live in large barns with little room to move; scant, if any, access to natural lighting; and no access to the outside world. Their breeding pool has been narrowed to the tipping point and they are designed to put on bulk at a rate their legs can barely sustain; these are Frankensteinian animals that hardly resemble their barnyard ancestors of only a few decades ago. Furthermore, their existence has been reduced to as few as 28 days of hard and fast labour: eat, grow, die. Those few weeks are less than half the time it took their forebears to mature. It is hard to imagine how an animal so maltreated can offer care and sustenance to us.
Of course, these systems have meant that, at least financially, Henry IV’s ideal is now a possibility. In Australia, for example, we eat 10 times more chicken than we did 60 years ago. Taking into account that the overall consumption of meat has changed very little in this period—remaining at around 110kg (240 lb) of protein per person per annum—this is an incredible shift. For those with tight budgets and big families to feed this, of course, can be viewed as a positive.
But what if King Henry was wrong? What if chicken should be a special occasion treat? Or, at the very least, respected in totality: each chicken valued and utilised for every part the bird offers up? One beautiful bird, bought in its entirety—if you’re lucky, with the neck and feet still attached and, as in France, sold with the liver and heart, not just a cook’s treat but proof of the freshness of the bird—can feed a couple or a small family a number of times over. The breasts can be removed and diced for quick cooking in a stir-fry or flattened for schnitzels; the thighs, wings and legs make for fantastic slow cooking in tagines, curries and stews; while the bones will always offer up that precious restorative elixir, stock: use it as a soup on its own or as the base of your next risotto, polenta or gravy.
What value should we place on one purchase that can achieve all of that?

Eight Days (29 October 2018)

- This week there has been a lot in the news about the April Bloomfield/Ken Friedman fall-out. Bloomfield finally broke her silence to the NYTimes, after numerous accusations of not doing enough to stop his (allegedly) abhorrent behaviour. 

"Ms. Bloomfield said she realized early on that to survive in this new job, she needed an old kitchen skill: the ability to appear tough, harsh and thick-skinned. She, like most chefs at the time, had been trained in restaurant kitchens where shouting, sexism and slashing insults were the norm … Inside, she recalled, she was terrified of being branded a failure in the restaurant industry, and convinced that Mr. Friedman had the power to make that happen. She said Mr. Friedman frequently told her that he was the reason she had become famous and wealthy, and that he could undo her success with a few phone calls." 

It poses some interesting questions. Of course, not acting is not ok, particularly if you are in a position of power, but everyone in that company carries that burden, not just the woman. All too often speaking out against the bully results in the punishment of one, while the rest slink back into the background. This kind of culture shift requires an army, an army built of both sexes. As I have said many times, being a feminist is not just the role of a woman. The New Yorker took a look at a few of those questions. 

Patricia O’Donnell died this week. You may not know her name, but you will certainly know that of her sister, Mietta. “However, her most dazzling work was behind the scenes, quietly planting great ideas and allowing others to take the credit … Mentoring and volunteering were etched into her daily routine. If a person's merit is judged by what is given back to the community, Patricia stands high on the podium.” What a lovely legacy.
- In a somewhat similar tale, read this lovely interview with David Zilber, the head of Noma’s ferment lab and co-author of The Noma Guide to Fermentation. It is a delightful story of his dedication to succeed and his path not just into the Noma kitchen, but then into the ferment lab and finally to having his name alongside Rene’s on the cover of the book. “The cookbook world doesn’t normally work that way. It’s time that the world of writing cookbooks and restaurant culture actually acknowledged the people doing the work.”
- I feel likewise and, if I have learnt anything over the past year, it is that the book business also requires an army. As I have shared the MEAT book with friends and family this week, it has been so enjoyable to hear them heap praise on all the contributors to this book. I don’t have a baby, but if I can make the same analogy, it certainly takes a village!
AP and I were adamant this book was to be a celebration of meat, a celebration of our farmers and a celebration of all the work that goes in between. Alan Benson’s incredible photography helps tell the story, from the farm, to the butcher to the kitchen. While, in the butcher, all the cuts are described and attributed their own recipe (thanks to the lovely Em Knowles), with the recipes collected from classics all over the globe and a few from our favourite chefs and cookbooks.
There are beef carcass break-downs illustrating the French, American and Australian butcher traditions, while the pig has French, Spanish and Italian charcuterie carcass lines. I also (finally!) got to create the global breed maps (for sheep, cattle, birds and pigs) I have been imagining since working at Vic’s – they tell an excellent story of animal evolution and terroir – thanks to the team at Northwood Green for their incredible patience in getting this all right.
AP and I are about to embark on the book tour. We will be at Kinokuniya this Thursday and Better Read than Dead on Sunday, there are also events in Bris, Melbs, the 'gong and many other excellent places in between.

Let me know if you want more details and, if you would like to buy some en masse for Christmas gifts/staff presents etc please also let me know, I can help you with a nice discount. Finally, if you're a young chef or apprentice and just need some help on the discount front let me know, I can help you too!
- Staying with books, I loved this beautiful excerpt from Adam Federman’s biography of Patience Gray, Fasting and Feasting. It is a fascinating tie between the old and the new, between the power of nostalgia (both positive and negative) when it comes to food. "Gray was an extraordinary creature, quite unlike any of the other female icons who dominate postwar culinary history ... Each dish is inextricable from its time and place, those villages and landscapes and rustic kitchens that inspired both the cooking and the writing ... Her loyalty was to plants and fish and the seasons, and to the villagers who taught her how to make use of everything surrounding her."
While in Pantelleria, I met a musician who explained the difference between major and minor chords as that between happiness and sadness. How incredible that musical notes can be so easily divided one way or the other. I have been wondering how that plays out in food. Is there happy food? Sad food? Can we play those notes with our ingredients or cooking methods? Your thoughts would be warmly welcomed ... 
Eight Days in Salina (ok, that was a long time ago now, but I'll do Pantelleria next week):
The Aeolian Islands are often viewed as a collective, a family, grouped that way for the ease of the tourists, I suppose. The reality is they are each fiercely independent, each individual. The seven islands, like the seven dwarfs, all have different personalities.
We chose Salina, or perhaps Salina chose us. It was perfect. As it is on a small island, our days were bookended by watching the sun rise and set. In between, they were largely spent in pursuit of our next meal.
It would start with a decision/argument about the coffee granitas in the morning. On one side of the island the cream (and indeed the quality of the coffee) was better, on the other it was their excellent warm brioche, with a tiny note of orange dancing through the dough; the brioche was made with stutto (pork fat) rather than butter. (We also saw this in Naples with their excellent sfugliatelle, lending a super crisp exterior around a filling of ricotta and citrus).
Caffeine fuelled, we would start to think about lunch. Surprisingly that was a never-ending quest to find decent vegetables – everyone grows their own so, short of jumping the fence, finding our own supply of the excellent eggplants was more difficult than it should have been. Barter was the traditional commerce on the islands and in many respects it remains this way.
As the tourist season is drawing to a close, our quest for fishermen was also largely thwarted. Instead we found a friend in Giuseppe, who ran the local fish shop in Malfa. Giuseppe never had more than two or three things in his cabinet. People would arrive, ask for octopus or a certain fish, Giuseppe would shrug his shoulders and send them packing. We were more fluid and he was very particular about what we could take. We ate octopus so fresh that it shimmered purple when Giuseppe ran his hand over it, the local squid, totano, with its deep, rich flavour and the exquisite red prawns, just an hour off the boat, eaten raw, the heads sucked out and chased with a shot of Malvasia, the local sweet wine.
Our town, Malfa, had that delightful feeling of a small village that still lives and breathes, a place where you can sit quietly and watch the lifestyle pass you by. By some force of osmosis the pace of life sneaks under your skin. There was street theatre, there was jazz. It is a town where the local policeman blows a whistle to alert everyone to their illegal parks, and one by one they appear from their respective cafes to quietly move their vespa or ape into a more appropriate spot (until the next night when we do it all again).
Travelling with Giorgio, I had an in to the language. I also had someone alongside me who can talk more than I do. Everyone we met was cause to pause and shoot the breeze. In these interactions, I would imagine the conversation, using their hands and facial expressions to furnish my imaginings. The hands here are as much a part of the language as the words – they are punctuation, they are emphasis, they are words all on their own, they say what the words can’t. If you want to silence an Italian, you only need to tie their hands behind their back.
With Giorgio I also learnt a lot about the importance of respect - the second silent language of the southern Italians. As we met people, Giorgio would invite them to our home, we hosted aperitivo after aperitivo. Giorgio and Luke would cook, I would manage the ambience - flowers, music, setting the table - we were quite the package, if I do say so myself. Our guests would bring treats too: cannoli, gelato, wine. The simple act of sharing became our ticket to everywhere. We were invited to vineyards, we were fed by Nonnas, we were taken on boats. I suppose this was our version of barter. It was entirely delightful.
One such conversation led us to Alicudi, the furthest of the Aeolians, the island we would watch the sun melt over each night while on Salina. We had been told of a fisherman who would cook his catch for you in his home. We found Sylvio gutting a beautiful haul of fish at the tiny port – the salty water maintaining the taste of the sea. He had a firm face, hardened by the wind and life on a tiny island – if I was to put a face to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, it would be his. He took us fishing, he cooked for us in his home. I will not say the meal was excellent, and the wine, served in a mutti bottle, was far from it, but the mugine roe pasta was great and the experience was entirely brilliant.
That night we slept under the stars, pulling our cot beds from the hot rooms to the cool terrace. From this vantage point we could hear the strains of a party nearby, there was singing – local songs of place and pride. “Stromboli? No! Lipari? No! Salina? No! Ali, Ali, Alicudi …” Everyone was fiercely proud of their own – in their eyes, there were no other islands except their own. That isolationist mentality was interesting to observe.
So too was the adaption to the tourism dollar. It is their bread and butter. There is a selfish desire to find places in the world were that is not the case, and yet, it is what allows these islands to breathe. The further out you go, the more rustic the tourism. In Alicudi it is still homes that house you and homes that feed you. Sylvio is not the only home restaurant. It was not always this way.
Almost everyone we met had a brother or a sister in Australia, in fact, they say for every one person in the Aeolians, there are ten in Oz. Ironically, given our fruitless (ha) search for fresh fruit and vegetables, most of them took up residence and built our culture of fruit and veg shops in Australia. I met Gaetano, who was sent from Salina at 13, after the death of his father in a fishing accident. It was four years before his Mum and sister joined him. Imagine the desperation required to send away your 13-year-old boy … These are islands that have known hard times. Gaetano made good, he eventually opened his own store, Duffey Bros in Maroubra, he can now afford to return.
A friend of my father’s, whose grandparents also came to Australia from Salina, sent me this, by way of explanation: ‘Breathes there the man with soul so dead who never to himself hath said: This is my own, my native land.’
I now understand.

(There are some pics to accompany the words here.)

Eight Days (23 September 2018)

Dan Hunter shared some home truths in Good Food’s chef chat. It was honest, raw and just a little blunt. I enjoyed it. In fact, I have lots of these conversations with my friends, it was nice to see those ideas published.
On the fancy restaurants (and his time at Mugaritz): "it's young kids that can just f---ing run. It's the same as Noma," says Hunter. "The labour force is single, under 25, and can work all day, party and come back to work, and when they're done, [you] get the next lot in. And that's the truth, you know? They all have a good time. They get something extraordinary out of it."
On working for the man/woman: "I don't really care what lots of chefs say about the owners who look after them. You're a commodity. You're still just a number in a spreadsheet. If you don't do the job, the restaurant still has to function."
On sustainability and small towns: “I just figure that when you talk about sustainability, it should be sustainability of your local environment, your local town and your local economy."

- This week it was Adam James of Rough Rice - also a very worthy read.
- The 50 Best have copped some flack as they announced they are trying to fix the gender divide. Their best female chef award has long been contentious, as has the lack of women in the restaurant line-up.

Apparently, their starting point is their judges, with a new mission for diversity: “From now, 50 Best is committed to achieving a 50-50 gender balance across its 1,040-strong worldwide Academy of voters. Prior to the next round of voting for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Academy members will also be encouraged to look beyond the current list, to explore a diverse mix of restaurants during their travels and to take issues of representation into consideration in their voting choices.”

It begs the question: what was the split in previous years?
- The videos from MAD 2018 are now available online. You can check them out in the link.
Eight days in Le Rayol – 
I wrote the below ten years ago, when I first found myself in Le Rayol. The Tropicana Club remains my second home and my office when I return to the south each year. In fact, I am amazed we do not have similar in Australia. I'm not talking about exclusive, invite-only type beach clubs, I'm talking about the beach club in the European tradition ...  beach beds with umbrellas (yes, they are $15 a day, but surely doing away with the grief of packing everything up and going home for lunch makes that worthwhile??); they are a sanctuary from the sand and the sun, somewhere to eat or have a drink while still soaking up the beach atmosphere. Incidentally, the Tropicana Club is now for sale ... anyone?
“Beachside, hidden on a normally sleepy corner of the Cote D’Azur, is the restaurant you have always wanted to own. Even if you have never wanted to own a restaurant, you would want this one.
There are no walls, instead it’s a narrow garden of cacti that separates the Tropicana Club from the beach. Everywhere feels the breeze and is part of the ocean or the hills that stretch up behind it. The exposed blue rafters and white sails provide a feeling of solidarity and yet it feels lucid, like you could pack it all up at a moments notice.
During the day, it offers relief from heat of the Mediterranean sun. There is coffee in the morning, drinks by night, lunch throughout the day, they serve simple meals: salads, carpaccio, fish and those exquisite, sweet, petit bouchot mussels.
But Tropicana is more than a place to eat, it’s a summer home. It feels as if the rooms and their uses have grown organically over the decades. It feels natural, not forced - like a family home that grows with the addition of more children.
Madame Bladget is the woman of the house. She is formidable yet charming. She passes from table to table, not in the sense of a restaurant hostess, rather as if she is entertaining in her own home, she sits, she talks. It is through her affections I can ascertain who belongs, the families that give this restaurant its soul. It is not unusual to see four generations of the same family eating together. There is a feeling of continuity. It is what separates this place from so many others on the coast.
Madame Bladget has a husband. He is placid, he allows her to rule (not that I imagine he has a choice). He has a soft face, all smile lines, with tanned skin, silky white hair and a small stoop that hints at his age. In contrast, she is always standing tall, shoulders back, head held high. She is immaculate in her appearance: perfectly coiffed, with a tiny kiss of make-up and a hint of past hippy tendencies in her colourful caftans and over-sized necklaces. While she works the room, he is more content on his feet, calmly moving from bar to kitchen, to her side and back to the kitchen. It is clear that she is the boss and that he is happy with the arrangement.
While the “vielles familles”, and of course Madame Bladget, give this place an undeniable sense of charm and elegance, it remains a family restaurant. Children play while waiting for their meals, their older siblings sit at the bar with cigarettes and i-phones. People bring their dog. The place fills with conversation. Local kids work here throughout the summer, the same faces, all smiles, they know all the families, everyone kisses everyone else hello. 
While she plays hostess with grace, Mme Bladget is yet to notice me. I have passed under the radar a dozen times in half as many weeks – her attention is firmly focussed on the vielles familles. It does not upset me, she is right to maintain her focus, it is these families that give the Tropicana Club its sense of permanency.

And yet, at the end of the month the Tropicana Club will close for the season. The sails will be pulled down, the beach beds packed away and the vielles familles will return to Paris. And yet, they know they will be back, they leave safe in the knowledge that their transient home will be waiting to welcome them next summer."
Of course, life is not always that predictable. Two years ago, Monsieur Bladget died. Three months later, heart-broken, broken, Madame Bladget committed suicide. Last week it was RUOK day. It is an important day. Every day is important. Ask the question. Ask for help. Ask.

Eight Days (7 September 2018)

Eight days in Corsica and Catalonia – 

The table is carefully set: a bowl of cherry tomatoes from the garden, radishes (approaching the end of their season, their piquancy almost – but not yet – too much) and cucumbers with herbs and cream. The simple ingredients are held in stark relief to the formal tablecloth, glassware and carafe. There is respect for this humble harvest.
“It’s not a good season to eat in Corsica,” Henri begins. It is not an apology, but an explanation: “Here we must rely on nature, the seasons dictate the entire story of our table.” I am à table with my friend’s parents – Henri, Veronique and their friend Gisele – their local culinary knowledge is profound, their generosity too. However it appears their hands, and our plates, have been tied by nature.
“Our brocciu is entirely delicious but it's, unfortunately, a winter treat,” laments Henri. Brocciu, made with sheep's petit lait (whey) and milk, is only available when the ewes are feeding their young, thus its season is limited to the months following the birth of the lambs, when the pastures are also rich. Gisele suggests the six months from November, Henri counters with only three months, from February. To steal that early milk from the lambs would be to ruin their flavour for the pot. It is a game of checks and balances.

There is a not-so-subtle suggestion that the influx of tourists and the external interest in Corsican cuisine, threatens this delicate balance. The soil here is poor - no calcaire as in Crete, nor is it volcanic as in Sicily - the land must work hard to provide. Driving around the island you can see where the agricultural plots have been discarded over the centuries, the earth exploited to give its bounty to the crops or the vines, and then deserted as they seek fertility and flavour elsewhere.

On those rather hazardous, winding roads you can also see the stains of a fierce nationalism; while the town names are all marked in both French and Corsican, someone here has taken the time to black out the French alternative - completely, aggressively, with jet black spray paint - all around the island. It makes navigating difficult, but does also make the point succinctly.

While the Corsicans have always been fiercely proud and strongly nationalistic – not Italian, not French, but Corsican – the trio tell me there is a resurgence of this Corsicanism, a form of isolationism on an already isolated island. In silent battle, children are being given traditional names, complicated names that had long disappeared from the island; unwitting troops in an invisible war they are now sent to school to battle through a life with way more consonants than is healthy. 

As they talk, the trio remember their own youth. They tell of walks to the hills to harvest herba-barona – the endemic thyme that is found at the mysterious point where the soil changes from terre humide to terre sec. “You don’t search, you just wait for the perfume to reach your nose, when it does you will look down and discover herba-barona all around you.”
Henri recounts memories from his family's annual pig day, and the fresh Corsican sausage, figatellu, that is the culinary highlight of pig day. Sadly, it is another treat I am missing - made with pig’s liver and blood it requires the colder weather to keep it fresh and safe to consume. 
The local honey also has only two seasons (of course, I am told, neither of which are now). The bees must work hard to maintain their lives with the flowers in the mountains, to disturb them early would be to rob them of their own livelihood. Conversely, when the chataignes flower they are rich in pollens, the long branches laden with flowers and the hives holding an abundance of honey. The pattern of consumption is set by a far greater power than hunger or desire. Our supermarkets could learn a thing or two here.
I have endeared myself to these three wonderful people and carefully, slowly, some of these seasonal treats are plucked from a hidden cellar – remnants of seasons gone by. The honey is deep and rich in flavour, only a few thick tablespoons remaining in the jar, with a strong taste of the hillsides - their spring pastures distilled in the pot. A tiny morsel of dried and smoked brocciu also appears. It is the result of the excess, when such a thing occurs. In this case, the cheese maker or frugal housewife will carefully salt the cheese, placing it in a wooden mould and smoking it over a gentle fire using a local wood which burns with very little flame but has a beautifully flavoured smoke. The cheese is indeed delicious: smoke, salt and a grassiness from the late winter pastures. It is so precious they do not indulge, rather slicing off tiny portions and waiting to watch my expression and subsequent joy.
Traditions like these, conversations like these, are the reason I travel.
And yet, beyond the thick walls of their home I found an ever-present shadow, a darkness on the island, something I could not quite put my finger on – perhaps it was the end of the season and everyone was tired, perhaps it was their desire for independence, making them naturally wary of intruders? Whatever it was, I was not quite comfortable. The feeling tickled at my feet and so I left Corsica. 

In a twist of fate, I found myself in another region desperate for independence, however the feeling in Catalonia was vastly different. I arrived in the middle of La Festa Major, an annual party of Vilafranca del Pinedès: human castles, theatre, music and, of course, food and wine (most especially those little yum-yuck olives stuffed with anchovies, served straight form the tin - an easy addiction).
In comparison to Corsica, I found Catalonia full of warmth. In fact, there was an almost oppressive heat, exacerbated by pretty much every man I encountered - those Spaniards are a tactile bunch. While the sexual advances were, well, advanced, the desire to touch was certainly not limited to men. Everyone I met would touch me, kiss me, hold my face, my hand, my arm, my back, the conversation conducted as much through their hands as it was through their words. Proud of their culture and their people, they wanted me to feel that too - literally. It was interesting to see two cultures, both feeling oppressed and desirous of independence, react to the situation, and a foreigner, so differently.
The indifference was perhaps a bigger surprise than the cold of Corsica or the warmth of Catalonia -   unfortunately it was accompanied by a rather large bill. I found dinner at El Celler de Can Roca - currently number 2 on the 50 Best list - lacking. Some great dishes, many so-so dishes: I felt there was a little laziness in the same left-right-left combination on the plate – in this case protein + reduction + foam (with the exception of the excellent Palamòs prawns - the seafood in Catalonia was all exceptional). I found the wine pairing overwhelmed by a river of Cava at the beginning - an hour and a half of Cava - and the rather obvious opportunity to open larger format wines to our table of 14 also missed. I can very easily pass six hours at a convivial table, but this ended up feeling a little oppressive, I felt a little trapped. I was disappointed.
The realisation, I think, is perhaps more a personal one than a slight on the restaurant. I’m not a fan of that kind of food, pomp and ceremony. I knew I wasn’t a Michelin girl, perhaps I’m not much of a 50 Best girl either, or at least not so much from the pointy end, and not so much one for degustations. I like simple food: a few ripe ingredients on a plate, textural contrast, a spike of acidity, a focus on flavour and produce. I have found a lot more joy from the roadside figs than I found in that meal.

(Which may be an unfair comparison: the figs have had an excellent season here. At this point, in late summer, it is as if the fruit has made its own jam on the branches, but instead of glass jars, it is protected within the deep purple skins. Among the living jam jars, you can still find fruit that is perfectly ripe, with their droplet of sap twinkling in the sun, a trick of nature designed to tempt and lure the fig wasp - and my hungry eyes - to the fruit.)

At last year’s 50 Best Joan Roca noted that gastronomy is the landscape in the frying pan. I agree with that, I just sadly didn’t find it in his restaurant this time around.

Eight Days (15 August 2018)

- Robuchon passed away last week. Beyond being the most decorated chef in the history of Michelin, Robuchon was a game changer. Credited with steering France from nouvelle cuisine to cuisine moderne, this was a man who was not shy about progress: he was using sous vide for the French national rail network in the 80s, an advocate of Japanese French fusion and had a steadfast focus on only a few ingredients at a time. While he retired at 50-odd to turn his hand to teaching, he returned to the kitchen with his "revolutionary" Atelier restaurants, among the first open kitchens and one of the first chefs to embrace the “planetary turn”. (The New Yorker have the best article on this.)
This is all a lovely juxtaposition to his insistence on culinary simplicity - he was all about showing off, not masking, individual flavours (whether luxe or basic). The NYTimes said of his pomme purée: “Its novelty lies not in the originality of its conception but in the extravagance of its traditionalism, and the perfection of its details. Classical artists are rare these days, in any field; when one passes, the world’s store of strong form diminishes, and our plates seem pale.”

“These mashed potatoes, it’s true, made my reputation. I owe everything to these mashed potatoes, … Maybe it’s a little bit of nostalgia, Proust’s madeleines. Everyone has in his memory the mashed potatoes of his mother, the mashed potatoes of his grandmother.” - Joël Robuchon 

To go forward, we are also always looking back. I like, no, I love that.

Postcards from Toowoomba:
It’s time! In Eight Days (-ish, but I think we all know 8days is a pretty loose concept around here), I land in Figari. I will have a few weeks of writing there before heading to Sicily and then back to Pantelleria for a month or so. Thank you to all the lovely people who sent me their tips. I particularly loved this article, sent from a dear friend this week, looking at its historic pull of the Med on the Brits. 
To prepare for departure, I’ve spent a couple of weeks with my sis and her beautiful boys south of Toowoomba. It is dry, dry, dry. There are no crops in, very few livestock and a lot of dirt and dust. I have heard incredibly generous stories from farmer to farmer: such as those up north, where it’s not so dry, sending bales down, for free, to those in need - the generosity at the kid’s footy canteen on Saturday (where they had a collection box) was extraordinary.  
Writing the Meat book, AP and I met so many incredible Aussie farmers. We were very keen to ensure the book was a celebration of our farmers and all the work that goes in to producing the best animals: from feed, to breed, to their life and death on the farm. Writing this reminds me that even back in March we were struggling to find parts of Australia to photograph that were not already scorched from the drought.

I learnt so much through those conversations. Did you know that kangaroos can extend their gestation period in times of drought? (Incidentally, I also just read IKEA are going to start serving 'roo meatballs - with their light touch on our old soils, we really should be eating more kangaroo.) 
Which brings me, perhaps not so subtly, to the news that Meat: The Ultimate Companion is now available for pre-purchase. Booktopia offer a discount if you order in advance, if, however, you would like to buy a number of copies – maybe as Christmas gifts for your kitchen team or favourite producers – please let me know as I can help you out with a good rate for multiple copies.

Eight Days (2 August 2018)

- Jock Zonfrillo was awarded the Basque Culinary Prize last week for his work with the Orana Foundation. We talked about these excellent awards in the last 8Days – they’re all about chefs doing good in the world. He was in very fine company, judged by very fine company, and it is an incredibly fine achievement! "... it’s become a passion and an obsession and something I care very deeply about," says Jock. "Through the world of gastronomy I’m able to make a difference. Awards like these and a little bit of recognition go a long way to cement that what I am doing is right, it’s positive and we are making a change." There’s now an extra cheeky 100,000 euro to help make that change too.

- For other people who did good, have a look at the Rootstock retrospective on GT. Or read this article in the NYTimes on small grocers (successfully) competing with the big kids – minimal packaging, training programs, even staffless organic stores. Could this be the future?
- In very sad news, the LA Times critic, Jonathan Gold, died late last month. Gold was the first restaurant critic to win a Pulitzer, he was a giant among food writers. A prodigious thinker, he used his words not just for the food, but to articulate the tapestry of LA's society; for Gold it was about context, where food fits and how it's moving the culture forward.
He wrote beautifully, with his focus largely on the ethnic, low-key restaurants of LA, from taco trucks to Thai restaurants. His writing was considered and well-researched. The impact of a good writer to plot the culinary lay of the land (I'm thinking Brillat-Savarin or Elizabeth David) is hugely valuable and should be revered and Gold was one of the very best. I have plumbed the 8Days of weeks gone by to find some memories:
In Sydney, I heard him talk about the weight of responsibility of (potentially) putting 40 or 50 people out of a job for aesthetic issues or issues of personal taste. He noted that while you have to be able to stab friends in the back to be a good critic, it's dreadfully unfair to review a restaurant in its first few weeks. His rule is never before 2 or 3 months, while also visiting up to 4 times. (8Days – 29 October 2015)
His annual 101 Best Restaurants for the LA Times reflected the above. “An ideal candidate has delicious food – that’s a given – but also a sense of purpose, a place within its community, and the ability to drive the conversation forward, not just in Los Angeles but around the world. Its chefs should honor diversity, but not at the expense of focus; health, but not at the expense of flavor; and sustainability, but not at the expense of complexity. It should feel like L.A.” (8Days – 6 May 2017)
You may also want to re-read his review of noma Mexico because it, too, was excellent. “Redzepi’s many-coursed dinners have the same kind of narrative arcs you might expect in a well-structured novel, themes that barely register as a flicker at the beginning of a meal coming to roaring denouements toward the end, simple things like the taste of an apple or the curve of a tiny shrimp bending within their context to serve story more than they might any culinary effect …" He concluded: “Beauty and conflict are often intertwined.” A lovely image and a lovely review. (8Days - 17 May 2017)
There are some very good articles herehere and here, looking at his immense contribution to writing, food culture and LA.
Postcards from my Kennards storage unit:

"No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me."

À la recherche du temps perdu, Marcel Proust
This whole moving thing is funny. As I packed up my home of seven years, I was generally working with the idea that if it makes me happy it stays, a concept borne from some self-help 'guru' who loves minimalism. However, the further I fell into the collection - the birthday cards, metro tickets, menus, museum stubs, love letters, photos - the further I pushed out the goal posts.

The diaries (so many diaries!!) proved particularly problematic, with pages full of lessons from my past, the words a tangle of wonder and excitement at new discoveries. In many cases I was able to trace the origin of a concept that has become second nature: ideas from the guest chefs I hosted at Quarter 21 Cooking School (how Jared doesn’t use metal on metal in his kitchen because cooking is about engaging all the senses, including the sounds you make in the kitchen; or Shaun Presland on spending time to wash the rice and let it relax after you remove it from the plastic “imagine its former life swaying in the paddy.”); to snapshots from time at LifeStyle Food, where every desk had a tv and I spent my days trawling through the video archives collating random ideas (that bees have a separate honey stomach; Sicilians add dark chocolate to their caponata; a quarter of an apple’s volume is air; and many, many quotes from Rick Stein - “a man could starve in a room full of artichokes").

Of course, there were notes from restaurant meals around the world: Extebarri, noma, Septime, my first urchin, my first anchoïade, my very first meal in France at 13. There was the moment I realised where the desire to write about food came from - the regular Sunday lunches my parents hosted at home - while sharing a winter picnic on a beach in the south of France with a chef named David. 
I also found a lot of things that were important, but weren't necessarily happy. Bad meals, bad men, bad moments. While I was wishing them away at the time, I'm glad they were still there to read now. Steiner said "Feelings are for the soul what food is for the body." Feelings. Not happiness. 
Needless to say, I abandoned minimalism and the storage container is packed to the rafters. The diaries won over the couch.

Eight Days (15 July 2018)

The Basque Culinary World Prize announced their ten finalists for 2018. It’s an incredible list of great people, doing great things, for a greater world. The prize celebrates chefs who “have come to understand that they can use their knowledge, leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity to be part of the transformation of society.” The initiatives range from helping refugees and indigenous communities, reducing waste, creating good food for the sick, training for those who need it and food education. Click the link and read about the chefs and their work (including our very own Jock Zonfrillo). It really is an industry that does a lot of good.
- I also found some food for thought in this look at the video project run by Spain’s National Library, reviving the recipes of years gone by. “I really feel that our Western food culture has become obsessed with always finding the latest innovation, instead of really valuing the wealth of our past ... It’s important to understand that so much of what we consider new and fashionable already existed a long, long time ago.”
I love my old cookbooks, I love the meandering way they are written, the assumed knowledge, the joy of picking up a book that takes you somewhere else, to another place and another time. I am contemplating a project that celebrates these. If you have a favourite recipe, from a favourite book, the cult recipes you return to, would you be willing to share it with me? 
Postcards from Mudgee:
It is hard to imagine a tree more beautiful than a persimmon in full fruit, her branches naked save for the bright orange fruit, strung like lanterns for a festival.
My persimmon epiphany occurred over a lunch at the Zin House in Mudgee. We were sitting at a table overlooking the beautiful glowing orbs of persimmons hanging on their naked branches, when the fruit was served as part of the cheese plate. There was something magical about that persimmon. It had that taste of pheromones you can get with ripe truffles – a taste that was sensual, sexual even.
Earlier this year, that memory was at risk of becoming my last. Lowe Wines and the Zin House were at risk of being lost. For Lowe, that would include the beautiful organic vineyard, the grapes grown with biodynamic principles, the soil nurtured over decades and generations; for Zin, it was the restaurant and the gardens that feed it; a place that feels more like a home than a restaurant.
This was a hostile takeover, but it was about much more than taking the two (successful)  businesses; it was their home, their dreams, and the cycle they had spent decades creating. And, at the heart of it all was the farm, founded by David's great-great-grandfather in 1823 and the family home, a true country homestead built a generation later, with thick walls and deep fireplaces, with a comfortable veranda that looks out over the gums in the day and a sky full of stars at night. 
Kim and David, in their desperation, turned to their community, to our community, for help. And help, they did. At the eleventh hour, they had gathered enough finance to rescue the family home, the winery and the restaurant. Money was pledged from people all over the country, small amounts, large amounts, enough amounts to make it work. These are people all in the midst of their own issues, whether restaurants fighting to stay afloat or farms fighting against the drought, who found a way to pitch in for someone else.
I was back at Lowe this week to find it is again persimmon season, and while this year that tree did not bare fruit - they tend to produce bi-annually - the community certainly did. Each time Kim tells the story, tears well in her eyes. They are no longer tears sprung by the fear of loss, but tears of gratitude and awe at the community that enveloped them. Kim and David are now in the position to work out ways to give that love back …
While ours may be a tough industry to work in, often with minimal financial rewards and gruelling hours, there is so much to love about what we do. We are a community of nurturers. We are lucky to work with what we love and people we love. That's something to celebrate.

Eight Days (4 July 2018)

- Fool Magazine have issue number 7 readying to hit newsstands/your post box. The theme is politics, the line-up is epic, the magazine will be too. Get yours here.
- There’s a good story in Eater about the work of Malena Martínez (Virgilio's sister) in Peru. “Native communities get smaller because they see Western life as progress. The older generations have the knowledge and wisdom of their culture, but are the only ones who keep speaking their language. It’s very sad to see cultures disappear, but we think that through food we can change that.”

I agree. We need that here too. It made me think of Richard Flanagan’s Press Club address: “It is, after all, extraordinary, and beyond a disgrace that there is in the 21st century no museum telling that extraordinary story, so that all Australians might know it, so that the world might share in it, and so that we might learn something of the struggle and achievement, the culture and unique civilisations that were and are Indigenous Australia … And yet if we were to have the courage and largeness to acknowledge as a nation both truths about our past, we would discover a third truth, an extraordinary and liberating truth for our future, about who we are and where we might go.”
- The Rockpool Group have hit the papers for wages. It would be hard to suggest they are Robinson Crusoe on that front. (I would welcome any thoughts on this.) There is no question we must work to change wages and hours in the industry, this, in part, surely comes down to getting people to spend more for the food on their plate. Our problem with that may just be the desire for people to add up the ingredients on the plate, mistakenly seeing that as the cost. Good luck turning that into a good news story ... 
Postcards (lessons from a month in Pantelleria):
I have learnt how strong the right place feels, that pull when you, when your body, is in a place it belongs. On Pantelleria, I feel relaxed, different, like time doesn’t exist (in the local dialect that is a literal truth, the Pantesco have no future tense). Selfishly, it feels like all the beauty on the island has been created – some by hand, some by nature – just for my eyes and my enjoyment.
I have learnt that not all youth feel the need to leave a small place; that the magnetism of this island extends to the natives. Like the right grape in the right vineyard, the people here are so entwined in the terroir that even if they chose to leave they always return.
I have learnt that while the wind can berate you, but it can also caress you. I see that the Pantesco are not driven mad by the incessant winds, but rather shaped by it just as it is with their stout olive trees, the fruit trees cowering behind volcanic stone walls and the capers clinging to the rock crevices. Is it habit? Or a part of their psyche, shaped, like the land they live on, by the wind that sweeps over them every day? I, too, have learnt the magic of those winds, the way they touch all of you at once: your legs, your hair, your neck. Apart from swimming in the ocean, what else is there that touches you so completely?
I have also learnt that people can be perfectly happy with a very small amount. Their happiness doesn’t come from money or fame, but a feeling of completeness with the land on which they belong. Is that the ultimate idea of terroir?
I have learnt that women can be welcoming to a foreigner (not always my experience in France, but then again perhaps I am older and a little less of a threat!). In fact, everyone welcomed me, but the women surprise me most: warm, comfortable and totally at peace with themselves.
I have watched men with a relaxed physical affection for each other. They use their hands voraciously when they talk, but this extends beyond emphasis, to touching each other when they talk, but also when they have nothing to say. 
I have learnt that food should have a sense of place and, when it does, you can put three or four ingredients on a plate and create a feast: octopus with celery, potatoes and olive oil; eggplant in a rich tomato sauce with breadcrumbs and grated ricotta; grilled zucchini served drowning in olive oil and fresh mint. That when fish aren’t swimming in the ocean they should be swimming in olive oil and the juices of tomatoes, olives and capers.
I’ve learnt that I love the music of other people dining. That a delicious dinner is delightfully consumed alone – but that I am not alone – I have the sound of other people dining, the taste of the food and the words in my notebook to keep me company.
I have learnt that old is only as old as you feel. Every day I watch the 70-year-old jellyfish hunter and his beautiful wife scale the cliff to my swimming hole. I have also watched their love and admiration for each other. Maybe that keeps them young?
I have learnt that community keeps you young, too. That activities, going out on the town, having an ice cream at midnight – that keeps you young. That the town and its nightlife should be a shared space for all generations. Our towns are not designed this way …

Eight Days (24 June 2018)

- Ok, enough already with the plastic ... Max Veenhuzen spent some time on that for Good Food last week. You should read it, there’s some good thoughts and excellent restaurants doing their thing to make a change. We have a one billion take away cup-a-year habit, ten million plastic straw-a-day habit. Both need to be broken.
"The situation globally is so bad now that we've reached a situation where micro-plastics are showing up in sea salt," says [Dan] Hunter. "If you think reports like these are someone else's problem but you want to continue eating from the planet and praising nature's bounty without helping to reduce waste, you're a bit of a dick." Indeed. 
On Wednesday, Woolies banned the bag. While that still won’t get me into the supermarket, it is a step in the right direction.
- Incidentally, I have been trying to get my hands on the Wasted! doco, I have heard it’s brilliant … anyone? Bourdain presented, Bottura is quoted “We don’t need to produce more, we have to act different.” Last week we talked about how much Bourdain did with his 20 years, Bottura, back on top of the 50 Best above, does that too
- Which, perhaps a little bizarrely, brings me to the Hippocratic Oath – the oath our doctors still swear by. The modern version (re-written by Louis Lasagne, which I am taking as a sign) is quite beautiful. There is much in there that I felt applies equally to food as it does to medicine.
“I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug …" (just as the art of hospitality is as important as the food)

"I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery …" (let's share the love with other artisans, with the growers, with colleagues)

"I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure …" (food is fundamental to this)

"If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.” (yes, yes and yes)

Perhaps we should have an oath of hospitality?  
Postcards from the past
Myrtle Allen passed away this week. Her restaurant, Ballymaloe House, defined the farm-to-table movement in Ireland, as Alice did in the US. Her Ballymaloe Cookbook took that movement into the homes of the Irish (and further afield). I particularly loved this, among the recipes, about a: “field that has always made good butter. That is long ago and the fragrance is almost forgotten”. Time, passing, again. 
- My beautiful friend (and editor of these missives) Lou, lost her 95-year-old grandfather, Nonno, this week. He was a beautiful man, with gnarled, wisened hands and sharp eyes. His house is that of Alibrandi’s memories, with an excellent vegetable garden instead of flowers, garlic hanging from the rafters, olive oil in the garage. He hosted a family pig day each year, salamis shared among the family, salamis that were given as the bonbonniere at Lou’s wedding. He held so much knowledge of culinary traditions of years gone by. We must hold to these and preserve them. In Nonno, we are safe, as Lou carries much of him in her. If you are lucky enough that you can, go talk to yours.
- Finally, I can not stop listening to this – even if you don’t understand the words, his voice is spellbinding (ok, I think I have a petit crush). The gist: with winter we can better appreciate  summer, through suffering we will celebrate happiness, through tears we enjoy laughter, to know life in the wind we can put down roots, but most of all, for this: “La beauté des choses qui passent, la force des choses qui restent." (The beauty, the things that pass; the strength, the things that remain.) It seemed poignant this week. 

Eight Days (11 June 2018)

“Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay.” And so it was, that Anthony Bourdain burst onto the scene with his article for the New Yorker in 1999. The article was to be the catalyst to Kitchen Confidential, published a year later.
Bourdain’s exposé of the culinary underbelly pre-empted an explosion of interest in the kitchen. He opened the doors to the back-of-house in the days before the gram, (indeed, the internet was but a baby). While his words created the intrigue, they also created a community.
And he certainly had a way with words. The modern-day Hemingway? Our generation’s Elizabeth David? Attenborough in the kitchen? Perhaps all of the above. This was coupled with his way of capturing the details, things you knew to be true, that you had seen, but never thought to contextualise as he did. That is the true skill of a writer.
He also had a blunt honesty. The images he fed us through Kitchen Confidential were funny and candid, but they were also striking in their familiarity. Again, I come back to a pre-internet world – it’s nice, no, it’s fundamental to feel your experience is shared in life. At that stage, Bourdain was the one doing sharing for many of us.
And yet, I think there’s more to it than that. You will know the resumé that followed: the books, the television, the website, the productions. But this is not a story about “success”, nor about “celebrity”. (Those questioning how someone with such fame and riches could commit suicide are missing the point on a number of levels.)
I want to tell the story about what he did while he was alive, what he did with the twenty years that followed that first line in the New Yorker. It's a story about the absolute power of telling the truth: “As Bourdain’s career grew, the truths he was positioned to tell grew, too.” Many get this opportunity, not many use it.
Bourdain continued to open our eyes to the gritty beauty and wilderness of food, stepping out of the kitchen and into the world. The stories remained raw, at times desperately sad, at times difficult to swallow, at times heart-swellingly beautiful. And through it all, he continued to talk up to the world, rather than dumbing things down.
He saw the bigger picture and the little picture; he consumed both the food and the culture, and all the while he shared his table with us. He was intelligent and approached the discipline with both professionalism and hunger – hunger for knowledge, for the experience, cultural understanding and context.
He questioned the world, but was also not afraid to go back and question himself. Daniel Patterson, who has written “Why Cooks Loved Anthony Bourdain” noted: “One of Mr. Bourdain’s strengths was his restlessness and his openness to new ideas, even when that meant admitting that his old ideas were wrong.” He regretted the misogyny in Kitchen Confidential, he was a feminist (as all good men should be), he called his mates out, he called things for what they were.
In twenty years, and he did all of that. Twenty years!! So, I say, don’t look for a simple answer to his death, you won't find one (as Bourdain himself said – “The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple fucking answer.”). Instead, let's look to other questions, the big ones, like, what are you going to do with the next 20 years?
Postcards from Tassie – 
The book is done and I have just spent the most delightful week in Tasmania: incredible people, brilliant food, thought-provoking conversation. It had everything my body and soul required.
As fate would have it, my visit coincided with the Deep Winter Agrarian conference. It was interesting to be at a conference organised by farmers; the pace was slower, the conversations quieter, there was less noise, fewer egos, more time to ponder. A few thoughts that are percolating:

  • The importance of aesthetics across various fields: the basic premise being that beauty's more than skin deep – it can mean organisation, it can mean healthy soils, it can mean personal enjoyment, it can simply make going to work feel better.

  • The cycle in action: I visited an apple orchard where pigs are at the ready to turn up the land and eat the windfall apples of late autumn, while sheep are in charge of the weeds year round. Of course, they also take a place on the dinner plate. This was nicely contrasted with beef producers Bec and Bec’s (Big River Highland Beef) vision for a zero-waste niche abattoir, an aesthetically pleasing space where other artisans can also work to respect the whole beast - producing soap from the tallow, tanning the hides, working with the horns etc. 

  • There was also a lot on the importance of a holistic approach beyond the field: to life, to business, to your plans, to your mental health. 

But these conversations were just a tiny fragment of the many delicious conversations over the week.

I was staying with the incredible organic vegetable producer Tony Scherer. In his 47 years of farming (Tony was among the vanguard of organic vegetable growers in the Bay area in the 70s – supplying the likes of Alice Waters), Tony has watched the way we grow produce shift from farmer first to processor first, from flavour first to convenience first. It's a problem.

Unfortunately, that period of the 70s and 80s was not our finest, as the industrialisation of ag sent us down a rabbit hole of band-aid solutions to problems we had created in our quest for convenience. The majority of these changes have their roots in the post-WWII shift to a heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilisers, exacerbated by the convenience driven market that followed. Flavour was largely forgotten in the fall-out. But, it's important to remember it is only over 70-odd years that this change has taken place.

We also talked about connecting producers and cooks; how to get farmers to the soil, but equally important how to get producers to the plate. In fact, I was a little surprised at the lack of conversation around cooks and chefs at Deep Winter. Just as your cooking begins in their paddocks, so too does their toil end in your saucepans. Flavour education is important. That cycle needs to be tight and needs to cut both ways. How do you feed your farmers?
Words from philosopher Michael McCarthy crossed my desk this week: “For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constant reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”
They opened the Deep Winter conference with the Tasmanian agricultural timeline. There are Aboriginal Nations who have been tending to Australian soils not for 500 generations, but for 2,400 generations. What are we doing to celebrate that knowledge? To respect it? To preserve it? To understand it?
The Frenchies say plus ça change, plus ça reste, but I think otherwise. Let’s do it.