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?