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.)