The week that was (8 October 2017)

- Australian farmer and agricultural activist Charles Massy has launched his new book: Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth. I have not yet read the book, but the article raised many points of interest: ecological grazing, the importance of eating "nutrient-rich food out of healthy soil", a system that combines "the best of Old Organic – namely its respect, empathy and reverence for Mother Nature – with the best of modern, ecologically simpatico science and Earth-empathic thought.”
He is quoted: “We have lost touch with the land, we manipulate the Earth to our own ends, we dominate it and are ultimately destroying it. Aboriginal people, he says, saw it differently, as something to be nurtured and nourished, a living entity. He calls their custodianship “one of the greatest ever sustainable partnerships between humankind and the ecosystems they occupied” ... Until we throw off the European mechanical mind we are going to continue to stuff the joint. It is not something inanimate that you can belt. It is almost like being with a lover, you have got to nurture it and care for it.” He sounds like the kind of person I want to have a meal with. 
- Compare that to the “sea of plastic” spreading across Almeria in Southern Spain. As anyone who has shopped in markets in France or Italy will know, Spain has become Europe’s fruit bowl, but at what cost? 

“As we drove along, the smell of plastic and chemicals permeated the car and offered the first scent of the larger environmental problem. The greenhouses are almost all hydroponic—growing vegetables in water, air and a chemical stew of fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide …”
When I talk about the cost, I am talking beyond the consumer and the natural environment sweating beneath that plastic (it's 50km across - check out the pics), if you scroll down you will find a movie looking at the exploitation of migrant work from Africa to support this horror.  

- The Michelin Guide had a tough week. Beyond bestowing a star to the closed and chef-less The Square in London, Sebastian Bras asked to “give back” his three Michelin stars. Apparently motivated by a search for serenity, he noted that “while the pressure to retain three stars could be an engine for creativity, it could also prove debilitating ... Food should be about love — not about competition ..."

Of course, he is not the first. MPW renounced his in ’99, Gaertner and Alain Senderens in ’05. With that said, the “giving back” is unlikely to succeed. The guide is written for the customers, not for the chefs, and you can well-imagine the precedent if they allow one chef to do it, then any chef with a bad review etcetera would ask to do the same. It kind of defeats the purpose. It does, however, beg the question of the role and importance of criticism (and praise). Does it serve a purpose?

Postcards from Croatia:

The restaurant recommended to me was closed. It was late, past 2pm, and to wind my way back to the small port town of Jelsa, where I am staying on Hvar, would have meant certain starvation (until dinner).
The road up to the hinterland had been busy, but it was the industry of the grape harvest not tourists that was clogging the streets: salt-battered cars towing tiny trailers stacked high with crates of grapes; vigneron’s jumpers left hanging on posts in the vineyards, long discarded in the hot autumnal sun. These people were working, not eating.

I vaguely recalled a wooden panel I had seen en route – the only words I had clocked were “slow food” - it was something. The driveway was long, the bitumen gave way to pebbles and then to dirt. The deeper I went the wilder the foliage became - the olive trees closing in over the road - but in the distance glimpses of the ocean teased me closer, as did a little plume of smoke between the trees.
As I made the final turn, up what had now become a rather treacherous goat track, a babble of voices joined the smell of smoke. The voices grew louder: laughter mixed with conversation, clearly many people, too many people for this remote part of the world, particularly out of season. Furthermore, I could only hear Croatian – a wedding? A wine-makers lunch? My plans would be thwarted, but still I pushed on. I had come this far …
There was the slightest tinge of embarrassment as I left my car and walked between the stone walls of the tiny path towards the noise and the smoke. A small stone house presented itself, a wide veranda and two long tables laden with people, with glasses, with happiness. I waited quietly to the side of one of them as a woman with an apron laughed with her customers. They had seen me, she had not.
When she finally noticed me, she greeted me warmly. Beautiful eyes, a gentle smile, her hand on my arm as she spoke to me. The apology was sincere but seemed final, she gestured around her - the restaurant was full, there was no denying it. Perhaps tomorrow? How many people? And then she looked again, into my eyes, “You are hungry? And alone? Sit, we will feed you. Would a mixed grill be ok?”
I was given the only remaining table, outside in the sunshine, a table reserved for the ashtray, with a few smokers congregating around it. It was perfect. And then the guitar began and, one by one, voices joined in. I can only assume, given the enthusiasm, these were Croatian folk songs. A second guitar joined in and the voices grew louder. It was a goosebump moment.
As the large tables were served their food that beautiful silence descended over the countryside, the silence of gustatory appreciation. The quiet gave my other senses the space to see beyond the conviviality. Olives in the foreground, growing haphazardly between the grass and flowers, the island of Brač across the water, mainland Croatia behind it, her steep rocky mountainside coloured white and grey against the blue sky.
Lunch was delicious – you could fairly ask how it could be otherwise in that environment – but the meat was cooked well: the pork here is particularly delicious, the native breed a relative of the Spanish pata negra, the lamb was excellent too, and the skin on the chicken: crisp, smoky and salty. The meat was accompanied by ratatouille of vegetables seeped in prošek, the local dessert wine, a sweet and slightly acid foil to the fat.

The owner, the woman in the apron, joined me on numerous occasions to check on my progress. Sometimes her husband, the chef, would shadow her. When he was not there she confided in me the reason for her happiness – a move from the north to the south, a second marriage, a little daughter, the energy of her guests and just enough seats to occupy her and her husband, providing them a way to earn enough to live, but maintain time for a coffee in town each morning – her life is a happy one.
As I started eating, they finished. The guitar started up again; the voices, fuelled by food and alcohol, became louder. My life, too, is a very happy one!

(The restaurant is called Konoba Maslina, if you go to Hvar, you really must go and visit.)