Thursday, September 28, 2017


Here for your consideration (as Rod Serling used to say) are two photographs.  The first is of Patience Gray, author of a number of books including Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia In this picture she’s in England having a picnic, not long after the war, sandwich wrapper on the ground, cigarette in hand:

And here’s Alice Waters, presiding genius of Chez Panisse restaurant, apparently having some sort of spiritual experience involving sunflowers:

They’re both in the news because of a couple of new books. One is Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray by Adam Federman. The other is Coming to My Senses: the Memoir of a Counter Culture Cook  by Alice Waters.

Gray is the far less well known of the two, an English food and travel writer who was the Observer’s first “woman’s editor.”  The blessed Angela Carter wrote that, “Patience Gray helped to instigate the concept of the cookery book as literary form – part recipes, part travel book, part self-revelation, part art object.”

A recent a piece in the New York Times said, “She has never expanded Chez Panisse to other cities, or jumped fully into celebrity in ways that could have promoted her agenda. Rather, she prefers to personally cajole every politician, journalist and philanthropist she meets.”  

I’ve been to Chez Panisse and had a very good time, but I can’t help thinking I’d have had a better time hanging out with Patience Gray.

After an ear-bashing from Waters, I suspect Prince Charles might feel the same way.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Four of us went for Saturday lunch at Pizzeria Mozza – the fairly fancy yet in the end slightly less expensive than you were fearing place in LA, that has the names of Nancy Silverton, Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali attached to it.  Gotta be impressed by a man who wears a scarf of sausages:

Best thing we had was “fried potatoes with ceci and herbs”  - ceci are chickpeas – I didn’t known that.

The Mozza “business model” involves cramming a lot of people into a very tight space which means that you inevitably become aware on the people on adjacent tables, in this case one of them was a cheery, well-fed, youngish couple.  The female half was, let’s say, outgoing and she asked how our food was and we said it was very good and then she said “Oh I love your accent.”
Then in one of those “Hey, I’m not entirely uncool” moments I realized that our party of four consisted of two men – one English, one German, and two women - one American, one Japanese, so it wasn’t clear whose accent she was referring to – turned out to be the German guy.  You don’t get that very often.

By then the pizza had arrived “Fennel Sausage, Panna, Mozzarella, Red Onions & Scallions” and after a while the youngish woman next door said to one of the women on our table, “May I say you’re just so beautiful.  Sorry if I embarrass you but that’s the kind of person I am, if I think something I just have to say it.”
Well, at some point over dessert she and her man got into a bitter argument that seemed in some way to be triggered by the food, though no doubt deeper currents were obviously at work.  And she stormed out leaving the guy with the remains of two desserts and the bill.

It was still only mid-afternoon; there was a lot of Saturday still to get through.

Thursday, September 21, 2017


I happened to be read this, from the Oberlin Review of November 6, 2015:

Diep Nguyen, a College first-year from Vietnam, jumped with excitement at the sight of Vietnamese food on Stevenson Dining Hall’s menu at Orientation this year. Craving Vietnamese comfort food, Nguyen rushed to the food station with high hopes. What she got, however, was a total disappointment.
The traditional Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich that Stevenson Dining Hall promised turned out to be a cheap imitation of the East Asian dish. Instead of a crispy baguette with grilled pork, pate, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs, the sandwich used ciabatta bread, pulled pork and coleslaw.
“It was ridiculous,” Nguyen said. “How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country’s traditional food?”
Nguyen added that Bon Appétit, the food service management company contracted by Oberlin College, has a history of blurring the line between culinary diversity and cultural appropriation by modifying the recipes without respect for certain Asian countries’ cuisines.

Yeah well, you’re not going to get any jaded, culturally insensitive remarks or microaggressions from me, and I’m definitely not going to mention that the baguette was introduced to Vietnam by those filthy French imperialists.   

But life being as it is, a couple of days ago I found myself in Fred 62, a somewhat superior and not too hipsterish diner in Los Feliz.   And there on the menu was the “Pork Belly Banh Mi.”  The contents were listed as pork belly, ham hock, cilantro, pickled carrot, daikon, lettuce and sriracha, and it came in a baguette.  I ordered it of course – that’s a picture of it at the top of this post.  It was perfectly good, authentic enough for me, though you could probably imagine greater authenticity.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a jumping, rushing college first-year to tell me how offended I ought to be.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


I can't 100% swear this is authentic, but it does seem to be, it's on  the Hull Daily Mail website:

Hull man's fury over 'rip off' egg sandwich with not enough egg in it

The sandwich was for his poorly wife, who 'didn’t eat the rest of the day'

A Hull man says a sandwich company is "ripping off the NHS" because an egg salad sandwich for his poorly wife did not have enough egg in it.
Carl Simpson said his wife Maria, who is currently a patient at Hull Royal Infirmary was looking forward to eating the sandwich she ordered through the hospital's catering team because her condition means she can rarely eat solid food.
He said: “She’s had so many operations in the past and has no bowel so is mostly fed through a tube, but she really fancied a sandwich and was looking forward to eating that one.
"But there wasn't anything in it.
"It really upset her and she didn’t eat the rest of the day.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


You know how it is that first morning after you’ve arrived in a new place: you go out looking for breakfast, full of hope and optimism, ready to plunge into the new, alien culture, and somehow you end up eating in some incredibly peculiar place you’d never usually go to, that you’ll never go to again, eating food that you’d never usually order.  The place and the food may be perfectly good but it’s never what you were looking for.
And so on my first morning in Tokyo I staggered out onto the streets – thinking I was far too cool to eat in the tourist hotel – and I wandered around Shinjuku, monoglot, and with a map that proved to be even more confusing than the reality, looking for somewhere to have breakfast.  
I’d heard that the food halls of department stores were great places to find good food, and I managed to locate several department stores, but because I was wasn’t yet operating on Japanese time, I was far too early and the stores wouldn’t be opening for another couple of hours.  But, desperate and jet-lagged as I was, I eventually found a place that was open, a bright airy place in a mezzanine adjacent to one of the closed department stores.  It was a nice enough café, perhaps a little bit twee, and it was selling mostly cakes and pastries, and while I would have been happy to go native with rice and raw fish, I wasn’t really in the mood for moji or sponge cake.  In fact the only non-sweet thing on the menu was a croque monsieur, which I duly ordered.  It came with a ramekin of Japanese pickles and was rather good, but it wasn’t, by a million miles, the way I’d expected to begin my Tokyo food experiences. 

I was reminded of this at the weekend because I had another croque monsieur – I certainly hadn’t had one since that time in Tokyo.  This was at Figaro, a very decent, very authentic French café in Los Feliz.  Madonna did a photoshoot there for Louis Vuittton, like this:

The Figaro croque monsieur was a good and very large example of the breed (and yeah, that's a caesar salad on the side), but you know for all its Frenchness and authenticity, I don’t know that it was a whole lot better than the one in Tokyo.  I certainly could have used a ramekin of pickles.