Scallop Cooked Over Burning Juniper Branches and Other Magical Food Thoughts
Food takes on a mythical quality during pregnancy and post-birth. A pregnant person’s relationship with food can become quite weird, almost like science fiction. To find a balance is elusive, because you really need to eat to feed yourself and the growing child within, but sometimes you can’t eat anything but pirate’s booty and Fage yogurt. And foods you normally like become revolting, while foods you normally find revolting become delicious slices of heaven (for me, that meant no salad, but all the beef I could get my hands on).
Post partum, food is a battleground. How to get enough of it? How to have time to make it? And by post partum I mean many years post – it’s just hard to find the time to cook and eat food. It’s a sucky thing, and I’m sure others manage it much better than I do. For example, today for lunch I slapped some cheese on a stale pita and called it a day. I was home with both kids, and to fulfill all their needs I had to forgo many of my own.
I’m only complaining a little bit because I deeply enjoy eating a nice meal while sitting down. Pre and post having kids I’ve enjoyed watching shows about food. I like seeing how people make food, to hear how they think about food, to see how they touch ingredients and manipulate them into beautiful meals. I’m not a particularly intuitive or successful cook and find this particularly thrilling. Top Chef is a favorite, so is the eerily calm Ina Garten, and Anthony Bourdain, though he does not cook in his shows, I could watch him eat a phone book. I love that guy.
I love the new documentary series Chef’s Table, a Netflix original. It’s six episodes of an hour each that focus on a particular chef and their life, food philosophy, and personal evolution. It does a gorgeous job of displaying food, showing the food creation process, and getting a behind the scenes look at each chef’s life. Sure, there’s a sense of disappointment when, after watching Dan Barber put together a meal of simple yet perfect carrots, I look down at my own wilted salad, but whatever! It’s something to aspire to.
Despite the gorgeousness (in particular see Niki Nakayama, Mossimo Bottura, Ben Shewry and Magnus Nilsson’s creations) it is disappointing and maddening to see the lack of diversity in this first season of the series. Of six chefs, only one is a woman and a person of color. Really, come on. You can do better, Netflix. We can all do better.
Here is a tiny tidbit about each episode:
Episode 1: Mossimo Bottura
- I love this guy. I love his energy; I love how much he loves his wife and kids. I love how seriously Italians are about their food, and I love how he has created fantastic dishes that outrage the Milanese food traditionalists. Example: Lasagna sans pasta. This dish looks incredible. Also, to hear him talk about Parmigiano-Reggiano is to hear some serious, genuine passion. I love this guy.
Episode 2: Dan Barber
- This dude is intense. He is focused, his food is focused, and he is angered by sub-par anything. I ate at his restaurant (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) many years ago and found his food to be dreamy. I never knew eggs could taste like that. And those carrots really do taste sensational.
Episode 3: Francis Mallmann
- This dude, I don’t know. The story of his winning top prize at the L’Academie de Cuisine by serving simple potato dishes for every course is an exciting one to hear. His cooking is radical (roasting whole pigs on steaks over an open fire, charring bread, meat, potatoes, baking fish in clay – it’s awesome), but some aspects of his personality turned me off. He definitely cultivates a persona of a man’s man by living on a remote island in Patagonia, reciting prose while sitting around a fire with a group of his protégés (while one of them records him – for what reason?), and being a self-proclaimed anti-monogamist. His insistence that he live his life mostly for himself and not his children or his partner displays a certain selfishness that sounds almost boring coming from an older white man, but would be super refreshing to hear from a woman.
Episode 4: Niki Nakayama
- Nakayama’s story was the most compelling. Her struggle to be taken seriously as a woman, a small woman, one who comes from a background where women are expected to follow orders and tradition serves as a backdrop to her career trajectory. There are no shortcuts or easy way out solutions with her. I was super impressed with her insane work ethic, her fierce devotion to fulfill her culinary vision, to do things her way. I love her strength, and hearing about her struggle to overcome stereotypes of women in the kitchen is inspiring, seriously.
Episode 5: Ben Shewry
- I really liked this episode and the accessibility of Shewry as a person. His food is completely unfamiliar looking, and that’s because he uses ingredients native to Australia, where he lives and works (kangaroo meat, whoa). There’s a sense of happenstance and serendipity to his career, and to hear him talk about his work is a study in a refreshing lack of ego. He is the anti-Mallmann in personality and demeanor, so naturally I loved him and his food.
Episode 6: Magnus Nilsson
- This dude lives and runs his restaurant in Jarpen, Sweden, which is basically the magical forest town of all of our collective dreams. He is very much into resurrecting the recipes of his ancestors (such as cooking in ash, what?!). The shots of him fishing with his dog or driving his beat up car around town are equally stunning and comforting. He is the quietest of all the chefs featured and does not share a ton about his personal life, though there is a sweet interview with his parents. He is also the chef of my favorite recipe of the series, “Scallop Cooked Over Burning Juniper Branches.” Visually, a masterpiece, and surely the same in taste.
That’s all I have to say about that. Feeding my inner (sucky) chef while feeding my baby. And hoping for a much more diverse second season.