New Zealand

Pecha Kucha – Not Your Average Food Blog

I was named for a French cheese and an ancient Greek intellectual, so I was probably destined to become a food writer.  Aspasia of Miletus was known to be witty, charming, and influential.  Here she is presenting a wedge of Brie de Meaux to Socrates and Pericles.

When I started my food blog, I realised that my pieces didn’t fit with the common advertorial style recipes and reviews.  This collage is from a piece I wrote about Welcome restaurant, my guest expert Netta is pictured gazing up at contenders for the city’s best vegetarian dumplings.

I read this on Tim Mazurek’s blog, Lottie + Doof. He goes on to say, “blogs used to be cool when they weren’t part of a business plan or brand strategy. Yeah, maybe your data shows that audiences want to read about white celebrities and kale, but instead of just giving them what they want, why aren’t you also trying to make them want something else?”

So I looked for good food writers, and I found Jonathan Gold, who is the only food critic to ever win a pullitzer.  What makes his pieces so great is his ability to make it personal.  He tells the story of Los Angeles through his restaurant reviews, and I realised how much you can see into the culture and history of a place through its food.

Reading Jonathan Gold gave me the confidence to make my own writing personal, and I figured that if I was interested in learning about something, maybe other people would be too.  During that time I was working in Waipara and learning a lot about wine.

So I wrote a piece about learning how to taste wine, and how sensory experience is contextual, it grows out of place and personal history.  And I related the saltiness of my fave Chardonnay to the calcifying plankton in the soil where it’s grown and the fact that I enjoy drinking it on surf trips, because if imagination can add to your sensory experience, why not indulge it.

I took a trip up to Waiheke Island over vintage to learn more about vineyard work.  It feels sort of primal to be part of harvest, covered in grape juice and dirt, taking part in this seasonal ritual that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years.  I did a week’s work and got paid entirely in food and wine, which I’m always happy to do!

I wrote a piece about Budburst, NZ’s first natural wine festival.  One of the winemakers said that he wants everyone to be intoxicated.  Drunkenness is sloppy and base, he said, but to be intoxicated is to be full of wonder, to be curious and in awe of the world around you, and I think that writers are inherently curious people.

Even with the best intentions, my research doesn’t always turn out the way that I plan.  Now I did eventually learn a lot about mezcal when I lived in Mexico, but on this tour of Los Angeles with my sister our main research conclusion was that her pasta persona is farfalle while I am more like the little stars in Italian meatball soup.

In LA I also met Rosie the dog, and since I’m always interested in the eating habits of others –   Things that she has eaten include cod skins, peas, a ream of paper, elote loco (corn cob and all), rocks, wood, a week’s worth of mail.  She licks habanero sauce from the bottom of bowls.  She once devoured her owner’s collection of crystals.

In his book ‘The Third Plate,’ Chef Dan Barber states that the challenge of making use of diverse ingredients lies at the heart of all great cuisines.  We can use Rosie as an example of pitbull cuisine in downtown LA. But Barber goes on to say that cuisines did not develop from what the land offered, they developed from what the land demanded.

Back in Waipara, I attended North Canterbury’s forage event, where one of the chef’s used flax seeds in her dish of crayfish, kombu and wild plums. “You see flax plants everywhere,” she said, “but it never occurred to me to open them up and take something out.” In a world that too often puts convenience over authenticity, it was lovely to have a reminder that delicious food is all around us.

In Waipara I love being part of a community that cares about exploring the full range of flavours that exist in the world.  It’s important to remember to enjoy the land that we’re in and what it can offer us, I believe that enjoyment in life is not frivolous, it is actually the meaning of life.

It’s not just about unheeded enjoyment.  We can do whatever we want, but its important to remember that there are consequences for our actions, and let that shape our decisions.  Our choices in food consumption impact society and the environment. 

Sustainable consumption starts with knowing how food is grown or harvested, and what role that animal or plant plays in the ecosystem.  While I was in the caribbean, I wrote about lionfish, an invasive species which we hunted with hawaiian slings to reduce damage to the reef.  I pretty much ate lionfish ceviche every day that I lived in Mahahual.

Currently I’m learning a lot about dairy for a piece that I’m writing about Honeymoon Latte, where I sat in a spa full of milk here at CoCA and discussed dairy’s impact on environment, society, and economy.  It seems to me that while shareholders are making the profits, negative externalities are being pushed to society and the environment – particularly to the small-scale farmers – who are often locked in cycles of debt.

In Maine, where the economy is reliant on lobstering, when the lobstermen were in a similar position, the government subsidised them with training and equipment to move into other industries.  I canoed up the Bagaduce River with my mum to interview an oyster farmer about his experience in that program, and then we traded him a case of beer for five dozen oysters.

In Maine I also talked to a seaweed harvester, who said that “just because it’s a public resource doesn’t mean that its a free for all where everyone can have as much as they want until its gone.  You have to come up with agreements about how its going to be stewarded, and you can start having conversations about ownership, community, and social investment.” 

To bring it back to the personal, one of my favourite pieces was an interview with the owner of Restaurare, a vegan restaurant in Tulum that serves traditional Mexican food.  And he said that “In order to set an example, you can’t be judging others. You can show them how to do things differently and they’ll hear you a bit more.”

And that’s what I try to explore in my blog.  It’s named Taste Transfixed after a Magritte painting called Time Transfixed.  In this piece, the surrealist painter wanted to expose the mystery of everyday things.  It makes me uncomfortable that food has become a mystery to us – where it comes from, the societal and environmental impact of how it is harvested, grown and produced, and how our consumption relates to us on a personal or communal level. I love uncovering all of these mysteries, and I can’t wait to share more of them with you.

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