Dig in to 2013

One of the best things about food? Reading about it.

Sometimes it’s difficult not to grow weary in the face of keeping up with food trends. But there are writings relating to food of which I will never tire. Here are some of my favourites that’ve been covered really well in 2012 and that I hope to see more of in the year ahead.

1. Great profiles:
In 2012, I enjoyed reading more about people who make food rather than reading pieces devoted to food itself. There were some incredible profiles this year, from such big-name industry players as London’s Yotan Ottolenghi and Paris’s Apollonia Polaine–both from The New Yorker food issue–to local chefs like Toronto’s Keith Froggett, whom David Sax wrote about in The Grid. More please!

2. Heritage foods:
Speaking of profiles, remember when the New Yorker wrote about South Carolina locavore-extraordinaire Sean Brock in 2011? He’s the chef of Husk Restaurant who’s obsessed with bringing many of the region’s forgotten varietals of plants and animal breeds back to the table  (he also has a cookbook coming out in 2013.) “Since building a network of farmers, grain purveyors, food historians, and scientists during the past few years, Brock’s seed-saving mission has revived about 35 Southern plants, some of which might otherwise have gone extinct,” writes Cooking Light, which awarded Brock its Trailblazing Chef of the Year Award. In recent years, there’s been plenty of attention to paid to heirloom foods: from Red Fife, a Canadian grain that fell off our radars until Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy championed its virtues in 2006, to apples, of which there are thousands of varietals besides the ubiqitious Red Delicious, Granny Smith or Macintosh. And even though seed libraries, repositories that preserve seeds for generations to come, are nothing new (even Thomas Jefferson collected heirloom seeds), I hope to read more about them–and all things heirloom-related–in 2013.

3. The history of food:
I can’t get enough of food history. And 2012 saw a number of historical gastronomic subjects detailed; from little tidbits, like the debatable origins of pasta carbonara in the New York Times, to entire tombs dedicated to the explanation of dinner, and dining, throughout time, like The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern CookbookConsider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, and a lovely little number called Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America (watch for my review in an upcoming issue of Maclean’s.) The food journal Gastronomica is always publishing historical pieces on food: in the last issue alone, there were articles on black banquets and funerary feasts from the ancient world (think Roman Emperor Domitian scaring the bejesus out of a group of senators by toying with them that it was to be their last meal) to a look at what sailors ate on American clipper chips during the 19th century (not pretty). They always have fantastic book reviews, too, although they never seem to be that current (all of 2012’s covered books published in 2011). Still, I might not’ve come across Archestratus: Fragments from the Life of Luxury–about a fragmented 4th century B.C. poem that’s becoming a rich resource on ancient food studies–if it weren’t  for them.  I eat this stuff up!

4. More magazines about food:
Lucky Peach, the quarterly magazine dedicated to writing and food put out by Momofuku kingpin David Chang and the gang at McSweeney’s, took the food world by storm last year. (I got a subscription for Christmas.) But there are plenty of other culinary offerings lining newsstands–both virtual and in print. Bon Appetit recently championed a few, including Gather Journal, Fool, Diner Journal, and Kinfolk.

5. Food and art
From Arcimboldo to Judy Chicago, referencing food in art is nothing new. But today, food is manifesting itself into art in strange, new ways. From a recent photo-spread in The New York Times Style Magazine that saw models outfitted in fruit and veg to Montreal’s Dean Baldwin, who often incorporates actual comestibles into his installations and Yukon-based artist Eryn Foster even foraged for wild yeast to bake bread on site of a recent exhibition in North Adams, Mass. And there’s art that inspires actual food: Take San Francisco pastry maker Caitlin Freeman, who designed a series of pastries based on works of art from the city’s Museum of Modern Art. Freeman also created desserts based on L.A.-based artist Zoe Crosher‘s set of photographs of sites where iconic Los Angeles figures (think Natalie Wood) have gone missing. Freeman travelled to the sites, collected water, then created salt crystals and finally incorporated them into specific desserts for each “portrait.” If that’s a little too postmodern for your tastes, how about this? On a recent American road trip, I made a pitstop in Mount Vernon, VA and visited George and Martha Washington’s estate. Lucky for me, there was a special exhibit called Hoecakes & Hospitality, devoted to 18th century farming, food preparation and dining. There were even recipe cards available, including Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” a Christmas confection packed full with booze and candied fruit, and hoecakes, a cornmeal type of breakfast pancake that George Washington adored, “swimming in butter and honey.”

My recipe cards collected from Mount Vernon (exhibit is on until the summer of 2013!)

6. Food and Design
I read about a new Master’s degree in food design being offered by The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. I can only hope the program won’t do away with covering people in some sort of syrup. Because who could tire of that?

Nigella Lawson on the cover of Stylist

Yotan Ottolenghi from the recent New Yorker food issue (photograph by Richard Burridge)

From Martin Picard's Sugar Shack (photograph by Marie-Claude St-Pierre)

From Martin Picard's Sugar Shack (photograph by Marie-Claude St-Pierre)

Conceptual food artist Jennifer Rubell, from New York magazine (photograph by Ben Hassett)

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