If you go for a walk in the woods one of these crisp Piemontese autumn mornings, you may meet a man carrying a wicker basket. In it, a few small mushrooms on a bed of fern. ‘Oh,’ you will say, ‘not so lucky today?’ – ‘No,’ he will answer, with a rueful look into his basket. ‘Not much luck today. Or maybe I just don’t know where to look.’ And, with a slight shrug of the shoulders, he will say: ‘Maybe this wood is not good for mushrooms. Good luck to you though.’
But if you were to come to the house of this man in these days, you will find him sitting at his kitchen table, carefully cleaning porcini mushrooms the size of his fist. He will be surrounded by several wicker baskets, full of glorious nut-brown and stone-grey specimens, resting on their bed of fresh green fern.
I looked up from the roster. Dario nodded towards the white-haired, red-faced man leaning on the bar with one elbow, clutching his wine glass. The man glanced erratically around the room then unsteadily focused on Manuela behind the bar. She had moved to the far corner by the coffee machine and was stiffly staring ahead. Her hands kept polishing the rim of a wine glass, round and round, and her eyes seemed shiny.
I sighed and got up. He owned a clothes shop in the neighbourhood, a confusion of colourful velvet, beads and mirrors. If it weren’t right on the main tourist thoroughfare, he would have been bust long ago. As it was, it still seemed to support his drinking habit. He seemed worse than usual tonight. Continue reading →
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992) was one of the first great food writers of the 20th century. She wrote essays, memoir and travel pieces of her life in the USA and France, where she spent several years. Interestingly, though, she did not think of herself as a “food writer”. In the foreword to The Gastronomical Me (1943), she explained: “When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it.”
When I read this line in one of my Food Studies Master’s classes, a door opened for me. Food in itself is wonderful, but what drew me to working in bars and restaurants as a teenager and all through my twenties was the human theatre that played out there every night, celebration, romance, heartbreak, redemption, business. There had been books and scholarly articles examining and affirming my impression, but here for the first time was someone who celebrated it through words, which are after all my other great passion. And I realised I had found my corner in the food world, my tribe.
Julia Child (1912-2004) was an American chef, author and TV personality. Actually, her first career was in the Secret Service, which is pretty cool. She met her husband in the Service, who became a diplomat and was posted to Paris. That’s where Julia decided to learn cooking. She began also to teach cooking and eventually published her debut cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is famous for making complex French dishes accessible. Her personal style helped matters greatly: she is hilarious and did not take herself too seriously, not even on TV.
No.2 – Hodges Figgis. The name sounds like a Dickens character, the shopfront looks exactly how you would picture Dublin’s oldest bookstore. Huge windows full of books curve towards the door like a bell jar. Their frames and the door are dark green, like the leather inserts on a library table.
But the shop is not resting on its long and illustrious pedigree (which includes being mentioned in Ulysses, no less). From humanities, business and sciences on the top floor to the sweeping selection of classic and modern literature, Hodges Figgis is eminently knowledgeable without being snobbish. Continue reading →
No.1 – The Secret Book and Record Store. A bookworms’ lair unfazed by fashions.
The Secret Book and Record Store is not all that secretly located in the city centre of Dublin. Around the corner from busy Grafton Street, amidst cafés and shops, a large yellow sign adorns the entrance. The corridor burrows away into the old building. At the end of it, boxes and tables and shelves full of books fill a low room almost to the ceiling.
No.6 – Goldhahn & Sampson in Prenzlauer Berg. The cook book lover’s treasure chest.
Goldhahn & Sampson caters for the mind as well as the palate. They sell food, wine and delicatessen – local specialities from around Berlin and elsewhere. A contradiction? Not at all: speciality food is generally rooted in a certain locality. That’s what makes it special and different from the foods from other localities, and of course from the mass-produced products that have the same taste (or lack thereof) everywhere. Continue reading →