Theatre of Life: Massimo Bottura’s plan for wasted food

The documentary Theatre of Life is a lovely film about a lovely initiative, started by a lovely man. (Yes, most sentences are impoverished by adjectives, and the worst sentences contain three repetitions of the same adjective. Not off to a good start then.)

It’s a film about what started as chef Massimo Botturo’s idea to deal with all the wasted food at the 2015 Milan Expo (that tagline of which was rather ironically “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”). It was (and remains) a fantastic initiative – everyone’s favourite Danish chef René Redzepi after all told Massimo that he’s now “in it for life!” (ie. Robert De Niro, below) – which basically involves getting star chef buddies from around the globe (hello Ferran Adrià, Joan Rocca, Mario Batali, Alex Atala, Daniel Humm, et al.) to fashion amazing food out of stuff like stale bread and veggies no one (who’s paying) wants to eat.

Massimo and Bob planning their next strike

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The Good Old Days with Keith Floyd

I’ve been thinking about Keith Floyd lately.

It happens on occasion, in a sporadic, nostalgic fashion (somehow – peculiarly? – when I watch some modern rubbish “food TV”). Here’s what I had to say about him a few years ago when I was being all academic and bookish:

Floyd was in many ways the pioneer of modern food television – at least in the UK and Europe, and particularly in terms of breaking down the artifice that had been a staple of televised cooking until he famously took the cameras out of the kitchen studio and into whichever exotic location he (iconic glass of wine in hand) happened to be cooking in. He was postmodern before that word was fashionable, talking to his cameraman [“Clive, back to me, thanks”]  and often enough scolding him for not paying enough attention to the food. Floyd directed his shows from the stage, and in that way made it impossible for his viewers not to be aware of the whole enterprise as a construction. By not allowing us to feel like flies on a kitchen wall, Floyd rarely displayed the conceit of imagining that he was stepping into our worlds, and that he therefore had any sense of responsibility to his audience. On the contrary, his particular conceit – and also what made him so entertaining to watch – was that he was allowing us a glimpse into his world, and into a world of food and television where things did not always go according to scripts or plans. It was a world away from the patronizing refrains of ‘see how easy it is?’ which populate our screens today.

Floyd became famous because he was eccentric in his ways, and because he did what he liked. As he wrote on his short-lived blog, ‘If you don’t like my approach you are welcome to go down to MacDonald’s [sic]’. Perhaps this was also the reason, sadly, that his fame was soon eclipsed by a number of younger Turks who took inspiration from Floyd to make careers of food and television, as well as a number of television producers who took inspiration to create and nurture a new brand of stars – though less likely to be drinking on set, and therefore less potentially liable to their respective producers. Slowly but surely, once Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson started appearing on television, we began to see less and less of Keith Floyd, until he virtually disappeared altogether.

Until 2009, that is, when his erstwhile producer David Pritchard published a book called “Shooting The Cook”, which details the rise (and fall) of their friendship and professional partnership. Later that year The Daily Mail published a series of extracts from Floyd’s forthcoming autobiography, “Stirred But Not Shaken”. In it, Floyd tells his own version of Pritchard’s story, including what he saw as an important correction: ‘I don’t want to napalm the cooks (as Pritchard has accused me in his book Shooting the Cook). I want to napalm the producers.’ The book also chronicles a number of details of his life depressingly at odds with the Floyd we knew from television: four divorces, a bowel cancer diagnosis, and recurring bouts of heavy drinking and weariness from the fame he had inadvertently earned (‘I’d walk onto the stage, a bottle in one hand, a glass in the other,’ he said of one of his last gigs, ‘Floyd Uncorked’. ‘“My name is Keith Floyd.” And they were screaming, which is strange because I am not a pop star. I’m just a cook.’)

That same evening, the UK’s Channel 4 screened a film called “Keith Meets Keith”, which documents a trip by British comedian Keith Allen to France to meet Floyd, his one-time cooking icon. It was not a pleasant film to watch, because physically Keith Floyd was a shadow of his earlier television self. But he was as acerbic as ever, and had no reservations about calling celebrity chefs – though not, this time, their producers – a bunch of attention seeking ‘cunts’, and pointing out that it made no sense for chefs to become celebrities in the first place, because, as he put it, a chef should be the chief of his kitchen, while the person who cooks is a cook. Just a few hours after “Keith Meets Keith” was broadcast, Keith Floyd died of a heart attack (following a meal, we are told, of oysters, partridge, pear cider jelly, wine and ‘a number of cigarettes’). © Me, 2012

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Withnail and I Dinner Menu

I recently listened to an excellent BBC Food Programme podcast on the topic of food and cult fiction. It was fun listening to all the food stuff from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and a writer I hadn’t heard of before (to my shame, it now seems), Colin MacInnes, who authored a trilogy about London in the mid-20th century, at least one of which apparently contains excellent passages about working class “mods” eating smoked salmon sandwiches while admiring fabulous views of London from some rooftop.

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Food addiction, and why words matter

Years ago I had a friend who used to talk about being “addicted to being a victim”. I thought it very deep and clever at the time (I was a teenager, and he an aspiring poet).

That was before I really cared – or thought that others should really care – about how we use words, or understood that how we use words can *actually* be deep and important.

(For the record, I don’t actually use the word “deep” anymore.)

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On love and madness in Swaziland

Swaziland is a shithole. With more than 28% of its population positive, it has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world. (Male) homosexuality is illegal (LGBT+ does not exist in the Swazi lexicon). The king is currently trying to ban divorce. He would also like everyone to just forgive Zuma for Nkandla. He currently has 13 wives (don’t scoff – his father had 70).

It’s also the country I grew up in, and from the age of 5 to 18, I had no idea it was such a shithole. Not (I like to think) because I was stupid, but because it was a wonderful place to be a child. It’s beautiful, with rolling hills and majestic mountains, and people who seemed cool about everything. My parents’ friends lived in cool houses built into the mountains, and on Sundays when we came to visit they’d pad around in kikois smoking joints, and then we’d go swim in a river. My parents wore kikois too, and when we had people round, they would assemble around a big fireplace my father had fashioned out of an old tractor tire rim in the garden, and my mother provided roasted peanuts, marinated fillet for the braai, and Keith Jarrett or Dave Brubeck booming through the speakers perched on window sills inside the house. (They also had a live recording of then Dollar Brand playing piano at another house they lived in down the valley before I was born.)

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When food porn got boring

Oops, I think I just made one of those clickbait titles. But what else do you call the demise of the thing that’s gotten everyone salivating up till now?

It started with the announcement that (the generally excellent) Lucky Peach is folding after their final issue is published in May. Confession: I have a subscription (though my pile does not include the elusive first copy that apparently sells for upwards of $175), and my first thought was will I get my money back for the issues I won’t be getting? ☹️

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“Cultural Appropriation” Nonsense

So it’s been all the rage in the food world of late. First, the Oberlin College issue, which had Lena Dunham supporting students who decried that the sushi and bánh mì served in the student cafeterias were not “authentic”, and therefore an example of “cultural appropriation”. 

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Is (watching) a post-mortem about fat-shaming?

So the Philosophe and I recently found ourselves watching a one-hour doccie about a post-mortem of an obese person (a) because we had already had lunch, and b) because it’s been in the news about being a horrible fat-shaming spectacle, so I knew I needed to watch it to either agree with or be irritated by the Twitterers.

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Postcard(s) from Chicago

So I’m in Chicago, primarily to attend the IFT16 (that’s the 2016 conference for the Institute of Food Technologists – you’re welcome), where two of my favourite thinkers were on the bill to deliver keynote addresses:

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_20160717_102852It’s also my first time in the Windy City, so I of course laid all sorts of other cunning plans to tick off Important Things on my wish-list: dinner at Alinea, Grace (OK, not really in the position to drop $200+ on dinner); failing that, Next (“just” $155); OK fine, I’ll settle for Roister and Frontera Grill. Except neither of the latter are open on a Sunday or Monday, the two days we had to explore the city.

So, my experiences and observations are unfortunately – or fortunately – somewhat more mundane than eating at all the *must-go* places in Chicago (I choose to think of this like the author of Save Room for Pie, which means that there’s always more to look forward to).

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