'Food Memories' – Svbscription / by Brodie Lancaster

The Roots drum­mer and Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night band­leader Questlove’s life-changing food expe­ri­ence was a supremely con­tem­po­rary one. He saw the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi on a whim and, after become fas­ci­nated by the elderly sushi master’s life­long com­mit­ment to his craft, Quest took a trip to Japan for a “5 fig­ure lunch”. The entire expe­ri­ence of which he chron­i­cled on Instagram.

In the space of 15 pho­tos, he cre­ated for his fol­low­ers a long and emo­tional jour­ney with food. Nine months after acci­den­tally stum­bling across the her­alded doc­u­men­tary, he wrote a long and emo­tive review of his expe­ri­ence with Jiro’s work and life, but it was an ephemeral one; it dis­ap­peared when the next selfie was uploaded and is archived deep in the Insta­gram vault with the hash­tag #questtojiro.

The con­tem­po­rary equiv­a­lent of the adage If a tree falls in the woods… seems to be If every plate of a 12-course degus­ta­tion menu is not Insta­grammed; was it ever eaten? This is the age of food writ­ing we live in; when “omg best burger #food­porn” is a cri­tique taken seri­ously; when art direc­tion begins and ends with the right fil­ter. Which puts pres­sure on the tra­di­tional food out­lets, chal­leng­ing them to keep up. A task some are tack­ling head-on.

From the ashes of the mag­a­zines that failed to keep up with the chang­ing media land­scape (Gourmet folded in late 2009; Aus­tralian Good Food just last Decem­ber) rose the fren­zied, genre-less gas­tro bible Lucky Peach, which pub­lisher McSweeney’s con­fi­dently pro­duces quar­terly based on the often-bizarre ideas of Momofuku’s res­i­dent chef/genius David Chang and edi­tors Peter Mee­han and Chris Ying.

The mag­a­zine is a tome to food and the peo­ple who dig it. It is a mid­dle fin­ger to the child­hood request to “stop play­ing with your food” and fea­tures not only recipes, but also poetry, fic­tion, photo essays, illus­tra­tions and – as a pull­out in the fall/winter 2011 issue – cus­tomized fruit stick­ers. At Lucky Peach, any­thing goes.

For­mer McSweeney’s edi­tor Ying uses his time there as a bea­con for the way Lucky Peach oper­ates, and says he achieves the magazine’s “visual hodge­podge” instinc­tu­ally, by using what­ever pho­tos or illus­tra­tions best serve the story,” and cre­at­ing the best sto­ries by “putting writ­ers first, giv­ing them as many words as they need, and con­sci­en­tiously edit­ing.” Choos­ing what makes it into the issue, edi­to­ri­ally, is the hard part; the food itself is a com­par­a­tive breeze con­sid­er­ing the weight of the guys at the top.

“We’re lucky to have Dave Chang as an edi­tor, along with Momo­fuku as a sister-wife/brother-husband,” he tells us. “They’re tapped into everything.”

Before jump­ing aboard Chang’s lurch­ing ship and co-authoring the first Momo­fuku cook­book with him, Mee­han wrote the New York Times’ $25 and Under col­umn (in which he effec­tively gave the then-brand new Ssam bar its “must-eat” sta­tus), “so he can rat­tle off the three or four hun­dred best restau­rants in Amer­ica off the top of his head,” Ying continues.

While Ying is based in San Fran­cisco and is a stal­wart for the restau­rant scene there (he rat­tles off Swan Oys­ter Depot, Mis­sion Chi­nese Food, Coi, Benu and State Bird Pro­vi­sions as places one must visit on a short trip, before insist­ing: “Don’t come to San Fran­cisco for any­thing less than 48 hours”), the last incred­i­bly mem­o­rable meal he ate was not even in the United States, let alone the bay area.

“I had the mind-expanding and endur­ing honor of eat­ing at Fäviken in Jär­pen, Swe­den in Decem­ber,” he tells us of the expe­di­tion that sounds less like a meal and more like a strict cleans­ing exer­cise. “I know that for­ag­ing and hyper-localism are in vogue right now, but it really makes sense at Fäviken. The restau­rant is an hour flight from Stock­holm, in an old hunt­ing lodge in the mid­dle of the woods. When you arrive after a one-hour drive from the air­port, you have a drink, eat some cured meat, take a sauna, and your mind­set is instan­ta­neously altered and improved. You eat what’s avail­able nearby–what’s in the root cel­lar, what ani­mals are avail­able, what can be found. And even in the dead of win­ter, the vari­ety and ele­gance of the twenty or so courses is aston­ish­ing and uni­ver­sally delicious.”

This was Ying’s food quest, but don’t expect to see a stream of pho­to­graphic mem­o­ries from it; “I still don’t love to take pho­tos of my food, unless I’m eat­ing some­thing really ridicu­lous and/or hilar­i­ous,” he says. Rather, the way he archives his most beloved meals is by “mad­den­ingly talk­ing about them over and over and over; irri­tat­ing all of my friends by recall­ing every­thing I ate, and remind­ing them of what they ate. Hon­estly, when I go out to eat with friends—chefs or not—we spend most of the time talk­ing about other meals we’ve eaten together.“

“I’m more inter­ested in enjoy­ing myself and the com­pany I’m with while I eat the meal, rather than focus my atten­tion on try­ing to cap­ture it for pos­ter­ity,” agrees Nick Shel­ton, the found­ing editor-in-chief of Broad­sheet’s online and print out­lets. Best-known for their rec­om­men­da­tions on eater­ies in Mel­bourne, the site has expanded both hor­i­zon­tally – cov­er­ing arts, enter­tain­ment, fash­ion and local events – and ver­ti­cally, show­cas­ing the best that Syd­ney has to offer on a sis­ter site.

Where Lucky Peach is a fre­netic shock to the sys­tem, Broad­sheet offers a sleek and con­sis­tent expe­ri­ence for grub hunters. Its con­tent is focused equally on trends as it is on the main­stay staples.

To get the Broad­sheet seal of approval, a new bar, café or restau­rant needs to answer just one ques­tion: Would I rec­om­mend this to a friend? “If the answer is no,” Nick says, “we won’t cover it.”

“There is no set for­mula for some­thing to be picked up by Broad­sheet. It’s really just a case of cov­er­ing what we love. So far we’ve just tried to lis­ten to our own tastes and opin­ions, and, to date, our read­ers have responded well to that approach.”

In just a few years (the first iter­a­tion of Broad­sheet Mel­bourne appeared online in late 2009) Broad­sheet’s demo­c­ra­tic approach to food crit­i­cism has become the stan­dard for decision-making in Mel­bourne. While now, locals are accus­tomed to con­sult­ing the Broad­sheet web­site or app to deter­mine where they’re din­ing, it wasn’t always like this.

“There weren’t many out­lets in the local media where you could keep up to date with Melbourne’s rapidly devel­op­ing food and drink cul­ture,” Nick tells us of the site’s gen­e­sis. “It was always word of mouth – peo­ple talk­ing about places they’d been and loved.”

And when it comes to dis­cussing the places he loves to eat, Nick’s list is long and pretty rep­re­sen­ta­tive of clas­sic Mel­bourne – there are no indi­ca­tions that he’s suc­cumbed to the Dude Food or not-exactly-Mexican trends of recent years. He lists Seven Seeds as his sta­ple cof­fee spot (a con­tentious topic in the city), and either the Beau­fort or the Ever­leigh for drinks, the lat­ter of which he her­alds as “one of the best cock­tail bars in the world.”

“For either lunch or din­ner, it’s hard to go past some­where like Cumu­lus,” he decides, remark­ing that the four course set menu com­monly found in many of Melbourne’s beloved restau­rants is per­fect for ensur­ing the food you’re eat­ing matches the experience.

“You can go in, expect to eat some of the city’s best food with­out hav­ing to fuss about it. It just comes out and is always amaz­ing. And all set in a pared back, ele­gant room. It means that you can focus more on the per­son you’re with and the con­ver­sa­tion you’re having.”

And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Published on Svbscription, 15 March, 2013.