For many in northwest Greenland, the iconic flavor of winter is that of fermented meat, perhaps most iconically kiviaq, a dish made by packing 300 to 500 whole dovekies—beaks, feathers, and all—into the hollowed-out carcass of a seal, snitching it up and sealing it with fat, then burying it under rocks for a few months to ferment. Once it’s dug up and opened, people skin and eat the birds one at a time.
Plates of these small fermented seabirds are a staple at many kaffemiit—big communal gatherings celebrating anything from holidays to birthdays—during the winter, especially among the Inughuit, a distinct Inuit culture indigenous to the region.
“Kiviaq is a special dish to the Inughuit,” Hivshu, an Inuguhit culture keeper, tells me. Originally from Siorapaluk, one of the major towns in Greenland’s northwestern Qaanaaq area—and the island’s northernmost permanent settlement—Hivshu grew up hunting local game and practicing Inughuit foodways. In fact, he’s not aware of any other Inuit cultures with a longstanding history of making kiviaq.
But beyond Greenland, kiviaq is notorious as an object of disgust and ridicule. Just over a decade ago, it became a staple of the world’s “weirdest” or “most repulsive” food lists. A few articles also suggest it’s dangerous, noting that kiviaq may have killed famed Inuit-Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1933, and that botulism linked to a bad batch definitely killed two locals in 2013. …
Kiviaq can challenge the palate of anyone unfamiliar with the potent flavors of fermented meats. (Mike Keen, a chef-adventurer based in the United Kingdom and big kiviaq fan, describes its taste as akin to a strong blue cheese with salami or parma ham notes—and as “a good smash in the mouth.”)
Hélas! No more “grilled reindeer heart on a bed of fresh pine, and saffron ice cream in a beeswax bowl” for you. NOMA, rated the World’s Best Restaurant, is closing.
Chef René Redzepi has decided that the actual preparation and service of food at the level necessary to please today’s Trimalchios is “unsustainable.”
“[T]he math of compensating nearly 100 employees fairly, while maintaining high standards, at prices that the market will bear, is not workable.
“We have to completely rethink the industry,” he said. “This is simply too hard, and we have to work in a different way.”
He plans to convert his ultra-elite restaurant operation to a full-time food laboratory, developing new dishes and products for distribution via e-commerce. link
“It’s unsustainable,” he said of the modern fine-dining model that he helped create. “Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work.”
A newly empowered generation of workers has begun pushing back against that model, often using social media to call out employers. The Willows Inn, in Washington State, run by the Noma-trained chef Blaine Wetzel, closed in November, after a 2021 Times report on systemic abuse and harassment; top destinations like Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Eleven Madison Park have faced media investigations into working conditions. Recent films and TV series like “The Menu,” “Boiling Point” and “The Bear” have brought the image of armies of harried young chefs, silently wielding tweezers in service to a chef-auteur, into popular culture.
In a 2015 essay, Mr. Redzepi admitted to bullying his staff verbally and physically, and has often acknowledged that his efforts to be a calmer, kinder leader have not been fully successful.
“In an ideal restaurant, employees could work four days a week, feel empowered and safe and creative,” Mr. Redzepi said. “The problem is how to pay them enough to afford children, a car and a house in the suburbs.”
Mr. Redzepi’s reputation was built on his challenges to fine-dining tradition, most famously discarding imported delicacies like French foie gras and Italian truffles in favor of local and foraged ingredients like spruce tips, two-year-old carrots and duck brains. The cooking style became known as New Nordic, and swept all of Scandinavia into a new status as an elite culinary destination.
Scores of chefs have moved to Denmark to study Mr. Redzepi’s work, then spread his style to other countries; having a Noma pedigree opens doors and investors’ wallets all over the world, several alumni said. Frequent keynote speeches at food summits have elevated Mr. Redzepi to the role of global visionary. He has been knighted by the queen of Denmark, and published a book on leadership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
But the kitchen culture at Noma did not always live up to the ideals it projected. In interviews, dozens of people who worked at Noma between 2008 and 2021 said that 16-hour workdays have long been routine, even for unpaid workers.
A Noma spokeswoman replied, “While our industry has been characterized by long working hours, this is something we at Noma constantly work to improve.”
Noma’s internship program has also served as a way for Noma to shore up its labor force, supplying 20 to 30 full-time workers (“stagiaires” is the traditional French term) who do much of the painstaking labor — hand-peeling walnuts and separating lavender leaves from stems — that defines Noma’s food and aesthetic.
Until last October, the program provided only a work visa. However, being able to say, “I staged at Noma” is a priceless culinary credential. For that reason alone, most of the alumni interviewed said that an internship at Noma is worth the expense, the exhaustion and the stress.
Namrata Hegde, 26, had just graduated from culinary school in Hyderabad, India, when she was chosen as an intern in 2017. Knowing nothing about Noma except that many called it the best restaurant in the world, she flew to Copenhagen to live and work at her own expense for three months.
For most of that time, Ms. Hegde said, her sole job was to produce fruit-leather beetles, starting with a thick jam of black fruit and silicone stencils with insect parts carved out. Another intern taught her how to spread the jam evenly, monitor the drying process, then use tweezers to assemble the head, thorax, abdomen and wings. Ms. Hegde repeated the process until she had 120 perfect specimens; each diner was served a single beetle in a wooden box.
She said the experience taught her to be quick, quiet and organized, but little about cooking. “I didn’t expect that I would use my knife only a couple of times a day,” she said, “or that I would be told I didn’t need my tasting spoon because there was nothing to taste.”
Ms. Hegde said she was required to work in silence by the junior chefs she assisted (Mr. Redzepi was rarely in the kitchen where she worked), and was specifically forbidden to laugh.
“I thought an internship was about me learning, as well about contributing to Noma’s success,” she said. “I don’t believe that kind of toxic work environment is necessary.”
I like good food and fine wine as well as the next Yuppie, but I’d rather live way out in the boondocks where I can shoot a gun and hunt on my own land and where my neighbors vote Republican, even though local restaurants are only greasy spoons that compare unfavorably to home cooking or fast food chains.
Fine dining is nice, but it is just not the kind of priority for me that is is for your typical urban elites. They go out to restaurants the way people in my old hometown used to go to church. Which, when you think about it, speaks volumes about differing priorities, city versus small town, now versus back then.
E. Donnall Thomas Jr. boasts of eating the mountain lions he hunts and speaks well of the experience. I find that surprising. I’ve eaten the meat of several carnivores at annual game dinners at the Yale Club of NYC, including African lion which I’d say tasted fishy mattress. None struck me as palatable at all. But he has tried moutain lion, and I have not.
Interestingly, he took Dave Quammen, a Yale classmate of mine whose made a prominent career as a Nature write, hunting. I read a terrific story by Quammen in the Yale Lit Freshman Year. He could write even back then.
[N]on-hunters—who make up around 80% of the general population—consistently show more favorable attitudes toward hunting when we eat what we shoot. One reason why lion hunting has proven such fertile ground for anti-hunting activists is the perception that cougars are hunted exclusively for their value as trophies. Unfortunately, there is some truth to this charge, and there shouldn’t be. In fact, as those who can overcome deep-seated but basically groundless cultural biases against eating cats are usually quick to discover, mountain lion meat is excellent.
When I prepared the backstraps from the first lion I shot and served them to family and friends, I did so out of a sense of obligation. I was raised to shoot what you eat and eat what you shoot. Since I wasn’t sure how deeply committed to that principle our dinner guests that night would be, I didn’t say much about the meat at the heart of the parmigiana until someone came right out and asked. By then it was too late for second thoughts, for everyone at the table had already declared it delicious.
Lion meat is lean, light, fine-grained and delicate, and can be prepared in any manner suitable for pork or veal. It has proven to be a consistent hit at our table, even when served to initially skeptical guests who knew full well what they were eating. It really is that good. Most states have specific meat salvage regulations on the books for big game, and a number of them, including my home states of Montana and Alaska, have expanded them to include non-traditional meat sources such as bear. There is no reason in the world not to extend these principles to include mountain lion. Doing so could well keep other states from following California’s unfortunate, biologically unjustified precedent.
Years ago, the nationally prominent writer David Quammen wrote a piece about mountain lions in the changing West for a wildlife publication to which we both occasionally contributed. The text included some mildly disparaging remarks about lion hunting which set me off even though they were neither totally unreasonable nor particularly vitriolic. I wrote a letter to the editor questioning the writer’s knowledge base and qualifications to write about the subject.
To his great credit, David contacted me, acknowledged that I had a point, and asked if I would take him mountain lion hunting. I replied that I would be delighted to do so and told him that if killing a cat would make him uncomfortable, I would be glad to provide a “catch-and-release” hunting experience, since I did a lot of that anyway. He bravely told me that if the goal was to inform him about lion hunting, that killing any cat we might tree should at least be an option.
He drove up from Bozeman one winter weekend, and we went hunting. The weather was brutal, but we covered a lot of ground by vehicle, skis, and foot. Even though we never cut a track, we learned that we had a remarkable amount in common. The high point of the experience for him was a mountain lion dinner prepared from a cat a friend had shot while hunting with me earlier in the month. We have remained good friends ever since, and he acknowledges that the experience changed his once skeptical attitude toward hunting.
So, if you are going to shoot a cougar, pack the meat off the mountain and eat it. You will enjoy the dining experience and be helping to secure the future of hunting with every bite.
IMHO, the essence of the Louis’ Lunch burger is easily achieved. You don’t need the 1890s vertical broiler. Just serve your medium rare burger with tomato on buttered toast.
Alex Lauer, at Inside Hook, tells us about a new company bringing old-time quality products back to life.
Founder Dennis Powell spent six figures trying to make a cast-iron skillet that was just like the ones they made 100 years ago; he originally did it just for fun and had no interest in starting a business; now that he is in business, he has no interest in growing, and as he told me on a phone call, he has no problem roasting his customers who mistreat their pans. I can already hear Mark Cuban saying, “I’m out!”
By all modern standards of business, Powell has done everything wrong. But since 2013 when he founded the company, his skillets have become a favorite of chefs when cooking at home, received the highest marks of any cast iron that’s undergone the rigorous testing at Consumer Reports, and regularly rack up significant waiting lists despite being some of the most expensive on the market.
So what’s going on here? It all started with his grandmother’s pan.
“The precipitating moment was: I was at home cooking, I dropped my grandmother’s pan, which was the only pan that I usually cooked with, I broke it — a great big crack in it,” Powell tells InsideHook of his favorite cast-iron skillet. “And since I’d always assumed that was going to be something I was going to give to my two kids, and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do that, I decided that I was going to just replicate that pan, almost the way a sculptor goes about saying that they’re going to cast a bronze edition of a sculpture.”
What happened next was the slow boil of an obsession. He spent time researching in the Library of Congress, he pored over all the records from the Griswold foundry which he got from a friend who was president of the Wagner and Griswold Society, and he eventually visited 20-odd foundries in the U.S. to try and find one that could make a pan to his specifications. The walls of the skillet had to be thinner than modern iterations (3/32 of an inch thick), the cooking surface had to be smoother (a roughness average of 90) and it had to be made in the States.
“Every one of those foundries would say, ‘You can’t make cast iron to these specifications,’” he remembers. But at these meetings, along with his design brief, he also carried a century-old skillet from Favorite Stove & Range Company that had inspired his own design. “Then I would pull the pan out and say, ‘Well where did this pan come from?’”
After a good long while — which included some test castings at an Amish foundry in Pennsylvania that specializes in replacement parts for steam engines — what Powell discovered is that people don’t make them like they used to because modern technology has made it untenable; automatic molding machines are the norm, not hand-casting done one at a time.
“It wasn’t until 2015 when my wife said, you know you realize you have $100,000 tied up in your research — without exaggeration — and you ought to try to monetize this,” he says. But he was at a fork in the road. On one hand, he could do things like other modern cast-iron companies — brands like Finex, Field Company and Smithey — by creating a rough cast and then mechanically smoothing the pans, or he could develop a brand-new process from scratch that replicates cast iron of the late 1800s in the 21st century.
He chose the latter, and he succeeded.
The problem is their 12-inch “Joan” skillet costs $295, and you can buy a 100+-year-old equivalent Griswold made in Erie, Pennsylvania for less.
Griswold Manufacturing Wikipedia article
Griswold history and guidebooks
Another Griswold guide
Why? The old Griswold cast iron pans are much, much lighter, and their cooking surface is smoother which means they cook better with less sticking.
Atlas Obscura tells us Barilla tried to build a machine to make it, and failed.
Twice a year, pilgrims in Sardinia trek from the city of Nuoro to the village of Lula under cover of night. They walk in solidarity, forgoing sleep and shelter—sometimes by the hundreds, sometimes by the thousand. Twenty miles later, at the entrance of Santuario di San Francesco, they reach their destination.
These seekers persist not to find the sanctuary itself, but to eat what may be the rarest pasta in the world. Su filindeu—literally “threads of God” in Sardo—is unfathomably intricate. It’s made by only three women on Earth, all of whom live on Sardinia. And they make it only for the biannual Feast of San Francesco. It’s been this way for the last 200 years.
The ingredients are simple: semolina wheat, water, and salt. The serving preparation is similarly uncomplicated: gamey mutton broth and a helping of tangy pecorino cheese. Making the pasta, however, is nearly impossible. Engineers from the Barilla pasta company attempted, unsuccessfully, to build a machine that could reproduce the technique. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also visited Sardinia in hopes of mastering the elusive noodle. After two hours, he gave up.
Paola Abraini, one of the masters of su filindeu, says the hardest part is “understanding the dough with your hands.” She kneads the mixture until it feels like modeling clay, then continues working it into rounded strands. When the semolina lacks elasticity, she dips her fingers in a bowl of salt water. When it needs moisture, unsalted water does the trick. The balance, says Abraini, “can take years to understand.”
Paul Levy, in the Spectator, reviews Norman Kolpas’s Foie Gras: A Global History, which defends the rich delicacy and its creation via the practice of gavage (the fattening of geese and ducks by tubular feeding) against a recent wave of Puritanism and snobbish morality posing that got the product banned in California and removed from the shelves of Fortnum & Mason in Britain.
[T]he main opposition claim is that the production of the hyper-fatty livers of ducks and geese is physically cruel and therefore immoral.
The factual argument is just plain wrong, and so is the ethical judgment that depends on it. I have witnessed the ‘force-feeding’ of ducks, and it is not a case of animal abuse. What actually happens is that the nicely behaved ducks (imprinted à la Konrad Lorenz) form an orderly line to take their turn swallowing a flexible tube that in seconds whooshes pellets of maize or mash of cereal down their gullets. They appear to relish this, and are, in my experience, fussed about and petted affectionately by the farming women of the south-west of France who perform what is called the gavage.
The problem, says Norman Kolpas, is that our celebrities and anti-foie gras activists ‘immediately and understandably tend to anthropomorphize the birds, imagining how it might feel for a human to have a feeding tube jammed down the throat’. This image of oral rape comes from an ignorance of bird physiology. The human esophagus is a more rigid structure of muscle, cartilage and bone, and inserting a tube down it means getting past the epiglottis, which triggers the human gag reflex. These waterfowl species do not have a gag reflex.
The gavage, in fact, mimics the birds’ natural pre-migratory behavior; following the seasons, they gorge themselves with food in preparation for their long flights. This had been remarked at least as early as 400 BC, when, says Kolpas, ‘well-fattened geese were deemed sufficiently worthy to be presented as a gift when Agesilaus, king of Sparta, visited Egypt’. The Greeks and Romans force-fed geese with figs rather than grain, a practice later adapted for rich pork liver, as recommended by Apicius. Foie gras found its way to south-western France with the conquest of Gaul (121-51 BC), and then Jewish slaves, cooks and farmers spread it east across Europe. Though goose makes the most appreciated fat liver, the amount of goose foie gras now produced globally has become minuscule (about 5 percent) compared with duck foie gras, mostly from (pond-shunning) hybrid male Moulard ducks, whose meat is also succulent and valued.
“A jug of rice wine infused with two hundred baby rodents; a dessert made of millions of crushed flies. Jiayang Fan spoke with the creator of the Disgusting Food Museum, in Sweden, which is located in a shopping mall and is designed with an eye for Instagram. But the playful surroundings belie the museum’s more serious messages about who gets to decide which foods are “disgusting,” and how, if we want to live more lightly on the planet, we need to broaden our palates. Just maybe don’t start out with cans of surströmming, a fermented herring. The museum director informed Fan that these fish have induced more vomiting than any other item at the museum.”
If cookies go a few weeks without getting eaten, they turn weirdly soft or dissolve into fine dust. If cookies go 1,300 years without getting eaten, they get carefully preserved in a case at the British Museum.
In the winter of 1915, the British-Hungarian archeologist Marc Aurel Stein opened a tomb in Xinjiang. Known as the Astana cemetery, these gravesites were where residents of the nearby oasis city of Gaochang buried their dead, roughly between the 3rd and 9th centuries. As the membrane between Central Asia and China, and the path to the Middle East, Xinjiang has been fought over for centuries (a fight that continues today, as China uses an iron fist to control it as an autonomous province). Gaochang, meanwhile, lies in ruins. But the Astana cemetery, with more than a thousand tombs preserved in the dry heat of the Turpan Basin, tells the story of the once-prosperous ancient city.
The Astana cemetery shows how Gaochang was once a prominent stop on the Silk Road, especially for Sogdians, a people from Eastern Iran who often traveled across Eurasia as merchants. Opening the tombs, Stein found heaps of evidence pointing to Gaochang’s role as a place of “trade exchange between West Asia and China.” Though the vast majority of the dead at Astana were Han Chinese, Stein saw corpses with Byzantine coins in their mouths and Persian textiles included as grave goods.
But inside one tomb, Stein found neither of these things. Grave robbers had emptied it of everything, “except [for] a large number of remarkably preserved fancy pastry scattered over the platform meant to accommodate the coffin with the dead,” he recalled later. Stein was taken aback by the beauty of the cookies and their wide variety of shapes—flat wafers with elaborate designs, delicate, lace-like cookies, and “flower-shaped tartlets … with neatly made petal borders, some retaining traces of jam or some similar substance placed in the [center].” In the arid earth of the cemetery, the sweets managed to survive to modern day.
Today, the pastries are owned by the British Museum, as part of what Stein described as his “haul” of artifacts sent back to the United Kingdom. During his expeditions, Stein also helped himself to priceless cultural objects, such as the first-known printed book. Stein’s plundering of the Diamond Sutra caused vociferous protests in China. In 1961, the National Library of China released a statement saying that Stein’s book theft was enough to cause “people to gnash their teeth in bitter hatred.” The cookies, in comparison, are regarded more as curiosities. A 1925 article in The Times of Mumbai, describing an exhibition of Aurel Stein’s finds in New Delhi, noted how “the most remarkable of all the objects are the actual pastries deposited with the dead as food objects,” with the author writing that they closely resembled “the ‘fancies’ of a modern confectioner’s shop window.”
Archaeologists in Pompeii, the city buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, have made the extraordinary find of a frescoed hot food and drinks shop that served up the ancient equivalent of street food to Roman passersby.
Known as a termopolium, Latin for hot drinks counter, the shop was discovered in the archaeological park’s Regio V site, which is not yet open the public, and unveiled on Saturday.
Traces of nearly 2,000-year-old food were found in some of the deep terra cotta jars containing hot food which the shop keeper lowered into a counter with circular holes.
The front of the counter was decorated with brightly coloured frescoes, some depicting animals that were part of the ingredients in the food sold, such as a chicken and two ducks hanging upside down.
“This is an extraordinary find. It’s the first time we are excavating an entire termopolium,” said Massimo Ossana, director of the Pompeii archaeological park.
Archaeologists also found a decorated bronze drinking bowl known as a patera, ceramic jars used for cooking stews and soups, wine flasks and amphora.