The best food writing knows not to take itself too seriously. Calvin Trillin is amazing precisely because he understands that his various food obsessions are just that: personal enthusiasms for food that others may not enjoy as much as he does. He knows and cares a great deal about food, but wears this expertise and enthusiasm lightly.
It’s with great sadness, then, that I must include Michael Pollan, one of my food heroes, in this series. He has written many sane, sensible things about food. But the following is neither sane nor sensible. It’s from an astonishingly humourless article published in the New York Times titled ‘The 36-Hour Dinner Party‘, in which Pollan describes a series of meals cooked in a wood-fired oven kept blazing over a day and a half. It is a pompous and self-important piece of writing: you’d be forgiven for thinking it was about a religious experience.
8:30 a.m. The core group reassembles in the backyard for breakfast. Mike has coaxed the fire in the oven back to life. I’m starting to think of the fire as a creature with its own moods and appetites; now it needs to be fed. Chad has kindled a second fire in the pit and is toasting slices of yesterday’s bread. Melissa, meanwhile, has prepped an unexpectedly intricate yet goat-free breakfast: in individual clay pots, she arranged sautéed porcini on a bed of blanched amaranth greens picked from Mike’s garden. Over that, she cracked an egg and drizzled some cream. The pots go into the oven for several minutes, and when they come out she gives each a dollop of green-tomato chutney and dusts them with dukkah, an Egyptian spice-and-nut blend. … One of the best bites of the weekend, if not of all time, is of a slice of Chad’s toast spread with Mike’s cheese and Jenny’s apricot jam and then liberally sprinkled with dukkah. It takes a village to make some toast, apparently, but this is one sublime piece of toast.
9:38 a.m. We’re still at the breakfast table when Mike starts pouring glasses of Vouvray to mark the 24 hours that have passed since we lighted the fire. By now, having shared so much eating and drinking and cooking, everyone feels comfortable enough not to have to talk; we’ve all entered the same psychological space.