The New Yorker Food Issue: November 24, 2008

posted on November 17, 2008 at 7:14 am
I just received this preview of the upcoming “Food Issue” of The New Yorker, which hits the stands today. Last year’s issue was great–I actually still have it–and it looks like this year will be equally enjoyable. Here are some of the pieces to look for:

Burkhard Bilger chronicles the rise of craft brewing in the United States and visits Sam Calagione’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, a brewery in southern Delaware that is “something of a mascot for this unruly movement.” Today, there are nearly fifteen hundred craft breweries in the United States, Bilger writes. “In liquor stores and upscale supermarkets, pumpkin ales and chocolate stouts compete for cooler space with wit beers, weiss beers, and imperial Pilsners.” Sam Calagione, now something of a superstar in his field (going to the Great American Beer Festival with him, Bilger writes, “is like attending a Star Trek convention with Captain Kirk”), opened Dogfish in 1995, when he saw “an opportunity to play David to the beer industry’s Goliaths.” Bilger writes that Calagione’s ambitions for Dogfish are somewhat contradictory: “to make beers so potent and unique that they couldn’t be judged by ordinary standards, and to win for them the prestige and premium prices usually reserved for fine wine.” He makes “extreme beer”: more beers with at least ten per cent alcohol than any other brewer, and beers with odd ingredients that are “often drawn from ancient or obscure beer traditions,” producing “everything from elegant Belgian-style ales to experimental beers brewed with fresh oysters or arctic cloudberries.” “Sam is the Adolphus Busch of his generation,” the beer historian Maureen Ogle tells Bilger. Some brewers, such as Garrett Oliver, of Brooklyn Brewery, disagree with Calagione’s aims. “The whole idea of extreme beer is bad for craft brewing,” Oliver says. “It doesn’t expand the tent—it shrinks it.” Calagione responds, “It’s a purist versus populist position.” In making beers inspired by Mayan and Aztec ceremonial drinks, for instance, he says, “We are trying to explore the outer edges of what beer can be.”

Calvin Trillin tests the barbecue at Snow’s, chosen by Texas Monthly in 2008 as the best barbecue restaurant in Texas. Trillin writes that he approached the rankings “the way a regular reader of People might approach that magazine’s annual ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ feature—with the expectation of seeing some familiar names.” He continues, “For the first time, though, a No. 1 had been named, and it was not one of the old familiars.” Evan Smith, the editor of Texas Monthly, tells Trillin that Snow’s ranking was due in part to its compelling backstory: Snow’s proprietor, Kerry Bexley, is a former rodeo clown now working at a coal mine, while his pit master, Tootsie Tomanetz (“Miss Tootsie” to everyone), served barbecue on weekends at her family’s store in Lexington, Texas, for twenty years, and currently works as a custodian at a middle school. “After five years of operating Snow’s, both of them still had their day jobs,” Trillin writes. Snow’s was somewhat overwhelmed by Texas Monthly’s endorsement (they went from serving three hundred pounds of meat on a Saturday to over a thousand pounds), but the proprietors are generally pleased by the honor. “Miss Tootsie gets some recognition now for what she’s actually done all her life,” Bexley says.

Jane Kramer profiles Jeff Alford and Naomi Duguid, the award-winning authors of cookbooks such as “Hot Sour Salty Sweet” and “Beyond the Great Wall,” who, Kramer writes, “have been called culinary anthropologists, but culinary geographers is at least as accurate.” “While their books are undeniably cookbooks,” Kramer writes, “they are also cultural encounters—travel journals, stories, history lessons, and photographic essays that, taken together, explore the imagination and the exigencies that produce a cuisine and, in many ways, define the people who create it.” “We write to travel” is how Duguid describes their life. James Oseland, the editor of Saveur, tells Kramer, “It’s their overriding sense of humanity that sets them apart from the flock. They’re taking the exotic out of the everyday in every sense, not simply the recipe sense. They’re telling you, ‘It’s just the world. The world won’t hurt you. Don’t be scared.’ ”

Fuchsia Dunlop dines at the Dragon Well Manor, a restaurant in Hangzhou, China, whose owner, Dai Jianjun, “has never heard of Chez Panisse or Stone Barns, but . . . is engaged in a similar mission: to guarantee the integrity of his food supplies while shoring up a dying culinary and agricultural heritage.” Dunlop accompanies Dai on trips to forage and meet rural suppliers, and writes, “In an age of industrialization, dire pollution, and frequent food scares, the Dragon Well Manor is committed to offering its guests a kind of prelapsarian Chinese cuisine. Dai assures them that everything he serves will be made from natural ingredients, untainted by pesticides or melamine, and with no added MSG.” When Dai first opened the restaurant, “it was really more of a hobby than a business,” he says. “We began by inviting people we knew to taste a few things, and then they recommended the place to their friends.” Preoccupied with the idea of reviving the dishes known by past generations, Dai closed it a year later for refurbishment. He decided the new menu would be based on historic Chinese recipes and made with “local ingredients prepared according to the theories of Chinese medicine and the solar terms of the old agricultural calendar.” Dai, who is concerned that traditional farming and cooking will not survive another generation, “sees himself as a custodian of traditional skills,” Dunlop writes. “We can only do this on a small scale,” he tells her. “But we must try to sustain our agricultural lore and culinary traditions for future generations.”

Online: Burkhard Bilger discusses beer brewing in a podcast. Audio interviews with photojournalists describing their favorite on-the-job meals, with an accompanying slide show of photographs. Ask the Author invites readers to send questions about food to Calvin Trillin. Selections from the magazine, including Burkhard Bilger’s, Calvin Trillin’s, and Peter J. Boyer’s articles, the Critics, and the Talk of the Town, will be available on

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