Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Culinary Quests



















In conjunction with The New Yorker’s launch of its new Food & Travel Issue this week, the magazine’s online Archive spotlights eight classic New Yorker “culinary journey” pieces: Susan Orlean’s "The Homesick Restaurant" (January 15, 1996); Calvin Trillin’s "Where's Chang?" (March 1, 2010); Adam Gopnik’s "Sweet Revolution" (January 3, 2011); Elif Batuman’s "The Memory Kitchen" (April 9, 2010); Bill Buford’s "Extreme Chocolate" (October 29, 2007); Kelefa Sanneh’s "Sacred Grounds" (November 21, 2011); Jane Kramer’s "Spice Routes" (September 3, 2007); and Dana Goodyear’s "The Missionary" (January 30, 2012).

I relish “culinary journey” writing, particularly a subcategory I call “culinary quests,” in which the writer searches for, say, the perfect pumpernickel bagel (Calvin Trillin’s "The Magic Bagel," March 20, 2000), or a golden-brown Baumkuchen baked the traditional way (Mimi Sheraton’s "Spit Cake," November 23, 2009). My favorite New Yorker “culinary quest” piece is Molly O’Neill’s wonderful "Home For Dinner" (July 23, 2001), a “Letter From Cambodia,” in which O’Neill superbly describes Le Cirque chef Sottha Khunn’s return to his hometown, Siem Reap, to learn how to make the one quintessential Cambodian dish – “sea bass steamed over a broth of lemongrass and galangal (a gingerlike root), thickened with butter and enlivened with chopped tomatoes, chives, and basil” – that has always frustrated him (“He worked and reworked the dish, and it earned him critical praise, but he felt that some minute calibration between sweet and sour continued to elude him. ‘Not yet the perfect balance, the sensation that lets the customer taste the world as I taste it,’ he said”).

“Home For Dinner” ’s tagline (“A leading chef tries to reconcile himself to the past with one perfect meal”) neatly captures the story’s essence. If you enjoy culinary quests, as I do, you’ll likely devour Molly O’Neill’s great “Home For Dinner.”

Credit: The above photo by Hans Gissinger is from Mimi Sheraton’s "Spit Cake" (The New Yorker, November 23, 2009).

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