Archive

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tim Wendelboe.

I have only heard legends of him. Supposedly the best Nordic roaster. Owner of supposedly one of the best Nordic coffee houses. Supplier of coffee to Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant heralded as the best in the world.

Sadly enough, there is no way I can take part of this legend, as I have not yet tried any of Tim Wendelboe’s coffees. Alas, the perils of international shipping! But I have no doubt that the man, and his beans, will live to fulfill – and outdo – the hype. If someone would just send me a bag of his goodies, I would gladly indulge in documenting this as a matter of fact. Only if.

In the meantime, Mr. Wendelboe has been busy shooting a 14-video series for “home baristas,” as reported by Daily Coffee News. The series, produced and hosted by the Norwegian news agency Aftenposten, covers everything from brewing equipment to farming and processing in Colombia. A sneak preview of the series, which begins on February 28, is available here. The only problem is that the series will be in Norwegian. If someone would be kind enough to provide closed-captioning, the world would be a much warmer place.

For those that are not familiar with Mr. Wendelboe and his coffee house, here is a short video from Monocle that will make you want to book that next flight to Oslo.

Advertisements

In an era in which everyone and their grandma seems to be opening up ramen shops around every corner, an American chef dedicated to the precision, the art, and the slurpiness of the ramen is a breath of fresh air.

Ivan Orkin took a chance in Tokyo.

Originally from Long Island, Orkin packed his bags and landed in the Far East to master the art of ramen from its motherland. And remarkably for a ‘gaijin’ foreigner, he became a culinary marvel after opening two successful ramen joints in Tokyo.

Now Orkin is back in New York.

Momofuku’s Lucky Peach magazine first introduced Orkin’s return to the West. Re-assimilating to Manhattan was not an easy task.

“I had terrible culture shock when I came back to New York two years ago. During my 30-year relationship with Japan, I had spent a long time learning how to do things a certain way.”

But Orkin embraces his new brothy challenge.

“As a white guy from New York opening a shop in the heart of ramen land, I dealt with some pretty hard customers. But New York’s the same—there I’m still a white guy making ramen trying to convince people that I can cook noodles.”

In this short film, director Jake Sumner captures Orkin’s New York comeback, the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop at Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen. Not all bowls of ramen are created equal, and Orkin knows that. He breathes that truth. A fresh gust from the East is about to blow through New York, and one only hopes Orkin’s ramen truth overflows to DC and elsewhere in a hurry.

Enjoy.

The Eight Chapters of Ramen on Nowness.com

The “Soup Nazi” was probably not an unfamiliar site in many developing nations in the last century, minus Manhattan. A big cauldron filled with odd bits of animal parts, radishes, cabbages, and the most basic of seasonings, boiling away for hours upon hours, to be replenished at intervals with stock and more cabbages, until all the marrow escapes the carcass and into the soup.

While many forms of soup have now become “exotic” must-haves or hangover cures for Sunday mornings, soup, at its inception, was the lifeblood of the working poor.

Therein lies the true beauty of soup.

“All my life one of my greatest desires has been to travel-to see and touch unknown countries, to swim in unknown seas, to circle the globe, observing new lands, seas, people, and ideas with insatiable appetite, to see everything for the first time and for the last time, casting a slow, prolonged glance, then to close my eyes and feel the riches deposit themselves inside me calmly or stormily according to their pleasure, until time passes them at last through its fine sieve, straining the quintessence out of all the joys and sorrows.” Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

I love Nikos Kazantzakis, not only for his fictional work (such as Zorba the Greek), but also for his travelogues. As if his eyes photo-captured every lasting detail, Kazantzakis masterfully portrays the vast layers of his destinations – its people, scenery, architecture, scent, and food.

What made him an “expert” traveler  (and even more gifted travel writer) was not merely his in-depth depictions and artful prose. What made him great was his willingness – and yearning – to get out the comfort of a car and walk the streets, smell the meat market, and chat with locals about anything and everything.

Peking in the early 1900s was no easy place to travel.

“On a cool square a multitude sits cross-legged. In the center, a girl, slender, with disheveled hair, holds the large scissors which she opens and closes continually while she sings and dances slowly. A harsh voice, a hyena howl, an incomprehensible harmony. An old woman sprawled on the ground, stooping, bald, plays a strange elongated lute. Nearby, an old man with glasses and sparse gray beard and two or three thick hairs on his upper lip is sitting on a stone reading a religious book. As he fans himself, his body from the waist up moves rhythmically with his monotonous voice in a lamenting lullaby. And all around, women listen to him, gaping, with bleary eyes plagued by flies. Sweltering heat. And across at the butcher shop the butcher hangs his jacket over a loin of beef.

Two-wheeled carriages drawn by the coolies who run, panting. The sidewalks are covered with goods – old eggs preserved in lime, innumerable pickled vegetables, sour fruit. And next to them, the fairy-tale shops that sell silk lanterns, ivory fans, precious green gems and transparent porcelains with light drawings.” Nikos Kazantzakis, Japan China

The wonderment of this passage is that Kazantzakis’ description of “food” is inseparable from its surroundings. The loin of beef, eggs preserved in lime, pickled vegetables, and sour fruit are almost painted in black and white with limited verbiage, while the old woman, old man, and coolies are written in splashes of color.

And yet I feel as if I could taste the pickled vegetables. The eggs are right there, within reach of my grasp. My mouth already waters from the colorful fruit sprawled about on mats in this busy marketplace. Not from the words used to describe them, but from the accurate and lively depiction of that hot summer day in 1935.

So what, then, is the true beauty of soup?

The true beauty of soup is that, for many of them, it simply cannot be recreated from a “recipe.” A recipe is only useful for one purpose: to bring about a taste portfolio intended to be drawn out by its author. So if a recipe fulfills its purpose successfully, a cook will no doubt recreate the “flavors” of a soup, maybe even better than its original intentions.

But what a recipe does not contain are the blood-soaked wars, ravenous famines, and suppressive dictatorships from which these soups were conceived.

Take “gamjatang” for instance (first photo above).

An exquisite Korean delicacy, this stew is made from pork spine, rehydrated Napa cabbage leaves, and peeled potatoes. The soup – a culmination of pork marrow, dwenjang, garlic, and hours and hours of boiling – is simply divine. It is not a taste one can create easily in haste, and in my gastronomic experience thus far, there is not a single Korean restaurant in the U.S. that is worthy to be called a true gamjatang joint.

While it is something I eagerly scavenge for these days, gamjatang was born out of utter poverty. Pork spine (and other odd bits of animals) was cheap and easy to get, and potatoes (“gamja”) were the staple for the poor. Napa cabbage leaves from last year’s harvest were hung to dry in the autumn wind, to be rehydrated during the winter. So during the crude winter months, when good eating meant nothing more than bowls of barley, folks would throw these together in huge pots with dwenjang and boil away. And voila, gamjatang (literally means “potato soup”).

Many soups were born out of necessity – the necessity to eat, the unavailability of ingredients, the compulsion to multiply quantitatively. More from less.

Soup is beautiful because it’s a story in a bowl. It’s not just maddeningly flavorful broth you are slurping, but also heritage and history. Food, and soup in particular, cannot be accurately depicted without its cultural context. As many of you would agree, a bowl of pho one had a few Friday nights ago somewhere in American suburbia is nowhere near the same thing as a bowl of pho one had squatting on a bright red plastic stool on a street corner in Hanoi.

As the saying goes, you had to be there.

Especially for soup.

 

I came upon a delicious clip about coffee, by pure chance.

“A Film About Coffee” is a feature-length documentary that follows coffee production and consumption, from harvests in Rwanda to coffee farms in Honduras.

“No matter the quality of your cup, people who love coffee, love it. Coffee is about people, and people are what I’m interested in ultimately.” Brandon Loper, Director

Brandon Loper’s work (see his portfolio here) is more than impressive. Born and raised in Alabama, Mr. Loper has worked in San Francisco for the past seven years, mostly in short films and advertising. I would sum his work as “honest” and “direct,” a powerful storyteller who guides you through the jungles at root-level.

“A Film About Coffee,” due out sometime early this year, is Mr. Loper’s first feature film. If you would like to sign up to receive more information on the film’s release date, and learn more about this project, visit the official site here.

Truly, no matter how you see it, coffee is about people. While there are many coffee videos out there, I am looking forward to see how this feature film will shed new light unto our old, beloved beverage.

Enjoy the teaser from a “film about people.” Coffee people.

 

%d bloggers like this: