Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Magazine Review: The Gourmand

Since the Cookbook Store has closed, I've been looking at less likely places to pick up food magazines. I picked up this periodical at room 2046, near Summerhill subway station. The store has hints of food with their bowls, plates, napkins, cookbooks and food magazines. A design shop that is tight and focused. Like Cibo Matto, food isn't central. In a more pretentious place, this would be called curated due to its relation to art and design but it is more eccentric and deliberate; candle with scents like thyme and lemon and of course, they serve coffee and sweets.

The Gourmand is a magazine that tries to marry this same type of focused eclecticism. The look is somewhere between 70's naturist mags and museum guide book. It says on the spine that it is Issue 3 but inside the editor's not states that it is the fourth issue. Far from being an error, it reminds me of the joke of the person standing in the express line; wondering if the person ahead of them is a math major that can't read or an arts major that can't count. They may be channeling the comics industry where Issue #0 is the origin issue but then that isn't counted as part of the number system.

The strange thing is that in this internet age, you can be a polymath and find all the information you need. This means that a periodical has to bring more to the table than more of the same. Either specialized knowledge or a point of view that no one else has. The general interest mag is dead. Now you have to be a part of a community of interest or geography, or have a unique collection of goods that are put together in an interesting way. Design has become a reason to read.

Due to the eclectic nature, a few bits were impressive to me:

  • photos of pasta
  • Teenage Little Chef - a view into Britannia that I had only seen on Food Television with Heston Blumenthal.
  • Sunday specials about a synaesthete, who experiences sounds as tastes. The interesting bit was that they tried doing it backwards by presenting a dish and asking what sound would give you this taste and photographing the representation of sounds. For me, it is like trying to deconstruct a restaurant dish with a pantry of items with mixed familiarity. The photos generated are oddly cohesive and disjointed.

The strongest two pieces together bring what this mag can be at its best. Driving Light about a roving food truck in Jerusalem and The Living Archive about sourdough as an art installation. Smak Polski a description of the Polish influx into Britain tries to define Eastern European and locate the impact through Lituanica, a Lithuanian wholesale company who imports much of this 'ethnic' food.

There are a number of articles that have been covered elsewhere and I would consider them close to their expiry date. This magasine is written for a British audience and maybe the coverage of these things are more North American but I'm not so sure. These topics include; an article on Milton Glaser, coverage of the ortolan, and Les Blank coverage. With a little more exposition and focus, the last piece could have been a great piece. Maybe part of the issue is with publishing in general where more of the effort of editing has been pushed back onto the writers. Not all writers are good editors or have a good eye on how to make a single article fit into a whole mag.

It is an expensive proposition to buy this publication due to the exchange rate. It provided jumping off points for my own explorations but it was the gentle nudging of wistfulness rather than the spark of ardor. It didn't drive curiosity like a well selected mag would. I will try another issue or two to see if I can understand the accolades and awards but it doesn't offer much for the hardcore connected foodie.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Beerology

Hmm. What background must I give to make the following make sense? Let's start with the fact that I am reviewing Beerology by Mirella Amato. I've been following her on twitter for a while. She is one of 7 Master Cicerones in the world. So, she knows beer and is very dedicated to education and promotion.

In near proximity, I have read Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher and The Complete Beer Course by Joshua Bernstein. I did a review of the Bernstein book here. These cover similar areas and it was helpful to compare and contrast against Mirella's approach.

The stated goal is beer appreciation. The design is quite engaging. Coasters dot the chapter title pages. There are smaller, more concise sections for beer ingredients and process. The pour that is recommended is one of the two classic pours. I've not seen an explanation of the differences between the pours but I bet it's out there on the interwebs. Quick run down.
Pour type 1: Vigorous center pour, stop halfway through for foam to settle then continue. 
Pour type 2: 45 degree angle and pour to middle of the glass, gradually tip and center pour.
The style section is smaller than the other books I have recently read but those differences are big and important. One is the addition of a graphic that splits the characteristics of the brew into four dimensions; ale vs. lager, colour, distinct taste (bitter/sour/sweet), and alcohol. The second is splitting the styles into purposeful adjectives such as refreshing, mellow, striking, captivating and brews beyond. This moves beyond the traditional lists that operate in a variety of ways. Sometimes by beer style or country of origin or light to dark. What is important is that Mirella doesn't recommend her categories as the final say but actively suggests that you learn more.

There is so much to say on styles especially from the point of view of beer geekery. Styles are newish and have somehow come to dominate many discussions on beer judging rather than the taste of the beer. The sense that I get from this book is that taste is probably the most important aspect of the beer. Mirella put together a great post to describe how she figured out the style and beer section. It is a great read and really illustrates the point of style versus taste and the difficulty of using style as a primary description of beer.

My favourite sections are after the style section as she gets into the ideas of food pairing, beer tasting games, and beer cocktails. While she gives some thoughtful advice on how food and beer work together, the caveat of try stuff outside the box lingers. Her framework goes beyond the cut, complement and contrast. It is not so much multidimensional as a list of considerations about everything from intensity and weight to flavour components.

Now, comes the hard questions. Would I buy this book? I'm considering it for a some very good reasons, there are so few beer guides that have Canadian references and this is one. The extra 'u' in many words might be worth it alone. This is a good companion for the big beer guides mentioned above if you want a Canadian context. If you have David Ort's cookbook then this volume works well to present the beginnings of an interesting culinary approach to beer. The third is the graphics compile complex information into a readable, digestible and immediately understandable format. Her styles as graphic representation of bitterness and intensity make it easy to compare styles. If you happen to be a food geek as well, you have probably seen flavour wheels and other tools that help you match against her graphs.

I'm in the midst of doing a trim of my books in food and beer and playing a one in, one out game. When I have finished, this is one book that would be closer to the top.