To honor the great Los Angeles Festival Of Books starting this Saturday at UCLA, we thought we’d take a sample of writers and artisans that are speaking there and delve into their food memories:
Joyce Carol Oates
Undoubtedly one of the stars of the Festival this weekend is Joyce Carol Oates, who’s very name is foody (she’s also recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Award and she has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize). Oates, best known for her novels including A Garden of Earthly Delights, The Falls and them has a complex relationship to food, telling The Paris Review that she will not eat a bite of anything until she’s finished her writing for the day:
“Sometimes the writing goes so smoothly that I don’t take a break for many hours—and consequently have breakfast at two or three in the afternoon on good days.”
Oates has developed in her poems and novels a depiction of food in America that amounts to a superb and loving critique of American values. There’s a dark humor to this, for example when Oates imagines people amazed that they have become what they eat::
our thighs are enormous whitely-soft loaves of bread
“Why has this happened”
“What evil has been perpetrated upon us”
“will no one have mercy”
Our skin is waffle-pocked
our fingers plump as breakfast sausage
And in the late 1970’s Oates explored the dead calm of a suburban marriage – in her poem Women Whose Lives Are Food, Men Whose Lives Are Money:
Women whose lives are food
breaking eggs with care
scraping garbage from the plates
unpacking groceries hand over hand
Women whose lives are food
because they are not punch-carded
because they are unclocked
sighing glad to be alone
staring into the yard, mid-morning
by mid-afternoon everything is forgotten
We’ll come back in a bit to Joyce Carol Oates’ food memories in Lockwood, New Jersey, but let’s meet some of the other writers speaking at the Book Festival this weekend. Meet Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer at The New Yorker since 1996 and best-selling author of The Tipping Point and Outliers.
Gladwell’s just published a collection of his articles over the years, and one of his first and favorites was about the inventor-salesman Ron Popeil. Gladwell reminisced fondly about hanging
‘in Ron Popeil’s kitchen, while he made me pasta in his pastamaker and chicken in his rotisserie oven and showed me how to use his hair spray—GLH. That was one of the most hilarious and fascinating afternoons of my life…”
Ron Pepeil’s Rotisserie
And here for the New Yorker is Gladwell on why mustards now come in multiple varieties but ketchup doesn’t, discussing the ‘amplitude’ and ‘bloom’ of ketchups along the way,with this choice quote from a super-nerd food taster he interviewed:
“The difference between high and low amplitude in a ketchup is the difference between my son and a great pianist playing ‘Ode to Joy’ on the piano. They are playing the same notes, but they blend better with the great pianist.”
There are going to be a bouquet of food writers at the Fair as well, of course, like Hans Rockenwagner (a real rock opera of a name, that, Rockenwagner’s been described as ‘German engineering applied to modern farm-to-table cuisine’).
Rockenwagner now has 3 restaurants in LA: 3 Square, Cafe Röckenwagner, Rockenwagner Bakery Cafe as well as a commercial bakery in Culver City. He is talking at the Fair about his cookbook, Das Cookbook. Here’s LA Weekly about the book – which includes his great Herbed Gravlax recipe, by the way.
Another chef turned writer is Roy Choi, the godfather of the food truck movement, with his Kogi trucks. Choi is chef/owner of Chego!, A-Frame, Sunny Spot and POT at the Line Hotel and was named Food and Wine magazine’s best new chef in 2010. He is also an author, of L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food.
Writing about the difference between his mom’s kitchen and those of his friends in the gated Orange County community of Villa Park, Choi says:
“Our house smelled like kimchi and sour soybean paste, not potpourri and potatoes. And that was okay by me: sometimes no matter how exciting a new trip can be, all you want to do is get back home, curl up with your own pillow, and sink into its comforting, familiar reality. Even if that reality consists of salted aged fish eggs and grilled pig intestines.”
Find out more thanks to the LA Times here.
Jonathan Gold the LA Times’ food writer is having a discussion at the Festival about the Los Angeles Food Movement with three artisan-writers.
Valerie Gordon and partner Stan Weightman
There’s Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections in Silverlake and the Grand Central Market- she’s brought some of her delicious sweets into print with her new book Sweet, featuring amazing desserts such as truffles, or from Los Angeles’s lost restaurants such as Chasen’s and the Brown Derby.
This wonderful book explores how Yucatecos prepare everything from empanadas de cazon (fish turnovers) to bistec de vuelta y vuelta (Yucatán-style steak):
Our cookbook challenges the popular notion of what Mexican food is. It goes beyond burritos, nachos, enchiladas, etcetera, etcetera. By exposing people to the regional cuisine of Yucatán, they learn that Mexico’s gastronomy is diverse and rich. And specific to the Yucatán, when they learn about the Mayan, Lebanese, Spanish and Dutch influences in its cuisine, they learn that a region is defined by its history, geography and much more…
AS LA Weekly put it, you can have a really nice time at Christine Moore’s Little Flower Candy Co. cafe and restaurant in Pasadena (now also Lincoln restaurant in northern Pasadena): ‘Have a coffee and a pastry. Or a glass of wine and crusty bread and cheese. Or duck confit, yuzu chicken salad, gravlax, huevos rancheros, Niçoise salad or a warm bulgur breakfast salad. Or a few pounds of caramels more…” Maybe do all of that whilst reading Little Flower, Moore’s tasty cookbook.
Cocks Cooks these
Heather Cocks is also at the Festival, folks! Cocks and coauthor Jessica Morgan are the creators of the Internet’s wittiest celebrity fashion blog, GoFugYourself.com. They’re the authors of the young adult fiction novels Spoiled and Messy, as well as a new contemporary fiction novel called The Royal We.
Cocks spoke to blog Sweet Potato Chronicles years ago about cooking and eating as a young mother and about her food memories, and these were wonderful in scope and variety:
memories of mom cutting my bologna into shapes for me; of going to my sister’s softball games and getting a Dinosaur Egg jawbreaker; of going to a divey place afterward to get the same delicious grilled cheese sandwich; and of course, of our family birthday tradition, chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.
We have a ton of food traditions. Our special-occasion recipe for mashed potatoes, we got from a friend when I was maybe ten years old and we still make it; ditto a chocolate kahlua cake recipe that came to us when I was fourteen, which has become kind of my signature dessert, along with these ruthless caramel brownies called Utterly Deadlies.
My dad and I used to make mincemeat pies every Christmas season for desserts, and I still do it even though I am the only one who likes them. We always did bangers and mash and caramelized onions for Christmas Eve, and I carried that into my marriage, along with barbecuing the Thanksgiving (and Christmas) turkey on the charcoal Weber. In fact my dad was the center of a lot of our traditions because he loved cooking so much, although my mother’s spinach dip must get some props here too.
We’ll leave you with another snippet from Joyce Carol Oates. Here she is reminiscing about being a kid in Lockport in upstate NY:
The consequence of so much unsupervised freedom was that I seem to have become precociously independent. For not only did I take the Greyhound bus into Lockport but from the bus station I walked to school; while at John E. Pound Elementary, I even walked downtown at noon, to have lunch in a restaurant on Main Street, alone. (How strange this is—wasn’t there a cafeteria in the school? Couldn’t I have brought a lunch packed by my mother, as I’d brought lunches in a “lunch pail” to the one-room schoolhouse?) Though I rarely eat in any restaurant alone as an adult, if I can avoid it, I loved these early restaurant excursions; there was a particular pleasure in looking at a menu, and ordering my own food. If any waitress thought it was peculiar that a girl so young was eating alone in a restaurant, it wasn’t brought to my attention.
See you at the LA Festival Of Books!