"...talking about food, did you hear about..?"
To me, that sentence could lead to anything!
TALKING ABOUT FOOD is a project that begun in November 2014.
This is a project about the conversations and thoughts that food, wine and the location of London brings. Read below for more details, or here for the project!
This is a food project of sorts. It is part of a journey that began in earnest a few years ago, but has consolidated itself in the last few months. Gathering around a table for a meal with friends and family, we talk about life, politics, personal confessions... and so I think food and wine is a great way to talk about wider things. And that's what I'm trying to do here; as well as talk about amazing food and delicious wine of course!
This journey will span a year, it will look at life and food, in and around London. I will look at London through the eyes of a foodie, through the four seasons, through the eyes of an average young(ish) Londoner, and reflect a little on the society we live in.
Food has always been a focus in my life, and during my PhD I began to understand that it was a huge part of my identity. My relationship to food, one of glory and excitement and the embodiment of home, articulated itself through my academic research.
A few months ago I began working on a project with chef Dan Doherty called Chefs of Tomorrow. I came on board to help organise the events, to manage the logistics side of things. But, in my abundance of excitement, in Dan's hugely creative mind and generous attitude to new ideas, we began creating something more than monthly dinners for 30 people. I have a lot of events management experience, but I am an arts producer, a lover of food, and have worked in the hospitality industry for over 15 years, therefore this project has become much more personal and a passion - and most importantly, has really honed my thinking around food and the industry.
And so, I guess that is why this project is beginning now - the coinciding of my PhD graduation (July 2014) and Chefs of Tomorrow. This is somewhat of an experiment and it is about looking at the culinary and hospitality industry as both an insider (CoT project, my past work experience) and as an outsider and consumer. It is about how I relate to food and how food relates to my identity and the way I view the world. As I live in London, London is also a main character in this conversation.
And, I think this has coincided with a particular time in London. It has been almost seven years since Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and London has got it's seven year itch! People are beginning to find their feet again, but the City is waking up to a different type of public. May 2015 will see the next general elections - where it feels like anything is up for grabs. Change is in the air, there is a sense of optimism set against a dark feeling of world politics.
I feel like 2014 was an interesting year for food, for hospitality and for the consumer in general (to really understand food and eating out we must first think about it within the context of the consumer - then we can look at it in the context of society, community and our own identity and belonging). I saw fewer places having 'house wine' on their list, instead listing a number of reasonably priced options, which suggests the public are more wine savvy. Food markets are the place du jour on a Saturday afternoon. And 2014 felt like the year that neighbourhood restaurants began to make their mark.
The neighbourhood restaurant is nothing new, but by the end of 2014 it felt like they had truly embedded themselves into the collective consciousness of the eating public. Maybe it's to do with twitter, maybe it's been to do with the 2007/8 financial crisis, but people are looking at eating well, in a much broader way.
But with all this positivity, this is still London - rentals are high, the public are fickle, and opening a restaurant is a labour of love that no one knows if it will work, and when it does, why.
In 2007 Bloomberg ran a story that showed one on four restaurants closed within the first year of opening - this was based on research from the states, but I would say the levels are similar here (I can't find any more recent stats). This journey is taking me to new openings, old haunts and my favourite spots. My hope is of course that all these places will be open when I have finished, and that we can see what and how the London and the restaurant world changes over this period of time.
A BIT ABOUT ME...
Now a little bit of context to me. My background is in dance and performance art, and I have a theatre company called behind the bike shed. I write poetry for performance. My academic/ 'serious' writing is around home, belonging and identity – particularly around race and gender. My doctorate asked questions around how identity changes when space and location changes. I explored this through looking at the performance practices of Iban women, and mapped this on to stories of migrant women performers. Dance, storytelling and food embodied these concepts of changing identities - I told stories and cooked Malaysian food on stage (my website for more details - www.annamasing.com).
But at Christmas time 2014, I was feeling world weary. The antics of Bono, Bob and Band Aid had pissed me off and I needed a break from ranting about the world we lived in, so decided to rant about food.
Food. Food is fun. Food is at the core of our identity, how we build home and is very much about how we learn to navigate our belonging - it is emotional, visceral and mostly, it is fun.
Disclaimer – as proprietor of Primeur has pointed out to me – I have a common palette. So folks, these posts will be rants from a mildly culinary-educated person, who spends more time enjoying the experience then talking about how a little less cumin and touch more garlic would complete the dish or declare to know the detailed differences between a Californian chardonnay and French chardonnay.
But, I’ve eaten well, I’ve eaten widely and I’ve worked in hospitality for many years. I've been a runner, a bar back, a waitress, a supervisor; I've made complicated cocktails for 30 year old media types in Clerkenwell, I've poured pints in packed city bars to Deloitte boys on Friday nights, I can run a pass with a grumpy chef or two – and even make them smile. I do a great clean down and know how to keep a bar 'fly free' in the middle of summer, when it is closed for two days every week. I have served beautiful food, by award winning chefs. I manage events from intimate dinners of 10 to parties of 450 with bubbles and canapés. Therefore, I’m not a novice to food, wine and service.
Another disclaimer - if these posts sound a bit simpering for your taste, well then you can fuck off, because I enjoy writing about things I like. I like flouncing about with vocabulary. Plus, my mother taught me that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all – so my silences speak volumes.
Each month I will be posting at least one post, hopefully more, about places I've eaten, how they have made me feel. Due to my preoccupation with identity and my experience working in hospitality I will wonder off topic into reflections about the state of the world, of London and it will be expressed through my lens of someone from an arts background - but the food and the restaurants are always what inspire these dalliances into other topics.