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July 26, 2014

Dining Al Fresco: Le Fooding

Chefs Ludo Lefebvre and Christina Tosi Revel in a Nostalgic Afternoon Picnic on Rockaway Beach

“In Burgundy, where I’m from, we were very close to nature; we used to eat sandwiches and salads prepared by my grandmother under the trees,” says tattooed master chef Ludo Lefebvre, joining a roster of rotating culinary wizards at Le Fooding’s annual New York bash on Rockaway Beach’s boardwalk. “And when we went hunting we had picnics in the cabin with cassoulet, pâtés and ratatouille.” A playful and sunny affair just steps away from the ocean, the three-day series saw guests dine at brightly painted communal tables to the sounds Jonah Bechtolt and Claire Evans of Yacht on the decks. While Lefebvre prepared veal breast with an airy parmesan cream, dried olives and artichokes, and bonito tuna, urging everyone to “eat with your hands,” the food-happy crowd also lined up for Andrew Field’s cornmeal crostini sopes with grilled fish, crema and guacamole, in the style of his legendary Rockaway Tacos just a few blocks away. “Whenever you’re on a beach, near the sand, it sparks up childhood memories,” says Field, a central figure in the beach’s post-Sandy reconstruction. “Rockaway also reminds me of the New York I grew up in––the community spirit, the multiculturalism.” As for Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi, she dreamt up milk-and-cereal and sour cream-grapefruit-lime popsicles, which everyone happily licked while dancing to the sounds of the New York Brass Band. The inspiration came from memories of bright summer days with her family. “I grew up in Virginia and we’d always hang out in the backyard and eat very fresh, light, effervescent dishes.”

Chef Ludo Lefebvre's Ultimate Picnic Playlist

The Clash – “The Magnificent Seven”
New Order – “Blue Monday”
Pixies – “Hey”
Stromae – “Moules Frites”
NTM – “La Fièvre”
Téléphone – “Un Autre Monde”
The Velvet Underground & Nico – “Heroin”

Check out Dining Al Fresco at Petersham Nurseries and Kurobuta.

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Spotlight

Saltimporten

A New Canteen Emerges In the Abandoned Warehouses of the Malmö Harbor

A raw warehouse interior and a beaten up metal sign that reads "Lunch" provide the industrial, no-frills backdrop to Saltimporten Canteen, the hottest midday meal spot on the New Nordic Cuisine circuit. Opening for just two hours a day in an inconspicuous garage in the docklands of Malmö, the lunch outlet has consistently attracted diners willing to make the pilgrimage over the 8km-long Öresund Bridge from nearby Copenhagen, attracted by simple, local fare like hearty stews served with fresh bread or oven-cooked salmon with ramps, spinach and romaine lettuce—always accompanied by a vegetarian option. Since leaving their acclaimed restaurant Trio in 2011 and rolling up the canteen's metal door, young chefs Ola Rudin and Sebastian Persson have fed the harbor neighborhood's budding creative scene, which in recent years has blossomed into a waterside cultural destination with art galleries like Loyal setting up shop in the same converted salt importing warehouse for which the canteen is named. Born and raised in the suburbs of southern Sweden, Rudin and Persson site the ingredients and cooking techniques of their home country as primary influences on their cuisine, and always cook with the seasons, so in the coming months visitors to Malmö's chic shipyards can look forward to digging into wild summer berries, herbs, and fish straight from the nearby North Sea.

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Spotlight

Dinner Musings

Acclaimed Author and Critic Stephen Bayley Hails the Sophistication of No-Frills Eating

As 2013 kicks off a proliferation of new gastronomic trends, the question is not simply where to dine, but how to dine—and British design critic and cultural commentator Stephen Bayley responds with a personal morsel of culinary philosophy written exclusively for NOWNESS. One of the UK’s most authoritative voices on contemporary aesthetics, Bayley is a Contributing Editor at GQ and has authored more than a dozen books including Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Sex: A Cultural History, A Dictionary of Idiocy, and his latest release, Ugly: The Aesthetics Of Everything. As a food-and-wine enthusiast he also appears regularly in Vanity Fair, The Financial Times, and The Daily Telegraph. His thoughts on the future of dining are here accompanied by an illustration courtesy of Toronto-based Frank Viva, who regularly drafts covers for The New Yorker:

Dinner Musings:

“Restaurant” is an idea whose time has gone. But it has had a good run since the concept of serving food to complete strangers emerged just after the French Revolution, when chefs dispossessed of their roles in country houses looked for work in Paris. Only people with severe psychological problems nowadays want fawning service by paramilitary regiments of liveried flunkies and all the preposterous cloche-lifting and crumb-sweeping and bowing and scraping that go with it.

The more sophisticated you are, the less likely you are to want the faux-sophistication of a traditional restaurant. You will prefer a dive, a burger stand, a bodega, a bacaro, a cervezeria or a winkle stall. Obviously, no one wants to eat filth, but style and success in the matter of eating out are matters of social competition and cultural modeling, not gastronomy or nutrition.

Thus, Russell Norman’s Polpo formula is exactly right for the tenor of the times. The Beak Street, London, HQ has been roaring since it opened three years ago. The food is cleverly conceived, but, to be honest, a bit erratic in its execution. Service is charming, but hopeless. And I always go back. That Russell Norman came from a family involved in architectural salvage and once taught drama are significant. The Polpo interior is high-concept crud, but achieves an intimate theatricality, which is endlessly attractive. It doesn’t feel like a laboratory. It feels like a party.

And no one except insiders knows who cooks at Polpo. This is exceptionally clever because the suggestion, quite correctly, is that the restaurant as a whole is much more important than the sun-dried ego of the annoying big-head chef. If Polpo’s chef walks, who’s to care? The menu is a reliable formula, which any semi-competent could replicate. It’s the ordinary thing extraordinarily well done.

This is what I want to see more of this year: the higher ordinariness. Less fuss. In food as in all things, simple is not the same as commonplace.

As the novel and biographies tend to decline, so travel and cookbooks are in ascent. There’s a fundamental link between the two genres. At a silly level, people buy books about places they never intend to visit (I recently bought a 50s classic about eastern Afghanistan) and books about food they never intend to cook (I have one example of preposterous French ambition with a recipe calling for five liters of veal stock and two of single cream).

But, more interestingly, food and travel, especially food and travel literature, are about journeys. Real or conceptual, it doesn’t matter. As Picasso said, if it can be imagined, it’s real.

So it is with restaurants. Eating out is an invitation to a voyage. You don’t get fed, you get transported. I only ever eat the cooking of places I want to visit. I only drink wine made in places I want to be. Yes, of course, I know about the excellent wines coming out of New Zealand. But I want to pull the cork on a dark red fantasy about a sun-baked cabanon in the Minervois with Laetitia Casta expected for lunch. I don’t want to unscrew the top and release a Sauvignon Blanc nightmare about sheep-farmers in knee socks, creaking Land Rovers and bungalows.

On the small Soho street where I have my office I can go to a Seville bodega, a US Interstate Diner, a noodle shop resembling the canteen of Nanking Technical University, a New Zealand dive bar and a barbecue pit that would look at home in West Texas. Never mind what you actually eat and drink, these premises are mind-altering substances.

Yes, this sort of architectural fantasy threatens to become kitsch, but if kitsch involves appropriation, collages, quotations, reflections, echoes, pastiche, fakery, charlatanism and ventriloquism, then kitsch is very interesting.  In this interpretation, Venice, Paris, London and Rome are kitsch. Turns out, it suits me very well.

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