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July 19, 2014

Dining Al Fresco: Scott Hallsworth

Ahead of His Stint at Wilderness Festival, the Kurobuta Chef on Barbecuing to Stay Cool

I’ll barbecue in any weather; I’ve even done it in the Alps in winter. It’s probably to do with my upbringing because I’m from Western Australia where we had to barbecue a lot. I say ‘had to’ because I grew up in a little town that got stinking hot in summer, and our house had no air con. We only had a really old-fashioned combustion stove, which meant we had to build a fire to cook. If you wanted a hot dinner and the stove was lit, no one could bear to be inside; honestly, the house turned into a sauna. So instead, mum would prep a salad out of something growing in the garden, and we’d sit outside and light the barbecue. It was a bit more caveman than I’d like, but it was a case of do or die.

My Wilderness Festival menu is made up of dishes that started off as ideas and have evolved over time. I thought they’d be good ones to use for the festival because I’ve done food in so many weird locations around the world, and I think it’s a very cool thing to bring Japanese cuisine, or my version of it, to that kind of setting. For Wilderness, it’s really all down to the preparation: we’ll do all the hard work back at the restaurant, like the slow cooking and the marinating, so that when it comes to serving, it’ll just be a matter of doing a couple of bits and pieces, and bang, it’s gone.

The chef's Wilderness menu

Roasted scallops with yuzu truffle egg sauce and yuzu tobiko
BBQ pork belly in steamed buns with spicy peanut soy
Nasu dengaku sticky miso grilled aubergine with candied walnuts
Black pepper soft shell crab tempura
Flamed edamame with sake, lemon, butter and maldon salt
Yellowtail sashimi with kizami wasabi salsa and yuzu soy

Scott Hallsworth will be at the Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire, UK, on Friday August 8.

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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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Mogg & Melzer: Berlin’s Best Deli

Stilettos Meet Matzoh in Maxime Ballesteros’ Provocative Shoot

A black-clad model sprawls out over the minimal décor of Berlins Jüdische Mädchenschule, a former Jewish school for girls, in this unorthodox, fashion-infused celebration by French photographer Maxime Ballesteros, just in time for Hanukkah. Behind the Mädchenschules large and looming façade hides a center of fine art and finer dining in the German capitals creative Mitte district, counting among its tenants contemporary galleries like Michael Fuchs and Eigen + Art Lab, as well as the elegant, Weimar era-inspired restaurant Pauly Saal, opened by the unstoppable team behind Berlin’s “it” restaurant, Grill Royal. Mogg & Melzer adds more casual grazing to the mix, bringing New York-style pastrami and brisket—often tragically hard to find in Western Europe—back to their continent of origin. Having graced the pages of i-D, Purple, Monocle and Sleek with his late-night shots of Berlin's art and fashion underbelly, here Ballesteros turns his candid, fetishistic approach towards the classics such as Matzo ball soup and pastrami reuben, in addition to modern takes on Hokkaido pumpkin with wild herbs and North African shakshuka. Meanwhile, his disembodied, stiletto-strapped subject teases the delectable spread into an object of desire. “The idea was to make the food inaccessible,” he says. “When you want something but can't have it, you want it more.”

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