Wednesday, March 30, 2011

George Orwell knew something about culinary tourism

Courtesy of the ASFS listserv:

George Orwell: In Defence of English Cooking
"We are not likely to succeed in attracting tourists while England is thought of as a country of bad food and unintelligible by-laws."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Speaking of airport food

Following up on my comments on David Lebovitz's proposals for better food at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, this gets me very, very excited for what travellers can look forward to at the new Terminal 2 of San Francisco airport:

SFO Terminal 2 to include sustainable food

Though I'm a sustainable food advocate, it's not just food for hippies (though, befitting for one's aviation gateway to the land of Haight and Ashbury, no?). Famous household names like Tyler Florence and Cat Cora will have their own culinary outposts, and The Burger Joint and Pinkberry will also have a presence.

Being the foodie that I am, though, I'm most excited about Napa Farms Market, a "5,000-square-foot gourmet food emporium designed by BCV, the firm responsible for the Ferry Building Marketplace." The Ferry Building (and even more impressive, the farmer's market that is held there on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays), is one of the quintessential San Francisco destinations, along with the Golden Gate Bridge and cable car lines.

July-Aug 2008 031
Coming to an airport near you?

In fact, to be honest, though the Ferry Building is beautiful and full of unique foodie finds, it's got a bit of a hoity-toity air on non-farmer's market days. But when the outside area around the Ferry Building gets packed in front and in back with stalls selling amazing veggies, fruits, honey, mushrooms, grilled-to-order grass-fed burgers and sausages, and with everyone handing out generous samples of their goodies... well, words just fail me. You have to see it to believe it.

I'm guessing that even the best attempts at improving airport food will still fall short of that magic, though it sure sounds like they're going to try:
"Napa Farms will be studded with familiar names - Acme Bread, Cowgirl Creamery [both of which also have locations at the Ferry Building], Three Twins Ice Cream - as well as a bounty of seasonal produce from local farms. There will also be "picnic boxes" available for takeout, and Vino Volo will open a Bay Area-focused wine bar."
As a San Francisco native, I am thrilled about the image of the city such food options at the airport will project. That said, I know that this kind of food comes at a cost, and the downside is that the prices will turn people off from "San Francisco" food, and reinforce the idea that good, sustainable food is just a project of the elite. Then again, airport food has always suffered from dubious price-gouging -- at least this time it can come with some local flavor and flair?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Culinary Diplomacy in Jerusalem

From Discovering Secular Jerusalem, writer Daphne Merkin sees some culinary diplomacy potential in the Mahane Yehuda open-air market:

"The smells are enticing, the characters are picturesque, and you come away with a sense that between the eagerness of the multiethnic vendors to cut a deal and the eagerness of the multiethnic shoppers to go home with the freshest wedge of halvah at the best price possible, peace in the Middle East might be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future."

Monday, March 14, 2011

French Culinary Diplomacy Through Stamps and Airport Food

As an expat American who has lived in Paris for several years, pastry chef and author David Lebovitz blogs about France's coveted gastronomic offerings, his own mouth-watering dessert recipes, and the frustrating inanities of French bureaucracy. With an air of self-deprecation and a healthy sprinkling of wit and beautiful pictures, his blog long ago became part of my daily internet routine. So I'm not entirely surprised that his most recent entries both speak to a type of French culinary diplomacy... or perhaps a missed opportunity for such.

In French Food Stamps, he recounts his surprise discovery of beautiful snail mail stamps featuring artistic renderings of various French regional food specialties. The stamps are works of art in and of themselves, and the fact that they feature food only makes me wish I had some way of getting my own hands on these babies (you can see them here, although Lebovitz's blog has some more appealing close-ups).

Special edition American-cuisine food stamp?

Lebovitz notes, however, that La Poste seems to have missed an opportunity by making these stamps only available for domestic mail. Stamps and snail mail might not represent the cutting edge in information and communication technology, but what a beautiful way to, quite literally, project attractive images of a country through its cuisine to foreign publics.

As for foreign, and even domestic, publics travelling into, out of, and through Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport, Lebovitz poses the question, Why is the food so abysmal at Charles De Gaulle Airport?. In this capital of gastronomy, it seems only fitting that one's first and last impressions should be tempted and reinforced by food options at the airport. Just as Vegas has slot machines in McCarran Airport, as gateways to new places, airports can help reinforce a nation or city brand. Lebovitz lists the airport offerings in my hometown foodie city of San Francisco: "wood-fired oven pizza, teriyaki, traditional Italian pastries, sushi, dim sum, or a pretty decent burrito". (In my own travels, I always pick up a slice of cheesecake from the Just Desserts stand in the United terminal whenever I'm flying in to SFO). Yet the Paris airport offers very little by way of good food in its inner sanctums. Lebovitz expands on several suggestions for how to rectify this situation, which range from the obvious (cheese shop, wine bar, bread bakery), to the innovative (planting a garden in CDG's circular Terminal 1 with its criss-crossing plastic-enclosed escalator tubes).

Pre-flight snack?

It does seem rather a pity that Paris, birthplace of haute cuisine, lacks good airport food, both for practical purposes and culinary diplomacy objectives. Closer to home, it might be asking a bit much to get a Ben's Chili Bowl outlet in Dulles, but surely even we can do better than Wendy's and cold sandwiches?