Guy's Blog

Guy frequently keeps this blog updated with thoughts, challenges, interviews and more!

Crazy, in a good way.

Surf Clam, photo © Allen Hemberger

I can't imagine how this passed me by all these many years. Have you heard of Allen Hemberger's Alinea Project? It's a thing of glory. He ate at Alinea, one of the top restaurants in the world, the sort of place where food is magic, theatre, and gastronomic bliss, all rolled into one. (I've not been, but if any of my friends in Chicago want to take me there next time I'm over, I won't resist.) The experience set him off on an extraordinary adventure.

I don't normally get on the blog to babble about cookery though. Even though cooks get the best knives. So why now?

Simply put, Mr. Hemberger went through the entirety of Alinea's cookbook, 107 recipes (with 400 mini-recipe component parts), and blogged the whole thing. Then produced a book about it. This is so very much like finding the world of historical woodworkers I blogged about a while ago.

His blog is a tour-de-force in recreating a physical practice (and what is more physical than cookery?) from a book. The parallels with recreating historical martial arts from historical sources are in-your-face obvious.

The magic moment comes when he realises that the book is not perfect, that there are errors. He even includes a list of those errors (which makes me feel much better about the occasional typos or outright mistakes in mine). And the presentation is simply breathtaking. Even the search function on his website is beautiful and interesting. Go and search for something, I dare you!

This leapt out at me:

I’m finding that I’ve slowed down on the haphazard jumping around through this book, and am trying to pay more regard to the seasons.  At first I wanted to just attack the recipes that seemed most interesting (and doable), but slowing down a little is encouraging me to look more deeply into these things. This dish is the first one in the Alinea cookbook, and I think I’ve overlooked it specifically because I had no idea what “nasturtium” (which I pronounced in my head “nas-tur-TEE-um”) was, much less what it tasted like.

That is what happened to me around 2003, with Fiore.

Plus, the dude can write:

The one service Cloudy Bay doesn’t offer is shucking the clams. I’ll be honest, this part scared me. I had visions of shell residue scattered everywhere in the kitchen, nicked butter knife blades sitting in the sink, me crying softly in the corner, a sad half-mauled clam limping sadly across the floor like some sort of tongue creature, licking the floor and tasting my inadequacy.

I don't have the book (but I'm on the waiting list for the next printing), because the parallels are just too juicy to ignore. He has one gigantic advantage over us historical sword people though: his maestro, Chef Grant Achatz, is still alive, and so Mr Hemberger has been able to literally eat the master's original versions of the dishes he has so laboriously re-created. That must be like being thrown to the floor (vewwy woughly) by Fiore himself.

Clearly, Mr Hemberger is our sort of crazy. I couldn't pass this by without flagging it up in case you'd missed it. I have a feeling I might write more deeply on this in the future, but couldn't keep it to myself meanwhile.

In other news, the new podcast reached 1000 downloads today! Which is unlikely to impress the Joe Rogans and Tim Ferriss's of the podcasting world, but I'm very pleased that it's finding its niche (there will be another episode out on Friday morning; and I have another ten in the bag, so it looks like this project has legs).

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

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