The New Zealand Herald is bringing back some of the best premium stories of 2020. Today Kim Knight shares three personal essays on the importance of food in 2020.
Dear restaurants, I miss you
A road trip can change your life. Three weeks around the South Island, aged 10, was memorable for many reasons. Every night, after tea, we were allowed an entire row of Cadbury chocolate. One night, we went to a restaurant.
Booth seats. Brown wood. Plastic cows stuck in Dad's steak. I ordered a Fisherman's Basket and had never seen so much batter in the same place. Fizzy drink with ice and a straw. Slurp the sugar, the fat, the neatly chopped iceberg lettuce. You could choose exactly what you wanted to eat and none of it was anything Mum would have cooked. In 1980, at a Dunedin Cobb & Co, I fell in love with restaurants.
When Covid-19 came to New Zealand, people died and people lost their jobs and people couldn't cradle their new grandchildren. The sudden inability to order a steak was, by comparison, not the end of the world. Except that restaurants had become our world.
When things got bad we ate mince, mince and more mince
My memory will tint the lockown months sepia. So much beige baking, so much browned mince. The Pantone colour of the year will be Pandemic Sourdough. We talked incessantly about flour, but most days I think my street was cooking mince.
Smell that cheap, meaty science. The Maillard Reaction in action. Forced to feed ourselves for 28 days on end, confined to home cooking only, we cranked the heat and turned amino acids and natural sugars into bolognese, moussaka, and homemade hamburgers. We ate prime, premium and ordinary; sometimes we turned chicken into larb but at the end of the interminable day, it was still mince.
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Chocolate cake and other recipe book love stories
We wear our years on our faces and our bellies. We can also count time via a record collection or a box of photographs that prove perms and Deirdre Barlow glasses are always a bad idea. If you cut open a tree, the rings in its trunk will give away its age and place in history. The same might be said of a body. In any given Covid-19 lockdown, for example, I am two parts melted cheese and one part anxiety.
The bookshelf in my hallway contains about 100 recipe books. There's another in the sunroom, packed with food histories and academic treatise, with titles like "Food Workers as Individual Agents of Culinary Globalisation". Claude Levi-Strauss gives us much to think about in The Culinary Triangle but, in a pandemic, my holy trinity is Alison Holst, the Edmonds Cookery Book and Mum.