The A-Z of food pop culture
El Loco hotdog.
Pop culture and me? We’re pretty much strangers. Kim Kardashian? Isn’t she the one who wore a dress made of meat to the Emmy Awards? (Or was it the Baftas?) The Hunger Games? I’m guessing that’s a food reality television show, something like Iron Chef for emaciated fashion models. South Park, The Simpson’s, Modern Family, Glee, The Big Bang Theory … the hole in my knowledge is dazzling, immense and embarrassing.
That said, I like to think I might be finding my feet with teen-speak. “My bad,” I can say with some confidence, and I’ve been dropping dismissive “whatevers” into conversations for years. I know “redonk” is so last week, and “jokes” is cool.
I also know what’s cool in food pop culture. I might not have hung out with Bourdain or be able to boast about meals at Ssäm or Noma or Blumenthal’s Dinner. But nevertheless, I can help you decipher your bánh mì from your kimchi, your grilled cheese from your gyoza, your Changs from your Hongs.
Here then, is part 1 of my A-Z of food pop culture, liberally and unapologetically spliced with ample doses of Americana:
A is for April, as in April Bloomfield, the English-born chef who took the gastropub to New York. Her first book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, is soon to be released; the cover (which surely will be the coolest of the year) shows the chef behind the Spotted Pig, the Breslin and the John Dory in chefs’ whites with a perky expression and a pig carcass slung around her neck.
B is for for bánh mì or bro or bacon. Bánh mì — that Vietnamese staple of baguette with meat, pâté, cucumber, coriander and pickled carrot is being reinterpreted in hip ways across the country (Sydney’s Ms.G’s serves mini bánh mì with crisp pork belly or chicken katsu.) And “bro”? Just follow the Twitter feeds of chefs like @matt_t_kemp or @DistrictDining or @joeypav to see the homie-in-the-hood language flying. And bacon? When British chef Heston Blumenthal created his bacon and egg icecream, it crossed the savoury-sweet divide and cemented its place as the ingredient of our generation. Think bacon milkshakes, bacon broths, maple-bacon cupcakes, chocolate-covered bacon, bacon jam, bacon candy and, at Burch and Purchese “sweet studio” in South Yarra, you’ll find a roast pumpkin, chocolate, maple syrup and bacon mousse cake.
C is for coleslaw. Duke Bistro in Sydney capitalised on the fervour for all-American favourites with its “coleslaw milk” served with fried chicken wings (also see “F”).
D is for David, as in the Korean-American chef David Chang, who turned food into pop culture with his stream of New York restaurants — Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Má Pêche, Milk Bar and Momofuku Ko — and his now legendary pork belly buns. The man Time magazine named as one of the world’s most influential people opened Momofuku Seiōbo at The Star casino in Sydney late in 2011. D is also for “dude” and “dude food” — the ironic-ish food genre that Chang is credited with creating.
E is for eggs and they’re everywhere: a Scotch egg with HP sauce and caper relish at Melbourne’s Middle Park Hotel; quail eggs with smoked eel at Hobart’s Garagistes; the yolks of, with new potatoes, salt cod and fish crackling at the esteemed Royal Mail Hotel in regional Victoria; duck egg, smoked, at Sydney’s Marque (with a mouthful of flavours — charred cherry, pepper and leek ash duck liver with sea blight and quinoa); warmed yolk of with beef tartare and grated truffle at Lochiel House in the lower Blue Mountains.
F is for fried chicken (fried baby chicken at Ms G’s, fried chicken wings at Duke Bistro, “KFC fried chicken” at St Katherine’s in Melbourne’s Kew, Kenji’s fried Karaage chicken with mayonnaise at Izakaya Fujiyama in Surry Hills — also see “I” — and buttermilk-fried chicken at Matt Moran’s new Chiswick in Woollahra). More importantly, F is also for “forget”, as in, “try to forget the fat”.
G is for grilled cheese; from Melt Shop on New York’s Lexington Avenue and its buttermilk-fried-chicken grilled cheese sandwich (also see “F”) to Brooklyn bar Noorman’s Kil, which specialises in just two things — whiskey and grilled cheese — it’s the food snack of the moment.
H is for Hong, as in Dan Hong (@Dan_Hong), the Sydney chef who, since 2008, has become a multi-skilling, border-crossing star in Justin Hemmes's Merivale empire: as Lotus head chef, co-head chef (with Jowett Yu) at Ms. G's and, most recently, as a creator of Tex-Mex street food (including tacos and the best hot dog in town) at El Loco in Surry Hills’ Excelsior Hotel. Coming soon — Hong does nouveau-Cantonese at Merivale’s Mr Wong in the Sydney CBD.
I is for izakaya — the Japaneasy version of a gastro-pub. At its most basic, think yakitori skewers, gyoza dumplings and agedashi tofu, washed down with beer and/or sake. Think Izakaya Den and Kumo Izakaya in Melbourne, Izakaya Fujiyama in Sydney, and Harajuku Gyoza in Brisbane.
J is for Joshua, as in Joshua Applestone — a former vegan who’s ”America’s hottest butcher”, according to mensjournal.com: “With his Hulk Hogan mustache, lumbar-length ponytail, and tight black T-shirt that reads ‘bacon gives me a lardon,’ he’s the closest thing high-end butchery has to a rock star.”
K is for kimchi (or kim chee) — and for Korean. In Sydney, the SOS (Seoul of Sydney) collective of young chefs with Korean backgrounds launched last year to stage regular “Koreaculum” dinners. But the influence is everywhere: in Melbourne at Huxtable (“Korean bbq pork ribs, spicy slaw, chilli gherkin”), Golden Fields (homemade kimchi) and Coda (“tempura bugs, Roy Choi’s kimchi, chilli salt and soy dipping sauce”) and, of course, in Sydney at Ms G’s, where Dan Hong (also see “H”) dishes up grilled beef pancakes with cucumber kimchi.
L is for Lucky Peach, a badass, allegedly “post-modern” quarterly journal of food and writing created by David Chang (also see “D”). Spring 2012 is the “Cooks and Chefs issue”, in which “Mario Batali tells it like it is” and the cover features a tattooist working on the rump of a pig’s carcass.
M for mayonnaise, as in Kewpie mayonnaise, an MSG-laced Japanese staple popping up in restaurant dishes across the land, from Melbourne’s Golden Fields’ rocketing lobster roll, to a roasted pork bun at Press Food & Wine in Adelaide. (It’s “over”, says one respected food writer, noting its viral spread.) And we can’t forget that M is also for Mexican: in Melbourne, Fonda Mexican (Richmond) and Mamasita and Paco’s Tacos (both in the CBD); in Sydney, the Excelsior’s El Loco and El Capo in Surry Hills and Barrio Chino (Kings Cross).
Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @StephanieAWood1
Tomorrow: the N-Z of food pop culture