If you haven’t been to Omnivore Books it’s a must for any foodie...particularly if you like to cook. It’s a small bookstore housed in an old butcher shop (the back room is actually the “walk-in freezer”) and all of their books are food-related with a heavy emphasis on cookbooks. Since it’s a small shop they don’t always have tons of copies on hand but they’ll happily order it for you if needed and they have lots of rare, older cookbooks as well, like a traditional Bahamian cookbook from 1975. Fun.
Omnivore Books also has a great monthly events calendar with food authors coming in for talks and book signings...this is how I was able to hear David Downie of Terroir Guides speak about food travel writing this past Wednesday.
While I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of David’s talk there were a few interesting discussion points (since it was a relatively small group we were able to debate and discuss with David, which was quite nice).
- A sense of place: David (and the line of Terroir Guides that he and others write and myself for that matter!) believes that the best way to get to know a region is through their authentic and enduring cuisine. So not the hot new trendy restaurant or the fusion spots, but by finding the best of the best for those foods and wines that have been an part of their culture for centuries.
- The younger generation: David is based in France and Italy and has done most of his culinary exploring and writing in these countries so it was interesting to hear his perspective on the trend he is seeing with the younger generation there vs. here in the U.S.
- While the French and Italians have always had a natural relationship with food, it has been a newer development here in the U.S. and not necessarily always a part of our cultural fabric. Over the past couple of decades, particularly driven by the younger generation, food as a passion and cultural presence has risen dramatically in the U.S. whereas David fears that the opposite is starting to happen in France and Italy. The younger generations tapering off in terms of interest in their rich culinary culture and instead only having passing interests in similar shallow food snobbery that has caught fire in the U.S. (high-end cheese, $40/lb garlic, $200 farm to table dinners, etc...). Since it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in France and Italy I can’t say if I agree...but it is an interesting theory and something to certainly keep an eye on
- Normalizing Local/Seasonal/Organic Again: The discussions we had were so interesting because I kept hearing us talking out of both sides of our mouths. One minute there was outcry about $16 Cow Girl Creamery Cheese being an elite luxury and the next minute there was lambasting the Food Network for “dumbing down” food for the masses. Well, you can’t have it both way folks. You have to “dumb it down” to some degree in order to make it accessible to the masses but then as more people become interested demand outpaces supply driving prices through the roof. Only when the supply of local, seasonal and organic goods can be produced on a mass scale (you know, like it was back in the good ‘ole farming boom in the U.S.) will the food culture that is currently only available to the elite be “normalized” again.
- The scary part is that it sounds like France and Italy are on the beginnings of the same trend with “Costco-like” restaurant supply stores taking over the local producers and supermarkets and frozen-goods stores being more readily available to the consumer allowing them to skip the multiple mom & pop shop trips more often.
- This whole notion and discussion really resonated with me and I found myself sketching a visual of it while David was talking. I’m thinking about doing something scary and providing a little glimpse inside my mind by sharing the visual which I’ve now cleaned up a bit on my computer...I’m not sure yet, we’ll see!
One last thing came from this talk...David mentioned his all-time favorite pizza and gelato spots in Rome and since my best friend is heading off to Italy on her honeymoon in about a week I hastily scribbled them down and my guess at spelling was actually good enough that I was able to find them online! So...if you’re heading to Rome anytime soon (Anna this is for you!) these are must-stop eateries! Mmmm, pizza and gelato in Rome, now I want to go back!
Antico Forno Marco Roscioli
Via dei Chiavari, 34 -- Bakery
The Roscioli family has been baking and cooking in Rome for generations according to David...so long so that they have a mother (bread starter) that is something ridiculous like 50 years old! Crazy! The Via dei Chiavari store is a bakery, one of the best in Rome. There are lots of items to buy as a snack, but where you should be focused is the Roman pizza (Pizza Bianca in particular). You buy it by weight and eat it out of hand at room temperature, as any good Roman would. They also have a second location on Via dei Giubbonari - it’s a small grocery and enoteca, sounds great for a light lunch.
Il Gelato di San Crispino
Via della Panetteria, 42, 00187 Roma, Italy
David said he judges gelato spots on their pistacho and hazelnut flavors (in addition to crema, coffee and chocolate) simply because he finds that the freshness of the nuts is the best way to seperate out the good gelato spots from the best. Many gelato shops buy mass-procesed nuts for their nut-flavored gelatos and since we all know that nuts can quickly go rancid the fresher the better. If I heard David correctly, San Crispino not only uses the freshest nuts, but they actually roast them in house themselves.
UPDATE! When my friend Anna went to Rome she made sure to check out Il Gelato di San Crispino since she loves all things pistachio. She confirmed that they definitely had the best Gelato they had during their entire time in Italy...they went back 3 times!