But this past week I had a tremendous opportunity to see food history, the local food movement, and interpretation all wrapped up into one delicious package at an annotated dinner with the Context Travel staff in London. Art historian and food scholar Janine Catalano worked with St. John, one of the premier restaurants in London and a pioneer in reintroducing regional British cooking, to produce a dinner that helped us understand the history of food in London, in a physical sense (St. John is right by Smithfield Market, a livestock or meat market for 800 years), an intellectual sense, a historical sense and a sense of what's new.
"But what is an annotated dinner?" you may be thinking. Exactly what it sounds like. With each course (and there were many) Janine (above) artfully guided us through history, using historic images passed around, brief readings from primary sources, while also helping us learn about the current state of the local food movement in Britain.
What did we eat? All delicious...
- Radishes and carrots
- Oysters and crabs--wrote Samuel Pepys in 1661, "I entertained them with talk and oysters until one o'clock and then we sat down to dinner."
- Roast bone marrow and parsley salad
- Pigs head and potato pie--definitely the thing on the menu that sounds the strangest--but absolutely delicious!
- Roast beef accompanied both by a reproduction of William Hogarth's 1748 painting The Gate of Calais or O, the Roast Beef of Old England and horseradish.
- Brussels sprouts greens and potatos
- Eccles Cakes and Lancashire Cheese
- Poached Quince and Brioche
In my conversations with Context docents we've been talking about using all of our senses, not just sight, to convey the meaning and texture of a physical place. The salty briny taste of oysters; the slightly unctuous feel of the pig head and potato pie, and the crispy sound of a radish bite, all made the heritage of British food come alive.
And what could be better than learning new things while gathered around a table with a group of friends?