Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2015

Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2015 |Food and Communication

The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery was a brilliant three days of great conversations, ideas and glorious food.

I was beyond thrilled to be one of the recipients of the Young Chefs’ Grant that enabled me to work in the kitchen with Chef Tim Kelsey and his incredible team and participate in the symposium as well!

Food and Communication was the topic for this years Symposium. Food is a common denominator across the boundaries we create — whether physical ones like countries or cities or others like race, religion, gender. The presenters this year discussed varied thoughts on food from film & Wikipedia to tattoos and paintings, cookbooks, Masterchef, war, menus, Escoffier and terroir, nutrition and culinary schools, slurping, typology of cuisine, naming of Chinese dishes, “Kain Tayo!” — Food indeed is and has been a major communication device that defines cultures and creates traditions and a vital tool in identification of life in societies of generations past.

In Karnataka, a state in India where I live, the local dialect is Kannada. When you meet someone of the region there is a 90% chance the first thing they would say/ask you is “Oota Aitha?”, which means “have you eaten?”. This, I would say, is a direct translation of the “how are you?” but through food being centre point of a persons health and well-being. In other parts of India you would find yourself being asked the same question in regional dialects “Khana ho gaya?”

This doesn’t end here. We are a food curious nation and yes, we have a whole array of food to munch on through out the day. But people aren’t curious about what you ate (some maybe, like I am) but your answer to this question would really determine who you are, if you are unwell, where you might come from or if external factors influence your lifestyle. Your answer would allow people to understand you better and creates social bonds. Food is communicating and is a communicator wherever you maybe!

Back to the symposium!

The first day was in the kitchen with Chef Henry Harris and Chef Tim Kelsey and his team cooking for Friday night’s dinner titles “Simple et Heureuse, en Fete avec Henry Harris and the Domaine de la Louviere”. Just as said, it was a simple menu yet incredible flavoured meal starting with a Burgandy Salad of duck hearts and escargot to a cassoulet and apple tart.

The next day saw presentations on displaced food commodities, tattoos, fair food cultures, Edouard de Pomiane, how menus can communicate, Masterchef, “Superfoods” followed by a much interesting discourse.

Lunch was a sweet treat in celebration of 20 years of the Sophie Coe Prize and the launching of Darra Goldstein’s book– The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.

Preserved Fishes: Monkfish Liver, Razor Clams, Sardinillas, Chipirones; Cacao Nib Crackers and Green Salad
Quail with Chocolate, Green Beans, New Potatoes
Pate Trompe au Chocolat avec Garniture

The chocolate we used was Valrhona Grand Cru — 70% Guanaja. The way it shone while we melted it — oh, boy! I think I went blind.

Darra’s recipe for the pate was simply fantastic!

Dinner was another extraordinary affair!

Cibo delle Feste in Sicilia – A Sicilian Feast by Fabrizia Lanza and Giuseppe Tasca of Tasca d’Almeria

Ritual food and food in rituals are interesting to read about across cultures. Annaprashana is a Hindu ritual that marks a child’s first intake of solid food. Translating roughly to first feeding with rice, the infant is fed with cooked rice mixed with either ghee or curd or honey. Rice is the chief staple in India and that child’s sacred first meal signifies the sanctity of rice in the country.

Fabrizia’s feast comprised Arancini, eaten on the feast of Santa Lucia, wedding lamb pie with a rosemary crust and watermelon pudding made for the feast of Santa Rosalia.

Fabrizia also has made a wonderful documentary called Amuri- The Sacred Flavours of Sicily. Here’s a clip:

Another remarkable and moving documentary we watched was Festins Imaginaires by Anne Georget

Festins Imaginaires or Imaginary Feasts is a documentary about recipes recovered from diaries written in the Nazi camps and in the Japanese camps during World War II. The film opens our eyes to food not just as a tangible comfort and necessity but also as an intangible spiritual beacon of hope. People who suffered and were tortured in those camps used recipes and memories of cooking as food to comfort their soul.

Aglaia Kremezi gave us a fabulous Greek, mostly vegetarian feast:

Taramosalta and caper, scallion and parsley spread served with toasted pita and traditional Cypriot olive and whole wheat biscuits

Sautéed olives and carrots with preserved lemon and thyme

Marinated Greek anchovies

Black-eyed peas with greens and cherry tomatoes with toasted olive bread crumbs

Greek cheese and yogurt

Spoon sweets: quince, sour cherry, rolled bergamot peel

Cypriot Loukoumi (pistachio stuffed wedding cookies)

The symposium came to a close with a heated debate— seeds vs bread as the topic for 2018 (the seeds won!)

The Symposium wasn’t just about paper presentations and incredible meals — meeting, talking and communicating with fantastic people who think about food with the same intense enthusiasm as you do is the most brilliant opportunity.

Thank you! to the Friends of the Oxford Symposium for giving me this window to look at food in our world in such a different way.

THANK YOU — Elisabeth Luard, Jane Levi, Chef Henry Harris, Chef Tim Kelsey, Mark McWilliams, Barbara Wheaton, Ken Abala, Bel Castro, Ana Tominc, Helena Kipling, Josh Evans, Renee Marton, Darra Goldstein, Bee Wilson, Ursula Heinzelmann, my fellow grantee Kiige Maagu and everyone else with whom I spoke to who gave me something to carry back home especially William Rubel who is simply the best and such great fun, wouldn’t you agree Kiigs?!