SFPFS February 2012 Book Club

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik
by Frankie Whitman

Book: The Table Comes First by Adam GopnikI was randomly selected to provide this write-up of the SFPFS recent book club SIG. While random, it was appropriate — I was the person who recommended it, having gone to see Gopnik last October in conversation about the book. And, alas, I was one of the very few, or maybe the only person who actually read the book in its entirety. And perhaps that statement sums it up for the book club. Our group was highly critical of this book.

Others have not been so harsh. For example, a review in The Atlantic had this to say:
“It’s history, nutrition, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology all rolled up into one delectable streusel of insight and illumination, in Gopnik’s unapologetically intelligent yet charmingly witty style. …Deeply fascinating and absorbingly written, The Table Comes First is the kind of read you’ll want to devour in one sitting, despite its Thanksgiving-sized 320-page heft.”

And in Slate, in an article titled “Stirring the Pot” (sound familiar?) by Laura Shapiro, she wrote, “I wish this book, The Table Comes First, didn’t have to be a book. I wish it could be a dinner table, instead, with maybe six people sitting around it—not in a jammed-full New York restaurant where everyone is bellowing over the sound system but in somebody’s home, where we’ve all been invited to eat and talk. And I wish Adam Gopnik were at the table, leaning forward intently as the plates come and go, yakking away happily about food and history and Paris and cookbooks and life, just as he does in these pages.”

In truth, not all reviewers loved the book, but none were as critical as our little group. Gopnik is a sort of Renaissance man and so has lots to say about everything. And words are his passion. However, we seemed to agree that the book needed a good editing and could only imagine that his editor was someone just out of college who was afraid to criticize this famous and revered essayist.

We also thought it curious that there were no acknowledgements. Really?

But here were some interesting take-aways:

• Two of the biggest differences between home cooking and restaurant cooking are heat and salt.
• Two secret ingredients that make anything taste better, “but not together, of course,” are anchovies and bacon.

We’ll save you a lot of work: read the book as essays, and pick your essays carefully. They are not all satisfying. We liked his chapter on the whole locavore movement, “Near or Far?” I personally loved the chapter on desserts and El Bulli titled “Endings.” And the chapter on our latest fixation on meat titled “Meat or Vegetable?” was entertaining and worth reading.

So don’t give up. There are some gems here. And there are several copies of the book floating around from book club members who would be delighted to share—or even get the book off their bookshelf!

Wine SIG ~ Emerging wine varietals from Lodi

by Penni Wisner

We had it all, soup to nuts. No, really, we did. From Acquiesce Winery to Uvaggio, from albariño to verdelho and viognier, from endive soup to homemade spelt pasta to biscotti, chocolate “rocks,” and blackberry-cabernet sorbet. Ellen Johnson hosted us all and I acted as wine guide.

We fell to our work—tasting 12 wines, all different varietals—with gusto. And had our preconceptions of Lodi as a producer of mass market wines blown wide open. Instead, we discovered carefully crafted, modestly priced wines made from a wide variety of grapes that some of us had never tasted before.

Lodi’s long history as a grape-growing region—the first grapes were planted around 1850—grants the growers there, many of them multigenerational winegrowing families, lots of experience. Maybe because the glitz and glamour lights have shined more brightly elsewhere in wine country, Lodi’s growers have maintained a personal, idiosyncratic approach. They know their land well enough—it has long been noted for its Mediterranean climate and sandy soils—that Lodi is now divided into seven appellations that reflect the diversity of the landscape. And in those appellations about 80 wineries flourish producing hundreds of Lodi-labeled wines and thousands of acres of winegrapes.

Several aspects of this energetic renaisaance in Lodi interested us. First, that many of the winemakers embrace their Mediterranean climate and focus their energy on Mediterranean winegrapes from Spain and Italy such as grenache (we tasted a grenache blanc as well as a red from the same grape), tempranillo, vermentino (lively, delicate and fresh), and cinsault. These are small production wines; one wine represented a production of just 53 cases. And the winemakers are experimenting with innovative winemaking techniques including whole-cluster fermentation, using free-run juice only, wild yeasts, and subtle barrel aging. We were lucky, too, that Lodi’s traditional strength, old-vine Zinfandel, was also represented in our tasting. Old vine in Lodi means over 40 years old but some of the vineyards are more than 100 years old.

As one bottle made the rounds of our table, we noticed a round green insignia on its label: Certified Green, Lodi Rules, Sustainable Winegrowing. Lodi implemented California’s first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program to promote practices that enhance biodiversity, soil and water health, community and employee well-being. In order for a wine to wear the Certified Green label, the producer must pass an independent audit. By 2010, more than 21,000 acres have been enrolled.

You can’t blame us for getting a little rowdy as we tasted and discussed the wines. But our fearless leader, Sharon Goldman, did manage to corral our attention long enough for us to vote for our three favorite wines. We outed ourselves as red wine lovers in our vote.
Our #1 wine was the rich, delicious, supple 2008 Zinfandel from Harney Lane, about $24. Our #2 wine was the delightful 2009 “R” Grenache made by Jeff Runquist from grapes grown by Ron Silva on his Silvaspoons Vineyard in the Alta Mesa region of Lodi (about $20). And we had a tie for #3: the explosive 2010 cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard (about $21) and the Paisley, a blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, from SF Chronicle’s Winemaker to Watch Mike McCay (about $24).

For more information about Lodi wines, check out HYPERLINK “http://www.lodiwines.com” www.lodiwines.com. All of us are particularly grateful to Jeremy Bowe, Lodi Wine and Visitor Center manager and Wine Club director, for his great help in putting together our tasting.

Our next meeting is planned for March 5.

A Passionate Tango

by John Wiest

It’s an open secret. Our food society is passionate about food, its growth, distribution, preparation, presentation and celebration. Every January, we acknowledge our obsession, starting with the tales of tables traveled, pots stirred and endless bowls tasted, wines sipped … and sometimes quaffed.

The January 23 Annual General Meeting, while in principle a “business meeting,” was really a speed mingle, an embrace of old friends and, thanks to the California Culinary Academy, a sumptuous sit-down dinner. Many a fork was lifted and glass tipped in grateful tribute to our host, the CCA student chefs, Chef Michael Weller and CCA President Peter Lee.

In celebration of the Chinese New Year — the Year of the Dragon— members old and new were greeted at the Technique Restaurant with an array of Chinese astrologic signs, with each attendee adding their personal sign to their name tag.

On that Monday evening, our sponsor and society leaders were recognized for their contributions – especially the 2011 SFPFS Board of Directors. Outgoing 2011 President Dede Sampson played gracious emcee in this year in review. Treasurer Andrea Cope reported sound finances, with planned expenditure for development of the new website and a fiscally sound forthcoming 2013 dues increase, the first in more than 10 years.

Reports from Karen Diggs, Dorothy Nicholson, Sharon Goldman, Gayle Massey, Susan Pridmore and John Wiest highlighted the society’s contribution to the greater Bay Area food community, scholarships, a striking new directory (that Michelin might envy), Food Trend discussions, expanding Facebook capabilities, national culinary outreach, a fabulous annual barbeque and many supportive sponsors.

Rodger Helwig had the honor of presenting the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award to “the hardest working woman in the Food Society,” food educator and culinary travels agent, Lili Rollins.

Of course, metaphorically, it takes two to tango, and while the General Meeting retold the past, the New Members Reception focuses on the future. We were very pleased that our 2012 Culinary Scholarship recipient, Christian Clark, attended and provided evidence of the continued vitality of our Bay Area food culture and industry.

Finally, a tango is propelled by music — which in this case was the generous contribution of our 2011 sponsors. Hats off to our Gold Sponsors: The California Culinary Academy, Constellation Wines and Joie de Vivre Hotels. And this music continues for 2012, with support from Ketchum Communications, CIA-Greystone, Numi Tea and Sierra Select Distributors / Miele Gallery.

Of course, the 2012 dance has only begun. Until next January, the future now assumes the lead, entwined with the past, consuming the thoughts and propelled by the desires of you, our members. A new year to celebrate.