Tag Archives: beer

Food and the middle class

Boulder Beer

When I was a nipper, my parents had the good sense to utilise my siblings and I as kitchen hands. My Da’ was a chef, back in the day when culinary training meant being taught to cook like the French. He was a pastry king, a seafood creative, and a master of invention. Essentially though, he was also a fisherman, and he knew that the best way to eat crayfish was on a fire on the beach, an hour after you caught it. No fooking about. And us kids learnt to appreciate how simple it could be to craft tasty food.

Food was pretty simple when I was growing up. There were two varieties of baked beans, one type of pasta, and the butcher gave you a free sausage piece of luncheon (sausage meat) when your Mum popped in to pick up lamb chops. When my olds were low on cash it was inventive ways with mincemeat, and we wouldn’t get fish and chips on a Friday night. Which as an eight year old meant the world had tipped on its axis. Whether food was bad for you was determined by whether it was a Brussels sprout (my opinion) or whether it was made of sugar (my Mum’s opinion thanks to my dentist). Simple.

As the years have charged on past me, I’ve found a number of food attitudes to rant at.

Ooh, sidetrack, if you ever feel you need to work in a great ranting environment, try working in a kitchen. When I spent time learning to bake in Cambridge I gained access to the “chef’s rant”. These were an early morning special, fuelled by triple lattes, a wall of knives and kick starting the day with an hour of heavy metal. Chris (hilarious lanky dreadlocked Essex hero) and Lownes (talented ginger Welsh head chef) were frequently on fine, vocal, spatula-wielding form. It was like a one-sided talkback radio version of karaoke.

Anyway, there’s one area that I’d like to set up a soap box for today, the deification of foodstuffs, aka what the feck’s the deal with Sea Salt Tastings? Olive oil debates, hummus festivals, coffee beans harvested from a toddycat’s faeces…I searched google for “exclusive sea salts” and found a forum where someone had posted a question titled “Potentially embarrassing question: Kosher salt vs Sea salt”. Embarrassing? Gak, what a petrifying potential social faux pas! There was me getting all anxious about whether my writing might be a positive way to help build understanding for the visually impaired. I realise now I should have been stressing about whether I should pickle my prosthetic-limb-harvested South East Nigerian kumquat with aged, long handle raked black lava Cypriot sea salt. And the social ramifications if a dinner guest called me up on it.

My rally against middle class angst began when I was in my twenties. At this time my Ma and Pa made a decision to set up a vineyard in a sunny chunk of New Zealand known as Marlborough. It is important to note at this point, that they’d raised my brother, sister and I in a wee suburb in Wellington called Newlands, and that as a results we were bogans. For those not familiar with the term, it indicates that we were all about Metallica, dressing from black wardrobes, and drinking bourbon. Or “bogan and coke”. But I’m proud to tell you that we were nothing if not flexible in our approach to new taste sensations. Or free piss. Our parents shift into wine making circles meant we understood what was involved in crafting bottles of Sauvignon Bonk, and just as importantly we knew that in the end it was just piss. After all the pontificating, swirling, deep snorts and staring at the ceiling (and that’s just the inelegant old school process of removal the cork), it was designed to get us drunk. I thought I’d undone the mystery behind the world’s only serious middle class focus point for consumption snobbery. How naive I was. Somehow the wealthy masses have managed to push this ridiculous social ranking scheme into whole new realms, even lowly condiments. And beer. Gulp.

And here I will outline my own near-miss, my almost-tumble into an obsession with a hand crafted product. For many years, beer was the drink of the hard workers who built my tiny home nation. It was a brilliant social equaliser, barristers drank next to labourers, bankers with harlots (no change there, then). The beers were dull, but they were cheap. But things changed. Just over two years ago I headed back to New Zealand from Cambridge, England, a cider drinking, real ale swilling paradise. I was heading back via the beer halls of Oktoberfest, and I feared the taste-free homogenised beer scene I would be returning to. But Lo! A scattering of people had woken up and smelt the hops. America’s successful rejuvenation of small batch brewing had inspired a new generation of beer lovers in Aotearoa. I dove into Earl Grey Tea beers, chilli beers, and Hop Zombies. I was impressed by the small community feel of the brewing community, most growing beer producers were constantly helping each other get established rather than protecting their fledgling business’. It was a cute, collaborative cottage industry. But the beer prices crept ever upward, and between tiny kiwi “pints” I started to notice a snobbery that many denied, but few actually avoided. A train-spotterish obsession with hop varieties, a curl of the lip at anyone enjoying a cold commercial lager, and far too many beards. Shudder. And hipsters. One bar in particular, Hashigo Zake, was like a dungeon of pseudo elitists, and it represented so much that I had always rallied against. I broke. It. Is. Just. Beer. It was a close call. I don’t have the stomach, nor the budget, for snobbery.

So here’s a call to all those of you with lots of free time, and only first world worries and concerns. Maybe it is time to start putting a chunk of that time and a wad of cash into setting up a community garden, or running classes teaching people to cook healthy meals on a budget. Surely more rewarding than blood pressure raising arguments with dinner guests over the origin of the hand stroked ginger in your “deconstructed Moscow Mule”.

I still love a good beer though…

 
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On nurturing the gentle art of pub conversation

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There must be few more delightful yet simple pleasures, than talking bollocks with your mates in a cosy pub. You slowly shift into the classic bullshitting lean, hunkering down over the table. You glance around the area to ensure no one likely to take offence is within hearing range. You take a slow sip of your ale, catch the eyes of your audience, and begin telling the tale. There are (in the pubs that I enjoy the most) expectations that stories accompanied by beer or cider shouldn’t be held strictly to facts. Tavern legends are born not from particularly awe inspiring or heroic deeds, but from a low key adventure which has been embellished and polished by each person who has retold the anecdote. They’re the magnification of a simple deed into a heroic task, through a pint glass shaped lens. Each new recital opts for a new gasp invoking twist, over the retention of any particular fact.

Up until fairly recently there has been an honour amongst chaps and chapesses, that runs along the lines of “if I tell a yarn about an incident which you were involved in, it’s the audience enjoyment that is important, not that it was the ranger who did CPR rather than Tom from down the chippy.” And under this unwritten rule, anyone else supplying details to the story should only do so if it’s likely to further stretch the boundaries of incredulity, or will summon further healthy chuckles. But in these days of mingled drinking masses, particularly in the cities and large towns, where transients drink with old hands, there are those whose presence serves to break the storytelling spell. They’re the pub equivalent of a thirty minute wedding speech by a drunken uncle. They interrupt at a crucial point to debate whose turn it is for a round. Or they attempt to tilt the tale mid-point, towards their own underwhelming experience of a “very similar situation”. Or worst of all, they invoke the most heinous of all modern story-telling spoilers. They drag out the smart phone. “I think you’ll find Pol Pot is very unlikely to have ever shared a joint while gutting catfish with your Uncle Finnegan in Faliburt, Louisiana. Google informs me that they haven’t caught a fish there since the 1930’s…” Take that infernal atmosphere eliminator and have him beaten (gently) with broken pool cues and assailed with Eastern European curses.

It was bad enough when the mobile phone first began its intrusive cries for attention down at the White Lion. How many engaging recitals of “the one where Kevin met that girl with the electric vampire bat” or “that time Simone went surfing with that albino preacher from Delaware” have been interrupted by a Nokia ring tone? Just as we’re all leaning in, enthralled in the latest version of a timeless saga, the storyteller is summonsed to “work”, or “the in-laws for sausage and chips” or “alcoholics anonymous”. Grr technology, grrrrr.

There is another insidious trend that threatens the continuance of lager fuelled oral traditions. The pub quiz. Now don’t get me wrong, in some quarters these are a hilarious excuse for engaging banter, an opportunity for the affectionate berating of the quiz master/mistress, and a chance to earn free pints for the most outrageous but plausible answers. But in general they monopolise the aural airspace, promote the worst sorts of train spotters to celebrity status amongst their “letters to the editor” writing peers, and fill the drinking spaces with far too many facts. A pox on any entertainment which provides a platform for the village trivia hunters. There’s far more pith and wit to be found in tall tale telling and the resultant banter, than in any argument over which particular inbred monarch invented the adhesive-backed pubic wig.

The local pub is a conversation harbouring institution on which we should all keep a wary and watchful eye. People need community stories, village myths, town folklore. In a world where stories of the sexual and financial misadventures footballers wives, hotel owners daughters and celebrity chefs special sauces are displacing those about local heroes, we need to take a stand. So next time you’re down at the Shark and Octopus, or the Loathsome Minstrel, maybe leave the iphone at home, take a moment to heckle the quiz master, and tell them the one where Gnasher lost his artificial leg in that bet with the gypsy fortune teller…