Food & Art, Food-ish Writing
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A ‘Public Health Nutritionist’ Attempts Food Writing

I was jump-up-and-down and grinning-ear-to-ear-excited to be quoted recently on NPR’s Food Blog, The Salt, in the post, “Long Before Social Networking, Community Cookbooks Ruled the Stove.” I did a a bit of a double take, though, when I was identified as a “public health nutritionist and food blogger.” While I have an MPH with a concentration in Public Health Nutrition and I blog on food-related topics, I’d never before identified myself that way. But hey, I’ll run with it, especially in this post where I dive into something new.

In the BU Gastronomy program, I study alongside many talented, aspiring food writers. While my work tends to focus more on the social, political, and historical context of eating, here, I’m going to attempt to try my hand at actually writing about food…

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Photo: Emily ContoisAfter wading through streets clogged with rowdy Red Sox fans, I take a quick right turn through a break in the crowd and walk beneath a vibrant red awning into Eastern Standard. Upon entering the softly lit, but energetic, dining room, a hostess gestures for me and my fellow classmates from Boston University’s Food and Art course to follow her, saying with a knowing nod and quiet professionalism, “We have your table all ready for you.” She leads us, a group equal parts hungry and excited, through the buzzing restaurant, animated conversations and upbeat Elton John tunes embracing us. We reach our destination at the back right corner of the restaurant, near the kitchen and the gleaming oyster bar.

In the center of our private dining room stands an uncovered dark wood table, simply dressed with two sets of tall, curvaceous salt- and peppershakers. Alongside each of the seven place settings sits an ivory plate marked with two concentric burgundy rings and the Eastern Standard moniker at the edge. A knife and fork of heavy weight, a water glass, and a white napkin, folded around the menu card featuring the evening’s special fare, complete the setting with a restrained simplicity.

Photo: Emily ContoisLike the dark table, the walls of the private dining space are also a rich, dark brown, bordered near the ceiling with large squares of deep red paneling, adorned with gold nailheads. Radiance from the single light fixture above creates orb-like reflections on the red surface, creating a warm, inviting environment. Carpet of a brownish burgundy hue covers the floor. We are completely enveloped in dark, rich colors, masculine textures, and simple, clean lines. Opposite the double doors, a dark wood sideboard hugs the wall. On top of it rests a mostly green arrangement with several round, lavender-headed flowers at the top, reaching as high as the red border. On either side of the vase perch two wooden pig sculptures, as if standing guard.

Photo: Emily ContoisAfter soft bread with a gentle brown crust, even softer butter, and crisp, pickled vegetables quieted the initial pangs of our hunger, two female servers process round the table, pouring glasses of chilled white wine. With the arrival of the first course, plates begin to populate the expansive and empty city that is our dining table. Each place receives a shallow dome of mixed greens topped with thinly sliced cucumber and radish, lightly tossed with sherry vinaigrette that makes the varying lettuces glisten. Three settings of charcuterie balance the bright colors on our plates. Geometric arrangements of meat line up like little soldiers on the wooden serving boards, placed at intervals down the center of the table. The round slices of meat are well paired with shallow cups of condiments and a small mound of tiny pickles. Slices of crusty baguette and dark brown bread rest near the wooden serving boards, ready to enter into gustatory matrimony with the meats and mustards.

Photo: Emily ContoisFollowing on the heels of the first course comes the main. Large oblong plates of simply arranged steak, accompanied by small cups of béarnaise sauce and piles of thin cut herb fries are placed before some of us. The rest of us feast our eyes on a large fillet of Faroe Island salmon, soft and pink inside, slightly crispy and auburn outside, topped with an herb salad. In a vertically stacked presentation, the fillet rests atop a salad of chopped fingerling potatoes and fava beans, very near raw, with a creamy-tasting bacon Dijon vinaigrette. The circular arrangement of the potato salad, as well as the ring of vinaigrette that encloses it, mirror the concentric burgundy lines that encircle the plate itself, softening the straight form of the salmon fillet that stretches across nearly the entire diameter of the plate. As we begin to eat, three votives of medium height are brought in to dress the center of the table, like breadcrumbs to lead us the way home once our meal is complete. As I create delicious bites of salmon coupled with the haute potato salad, I may indeed forget my path.

After the entrée plates are cleared and our wine glasses house only a final sip, two medium sized plates of fresh baked cookies arrive. In three gentle lines of three cookies each, oatmeal, chocolate chip, and macaroon varieties lie ready to be enjoyed. The oatmeal cookie in particular elicits a surprised gasp of pleasure, as an unexpected hit of spicy molasses merges with the soft currants and raisins, creating a harmonious mouthful.

Beyond the delight of magically appearing food, the most memorable component of the meal proves to be the feeling of conviviality, the pleasure of my classmates’ and professor’s company, our dancing conversation, and our, at times, uproarious laughter. It is a long-standing cultural custom to break bread together to cement relationships. As a food studies student, I often partake in end-of-the-semester potlucks. But to gather as a small group in a delightful restaurant, unchallenged to pay the bill, I am able to effortlessly soak in every element of the meal. After completing study in art history, I am also able to bring a new visually analytical eye to the table, which further enhances the pleasures of the palate.

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