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Saturday, 7 September 2013

Back at The Crest: An Anthropological Experience

 
The Crest Gastropub on Urbanspoon

If you haven't been able to tell, I am a huge fan of The Crest. And yesterday's event solidified that fact even more for me, as if it had much further to go. The sun was shining and the weather was near perfect. I made my way up Crestview and stopped at the restaurant to my right, a general crowd already filling up the interior space. After a little over a week planning for yesterday's happy hour with Chef Dustin and Abed, one of the first things I'm told is that a special keg was brought in for us: a "neolithic" beer for anyone who was interested in trying it. (Let's just say there's a pretty good chance of that happening with a group of anthropologists.) Alongside an "anthropology-themed" menu I, and perhaps quite a few of my anthropology colleagues, have practically been drooling over since it was released, it was in that moment that I fully realised just how much of a great time our first happy hour of the year was going to be.


When Dustin, Abed, and I met to discuss the menu, I presented them with five anthropologists and a very general character profile of each, particularly as their research related to food. From there, the menu was crafted. Some of the dishes were admittedly a stretch in their pairing, but they were nevertheless successful in their own right. And from what I could tell, there were no complaints. Before I continue, I do want to give a huge shoutout to our waitress Brittany, who did a fantastic job calmly managing our multiple orders and tabs. What could otherwise be a stressful and overwhelming experience, she simply said that this was fun. So with that in mind, here we go.


Despite my more thorough introduction to local beer a few weeks ago, I kicked things off with an Angry Orchard (which I found out is based in Cincinnati), while others picked out their drink of choice, including the Delaware-based Dogfish Head concoction called Chateau Jiahu, aka the "Neolithic" beer for our benefit.


As drink pairing connoisseur Braden eloquently shared with us, the lineage of the 9000-year-old recipe from which this beer was based finds its roots in China. Using biological archaeology techniques, such as infrared spectrometry and gas chromotagrophy, the molecular evidence analysed by Dr. Patrick McGovern (aka the "beer archaeologist") from pottery vessels revealed an alcoholic drink made of rice, grapes, hawthorn berries, honey and chrysanthemum flowers. All of these flavour profiles intersect in Dogfish's Chateau Jihau, bringing to mind an interestingly sweeter, fruitier combination of wine, beer, and mead.


The first dish on our menu was the Garrick Mallery, inspired by the work of.. well, Garrick Mallery, an early American ethnologist (1831-94) who is best known for his work on North American Indian sign language. As Douglas Baynton has written, Mallery viewed much of sign language as "primitive." This view of North American Indian communication as essentially inferior translated to his view of their savage or even barbaric eating habits. As I recently learned in my Anthropology of Food class, and as was published in the July 1888 edition of American Anthropologist, Mallery had this to say about the eating habits of "savages":
Savages seem to have had little sense of taste, though that of smell, closely connected with it, is acute. The latter is an assistance to them in the details of their lives, as it is to the sub-human animals, and thus it was developed early. They regarded food, from their necessities, merely as sustenance, and their gratification from it was only in gross repletion.
With this in mind, I suggested to Dustin that we needed something that could not only be eaten with your hands, but that would be potentially (if not expectedly) messy. This translated to the plate as marinated steak, guacamole, shredded Colby Jack, sour cream and hot sauce, all piled onto carne asade fries. I had a small taste (thanks, Brianne!) and wow, was it good. There was a great lingering heat that I can only assume was tempered by the guacamole and sour cream. As I looked around the outdoor patio, I did notice that everyone ate their food with a knife and fork, to which we could only conclude that we're "civilised."


For my dish of choice, I went with the Franz Boas, a set of four mahi-mahi tacos, bookended by lime wedges, and served on The Crest's chopping blocks. Tender and carrying with it a meaty quality, the sustainable mahi-mahi was cooked perfectly and sat on a great corn salsa that added both brightness and texture.


All of this was supported by a double layer of thin tortillas and a glass of Jean-Marc Brocard St. Bris, a refreshingly crisp Sauvignon Blanc from France that played well with the acidity from the lime. As an aside, for those who are especially familiar with Boas (1858-1942; founder of modern anthropology, father of American anthropology, and originator of cultural relativism), mahi-mahi may not be the first fish one might pair with him, given the fact that his ethnology of the Kwakiutl focused on salmon recipes.


My quick response to that menu choice is that smoked salmon was the first thing that Dustin suggested as soon as I talked to him about French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009). Paired with Boas, he is also referred to as the father of modern anthropology. [So, there you go, they both shared cross-continental salmon.] Most credited for his work on structuralism (1,2), and not for jeans, Lévi-Strauss was particularly relevant to our menu as he applied structuralism to food. Taking note of the culinary triangle, but not having considered his Jewish heritage (he considered himself first and foremost a Frenchman), the third dish, i.e., the Claude Lévi-Strauss, was comprised of "cooked" salmon with "rotted" potatoes, and a dill crème fraîche served with a toasted slice of baguette (talk about your blending of cultures on a plate!), which translated to Lévi-Strauss's notions of "smoked" and "boiled" per the culinary triangle.


From structuralism to functionalism, our final main course option was inspired by founder of structural functionalism and father of modern British anthropology Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955). Undoubtedly the largest reach for any of our menu pairings, I suggested we apply food to our system and (despite Radcliffe-Brown's apparent focus on social structure and not biological needs) give the food a function of nutrition, translated to: let's make this the vegetarian dish option. For the A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, folks were served a cohesive Mediterranean-inspired plate of hummus and eggplant (baba-ghanoush), the latter of which fits the paleo diet (and our overall theme), served with mixed veggies and pita. I tried some of Amanda's dish (thanks!) and found both the hummus and eggplant to be light and creamy, while still being thick and textured.


When I first started researching food anthro programs a few years ago, The Johns Hopkins University's Sidney Mintz (1922-) was one of the first (of few) people I discovered whose anthropological research centered on food. In Mintz's case, his focus was on one of my favourite ingredients, sugar; a 1992 review of his book, Sweetness and Power, may be found here. For our final course (which I suppose could be argued as a main course), Dustin came up with three great flavour profiles for the Sidney Mintz: assorted chocolate truffles à la Oreo cheesecake, orange spice, and hazelnut. None of these were incredibly sweet (more so subtle in that regard), and so the flavours of each were particularly pronounced. I'm not the biggest fan of cheesecake, but the creaminess and richness of the Oreo truffle nearly converted me. The orange spice went incredibly well with my Argentinian Allamon Malbec (suggested by Brittany), and the hazelnut was just utter perfection, great texture against the luscious ganache in its interior.


Of the handful of times I've been to The Crest, this one had to be handsdown favourite. As I sat back and surveyed everyone (in an inherently anthropological way), I couldn't help but be grateful for everything-- for Abed, Brittany, Dustin and the rest of the Crest staff, this community, our program, and at a very basic level the chance to just take a short break from the rigour of these first few weeks. Not only did we have perfect weather that carried beyond happy hour, and consistently great-tasting food coming from the kitchen and drinks from the bar, but in my world there existed the sustained satisfaction of truly realising the power of witnessing and existing in community through food. For these and additional photos from last night's happy hour at The Crest, click here.

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