SINCE THE FIRST Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, which I instigated in 1984, the serious interest in growing, cooking and dining has only exploded, fragmenting into talkative clusters of scholars, chefs, social activists, greenie growers, and more.
With only one-fifth of the available population, the gastronomic symposiums we got going in New Zealand in 2001 have arguably had a better prospect of holding together.
The recent gathering in Wellington returned to more eclectic interests, rather than specifically culinary history. The “Diversity” theme attracted an appropriate variety of papers with the nearly two dozen topics including aprons, Sunday school picnics, dining alone in foreign cities, and Wellington’s nearly lost Chinatown, around the corner.
Founder of Peoples Coffee, and keen promoter of fair trade, Matt Lamason has turned his mind to the benefits of training prisoners and ex-offenders in what New Zealanders call “hospo” (hospitality industry). Archeologist Dave Veart provided expert illumination of the ancient Maori farms further threatened with “development” outside Auckland. Exemplary cookery writer Lois Daish explained her adulation of predecessor Patricia Harris (1910-2003), who proved prickly when they actually met.
Phil Cook argued that “craft beer” is not novel, but very, very old; two Iranian postgraduate students Amir Sayadabdi and Saman Hassibi analysed the massive changes in Norwegian cookery books since the 1960s; and a commander in the NZ Navy, Karen Ward, investigated predecessor Captain Scott’s fatal provisioning for the race to the South Pole.
Medical academic Duncan Galletly might even exceed me in gastronomic obsessiveness. The colours of the covers of his journal, The Aristologist, borrow from lollies – the first from Violet Cream, and the latest pale green from “The Snifter – now extinct. Some lament its passing … other do not”.
Galletly’s scientific presentation this meeting was entitled, “Zomato – Zero to connoisseur in 11 easy kilograms”. Zomato is a restaurant review site, based in India and expanding quickly worldwide through the logics of mobile phones, social media and finance – purchased companies include Urbanspoon. As Duncan explained:
For this paper, over a period of six months, I ate and drank at, and reviewed, approximately 200 restaurants and cafes to achieve what Zomato describes as “connoisseur” status, becoming one of the “most respected members of the foodie community”.
Even more gloriously than judging that amateur restaurant rankings are justifiable alternatives to established guidebooks, Duncan Galletly had published so many reports that he had beaten Taylor Finderup as top Wellington foodie.
In the call for conference papers, Duncan had asked for unusually long abstracts of “about 500 words”, which might provide enough reading of my “How big was John Locke’s spice drawer? An inquiry into whether liberalism favours, diversity, equality or both”.
Basic catering was provided in the function room at Prefab, the popular new venue of Jeff Kennedy (formerly of L’Affare). We unavoidably missed the Friday dinner at Giulio Riccati’s Cicio Cacio in Newtown, but did squeeze into the Saturday dinner at Asher Boote’s Hillside Kitchen and Cellar in Thorndon. I’ll explain my enthusiasm, not shared with everyone, in a separate post.
The next NZ symposium is projected for August in Auckland with an “Aesthetics” theme, and the Twentieth Symposium of Australian Gastronomy is tentatively planned for Melbourne from the evening of 2 December until morning of 6 December 2016.