Heretofore, the Dew Abiders thought we had the market cornered on making “simple living” as complicated as possible.
Such as: “We could compost these pea shells — or get a bunch of equipment to make wine with them!” Or: “We could buy sparkling water — or we could get a CO2 tank, regulator and fittings and carbonate tap water!” Or even: “We could buy personal hygiene products — or we could make our own with beeswax, baking soda, hopes, dreams and tears.”1
But after reading “Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish & Game,” Zak Pelaccio and Peter Barrett appear to have us beat. Pelaccio is a hyper-local restaurateur in Hudson, New York. And he and his mesh of partners make their own vinegar and their own fish sauce for the restaurant, Fish & Game. They pursue “maple independence” for syrup making. They cure their own ham. They locally source their rice. They use practically every bit of food they grow or forage — often elevating would-be wasted bits to fine-dining embellishments on the restaurant’s plates. (At one point, the authors encourage us to “start channeling your inner peasant grandmother.”)
All of this is detailed, lovingly, in the gorgeous new book. It’s heavy and unwieldy, with the size and appearance of a coffee-table book. It also looks deceptively like a collection of recipes in places, but don’t be fooled, as what appear to be cooking steps often turn into what seem more like suggestions. Pelaccio and crew are not rule-followers. Dig into the short essays, and you’ll find a lot of tasty meat on the bones. The book is best devoured as a traditional piece of reading, front-to-back, as the authors suggest in the introduction.
The tome moves through cuisine seasonally, using Fish & Game’s menus as a launching point to reinforce the locality, temporal availability and untapped diversity of stuff that comes out of the ground. Throughout, the essays are seasoned with profiles of the farms and fisheries the crew uses to source some of its ingredients. These never feel like advertising so much as slices of life that reinforce Fish & Game’s natural-food-sourced-regionally ethos.
There’s a lot of talk of natural wines, made through a trendy and historic process of fermentation with only wild yeast and without chemical additives for flavor or clarity. (We at The Dew are happy to know, now, what to call our sometimes cloudy peapod wine, which, to be honest, is still fermented with packets of purchased champagne yeast. We now have a new goal.)
You’ll find the requisite food-porn writing, including more than one mention of pork fat dripping from a spit onto potatoes roasting in the coals below the pig. And inspiration abounds, be it in the kitchen or even as Waldenesque life lessons, such as the daily forest forages for new ingredients that seem to double as meditation for Pelaccio. The author’s passions are unhidden, including a much-needed diatribe on “gluten-free bullshit.” Celiac disease is serious, the book notes. It’s also about as common in people as stuttering.
- The more pragmatic reader might not buy in to the hipsterness of it all — what with the talk of vinyl, the seersucker outerwear, etc. And this criticism comes from a bearded man who is an aficionado of obscure music. And rides a scooter. And began this very post with “heretofore.”2
- The focus on local sourcing seems to spring from an ethical code rather than a simple-living one. Often the described preparations call for unusual ingredients, prepackaged materials or specialty equipment. In the span of just a few pages, there’s call for lye solution, powdered milk, fennel whey and an iSi siphon. I built my own carbonater for water, and I had to google “iSi siphon.”
- There are 7,628 uses of the word “terroir.” Approximately.
But for a few complaints of this ilk, it’s an inspiring read from a team of folks with ardent beliefs, who make what they put on the table a reflection of those qualities.
Full disclosure: Our review comes from a copy of the book we requested of the publisher. The book’s description had us at “make your own vinegar.” And though I was the one who requested the book, I was the third person to actually get my hands on our copy. It’s that magnetic.
Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish & Game
By Zakary Pelaccio and Peter Barrett
Publisher: The University of Texas Press
348 pages (And 4.7 pounds!)
1 We have good reasons for these things, of course. Mostly we’re trying to eliminate the use of plastics and avoid putting weird chemicals on our skin or in our bodies. But also, we’re making booze!
2 My meager defense: 1) I’ve always been a music buff, and eventually, when you’ve listened to enough of it, you explore the wild edges. 2) I ride the scooter to shrink our carbon footprint. Which may still sound hipstery, but it’s more granola. Hipsters ride scooters because they look old and Italian. 3) I have no excuse for “heretofore,” except that I love single words made of up three actual words. I once almost stalked a family merely because their surname was Bytheway, by the way.