Tag Archives: food

Introducing Fire & Knives

New food quarterly Fire & Knives launches this month. We spoke to its founder and editor Tim Hayward.

Tim Hayward is The Guardian‘s food blogger and won the New Media Award at the Guild of Food Writers awards earlier this year. He’s also a very good mate of ours. Tim has now launched his own food magazine, Fire & Knives, and he kindly agreed to tell us all about it.

BST: What is the concept behind Fire & Knives?

TIM HAYWARD: Mainstream food media have become immensely ‘lifestyle’. I knew loads of food writers who just couldn’t get longer form, intelligently written pieces commissioned anymore. I also knew, through social media, hundreds of food lovers who couldn’t find anything interesting to read anymore.

Pulling it together — particularly using digital printing, a distributed ‘zine’-style production team and using social media to build audience — was pretty much a no-brainer. That’s as high a concept as I can give you.

How is Fire & Knives different from mainstream foodie fayre such as Observer Food Monthly?

The traditional food magazines rely entirely on advertising. They will increase (or at least try to maintain) revenue if they can expand their audience from a special interest group to those with a marginal interest or, indeed, those attracted to celebrities and their opinions on food.

The result is an unavoidable dumbing down and celebrity focus. It’s now too late for any of those mags to go to a subscription funded model. With no advertising, our subscriptions pay for the printing and production. We don’t have to worry about how wide our audience is or their demographics — it’s only advertising that requires that. The magazine is as big as the audience want it to be. So we’re really growing, building and attracting an audience rather than seeking one out and attempting to address it. It’s the opposite of ‘focus-group’ thinking and that has to be the first time that’s happened in years.

Why start a food magazine, particularly now when magazines are closing down?

I think the magazine world is in uproar because the model of a mag involves 20 staff, an office, advertising revenue to pay them and a marketing function to attract both advertisers and audience. There’s no other way — until you look at ‘zine world and realise there are kids putting together creditable magazines with pocket change. The way Big Mags are heading now they are inevitably leaving behind a valuable audience and talented writers.

Can you explain a bit about Fire & Knives’ distinctive design?

Rob Lowe. Rob worked on Sleaze Nation and combines design and illustration skills with years of magazine experience. Rob and Cathy Olmedillas form Present Joys who are responsible for the design. I gave him an odd brief — all my favourites for the last year from ffffound.com stuck into an apple-printed booklet — and asked him to make something of it. The result is superb. He hit it on the button first time. That logo would have looked great on a government information pamphlet in the 40’s, on a packet of cheap Canadian bacon in the ’70’s and it looks fantastic on a T–shirt today.

What are the criteria for contributors?

We’re looking for new writers who may not have been in print before, for established writers with a story they can’t sell elsewhere and for writers in other fields who might bring a new perspective to food. Most importantly we’re looking for the tonality of the true ‘amateur’ — in the sense of ‘one who loves’ food — rather than a connnoisseur or ‘one who knows’. I guess the other important thing is that we are interested in British food. We are getting in touch with our own food culture now and it’s time we stood by it. Finally… no recipes or celebrity stories — others do that better.

Are there plans beyond a printed magazine? Or is the intention to keep it simple and focused?

Print only. All the way. We can build fame online but we can only establish value for the written word and the photograph, in print. The brand might expand into other things but the mag stays in print forever.

As a blogger yourself, do you think that there is a revival in writing for passion rather than purely profit?

I’m certainly finding that writers now — both the the new writers who’ve come through new media, blogging and the like and the traditional writers who get what’s going on — are aware of the importance of their personal brand. It’s great getting paid to write but if unpaid media are the only place to show your potential then you need to balance both. I regard our writers as a key audience too. They need to know they are being showcased at their best. We make sure their stories look great and are circulated to a list of influential people with commissioning power.

Of what other trends do you think Fire & Knives is representative?

I guess a growing confidence in British food culture, a revival in specialist print publishing, media properties that grow online but monetise offline and a trend for creatives taking control of their medium and speaking directly to an audience they know.

We at BST are delighted to have contributed a photo story about legendary pop-up restaurant The Pale Blue Door for the first issue. Fire & Knives is available via subscription from fireandknives.com. Article pitches should be sent to submissions[at]fireandknives[dot]com

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Japanese Robot Knows Wines

NEC shows off its automated sommelier

wine robot
Business Week reports that developers at NEC have devised a new robot sommelier that can correctly identify wines and cheeses:

When it has identified a wine, the robot speaks up in a childlike voice. It names the brand and adds a comment or two on the taste, such as whether it is a buttery chardonnay or a full-bodied shiraz, and what kind of foods might go well on the side.

[NEC spokesperson] Shimazu said the robots could be “personalized,” or programmed to recognize the kinds of wines its owner prefers and recommend new varieties to fit its owner’s taste. Because it is analyzing the chemical composition of the wine or food placed before it, it can also alert its owner to possible health issues, gently warning against fatty or salty products.

The commercial application of such a robot may be to verify the authenticity of expensive wines on auction, or for automated inspection of food quality.

The machine isn’t perfect, however:

When a reporter’s hand was placed against the robot’s taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.

Shades of RoboCop! There’s no mention of what happened to the mis-identified reporter and cameraman, but the accompanying story is short on pictures. We fear the worst.

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Dessert Landscapes

From desert to dessert – tiny models set on landscapes made of food.

tiny ice skaters.jpgVia Bldgblog. More images elsewhere online.

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Matthew Herbert Bites Back

A new album, composed entirely with sounds from the corporate food industry, offers food for thought (and some complex beats).

Plat Du JourIn 2001, politically-aware musician and theorist Matthew Herbert released the album The Mechanics of Destruction — composed entirely using the sounds of commercial products which irk him — as a free download. Tracks include Nike and Starbucks is Coming. The latter is composed entirely from the (heavily) processed sounds of one caramel latte and one Frappucino, with a strong dash of rage stirred in.

Since then, Herbert has continued to focus both microphone and anger on the globalised food industry. The result is Plat du Jour, released in July, and subsequently performed live on tour by an ensemble which includes a chef who adds onstage olfactory accompaniment. The new album is composed entirely from sounds related to corporate food production. On his website, Herbert explains:

I am tired of having to tolerate the international language of cheap convenience food – convenient mainly to those that make and serve it. The bright pinky orange of farmed salmon in aeroplane trays, the branded waters 1000 times more expensive than tap water, the dismal spread of the hotel breakfast buffet, with its pre-formed meat slices, pasteurised juices, mechanically produced bread and Nestle yoghurts full of sugar and potassium sorbate…

This record then, aims to tell some of the hidden stories behind the overly-elaborate and wasteful packets. It looks at what’s on the menu and asks you to makes decisions based on criteria other than taste. The album will include tracks made from a grain of sugar, 30,000 chickens, a salmon farm, the sewers below London and water.

Is it any good? Read the usually-perceptive review at Pitchfork, or buy the CD and make up your own mind. Better yet: get with the program, save on wasteful packaging and shipping, and download the whole album for a mere 5 squids. You might develop a taste for it.

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Tattooed Fruit

Fond of those little stickers on your fruit? Wave goodbye. The New York Times reports on how the food industry is plotting to replace the fiddlesome stickers with lasered tattoos.

The technology will enable produce distributors to tattoo fruit and veg with their names, identifying numbers, country of origin and other information to help speed distribution. It also forms part of the produce industry’s efforts to track and identify all the food that goes into American shopping baskets.

Since 9/11, the industry has been encouraged to develop ‘track and trace’ technology to allow protection of the food supply at various stages of distribution. Next year, federal regulations will require all imported produce to be labeled with the country of origin. Wal-Mart already requires all pallets delivered to its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., to be fitted with radio frequency identification tags, so that they can be tracked by satellite.

In 2002, Durand-Wayland, a fruit grower and distributor based in Georgia, bought the patent for a process that etches the price look-up number and any other information the retailer or customer might want to know directly onto the fruit of the skin. Greg Drouillard, who originally patented laser coding for produce and who now works for Durand-Wayland, said the process permanently tattoos each piece of fruit, removing only the outer pigment to reveal a contrasting layer underneath and make the tattoo readable, even scanable.

According to Fred Durand III, president of Durand-Wayland, “With the right scanning technology, the produce could even be bar-coded with lots of information: where it comes from, who grew it, who picked it, even how many calories it has per serving … You could have a green pepper that was completely covered with coding. Or you could sell advertising space.”

If you find the idea of your vegetables looking like something out of The Matrix alarming, consider this: consumers in Japan are already using their mobile phones to scan barcodes giving them all the information they need about the food they buy, including its origins and the pesticides used. See previous post, ‘Check the Label’.

Courtesy of Gawker.

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The Pleasure of Eating

In a culture that pathologises eating, a timely reminder that food is also about pleasure.

As often as possible, when a really beautiful bottle of wine is before me, I drink all I can of it, even when I know I have had more than I want physically. That is gluttonous. But I think to myself, when again will I have this taste upon my tongue. Where else in the world is there just such wine as this, with just this bouquet, at just this heat, is this crystal cup. And when again will I be alive to it as I am this very minute, sitting here on a green hillside above the sea, or here on this dim, murmuring, richly odorous restaurant.

MFK Fisher (1908-1992).

A blog about the glory of food, Fire and Knives.

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