Food and Restaurant Digest #35, 13 April 2018 
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Considering restaurants as the "third space"

There was an interesting piece published recently which aimed to make the case for seeing restaurants as “third spaces” (Wikipedia defines a third space as a slightly complicated “postcolonial sociolinguistic theory of identity”, but we’ll go with the simpler definition given in the article about restaurants operating as “cultural hubs” that recognise the uniqueness of everyone who works at and visits them, rather than “just” formulaic watering and feeding holes).
The author of the piece cites one of her most “troubling” moments working in restaurants as being told by her manager at the time that "Dining is theatre" (echoing the words of the iconic American cookbook author and television personality James Beard, who came to food after a career in acting, and did indeed proclaim that “food is very much theatre”, as detailed in his biography, Epicurean Delight: The Life and Times of James Beard ) – in other words, that whatever you do as front-of-house staff is simply a matter of performance, rather than an opportunity to express your individual identity.
The argument for restaurants being - or ideally being - spaces that allow for the expression of individual personalities is well represented in the Oscar-nominated documentary Knife Skills, which details the process of building a fine-dining restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, which is entirely staffed by ex-convicts with little to no experience of cooking, let alone in a professional restaurant kitchen. Its success (the restaurant now has a campus, complete with a butcher shop and an employment programme for “graduates” of the programme) makes a compelling case for restaurants as spaces where staff can find their “place” and contribute something meaningful both to others’ and their own lives, notwithstanding a CV that may not be so attractive to potential employers thanks to a history of incarceration.
It’s a story that’s reminiscent of an early interview with original “bad boy” celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who in response to the question “Why do people [suddenly] give a shit about chefs?”, answered “It's a good question! Traditionally, we were the losers in the family. It has been a profession that is welcoming to misfits throughout history.... The people who couldn’t, or didn’t want to make it in the straight world ended up finding a welcoming place in restaurants”.
Presumably the call for acknowledging restaurants as “third places” is exactly to dispel the idea of anyone who works there being a “misfit”, and for all the pleasure that we receive from such establishments, we can wholeheartedly endorse that idea.

Latest from our site   

As the first in a new series of "evergreen classics" in the SA dining scene, Jean-Pierre re-visits The Radium Beerhall in Jo'burg, and finds a spot which, despite the ravages of time on Louis Botha Avenue, remains a firm favourite among locals, and a solid spot for some good jazz and Portuguese fare (top tip: "Everything here comes with a side salad and the chips are fat and crisp. Stick to the Portuguese classics and you’re likely to have a decent meal").
Bits and Bites
What happens after chefs step out of the spotlight?: After all the (deserved) negative publicity about chefs facing allegations of sexual harassment earlier this year, it seems that the main media attention is now on the question of "what happens next?" for high-profile chefs like Mario Batali who more or less disappeared from the limelight following the exposure of their (sometimes years-long) inappropriate conduct. The New York Times recently ran a piece specifically on Batali, who is apparently "eyeing his second act", while the San Francisco Chronicle rounded up a number of restaurant critics to express their opinions on how (and if!) to review implicated restaurants in future. The answers are not obviously easy:  "If the restaurant is excellent," asks one reviewer, "am I doing a disservice to its other employees by refusing to review it or removing it from the Top 100? …If I pass over a restaurant with an accused chef, am I also punishing the dozens of employees who have made the restaurant great? As a human, I condemn harassment in all forms. ... When I wear my critic’s hat I’m not evaluating what happens behind the kitchen door. I’m writing about what comes out that door". Another, meanwhile, plainly states of one of the restaurants that he cares little for "how perfectly a chicken is cooked, or how affable a bartender is, or how much history it has. I don’t need to go there. And I don’t need to recommend it, or include in a list of recommendations".
On eating the world's hottest chilli: A man was taken to hospital with "'Thunderclap' headaches after eating the Carolina Reaper (currently the world's hottest chilli) in a competition: "The contestant, a 34-year-old with 'no significant medical history,' ate his Reaper ... and immediately started dry-heaving, according to a case study just published by his doctors. That’s hardly unusual for the masochists who bite into these peppers. But the retching was just the beginning: The man then developed 'intense neck and occipital head pain' that, over the coming days, grew into 'intense thunderclap headaches lasting seconds.' Thunderclap headaches are a real medical condition, and according to a report in the New York Times, they can 'indicate the kind of stroke that results from bleeding in the brain'". You've been warned.

Secrets of the cookie tin: They're clearly no longer so fashionable in an age of Banting and so forth, but everyone's childhood home probably contained at least one tin that used to contain those "Royal" Danish butter cookies. In a fun piece in the food section of Atlas Obscura, readers are asked to share what strange and delightful secrets were hidden (or not so hidden) in their parents' recycled tins of Royal Dansk (apparently the British royal family used them to hide gems from the Crown Jewels from the Nazis back in the day!). 
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