Revisit the first episode with commentary from the creators as well as a bonus interview conducted by producer Lari Robling.
A classicist came into a restaurant…
It sounds like the start of a joke but it’s real life for this episode of Dig Into Dining guests Poi Dog Philly co-owners Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca. They both hold Masters degrees in the Classics, the study of ancient Greece and Rome, and that may seem an unlikely background for full time restaurateurs —but, you never know where education can lead you.
Ancient Roman dinners
So the two set about re-creating ancient Roman meals based on one of the first cookbooks, Apicius. You can listen to how they managed the challenges of an old text translation, using modern cooking equipment, and coping with what was, essentially, a list of ingredients.
But first, Marcus Gavius Apicius
Apicius was a wealthy merchant around the first century CE. Apparently, he lost his fortune throwing lavish banquets but got a cookbook named after him.
Then came pseudepigrapha
No it’s not some kind of food poisoning. It is when a work is attributed to an author based on his or her known writing style. Here it is the content of the manuscript that makes it Apician. Basically, the book was attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius simply because he was considered to be obsessed with good food! So, no, he didn’t write the cookbook, but he certainly led the way in what has become our love of gulag (gastronomy in our parlance).
The compendium includes recipes for seafood and shellfish, sausages, legumes, and a whole book on fish sauces! But, one of our favorite gems follows:
“The female Nettles, when the sun is in the position of the Aries, is supposed to render valuable services against ailments of various kinds.”
Try your hand at cooking with ingredients from Apicius; the full volume can be read here, from the Project Gutenberg.
A Pour for Poi
Pairing wine with an unusual dish
Tourists in Hawaii may find themselves at an entertaining luau where a featured traditional dish is poi – the root of the taro that has been cooked and mashed, and sometimes fermented. Long a mainstay of indigenous culture, poi has only recently been replaced in daily meals by rice. While not a daily staple, this local Hawaiian dish still holds cultural relevance and reverence.
I had never had poi, and my guests, Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca of Poi Dog, were about to change that. I wanted to find a wine to pair with this unusual dish, but that presented challenges.
According to Kiki, this poi would be a bit sour and thick. Another helpful piece of information is that poi is often served with a salted meat or fish – especially the longer it has fermented.
Provided the wine is tasty (the most important aspect!), texture and flavors are the important characteristics to think about. So, how does the wine feel in your mouth? Is it creamy? Thin? Oily? Vermentino has a “thicker” feel, which I thought would be pleasant with the sticky poi. Next, try to figure out the type of flavor that will complement the food. If the food is sour, then I don’t want floral or tannic (too much contrast), but I might want light fruit or herb (a good complement to sour). In this case, since the poi is eaten with salty foods, I decided a wanted a wine with briny flavors.
Vermentino fits this characterization pretty perfectly, especially one from near the sea. The brine and clean, crisp apple/almond notes subtly flavored the poi.
La Corsa Dueluglio Vermentino from Maremma*, Tuscany ($20-$25, a little tough to find)
Moris Farms Vermentino from Massa Marittima, Tuscany ($16-$20, slightly easier to find)
Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino from Sardinia ($10-$15, easier to find)
Cecci Vermentino La Mora from Maremma*, Tuscany ($10-$15, easiest to find)
Frank Stitt Made Me Travel 875 Miles for Cornbread
All you really need to know about Frank Stitt is that the late literary giant Pat Conroy wrote the forward to his first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table. Conroy, a man of appetite in both words and culinary pursuits, understood how impossible a tale Frank Stitt’s career is. Who would believe the plot line of a chef who did serious training in the kitchens of tastemakers, who spent a year in some of the finest kitchens in France, who could have opened a restaurant in any fine dining destination of the country instead chooses to go home to Birmingham, Alabama and celebrate the foods of the rural south. And who would believe that Highlands Bar and Grill would lead the country into the Farm to Table movement, become a gestation kitchen for the region’s young chefs and put Birmingham, Alabama firmly on the foodie map.
A meal at one of Frank Stitt’s restaurants is a story in and of itself. The Stitt Restaurant Group is now four entities —-Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega Restaurant, Bottega Cafe, and Chez Fonfon
Frank Stitt was well known by the time I first interviewed him when Southern Table debuted. And I knew Highlands was on my restaurant bucket list as accolades, awards, and a string of James Beard honors continued to grow. It took a while, but I got there. And, as you’ll hear, the cornbread was worth the wait.