Everyone knows the saying about what the world’s “oldest profession” is, but you will find a very close runner up in the kitchen. The history of those who cook professionally to make their living goes way, way back to the origins of civilization itself.
It’s another epic journey across the ages, this time with a focus on my own chosen profession and day job. This is the long, ancient history of chefs (and restaurants).
When Britain industrialized in the late 1700s and the rest of the western world soon followed, humans were transformed to a degree not seen for 10,000 years when we first settled into farming life.
But it wasn’t some simple flick of the switch, where some entrepreneurs decided to build some factories and invent the modern world. Massive changes to food and agriculture had to happen first. As we’ve come to expect by now, history follows food, in one last grand finale to this season of the podcast. Come listen how!
(Also stick around at the end of the episode for a note about the show and next season)
Have I told you about the feeling of fullness yet? Reading about the reverence many West and Central African cultures give to how it feels to have eaten and to be satisfied by a skilled cook, was a revelation to me. It was a perspective on what makes good cuisine that I hadn’t considered before.
So what better way to appreciate this (for me) newfound culinary philosophy than to make the starchy staple which has come to epitomize it: fufu! It’s not bread. It’s not porridge. It’s a kind of starchy, doughy, hybrid of both.
Likely first invented in what is modern day Ghana, fufu is a deceptively simple yet ingenious way to eat your daily carbs. Just about any carb will do: yams, sweet potatoes, corn, plantains, and cassava being the most common across Sub Saharan Africa today.
I’ll be making my very first fufu with the latter two, Cassava (or yuca) and plantains. We’ll be cooking, pounding, and somewhat binding the rich starches in these African staples into a creation that’s simultaneously food and a spoon for eating other food.
Is good cooking defined by ingredients, skill in preparation, style of cuisine, or is it something even more fundamental and deeply human?
We left out of Africa all the way back in Episode 1, and rarely looked back, but in this episode we finally return to the vast continent, specifically south of the Sahara desert, where more than any other qualities, feeling full and satisfied are what make a great meal, and a great chef is one who can evoke that feeling the most.
Come listen for this and other perspectives on food and dining we so rarely hear about in western history.