Before there was Fergus Henderson there was Calvin Schwabe

So the challenge with this draft is that I already wrote and published the 2.0 version (I Heart Unmentionable Cuisine). The original was meant to be a tale of two cookbooks, and prove some (slightly misguided) ‘street cred’ around food trend history, but it evolved.

In this redux, while I would like to develop a thesis…these men, their books, and the trend they both spoke to, are interesting enough as anecdotes to meet my word count. So short, declarative, and occasionally disjointed sentences it is.

Fergus Henderson is an English chef who founded the restaurant St. John. He is featured in the London and Edinburgh episode of No Reservations. He is well-known for: bringing whole animal cooking into the mainstream; simple, but expertly executed, characteristic British cuisine; a clean aesthetic with well-chosen, enlivening contrasts. When I was researching this post, I found out he also has Parkinson’s disease.

Aside #1 If you love the cooking-against-all-odds type of story make sure you look up Grant Achatz (Alinea)

Calvin Schwabe was a professor of veterinary medicine. Yep. I’m gonna just let that sink in for a moment….If alive today he would absolutely be a contender for most interesting man in the world. His contribution to the (at that time unnamed) nose-to-tail ethos grew out of a passion for the interrelationship between humans, animals and the environment, and an understanding that all three meet in our food. Also, was a world traveler he observed (and sampled dishes from) many cultures and people who ate well beyond the ‘choice’ cuts (and the ‘choice’ species). Dr. Schwabe had polio. Which is also a neurological disease, and also starts with ‘p.’

Fergus Henderson has written two-ish books around the idea of “nose-to-tail” cooking and eating. I read The Whole Beast (which is the American reissue of his original Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking), and Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking Part II. The latter is co-authored by Justin Piers Gellatly, pastry chef for St. John, and it features “pudding” recipes (I love that term for dessert).

Aside #2 The “Mother” recipe in Beyond Nose to Tail is the most powerful bread starter I’ve ever made. It was wicked awesome.

Calvin Schwabe wrote Unmentionable Cuisine which I wrote too much about the first time but it has recipes organized by organism and then further subdivided by organ. He covers the typical -cow, pig, goat- but tries to give more unusual treatments for the standard cuts. Then he covers all the parts you never thought about eating. And, of course, there are the insect and ‘naughty bits’ recipes.

The points made by both men -a combination of “waste not want not” and “get over yourself, its delicious!”- are true, well-taken, and worth their separate iterations. Your curiosity will be aroused by Schwabe’s book. Your knife skills will be aroused by Henderson’s books. Following both desires will make you a hit at any table you grace.

Aside #3 Speaking of ‘naughty bits,’ I cannot let this blog exist without recommending the following great read. It’s a cookbook, ingredient history, and ribald, linguistic joke all in one…er…package: Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture by Blandine Vie (Translation: Giles MacDonough). 

Bon Appetit!


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