I started the Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines both as an excuse to eat and as what I thought would be a pleasant escape from the political drama of publishing about China.

That led to our publishing books like The Way of Eating and Asian Cuisines, and to my work on gastrodiplomacy.

Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, we’re planning a major project on Food & Sustainability evolving from work on the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability.

I love working on food because it’s always been an important way for me to show love and to bring people together. One upside of COVID-19 is that more people are cooking, experiencing the pleasures of home cooking, and getting to know a wider range of cookery writers.

I’ve seen how finding the right author has made Japanese home cookery, for example, come alive for my daughter. Cookery writers are like the teachers you always remember, the ones who lit a fire, who brought a subject to life.

This is why I was delighted to have an innovative online cookbook platform, ckbk.com, ask if I would expand a blog post about M F K Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. They published my piece today, and you can also read part of it below.

Their platform is a wonderful fusion of great cookbooks, old and new, ported into an attractive online recipe collection. They have a special offer for Berkshire Publishing readers, of a 25% discount with this code: COOKWITHCKBK. Or use this link to apply the code automatically. When you check out you’ll have the option for monthly with a 14-day free trial, or annual with 25% off.

You’ll also find information about a scholarship sponsored by our friend Ken Hom (whose wonderful Chinese and Asian cookery books are available at ckbk).

Cooking through a crisis with M F K Fisher

I had picked up How to Cook a Wolf because it’s about eating during an emergency era, dealing with strained budgets and scarce provisions.

M. F. K. Fisher tackled the challenge of hearing the wolf at the door with panache.

It is true that, when the wolf first proves he is actually there, you feel a definite sense of panic. ‘To work! To work! In heaven’s name!’

You talk with your friends. They are either as bewildered as you, or full of what sound like ghastly schemes for living with three other congenial couples and buying all their food from the city dump.

Thinking of what ordinary citizens coped with during World War II is a good way to plan for the future, too. Environmentalists have been saying for years that to tackle climate change we need the unity and sense of common purpose and willingness to sacrifice that we showed during World War II. (”Saving civilization will take a massive mobilization, and at wartime speed. The closest analogy is the belated U.S. mobilization during World War II.” —Lester Brown in Grist.)

I discovered, and devoured, M. F. K. Fisher when I was in college. Her stories of life and love, as well as gorgeous meals set in places I longed to visit, riveted me. I’d never come across anyone who wrote about food as something that really matters, with a style that made me think she was someone I would want to be like: elegant, poised, wry, intense, quietly passionate.

For years, I was haunted by her directions for scrambled eggs: “This takes perhaps a half hour. It cannot be hurried.” I learned about a grain called kasha,  and got a lesson in making beef tartare.

But rereading To Cook a Wolf in 2020 was something of a shock. The cuisine she knew was, in 1942, far more sophisticated than anything I came across until I was in college. Read the rest at ckbk.com.

Ken Hom–Lee Kum Kee Scholarship

Culinary or hospitality students in Europe can win an all-expenses paid educational trip to an Asian city. This is an essay contest with a theme we can relate to: Creative solutions to the skills shortage faced by Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants.  The Scholarship reflects our friend and mentor Ken Hom’s commitment to higher education, his belief that students should have a voice on important issues facing the hospitality industry, and his dedication to promoting better understanding of Asia’s food culture.

The closing date for applications is 30th June 2020, and details can be found here. Our review of Ken’s charming memoir, A Stir-Fried Life, is here. PS: I made his Burmese Chicken again this week and highly recommend it – the combination of fragrant tumeric and lemongrass, with lots of garlic and ginger, really hit the spot of an early summer’s day.

My post on How to Cook a Wolf concludes that it was the chapter on bread that really made me see how much our experience during COVID-19 echoes that of wartime, and why flour has been so hard to come by (I just bought a 50-pound bag of wholewheat flour from Taft Farms after being unable to get wholewheat since before the crisis began in March).

There is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.

It will smell better, and taste better, than you remembered anything could possibly taste or smell, and it will make you feel, for a time at least, newborn into a better world than this one often seems.

Berkshire Publishing is fortunate in having a truly global network. I’d love to know where you are and what you are cooking, cookbooks you recommend, cookbooks you wish existed. We’re going to put together some of the best ideas and see how they might inspire our future food publishing. And we’re definitely looking to expand our knowledge of work being done on food and sustainability.