Last fall, the founder and editor of the James Beard Award-winning journal Gastronomica, Darra Goldstein, was asked to become chief editor for a new food magazine named CURED, which celebrates the art of preservation, from pickling to curing. Quite a unique topic to make the exclusive focus of a food magazine in our times. But yes, especially now, food has a more important role and we want to get all the benefits out of it. But this was only one reason that interested Darra, who has written books like “High Society Dinners: Dining in Tsarist Russia,” “The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets” and “Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking”. CURED will come out twice a year, in winter and in summer.
IRMA: Why is food preservation in high demand or a trend right now?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: People are worried about our industrial food system, and more and more of us want to know exactly where our food comes from, to ensure that it’s healthy. This desire dovetails nicely with the DIY and Maker movements, which celebrate the rediscovery of arts that have been lost or ignored. There’s also ever greater awareness of health issues and the benefits of fermented foods. All these factors come together in food preservation.
IRMA: Normally food magazines show glamorous pictures of food and dishes. How would you describe your visual language regarding the presentation of cured food?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: It’s vibrant and alive — just like the foods that ferment! The colors are vivid, and the layout is meant to convey a sense of the passage of time, which is so crucial to food preservation. For the most part we avoided standard beauty shots to give the magazine a bit of an edge and make people see the cured and fermented foods in stunning context, whether through narrative photo essays or food-styled shots of the various recipes.
IRMA: What can time do to food and what is good about that?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: There’s a rather wondrous dividing line between ripeness and decay. If we can take control of the process and harness good microbes to work in our favor, then we can produce some of the most amazing foodstuffs and drinks that we know: cheese, wine, beer, sourdough bread, cured meats. All of these products take time for the fermentation process to work, so we need to learn patience, and that becomes a virtue in itself. As the foods or drinks age, they take on deeper, more intense flavors, and so we are rewarded at the end. It’s also really good for us in our high-speed society to appreciate a slow pace and see the beauty of transformation as the aging process unfolds.
IRMA: Why are pickles or kimchi good for you? Can you name a couple of healthy reasons?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: The kind of pickles that carry health benefits are simply salted, not preserved in vinegar. The brining process allows for lacto-fermentation, which also happens with kimchi and sauerkraut and numerous other foods, and it’s the fermentation that brings the health benefits. So, here are some reasons to eat fermented foods:
1. As a result of the fermentation process, you get all sorts of beneficial enzymes, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins, especially Vitamin B. And when it’s properly done, fermentation kills any bad bacteria present, making it safer to eat traditional pickles than to eat commercially sold fresh lettuce that may harbor E.coli.
2. Fermented foods are really good for a healthy gut, as they ensure that the microbes are in balance. Foods like kimchi and yogurt introduce good bacteria into the gut, which is especially important if you’ve been taking antibiotics that have killed the good bacteria along with the bad.
3. Fermented foods help you absorb nutrients more readily.
4. Fermenting milk into yogurt or kefir or cheese breaks down the lactose and makes the food easier to digest.
5. Preserved foods don’t go off the way fresh foods do — they last for months, and a long shelf life means you can have healthy foods right at hand.
6. And we must not forget about taste! Curing and fermenting heighten and intensify the flavor of fresh foods, so that’s an added bonus.
IRMA: How about stabilizing your PH value: When would you eat which food how?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: I don’t think we can speak of a standard formula for pH balance, since it depends on each person’s individual make-up. But many researchers believe that the loss of traditionally fermented foods in our modern diet is one of the reasons that people succumb to disease. Fermented foods should be part of any healthy diet, but like anything else should be eaten in moderation.
IRMA: How did you get the idea to make a whole magazine about this topic?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: The idea came from Zero Point Zero, the production company behind the wonderful TV series “Mind of a Chef” and “Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.” They decided to launch a magazine focused on preserving and asked me to be the Editor in Chief. It’s a thrilling project.
IRMA: Are there chefs that are just specialized in preserved food or preserving food?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: Fermented, cured and preserved foods have become important on restaurant menus over the past few years. The first issue of CURED featured L.A.’s Baroo, where chef Kwang Uh makes amazing dishes with all sorts of fermented grains and vegetables. Our next issue will feature chef Peter McKenzie of Shepard in Boston, who doesn’t let any food go to waste — instead he dries or cures or ferments what others would consider table scraps and then uses those new products as flavor boosters in new dishes. Really any excellent chef who is thinking about deep flavors, food waste and healthful eating will turn to some form of preserving to make the food sing.
IRMA: What does food mean to you?
DARRA GOLDSTEIN: My initial response is deliciousness and sensory pleasure — all the flavors and aromas and colors that come together on the plate. But food is also so much more than that — it’s a way of connecting with people, a way to share your own culture and experience the cultures of others in a very immediate way. Sharing a meal offers the opportunity to break bread together and therefore break down barriers. For me, food also has a lot to do with aesthetics — a beautifully prepared meal, no matter how simple, is a visual delight.