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Moonshine Smuggling, Mezcal, Flavor Perception, and More Long Reads

Worthy weekend reading material

Mezcal production in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Mezcal production in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Flickr/Russ Bowling

How does your brain's perception of flavors impact how you experience food? What were the eating habits of the late music icon Prince? And why does contaminated food continue to reach the American public? Food writers across the country delve into these and other topics in this week's top long reads. In an essay, journalist Ryan Andrej Lough recalls the time he smuggled booze across security checkpoints in Kabul to satisfy the cravings of his colleagues and reporter Hillary Dixler explores the challenges of running small town restaurants with big city chef mindsets. Here, now, are seven food-inspired stories to sink your teeth into this weekend.

Perception vs. Reality

Lucky Peach

When it comes to eating and drinking, most of us generally assume that what we taste and smell is what's there in the food. In fact it's not. Fortunately, the categorical accuracy of what is or isn't there is less important at the table than in the witness box. What actually matters at the table is perception. Perception is king when we're eating and enjoying. It is its own reality.

The Luxury of Quitting


Like most teenagers, I got a job because I wanted my own things: gas money, a new stereo, and to take dates to the movies. So, one weekend in late 2001, I hopped into Stanley, my silver, hand-me-down ‘83 Volvo, and stopped at the first place I came across: a red and white Arby's sitting in the corner of a half-empty parking lot of a non-descript strip mall. I walked in, asked for an application, and filled out as much as a fifteen-year-old with zero work experience could.

Mezcal Sunrise

The New Yorker

Some of Lopez's earliest memories of life in Mexico involve the barbecue-sauce smell of cooked agave that pervaded her father's tourist shop, where she and her brother sat on a cement floor, racing worms and tying little packets of sal de gusano to bottles of the family mezcal. Her job, at six, was to run out to the square and draw the tourists in. She is still an expert marketer: many influential L.A. bartenders thank Lopez for giving them their first taste of quality mezcal, in the form of a small bottle, sourced from Oaxaca by her dad and sealed by her with wax that she bought at Staples.

I Was Prince's Private Chef

Food & Wine

That week, Prince was hosting an after-Oscars party and Andy roped me in. A pescetarian at the time, Prince loved Asian flavors and, since I'd tested recipes for Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Asian (by Farina Kingsley, my teacher and mentor) I wrote a quick menu. The party started at midnight and music blasted down the hallway into the kitchen. Stevie Wonder was there. I cooked potstickers for hours on end.

What Happens When Big-City Chefs Open Small-Town Restaurants


Keeping a restaurant staffed and the seats full can be a burden even in America's largest cities, let alone in Chilhowie or Staunton. And yet the siren song of small cities continues calling to chefs who are feeling the pinch in places like New York —€” and for chefs who have already made the move, they're meeting the challenges they face head-on.

Why Our Food Keeps Making Us Sick


Allow us, just for a moment, to be completely — €”and irresponsibly — €”alarmist: We are in a battle with bacteria. And from the numbers, it might well appear that we are losing.

Each year an estimated 48 million Americans are stricken ill as the result of one food-borne pathogen or another — €”listeria, E. coli, salmonella, and even a number of stowaway viruses are among the culprits. But in many cases the victims don't know they've been infected. For those who go to a doctor or the hospital, the collective bill is substantial.

The Moonshiners of Kabul

Roads & Kingdoms

My travels have led me to one conclusion: Man will imbibe and escape immediate reality, no matter the cost or consequence. I hadn't told the driver what was in the bag when he asked me at the pickup location. I simply replied, "It's a gift for a friend." But he knew my answer was bullshit, because of the alcohol on my breath and the obvious shape of the bag, and the clink of the bottles inside it.

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