From MOD Pizza to LeBron James-endorsed Blaze, fast-casual pizza chains are popping up across the country with alarming speed. Who will come out on top? In this week’s long reads reporter Venessa Wong delves into the evolving world of a pizza. Elsewhere, essayist Sophie He recalls her intimate middle school relationship with the flamin’ hot Cheeto and a writer explores the world of high-tech plant based animal protein alternatives. Here, now, are five long reads to gobble up this weekend on the subway, your porch, or anywhere else fine articles are consumed.
Pizza, like other fast food, proliferated in the US because it was cheap and convenient. Above all else, most Americans expect pizza to cost very little, which can be a recipe for all sorts of culinary shenanigans. While it was beloved for decades — even in the highly industrialized form most of us know today — the big chains lost their way somewhere down the line, in pursuit, perhaps, of efficiency and profit. But what other choice did a pizza enthusiast have?
At some point, enough people decided they were no longer content to just passively gorge on whatever pizza they were offered.
Roads and Kingdoms
Saizen’s set menu rotates with the season and whatever Uchikura, the resident sansai expert, happens to stumble upon on her daily foraging trips. Today, in mid-summer, they’re serving a puffed millet cake that’s at once crunchy like popcorn and gelatinous like mochi, as well as sweet morsels of steamed kabocha, a mound of bitter blanched mustard greens sprinkled with sesame seeds, shavings of Japanese knotweed laced with saffron-like threads of togarashi pepper and a sliver of fried rainbow trout caught in the river at the bottom of the gorge dressed in a tangy sauce.
Looking back, it now seems like the 1930s were a far more tolerant time for women in Michelin history. Just one generation later, the man who would become the king of French cuisine, Paul Bocuse, would famously say during an interview in the 1970s that he would rather have a woman in his bed than behind the stove in his restaurant. That sentiment ushered in a period of skepticism toward women chefs that is still with us (if you think cutting women out of history is a problem of the past, just consider contemporary restaurant rankings of today). The Michelin guide followed Bocuse’s lead, and 50 years would pass before another woman (Anne-Sophie Pic) received the three-star honor.
The company deploys a three-part process: identifying underutilized, low-impact crops (like sorghum, which requires little water); applying computer data to determine if any proteins they contain might be functionally useful in food (the way the yellow pea turned out to be a great emulsifier); and then using advanced cooking techniques (via a dream team of Michelin-starred chefs) to create tasty recipes for packaged products.
Like so many of my SoCal peers, I was a glutton for those addictive little lumps. Along with all the other eighth graders, I used to barrel down the block to an ice cream truck that sold Lucas and Pelon Pelo Rico, mango chili and sour apple caramel lollipops, and plastic swords, which my friends would purchase and incorporate into their Final Fantasy role-play (it was 2001 and we were nerds). And yes, single-serving bags of The Good Stuff.
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