INTRODUCING THE TENDERLOIN
"Everything starts from miso soup, good morning!" —Nanao Sakaki
I write about kitchens, because kitchens are incubators for the design and execution of a lot of damage.
For example, recently I discovered that the intrusive thumping sounds originating from the flat above ours are neither amourous, nor the result of hyperactive children or dogs, but the aftershocks from an old Chinese auntie butchering meats for supper. I do not know this woman well, but I have come to think of her as a comrade in arms. Like her, I am the main cook for our little family (a black mongrel cat, her orange nose dipped in foxfire; a Northern British male, ginger-bearded and gutturally-voweled), and I regard my kitchen-work as an unforgiving act of violence. It is to our advantage that many people forget: the kitchen is where the knives are stored.
For better or for worse, the kitchen of my (reluctant) adulthood is not outdoors and carefully built into a large stone patio, shaded and cool, like the kitchens of my sunbrowned childhood in Los Angeles. But is here, joined by said tiny black cat, who flicks her tail at my chopping skills when she is not contemplating fresh assaults of English rain and wind, where I also make strategic decisions about my creative work. Even before I start writing, and editing, I am writing and editing in my mind, thinking over what direction my fiction, a commission from an author, or the translation of a poem should take, once I am finished with my daily eight hours—writing and and editing for someone else—which supports my living.
Last week, while I was cleanly pitching diced onions into a feverish mist of coconut oil and citrus, I decided that a French Surrealist poet, whose work I am re-surfacing in English, really did mean “forage between the thighs of the old man/Venice” and not “forage into ancient Venice,” as the poem’s only other translator originally rendered. (The translator avoided discomfort by throwing the poet’s signature sexual impertinence under the bus.) And while beating eggs for breakfast, I’ve been known to spare a protagonist in a short story whom I previously named for killing off. I balance life and death on the edges of a mixing bowl. As the seventeenth-century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz —unwilling to marry, and thus lose her freedom to study, she took the veil at fifteen—affirmed a few centuries ago: “One can philsophise while cooking supper perfectly well.” It is in this way, by precariously writing and editing in the kitchen, without writing and editing, that much of The Tenderloin took shape.
My fellow editors, Pei-sze Chow and Nina Sparling, and I, have decided to offer you a selection of journeys with food, some more dangerous than others, but all of which question, probe, and sabotage various myths about how we should make food, eat it, talk about it—and who gets to do the talking. Today, with the proliferation of the almost instantaneous sharing of our feasts and cooking feats, the growth of pop-up restaurants, supper clubs, “kitchen surfing,” and story-driven cookbooks, intercultural gastronomic exchange is only continuing to reach giddy heights—indeed, has the kitchen as a domestic, exclusionary (the annals of haute cuisine), or greasy-spoon (a send-up to my own catastrophic waitressing days) reference point ever been so fragmented? Most of the writers and figures in focus work in English, but several have been translated from European and Asian languages. Sections include Recipes, Essays, Features, Visual, Reviews, and Interviews, and this issue’s geographic snapshot of writers, artists, chefs (both self-taught and classically trained), and restaurateurs spans at least sixteen countries and many more self-defining cultures. Working equally well in the hands of a Japanese-British violinist and writer, who re-establishes M.F.K. Fisher’s “voluptuous” eating (Claire Hazelton); a young Sudanese pharmacist-turned-homegrown-cook (Omer Eltigani, The Sudanese Kitchen); an LA-based Filipina journalist who advocated her culture’s cuisine long before it became hip (Teena Apeles)—just to name a few—this writing is capable of bridging the false gap between the new mainstream, the old-school, and the old-fashioned.
And aren’t we living in a rather neo-Victorian age? One very concerned with correct (albeit Instagramtastic) appearances and limitations on uninhibited speech? (Last April, a report from Reporters Without Borders concluded that global media freedom has “never been so threatened.”) The world’s superpower elected a catastrophically destructive populist weirdo. Moreover, the fickle winds of fashion are once again compelling women to wear increasingly balloonish “statement” sleeves. The Victorian era’s Romantic nationalism seems reawakened and well, too—and here we are, simmering uncomfortably in floral leg-of-mutton-sleeved dresses, Q.E.D. The Tenderloin’s inaugural issue: “Not at the table”—an expression, often an imploration, to leave heavy and sometimes rude subjects out of the dinner conversation—is a reaction to today’s global political upheaval. Rather than supplementing further activistic fuel, our desire is to bring together conversations, essays, recipes, and artwork in one platform to offer a moment of reprieve, if only for a long moment—like a good dessert taken seriously. This is not to say that the journal’s editors and contributors are not politically engaged both publicly and privately, and intellectual courage, and investigating food as a world-changing factor, go hand in hand. But dessert, like taking a step back from the primordial soup of civil unrest, is an important indulgence at risk of being forgotten.
Stories about journeys with the food that we eat and make still have a flavour of reports from the frontlines of history and existence. At the heart of The Tenderloin, which will be published quarterly, is a profound, non-negotiable need to communicate with the world—wherever the world may be. The same need is found in the dedication to balancing good, time-tested narrative, while using new ways of telling it. This journal, then, is not putting up a fight in the battle between print media and digital that to many seem lost, it is indeed declaring a victory. Stories have always been shared freely over a good meal. As far as we are concerned, by publishing digitally, the thoughtful sharing of stories about food—essential means of communicating with and understanding this world of ours—can taken on a new form of immediacy and uninterruption.
Several weeks ago, I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for the first time (it is truly a majestic art space, possibly this island’s finest). Marvelling in front of an altar-like sculpture that also resembled a gigantic geode, I read the artist Ursula von Rydingsvard’s mission statement:
“There is a privilege for me working with the public at large…I come from a long line of Polish peasant farmers. My parents could barely read and write. The concept of a museum was not one that they were privy to, so to be able to reach out to people who would not ordinarily go to museum is important to me.”
While I do not actively suss out defining moments, and Joyce is more than welcome to keep the literature of epiphany in his own pocket, it was here that a septuagenarian Polish sculptor—who has long called Brooklyn home—put into tangible, straightforward language what this Californian-born hapa—who will likely grow old in England, forever questing for a a decent artichoke—is trying to do. And isn’t this kind of intercultural transmission, pinging myriad international and temporal coordinates, at the core of what The Tenderloin is about?
My father, the middle son of a large Irish-Catholic family who settled in Los Angeles, lost his own father at the age of eleven; subsequently, his mother, whose family had first come to Kansas to farm the sorghum fields, was forced to learn how to keep eight kids fed and in school single-handedly. After the end of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, my mother’s parents—my lolo and lola—fled war-torn Manila without time for afterthought or equivocation. Hiding in the jungles of Luzon, they would have starved to death (and nearly did) if it were not not the help of the local indigenous tribes. My twin sister and I are the first members in our family to enter university classrooms as students and not as service workers. (In fact, my father believes that my multiple graduate degrees in literature are best utilised when I am proofreading his messages to incompetent colleagues. (“Sing, O muse, of the rage of the Editor, daughter of the Blue-Collar, that brought countless ills upon sub-par punctuation in internal emails!”))
Like von Rydingsvard, it is a privilege for me to give voice to and connect with the kind of people who I come from. In the business of surviving and thriving, they did not have time to learn about art and algorithms, but they enabled me with the opportunities to do so. What they do know are the pains of actual life-threatening hunger, and the sharp pleasures of eating enough and well and watching their children grow without the knowledge of any of this. In the coming issues of this online journal about how food tells us who we are, it is their guidance that I will need to measure whether our outreach is succeeding.
—M. René Bradshaw