This past weekend at Parish Hall, the new restaurant from the team behind Williamsburg farm-to-table pioneer Egg, owner George Weld and chef Evan Hanczor hosted a dinner tribute to Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Sun Also Rises.” It was the first in what will be a series of dinners that take their inspiration from the literary arts.
Here’s a quick comment from George regarding the inception of the series and what might come next, followed by his own account of the debut dinner:
“Evan brought up the idea a year or two ago at Egg when we were trying to think of a way to keep doing interesting special dinners over the winter, when we weren’t getting enough produce from the farm to do farm dinners. He has a literary background, and so do I, so it was kind of a no-brainer as an idea. But for one reason or another (mostly the challenge of opening Parish Hall) we didn’t manage to make it happen until Elizabeth Thacker-Jones came to us to ask how we might be involved in the FoodBookFair. It seemed like the perfect time to try it out.
We’ve knocked around ideas pretty loosely for the next book–there’s a scene of oyster-eating in Anna Karenina that astonished me when I first read it; there are parts of The Crossing that made me as hungry as any book I’ve ever read. Evan’s a big fan of Under the Volcano. I think because we’re trying to express the spirit and idiom of the books rather than literally recreate meals from them anything is fair game.” – George Weld, owner of Williamsburg’s Parish Hall and Egg
Cooking by the Book: A Book Report
by George Weld, owner of Williamsburg’s Parish Hall and Egg
This Sunday night, we hosted the first of a series of dinners we’ll be doing called “Cooking by the Book,” in which we plan menus around books—novels, plays, poems, essays—that, for one reason or another, have inspired us to eat.
For our first dinner, we chose Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. It’s a book full of scenes of excess: eating too much, drinking too much, saying too much. But it wasn’t the gluttony for brandy and emotional punishment that we found so compelling about it. We’ve had enough of those.
There’s a fishing scene set in the mountains of Basque country that feels like the core of the novel. Jake Barnes and Bill have retreated from city life to spend a hot morning fishing for trout in a cold clear river. They both do well, filling their creels with fat gleaming fish before they settle down for lunch in the shade of a tree.
They don’t eat the trout—there’s no proto-food-porn scene of them laying foraged herbs into the bellies of the trout and grilling them over twigs of aromatic wood. Instead, they eat the simplest of meals: hard-boiled eggs and cold chicken. They drink wine they’d chilled by resting the bottles in the river. And this simple combination—cold wine, refreshing shade, simple well-earned food—makes for one of the most memorable meals recorded in modern literature. It describes a feeling that we’d love to help people achieve when they eat at Parish Hall, a kind of expansive contentment that seems to make the rest of the world fall into place.
To plan the dinner, we started by reading the book and noting when meals were mentioned. There’s a classic American dinner at Madame Lecomte’s in the section of the book set in Paris. There’s this description of the challenges of learning to eat like a Spaniard: “the first meal in Spain is always a shock with the hors d’oeuvres, two meat courses, vegetables, salad, and dessert and fruit. You have to drink plenty of wine to get it all down.” There’s a lot of drunken staggering around Pamplona.
But there’s no menu laid out in the book for easy extraction. So we started with the literal—foods the book mentions, like brioche and champagne and the chicken and green beans at Madame Lecomte’s. Then we started thinking of how the feeling of the book—rather than the literal content of it—might be expressed through food.
We started with the trout scene, taking the elements of one of our favorite passages:
I took the trout ashore, washed them in the cold, smoothly heavey water above the dam, and then picked some ferns and packed them all in the bag, three trout on a layer of ferns, then another layer of ferns, then three more trout, and then covered them with ferns. They looked nice in the ferns, and now the bag was bulky, and I put it in the shade of the tree.
And arranging them into a dish—trout and fiddlehead ferns, along with dandelion greens, apple, smoked trout broth, and thin-sliced green strawberries:
We followed the fish with a cocktail, a twist on a Jack Rose, a cocktail the characters drink all too much of during the book. (You can read more about the “Jake Barnes Rose” here.) It was followed by a course inspired by the bullrings of Pamplona, and while it was even less direct in its tribute to the book than the trout course, it felt just as true to the book’s spirit: beef both raw and lightly seared, served with a mushroom dust and a sauce made of—of course—bull’s blood beets. Here’s that dish as it was being plated in the kitchen:
We ended dinner with a little dessert meant to evoke Brett Ashley: a quenelle of frozen Pernod served in a small cloud of whipped cream. That was followed by apple pie, taking the meal back to the dinner at Madame Lecomte’s. Our neighbors the Mast Brothers prepared some delicious cordials of Mojo River chocolate filled with brandy to cap off the night.
You can see more photos of the dinner and the rest of the menu on our facebook page. Stay tuned for an announcement about our next event: follow us on twitter or on facebook or, better yet, come by and visit us in person.
Parish Hall is located at 109A North 3rd Street, between Berry and Wythe, in Williamsburg.