The co-founder of Whetstone magazine and host of the food anthropology podcast Point of Origin, food writer Stephen Satterfield spent more than a decade working as a sommelier before venturing into the world of media. A regular contributor to Esquire, Food & Wine, New York magazine, and other publications, Satterfield tells us about his role as a self-described “origin forager,” and why the world of food media is just starting to wake up.
After working in restaurants for several years, what inspired you to start Whetstone and move into the world of food media?
There are some overarching principles—ideologies, you could say—in assessing wine that I found to be transferable to other modes of thinking. More specifically, I’m talking about terroir, and analyzing wines through a prism of time and place, and environment and humanity, and kind of having that be the language.
While working at Nopa in San Francisco, in 2010, I began to befriend many of our purveyors at the restaurant, and through developing that community, became really inspired to chronicle their stories. That started off pretty modestly, as a Tumblr blog, but got progressively more ambitious, culminating in a brand with a voice and an identity that I decided to really pursue—but instead of through a hyper-local Northern California lens, a more global one. Whetstone is a food publication and media company that is dedicated to food culture through this specific framework of origins and anthropology. We don’t really say, explicitly, that our work is political—we believe it’s implied in the message—but how could it not be?
As a society, we’ve become so disconnected to nature and our food systems. How did we get here, and do you feel the ongoing pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on how we consume and rethink our food sources?
Our food system is owned and controlled by corporations, which really defined the entire twentieth-century history of industrialization in this country, and in many other countries. It’s the resulting impact of relinquishing more power to corporations to feed us, decade after decade, and moving further away from the agrarian tradition of the preceding centuries. Fast-forward to today, and you can now press a button on an iPhone to have food show up on your doorstep, which seems like a logical conclusion to all of that. The corporations really deliver on the original promise of the 1950s—with its microwaves, Easy-Bakes, and so forth, [up] through the modern grocery store—that you don’t have to be inconvenienced with canning or pickling things, or making soup stocks, that everything can be acquired, that it will afford you more time to spend with your family, to pursue this life of “American ideals,” whatever that may be.
At the onset of the pandemic, when the grocery stores were wiped clean, it was a frightening and really pivotal moment for a lot of people, and hopefully, a time to really start thinking more critically and asking: What and how do we actually feed ourselves, and where does our food come from? For us, it’s one of the essential questions.
As a co-founder of one the only black-owned food media companies in the country, what do you make of the current reckoning that’s happening in mainstream food media, at publications like Bon Appetit, and the difficult and painful conversations that are taking place?
Well, these aren’t difficult conversations for us because we have always been talking about this from the onset. And largely, the reason for our existence is the kind of racism that we experience—speaking of myself, personally—and basically felt uninspired by. We saw what was happening at these companies as antithetical to what we were trying to make, and in a sense, it gave us the guidance to understand what we didn’t want to do, in the way of appropriation, voice, and our editorial vision.
The reckoning is very necessary, and the erasure of other cultures—through appropriation, through excluding people of color from financial and professional opportunities—is in keeping with a centuries-long tradition of exploiting people of color, and specifically black people, for labor. This reckoning is largely about saying that the time’s up for that. We support it, and we think it’s only going to produce better products from the brands we love. I feel really sorry for the people who were harmed from all of the abuse that was happening within those organizations, but it does feel like there is a new enlightened moment. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it does unequivocally feel like a different moment—and that’s encouraging, to be in an unprecedented moment of racial justice.
One of the things we found particularly offensive is the working assumption, of the former editor [of Bon Appétit, Adam Rapoport], that the audience wasn’t sophisticated enough to absorb global or even diasporic cuisine. And in fact, the ultra-white filter applied to their stories actually wasn’t in keeping with broader food culture in the country, where people have been, in unprecedented ways, going to different kinds of restaurants and embracing all kinds of cuisines more than ever before. There was a real curiosity that they really could have led and brought their readers along upon, instead of undermining their intelligence by using this really, you know, milquetoast filter.
The power of this moment, and of your platform, is that people are hungry to learn more about food at a deeper level, and to recognize its cultural currency across so many spheres.
I’m always impressed with how sophisticated our readers are, and a lot of times they themselves will be independent scholars. I, myself, don’t have formal anthropology training, but I love reading about food origins, and there are so many others like me, who’ve used food as a pathway to deepening relationships to their own cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious identities.
Eating is something we all do and embody, in a way, which we can’t really say about anything else. We believe in the power of food as a way of radicalizing people, nourishing people, educating people, politicizing people—and we don’t really need to change our message to do that. We can tell really honest stories, whether about food culture in a contemporary context, or sometimes in a reported, anthropological story around indigeneity, that helps us understand how we got here. And I think a lot of that is a credit to the language, the vibe, and the products that we put out into the world, based around our working assumption about people’s comprehension, intelligence, and curiosity to keep up with what we’re talking about.
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During China’s Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 C.E.), pu-erh tea was transported along the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, an age-old trading route that once extended 1,400 miles from ChinaCamellia sinensis var. assamica in mountains of the Chinese Yunnan Province—that are roasted, rolled, and dried in the sun. They’re then fermented in osheng pu-erh ferments naturally and matures over many years like a fine wine, while the ripe and earthy shou pu-erh is incubated in a moisture-rich environment that accelerates the aging process, which concludes within a few months. Typ
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If journeying to Japan feels out of reach—or even impossible, in the midst of a pandemic—fret not. The subscription box Kokoro Care Packages brings the best of the country to you via monthly, quarterly, or one-off parcels, delivered year-round. Noodles, soups,
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In 1989, friends Deborah Fleig and Linda Tetrault started running the store at Ten Thousand Waves, a spa-centric sanctuaFloating World Artisan Sake Imports to bring Japan’s finest brews stateside. Their knowledge shines through the company’s wide-ranging website catalogue, Akishika Okarakuchi variety, made by just five people at a tiny, 134-year-old establishment nestled in the mountains between Kyoto and OsakMukai, a label run by one of the few female tōji (master brewers) working in the industry today. Libations for more adventurous palettes include Kaze no Mori (“Wind of the Woods”), a floral, fruity, unfiltered sake with a cult following, and a dry, earthy sake from Mutemuka, a brewery in Kochi Prefecture, that’s aged for six months and has a distinctively nutty aftertaste that smacks of cacalist of distributors before holing up for the holidays.
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The human gut microbiome contains up to one thousand species of bacteria that, among many functions, produce neurotransm
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Sichuan cuisine, named for the subtropical province of China where it originates from, is characterized by a diversity omálà (a portmanteau meaning “numbing and spicy”), is marked by deep and pungent, peppery notes that you not only taste but fethe U.S. considered Sichuan peppercorns to be contraband; nowadays, you can find the little pink orbs in trendy cocktails that play on its citrus and camphor-like aromas. As thThe Mala Market, an online purveyor that stocks top-grade ingredients directly from Sichuan province. Here, in one fell swoop, you can blog of recipes to kick-start your culinary adventures.
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The 20th-century futurist, theorist, inventor, and architect R. Buckminster Fuller was a tireless visionary and radical thinker who wrote dozens of books and proposed theoretical designs advocating for Synergetic Stew: Explorations in Dymaxion Dining, a collection of recipes and anecdotes originally compiled by Fuller’s friends as a surprise gift for his 86th birthday
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Extolled by New York City’s finest restaurants, from Daniel to Eleven Madison Park and abcV, as well as a growing coteriDavocadoguy, is seemingly everyone’s go-to guy for the best avocados. He keeps his supply consistently stocked and perfectly ripene
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First came the sourdough craze; next, homemade cheese. Ricotta, to be specific. Since pandemic times, home cooking has ta recent episode of At a Distance. “For me, it was so wild how far away we had come from that, as a species—the fact that most people don’t know how to htry this recipe), requiring only two ingredients: milk and lemon. Add a bit of patience, which is something we could all stand to pract
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With Memorial Day weekend behind us, summer has officially begun, and for many home-growers, this signifies the busiest Kitazawa Seed Company, founded in 1917 by a Japanese American family, sells some of the best, and offers more than 500 seed varieties of dento yasai, traditional heirloom varieties of a diverse array of Asian vegetables used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines, Browse the extensive catalog to learn about all the delicious varieties, and pick up some recipes for dishes such as sunomono, a simple and refreshing cucumber salad, and kinpira gobo, a savory side of burdock root sautéed in sweet soy sauce.
Thirty to forty percent of perfectly good, fresh produce grown in the U.S. goes to waste each year simply due to bruisinTerroir in a Jar, a company with a serious mission to reduce food waste and put profits back into the hands of growers.
As the in-house chef for Vitsœ—the midcentury furniture manufacturer that’s been producing Dieter Rams designs since 1959—Will Leigh is a fixture who famous 606 modular shelving. Though much of the Vitsœ team has been working remotely these past several weeks, Leigh, along with a dozen or so esse
As we enter yet another week of social distancing in many cities throughout the U.S., home cooking, it seems, is here toGreat Jones, the direct-to-consumer startup co-founded by Grub Street alum Sierra Tishgart, makes a beautiful enamel cast-iron versThe Dutchess, in a range of cheery colors to brighten any kitchen drudgery. For the more minimalist or solo cook looking to save spaAlways Pan from Our Place is an ideal starter piece, with a ceramic non-stick coating and various nesting accessories that give it a multifunctioMisen’s durable seven-piece cookware set, designed by the Brooklyn studio Visibility, offers a clean, no-nonsense take, with ergonomic handles designed for comf
The ongoing Covid-19 closures have brought the unimaginable to so many local and small businesses across the country andFamily Meal, a site and Instagram account of recipe cards featuring dishes from their favorite local restaurants. All are available for download, with suggested bagna cauda from Popina, challah from The Lighthouse, and lou rou fan from Win Son.
Between homeschooling, working from home, and/or cooking at home more than ever, many of us are spending our days stayinan automated, open-source system called FarmBot that’s been slowly cultivating a fan base of users online. Controlled using an app, and assembled from a kit of parts, t
Daytime drinking is on the up—hey, it’s 5 p.m. somewhere (not that we can keep track of time these days, though the #HandMarkingTime Stories on our @slowdown.tv Instagram at least help us remember which day of the month it is). But if you prefer not to risk getting a hangover, or weakeningDram Apothecary makes a version of the increasingly popular drink in a range of flavors, such as cardamom and black tea, using CBD extrWild Mountain Sage) and switchels, as well as a set of CBD tinctures that you can either drop directly on your tongue, or add to any drink
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has put a sudden and massive halt on the restaurant industry: Bars, small businesses, mega-c“morbidly high business death rate.” (There’s an episode of our At a Distance podcast on this very subject with Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier coming out soon.) As wholesale restaurant suppliers now find their client bases on
As people everywhere settle into new home-cooking routines, finding resourceful ways to make their pantry goods stretch victory garden. Luckily for apartment dwellers without a backyard or access to much green space (more than half the world, basically), all you need is a corner of a countertop to grow some fresh herbs indoors. Better still, and for the botanEdn. The company makes wifi-controlled kits that come with a built-in LED grow light; simple seed pods for no-fuss, soillesSmall Garden order placed—a welcome reminder, in these uncertain times, that your efforts to stay indoors can make a difference for
Self-quarantine and social distancing in the age of the coronavirus are not to be taken lightly, and if, like us, you’refor your own safety and for the safety of others—you may be asking yourself what to stock your pantries with. Add to cart: DADA Daily, a line of tasty and healthy snacks that are neither heavy-handedly survivalist nor overprocessed and, not to mention, so don’t be that bulk-buying, toilet paper-stockpiling jerk.
As the daughter of Slow Food pioneer and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters, Fanny Singer has had her share of Proustian Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes and Stories (Alfred A. Knopf), offers a warm and sensorial portrait of her mother, and of an upbringing that often revolved around
Dimes, the all-day café, bar, and market founded by Sabrina De Sousa and Alissa Wagner in downtown Manhattan, has always doneDimes Times: Emotional Eating (Karma Books)—which she says is the first in a series of more publications to come.
Rich Shih, founder of the blog Our Cook Quest and co-author of the forthcoming book Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation, is a self-taught cook and fermentation expert who makes everything from takuan pickles to fish sauce from scratch, twekoji, the source of umami in fermented ingredients like miso, soy sauce, mirin, and more.
South Korean cinema has been on everyone’s lips this week, in the afterglow of director Bong Joon-ho’s triumphant OscarsParasite, the grand finale to a months-long award spree that began with a Palme d’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival last year. making history in more ways than one. By his second acceptance speech, Bong, whose reactions were being duly memed, was ready to hit the bar. His exact words: “I’m ready to drink now, until the morning.” A total mood.
Zach Mangan, founder of the specialty Japanese tea importer, gallery, and café Kettl, tells us what to look, smell, and taste for in a top-quality matcha.