Gareth Mark is the talented creator of Stumptown Savoury, a food website focused on sharing recipes and techniques for “new traditional home cooking.” A well-traveled culinary expert with a diverse background and over fifty years of experience, he is someone to whom I was excited about having the chance to put a few questions. Talking with me on topics ranging from cooking tips to his opinions on foods sourced from genetically-modified organisms, he did not disappoint and offered up fresh insights that veteran cooks and novices alike will surely appreciate. He also shares my fondness for a glass of wine every now and again, so I didn’t doubt we’d get along. Read on to hear what he had to say.
Flavorful World: Stumptown Savoury has shared recipes for foods like Pear and Prosciutto Crostata and Bacon Caramel Corn, both of which do a great job of blending the savory with the sweet. Excluding the two aforementioned items, what is your favorite food that combines sweet and savory flavor elements, and why?
Gareth Mark: My favorite sweet and savory combo has to be Sweet and Sour Pork, because of early childhood memories, I suppose. I don’t really think in terms of sweet and savory, but rather in terms of complementary flavors. Complementary colors, green and red for example, set up a vibration that brightens both colors. I think the same thing happens when you combine sweet and salty, or hot and sweet, or sweet or sour, and so on.
FW: Home Cooking author Laurie Colwin is credited with the quote “Without one cook giving another cook a tip or two, human life might have died out a long time ago.” What is one tip given to you by another cook that has proven to be invaluable? If tasked with giving a single cooking tip to aspiring cooks at large, what tip would you give?
GM: As a kid, I watched Julia Child, and later Graham Kerr, “The Galloping Gourmet.” What I learned from them was to have fun, not to worry too much about whether a dish was perfect. The one tip I like to pass on is if it tastes okay, just pretend it turned out the way you wanted it to. Most people won’t know, and the ones who do won’t care. Food isn’t a contest and doesn’t need to be perfect. Food is something we share because we want to be with the people we’re sharing with.
FW: What result of your being a moderator of the Google+ Food Bloggers Community has had the greatest effect on how you approach things like menu creation? What effect did it have?
GM: The Google+ Food Bloggers Community was created by Chef Dennis Littley. The other moderators and I have worked closely with him to make it a fine place for learning and sharing. It’s not a food sharing group, though. It’s about providing each other support and sharing knowledge. We don’t really talk about food at all, as surprising as that may seem. Most of what food bloggers do isn’t actually making food. There’s photography to be done, writing to be polished, research to be completed, and all the other things that go into a business, even for those who are doing it for “fun.” That’s what the Community is about: everything but the food.
FW: In an age when frosted cupcakes can be purchased via vending machine and rumors abound of tacos and burritos soon to be deliverable by drone helicopters and parachutes, what untapped delivery method would you like to see explored next, and what style of food is best suited to being handled via that method?
GM: I have to say that I have no interest at all in seeing yet another delivery method for more food-like objects we shouldn’t be eating. We should, instead, be seeking out our local farmers and farmers’ markets and buying food from people we know and trust. We do far too much delivery of food products now. We’ve given up seasonality, flavor, and nutrients so we can have round red things that look sort of like tomatoes all year long, things that are engineered to be transportable and all the same size so machines can handle them.
FW: A recent New York Times article reported that a significant number of retailers have pledged not to carry genetically-engineered salmon currently awaiting FDA approval. Tell us your opinion on genetically-modified organisms as a viable food source and the degree to which FDA approval affects that opinion.
GM: I will not knowingly purchase or consume any GMOs. We humans have been modifying plants and animals for thousands of years. However, what we did through selective breeding was fairly slow, and while we were modifying those plants and animals for consumption, we also adapted to consume them more efficiently. Now we’re faced with scientists assuring us they know what they’re doing when they directly modify the DNA of plants and animals, and that we should trust them. I say no. Scientists have always been quick to assure us they know what they’re doing until they assure us that NOW they know what they’re doing. They told us DDT was safe, remember? The whole system has been badly corrupted, and the FDA has completely caved in to corporations, allowing “generally accepted as safe” to be a standard, and then accepting the word of corporations that GMOs are generally accepted as safe. But we have no idea whether or not these things are safe. For all we know, within a generation those same scientists assuring us that GMOs are safe will be telling us we shouldn’t have been eating those things.
FW: What next step or phase would you like to see in the evolution of Stumptown Savoury and what is your plan for achieving it?
GM: Unlike most food bloggers, I’m not actually all that interested in blogging. I only started a blog because the people attending my classes wanted written instructions and recipes, hard things to do ahead of time when the food is improvised. So I started a blog to fill that need, and I enjoyed it somewhat. Now that I’m active on Google+, however, I’m returning to my roots as a blogger and doing live demonstrations as Hangouts on Air that are recorded on YouTube, as well as making a few videos for my YouTube channel. I’m doing a weekly series featuring easy and delicious meals (Thursdays at 6 PM Eastern), and may add more cooking shows in the future.
FW: Tell us a food that you feel has an undeserved bad rap in the eyes of most diners and why its negative impression is undeserved. Tell us a food that you feel absolutely deserves its bad rap, but is nonetheless fun to work with.
GM: Fat. People are all up in arms about too much fat in the diet, and yet low-fat foods are actually contributing to the obesity problem. Fats are essential to a healthy diet, and are vehicles for flavor. If you don’t use enough fats in your cooking, the food is bland. Bland food doesn’t satisfy, leading to craving and even gorging. Now as for a food that deserves its bad rap? I can’t think of a single real food that deserves a bad rap. Guess I’ll have to pass on the second part of that question.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
GM: “A recipe is merely a suggestion.” I hate recipes. People seem to think they have to have a recipe for everything. Some things, sure, you need an actual recipe, at least once. You’ll never make brioche without one. But once you have the basics for making brioche down, branch out, change it, do something different. I’d much rather empower people with the understanding of underlying principles and fundamental techniques. If you understand the ratios involved and have the technique necessary, you can make whatever you want without having to worry about how anyone else makes it.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
GM: I drink a lot of wine. Seriously, though, there are lots of things I enjoy: reading poetry, writing a bit now and then, taking a walk, going to the beach, hiking in the mountains, a good mystery novel, a good movie (or a bad one)….I guess when I’m not cooking or eating I do my best to enjoy what life offers and to share it with the people I love. And I drink lots of wine.
*Note to readers: Besides his ongoing contributions at Stumptown Savoury, Gareth Mark has a YouTube Channel where he demonstrates deliciousness in short videos, and shares tips on Google Hangouts, live Food Demos, and more at his site titled Google+ Tips for Food Bloggers (and others). He also teaches online cooking classes at ChefHangout.com, so the takeaway here should be that through Gareth Mark, multiple avenues to great cooking instruction await. Go get some.