Writer Wil S. Hylton has a fantastic appreciation of pipe tobacco published last week in, of all places, The New York Times Magazine. Wil tells the story of coming across an obscure variety called Semois and tracking it to its source in Belgium, adding one more item to the long list of reasons I need to visit the country. Unlike so many food and drink writers, Wil gets that tobacco deserves a spot at the culinary table. I love this passage:
I was struck by how unfamiliar the scene would have been to my American friends who have, in a fashion typical of our generation, embraced the current culinary boom with maniacal fervor, boiling obscure reductions to drip onto bits of fruit exploded by bicycle pumps in homage to Ferran Adrià, and yet, despite this globe-trotting gustatory zeal, haven’t the slightest comprehension of the exquisite flavor that haunts tobacco. If the modern mythos of the kitchen had arrived a decade earlier, before the vilification of tobacco was complete, the pipe might occupy a place on the palate alongside argan oil and hijiki and yuzu. Somewhere in the multiverse, there is an alternate New York City where the Union Square farmers’ market brims not just with heirloom melons and leeks and squash but also with local tobaccos as vibrant as the Cherokee purple tomato. There is a literature still waiting to be written on fine tobacco; tobacco awaits its Julia Child — who, it should be said, loved to smoke, as so many other chefs have and do. It is axiomatic these days that smoking ruins the palate, but this would come as news to Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain and all the other celebrated chefs who enjoy a good smoke.