Gastronomic Journalist Nika Makhlina On Her Favorite Books

A life 2022

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Gastronomic Journalist Nika Makhlina On Her Favorite Books
Gastronomic Journalist Nika Makhlina On Her Favorite Books

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IN THE HEADING "BOOKSHELF" we ask journalists, writers, scientists, curators and other heroines about their literary preferences and publications, which occupy an important place in their bookcase. Today Nika Makhlina, a journalist and co-founder of the Sputnik food and travel laboratory, is sharing her stories about her favorite books.


Nika Makhlina

journalist and co-founder of the Sputnik Food and Travel Lab

The food seems to be made to be written about

As a child, I especially appreciated how my grandfather, a former press attaché of the GDR, did three things: fold camp hats from the newspaper, fry cheesecakes and give me books. Apart from him, no one in the family was particularly involved in my literary education, but my grandfather had a peculiar approach: he gave me only encyclopedias and dictionaries, and for the rest of my life I developed an applied attitude towards books - I open any of them like a box with tools …

When it came time to read fiction at school, it was wildly interesting for me to explore what phrases, names and place names the author uses, what style and rhythm he has, what useful information can be gleaned from the book and what facts from history are there. Only in the second place could I grasp the whole picture: to think about the fate of the heroes, about the genre of the book and about the problems - and with much less trepidation. When I passed the literature exams, it was more convenient for me to take a piece of paper and redraw what I read there in the form of a tablet or infographic with characters and events in order to better understand the essence.

Having entered the journalism faculty, I began to read a lot and everything: Bradbury, Orwell, Eco, Allen, Dovlatov, Murakami, Strugatsky, Brodsky, Hoffman, "Fried green tomatoes in the Polustanok cafe" and Mayakovsky. I liked the latter not as a poet-propagandist, but as a perfectly folded object: I adored all these paragraphs of his, line breaks and how he accentuates individual words with the help of visual techniques, what illustrations accompany everything and how the illustrations themselves can also be performed the role of the text. I even singled out one technique from Mayakovsky, which I gave some name, as if I had opened a strait or an insect, and wrote a paper about it - the teacher went to meet my heated imagination, although it had nothing to do with the topic of the assignment.

In addition, I analyzed the works of Mayakovsky and everyone else as donor organs, which I can use in the future. Since I already worked in magazines, I wrote out for myself some separate words that need to be applied. When I had to write formal texts for work, for example, about cars or cameras, I amused myself by using the style of a particular author whom I am reading now: no one noticed, but I was pleased to know this inner joke. Programmers call such blotches "Easter eggs" - for example, when a dinosaur appears in a Moscow park on Yandex panoramas.

At the same time, I was always worried when I could not keep up a conversation about literature with representatives of the intelligentsia. Until now, it sometimes seems to me that books, like many things in life, I perceive as a foreigner or an alien - I cannot integrate them into the system, but I can study along and across as an object in itself and find something that others are there did not think to look. Of course, I was also worried that a journalist, according to everyone's idea, should read much more and in a completely different way. Therefore, when the fashion for non-fiction came, I sighed with relief - after all, these are the books that suit me perfectly.

For my first nonfiction, I rushed to the Moskva store almost at night, after I heard a short retelling of the book at a lecture by Ivan Zasursky - it was Understanding of Media by Marshall McLuhan. It meant a lot to me: a whole book about how print, advertisements, roads and other media were gradually changing the world. And with theories like the one that “Isn't it time to stop guessing whether the egg or the chicken appeared first, and wonder if the chicken is the way for the egg to reproduce?”.

At the same time, I really fell in love with biographical books. I somehow came to the Andy Warhol exhibition in Moscow and ended up in the wrong building of the Tretyakov Gallery. To smooth out the pointless trip, I bought it "From A to B and vice versa." There was practically no useful information in it, but there was a sea of ​​bright turns and images like when he wakes up and steps on a cherry with his foot. I was delighted that such a thing could be published at all. Like in one of the first issues of Esquire I was delighted with a longread dedicated only to bookworms - this is such a cool arrogance! From the latest biographical books, which I really liked, Pivovar's "Duck, Standing on One Leg on the Bank of Philosophy." It is built in the same way as Warhol's, on a dialogue - this is a collection of letters from Pivovarov to the philosopher Olga Serebryana and vice versa, in which they discuss everything in the world: from the revolution in the Czech Republic to what color it was customary to paint shadows in pictures with at different times …

Then I started writing texts about food - and, accordingly, looking for new tools. I didn't think then that recipe books were just the tip of the iceberg, one of the many genres of gastronomic literature, and that in fact food books can be exciting travel stories, guidebooks, biographies, and history textbooks at the same time. and encyclopedias. Reading them is even nicer to me than it is - in no other field has a person come up with so many beautiful names anymore. The food seems to have been made to be written about. And a good book about food is a rich catch of vocabulary that can only compete with my grandfather's cheesecakes in rolling over the tongue.

When the fashion for non-fiction came, I sighed with relief - after all, these are the books that suit me perfectly


Alexander Grimaud De La Renier

Almanac of Gourmets

This book was presented to me by a photographer friend after we were preparing material about the opening of a restaurant with him and I complained that I did not want to write a boring factual text about it at all. He said the book should help me. And so it happened, and even more: Grimaud became for me the perfect example of how to write about food. He was not the first to do this as a cookbook writer. What Grimaud created was called "gourmet literature": these are phrases like "cheese is a drunkard's biscuit", "you can easily eat your own father with this sauce" or a description of a restaurant in which oysters "are eaten so much that shells alone form a real a rock that rises above the tallest houses on this street. " He managed to organically weave this whole style into practical advice: the first gastronomic criticism and a guide to Paris in the world turned out, from which one could learn that the inn Bienne prepares the best roast in the city, and the glorious Rouge has incomparable pies and pates.

Nina Gomiashvili, Giorgi Totibadze, Konstantin Totibadze

Georgia: first, second, third

Everyone who has been to Georgia knows what baroque food is and what powerful hospitality there is. So, this book is absolute Georgia. Instead of just dumping the recipes in a row, the Totibadze brothers arranged a real feast between the first and fourth covers: they accompanied the recipes with local parables, touching comments, their drawings and photographs of Nina Gomiashvili: they have itchy Imeretian dogs and Megrelians that look like Mexicans.For this book, the brothers and Nina, who live in Moscow, themselves went to a gastro trip around Georgia and turned for a while into “recipe hunters”. The preface says: “We were not hungry or sober for a single minute,” honestly, like the rest of the book.

Julian barnes

The Pedant in the Kitchen

This book, like many others from the list, was given to me by Ivan Bolshakov to read when we just started living together. He still cooks more than me, but then I experienced real horror before cooking. The story is told from the perspective of a hero who, like me, was not taught to cook in childhood, and therefore he was forced to start using crutches for confidence - recipes. It was then that he discovered in himself a pedant, what is the point of scolding the authors of these recipes for their careless attitude to numbers, volumes ("What is an average pinch ?!"), because they often do not check what they themselves advise and which can give the task to weigh, for example, 30 grams of yolk. This is a very funny book. Every time I re-read it, I imagine such a gastronomic stand-up - it's a pity that nothing like this exists.

Elena Kostyukovich

Food is Italian happiness

The book, written by the translator Umberto Eco, with his foreword. I bought it as soon as I saw it in the store: it’s not about Italy, but how perfectly it is put together: it’s a hybrid of an encyclopedia with a guidebook. It seems that the book is about food - but in fact a book about the way of life in the country through the prism of minced capon meat, parmesan crust and marzipan figurines. I really like that a lot of attention is paid to the etymology of foods and dishes, and also that Elena simultaneously recalls other existing literature about food. For example, the work "On the Origin and Dignity of Pasta", the heroes of which fight on forks for the attention of Mrs. Pasta.

Katya Kalina

Restaurant phrasebook

I love dictionaries that reflect the spirit of their time. These were once made by "Big City" and "Afisha", and this is a random rare specimen about food, which was released by "Globus Gourmet". You open it on any page and read what is "shabu-shabu" and what is "toss", and what does this have to do with Moscow. A very pleasant experience - I use it for work, and sometimes I take it with me and just read during the day.

Giovanni Rebora

Fork origin:

the story of the right food"

There are quite a few books like this: about history and customs related to food. I also like, for example, "Travel to the Edge of the Plate" by Olga Nazarova with a foreword by Viktor Pivovarov. Such reading changes the daily picture of the world, allows even to look at the sausage in the context of history - and the sausage appears volume. Reading such books is the same as reading Gilyarovsky about Moscow: only in this case you begin to know better not the city, but what you eat. And now you, reaching for the shelf above the stove, remember that olive oil was used for lamps, ordinations and coronations, and when you open the refrigerator, that the Celtic civilization was a civilization of cheese and sausage.

Ursula Sedgwick

Lick Your Fingers: My First Cookbook

Someone left this book at our entrance. Not just recipes for children, but a masterpiece of naive and culinary arts: a kitten and a dog tell you how to make zoo cakes, fruit crumbs, mint cakes, apple snow and other amazing dishes. I would like to have such a book as a child or give one to my child. This is incomparably stronger and more correct, in my opinion, than all these sickening "Books about food for little housewives", from which the desire to cook only evaporates.

Peter Mail

France - a journey with a fork and a corkscrew

I wish I could write something similar about Russia someday. In fact, this is a collection of stories about how the author travels around France, studying local gastronomic customs - what we ourselves are trying to do in the framework of our project "Sputnik Food and Travel Laboratory".True, Russia does not have all these snail fairs and other food festivals with spicy sausages under powdered sugar and breeding rabbits, just as there are no fraternities of tasters or truffle fraternity in Russia, but I hope there will be something no less interesting.

Irina Glushchenko

Public catering: Mikoyan and Soviet cuisine

The book I am reading right now. An exciting biography of Mikoyan: about how he chose the most personal and most common thing in the world - food - as the subject of his work, and thanks to this he retained his position in different periods of Soviet power. I am learning a lot of new things: about how Mikoyan himself controlled all manufactured products, right down to packaging, about the nuances of creating a "Book about tasty and healthy food" and about how kitchen factories influenced the emancipation of women in the USSR.

Gastronomic encyclopedia "Larousse Gastronomique"

Any person from the world of gastronomy will say about this book as a must-read - this is such a "Soviet encyclopedia", only in the world of food. In addition to the fact that this is an objectively great work, I have very warm personal feelings for her - today this is the apogee of my love for encyclopedias. I don’t know if they’ll come up with something better - as long as I take a volume off the shelf whenever possible and read at least one article at a time, so as not to lose my keen interest in the topic I’m working on now.

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