For many years I read every single word of every single issue of Harper’s Magazine. This went on for about 8 or 9 years, until Lewis Lapham retired as editor and I gradually lost interest in the magazine, though I still read it from time to time. For so long I held it in my mind as the epitome of literary and journalistic excellence that even though my ardor has somewhat faded, the name of that august publication still reverberates with deep meaning for me.
How happy then to get an email from an old friend with whom I shared this love (we often traded long-form opinions on this or that Harper’s article via snail mail), pointing me to the July 2011 issue where there is a mention of me in a throwaway line at the bottom of page 82.
Amusingly, it’s for something that I did, well, many years ago when I still read Harper’s religiously. At Coffee Fest in Seattle in the mid-2000’s, after competing in my first ever barista competition, I manned the Synesso booth on the show floor. Synesso was a very young company at the time. Up at Victrola Coffee on 15th (the original store) we had the second Synesso Cyncra machine ever built, and the first in any commercial setting. (That machine is still in operation, by the way, right down the street from where I am writing this… I had a shot of espresso off of it just the other day.)
So there weren’t that many baristas on Earth that had experience using a Synesso — maybe ten or twelve of us. They asked me, along with my co-worker Kyle, to man the booth over the weekend of Coffee Fest. It was a lot of fun.
A few weeks later, while working a shift at Victrola, I got a call in the back room from someone who wanted private barista lessons. Actually it was the personal assistant of the man who wanted lessons. The man turned out to be Nathan Myhrvold. Apparently I had pulled a shot of coffee (roasted by this guy) for him at Coffee Fest that made him go out an buy his own one-group Synesso (check his wiki page if you are wondering who has the kind of money to buy an $8000 espresso machine based off of one shot). He hadn’t been able to reproduce the shot in his home, so I went there and did some private lessons with him. Whether the lessons did the trick, I don’t really know.
I forgot about this little episode, except occasionally as an anecdote at coffee parties in Anaheim or Minneaopolis, until last year a fact-checker contacted me to confirm the spelling of my name for a 2,438 page encyclopedia called Modernist Cuisine. This is Myhrvold’s magnum opus on cooking. I was pleased and tickled to learn I would get a passing mention in the book, when the subject of coffee was mentioned. I still haven’t read the actual book. That’s a lot of pages.
Well, in Will Self’s article Gastronomia: The beatification of our daily bread (subscription only), he happens to mention my name and the name of Victrola. Again, it’s not really much at all. The only reason I’m going into this whole self-indulgent recollection is because it’s Harper’s, and Harper’s was so very dear to my heart for so long.
But here comes the kicker. Self (whose writing I have always enjoyed) singles out Myhrvold’s pretentiousness in what is a general take-down of over-indulgent foodie-ism. And I happen to agree with Self that the current, post-modern obsession with food is, well, frankly nauseating.
How bittersweet then, for yours truly, to read what he says:
One expects in life to be talked town to from time to time, but to be patronized by a cookbook? And I could aver that for sheer self-indulgent daffiness, Myhrvold’s own account of being pulled a “God shot”—the ultimate and spiritually transfiguring shot of espresso—by Daniel Humphries of Victrola Coffee at a Seattle trade fair, takes the proverbial biscotti.
Well, that’s all the daffy self-indulgence I have for you today. Regularly scheduled programming resumes on flurmsday.