Francis Percival

  • On Porridge and Pinot Noir

    We may be the world’s greatest omnivore, but collectively humanity eats remarkably few different foods. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations lists some 50, 000 edible species of plants but 15 crop plants account for 90 percent of our food energy intake as a species. Just three plants, maize, rice, and wheat make up two thirds of this. Rice feeds half of all mankind.

  • In defense of wonkery

    The New York Post is an unlikely forum for a dispute about food and wine. As a leading American exponent of tabloid sensationalism, the newspaper is a more reliable source for celebrity gossip and baseball scores.

  • The Perils of Pairing

    We live in an age obsessed with gastronomic pairing. As I write this, my desk is littered with invitations to sessions offering to teach me about the proper matching-to food and to each other-of everything from coffee and chocolate, to beer and cocktails. There is even an important dispatch from a honey sommelier and an academic paper centered upon the impact on the dining experience of a visit from the water steward. Food pairing has become both the route to gastronomic seriousness and the medium through which the unimagined complexities of a product can be communicated; it can certainly be a humbling experience for the novice. The potentially frivolous is rendered respectable-a proper object for study and appreciation.

  • The Politics of Lunch

    We live comfortable lives in the developed world. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams identified three distinct stages in the evolution of a civilization: Survival, Inquiry, and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. The first is characterized by the question, “How can we eat?” The second by, “Why do we eat?” And the third by, “Where shall we have lunch?”

  • Texture and Tasting Notes

    The most interesting tasting I attended this year had, at once, everything and nothing to do with wine. No wine was poured-only four different coffees were tasted-but the results had profound implications for how we think about wine and food.

  • Team Players

    As i write this, the Brazilian national soccer team is competing in the Confederations Cup in South Africa. The results are not hugely important, but the team selection is revealing: Blessed with a rich soccer culture and some of the most talented attacking players, the Brazilian coach Dunga has decided to leave out some of his biggest stars.

  • The Expectations Game

    The most awkward moment of my professional career occurred over a piece of Roquefort. I was giving an informal cheese-and-wine tasting to a distinguished American newspaper wine critic, and it was quite clear that he did not appreciate being lectured by a British interloper. However, we had reached the stage of the tasting that I felt was sure to win him around: We would taste the blue cheese with a young Napa Cabernet, and I was certain he would agree that it was a vile combination.

  • The Death of the Winemaker

    Roland Barthes is not the first name that springs to mind when one thinks of the great sommeliers. For all his contributions to literary theory, he never designed a wine list or poured a glass in anger. Barthes did, however, outline a compelling theory of wineand- food pairing in his classic 1967 essay “The Death of the Author.” It was not his intention, so I suppose that he would probably approve.