MID-CITY ¬ó The recipe calls for fillet of lion. The opening step ¬ó ¬ìFirst, obtain your lion¬î ¬ó might be the most challenging part of the meal.
If that particular cut of meat can¬ít be found in the butcher section in your local grocery store, don¬ít worry. Pork tenderloin or veal will do in a pinch.
At least that is what Santa Monican Craig Boreth will tell you if questioned about the recipe, which he tested for inclusion in a project that¬ís part cookbook, part literary review and all homage to Ernest Hemingway, an early 20th century author known as much for his lusty appetite as his deft prose.
Boreth¬ís creation, ¬ìThe Hemingway Cookbook,¬î embraces the author¬ís passion for the culinary and traces both the meals he ate while traversing Europe, Latin America and Africa and those he wrote about in his books and articles, in which food appears to be as much a character as the people eating it.
¬ìHe lived this larger-than-life existence and epic journey all over the world eating and drinking all sorts of stuff, constantly,¬î Boreth said. ¬ìAnd then in his writing, he uses food and drink all of the time to sit in the background, to set the scene and let you know little details about the character, place and season that you don¬ít really get consciously.¬î
The book first debuted in 1999, and fell out of print until this year when a resurgence of interest in Hemingway ¬ó the release of an HBO feature starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen and one of Woody Allen¬ís recent films ¬ó caused Boreth¬ís publisher to reconsider.
Boreth is a writer of a very different flavor than Hemingway. He creates books and products to bring men back into arenas often confined to women, like the kitchen with ¬ìThe Hemingway Cookbook¬î or chocolate with his booze-infused ¬ìTwice the Vice¬î confections.
While Hemingway¬ís lifestyle and prose often describe excess as a form of escapism, Boreth¬ís work seeks to make things of top quality that provide profound satisfaction in the moment.
Still, the story of the author who hunted lions and was present as the wheels of history ground into Europe in World War I and Latin America during the Cuban revolution held a special fascination.
Hemingway first spoke to Boreth through his fiction. Boreth¬ís father read him ¬ìThe Old Man and the Sea¬î at a young age, a tradition he has since continued with his two sons, Azi and Eli.
For the next stages of Boreth¬ís life, Hemingway always had something to offer. For the teenager, he described adventure and travels. Adults, weighed down more by time and responsibility, better appreciate Hemingway¬ís darkness and ruminations on death.
¬ìWhen you¬íre in high school and college, you read it for the adventure,¬î Boreth said. ¬ìTraveling around the world and debauchery, drinking, bull fighting, fishing and all this stuff. You get that there¬ís some kind of concern about mortality and things like that going on, but you don¬ít care.¬î
In 1992, Boreth traveled to France and Spain with a friend, following the path Hemingway set down in his 1926 novel ¬ìA Sun Also Rises.¬î At the time, he intended to make a Hemingway-inspired travel guide, pointing out the restaurants that Hemingway frequented as well as those that he referenced in his writings.
The book that emerged captures the essence of the original concept by exploring geographic space with old photographs of restaurants paired with choice quotations from Hemingway¬ís works, but as Boreth traveled, the scope of the work morphed.
He met with the people leading famed restaurants that once served Hemingway and other American ex-pats. He coaxed ancient recipes from them, like the whole roast pig from Spain¬ís Casa Botin that appears in the cookbook.
As the concept evolved, so did Boreth¬ís research.
Boreth gleaned other recipes selected for the cookbook from Hemingway¬ís famous works, like a chicken dinner described in his 1926 novel ¬ìA Sun Also Rises,¬î and the obscure.
The recipe for fillet of lion came from a 1955 ¬ìSports Illustrated¬î article on ¬ìfancy game¬î in which Hemingway¬ís creation appeared next to the favorites of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Recreating recipes with less explicit instructions that appeared by name only in Hemingway¬ís writings while ensuring authenticity required a visit to Harvard University¬ís Radcliffe Library.
The library houses a section of historic cookbooks, allowing Boreth to say with certainty that the roast chicken recipe that appears in the book was one similar to that which Hemingway would have eaten in 1920s France.
Boreth tested out what recipes he could on family and friends, suffering through the tedious process of producing the French recipe crabe Mexicaine (pg. 55) ¬ó ¬ìIt¬ís just a major undertaking, and it¬ís not that good¬î ¬ó and rejoicing in the rich flavors of trucha a la Navarra (pg. 84), trout cooked with bacon.
As Boreth discovered Hemingway¬ís culinary leanings, he gained greater insight into the man himself.
The book required years of research in which Boreth delved into Hemingway¬ís personal journals and crossed continents to follow the trail of a hard-living and hard-drinking man whose suicide in 1961 put an end to a deeply talented and tortured soul.
He came to know Hemingway intimately, as many people know only their best friends and closest family.
Hemingway believed in the craft of writing, and he exercised that craft every day. He left behind a treasure trove of not only fiction, but journals, memorabilia covered in scrawled notes, menus from restaurants he visited and piles of old photographs.
It was a gift to Boreth as he searched through the collected works with the help of dedicated Hemingway scholars.
¬ìYou could probably assemble a description of just about every day of his life from the day he left for World War I to the day he died. You could probably almost figure out exactly where he was and at least a few details of almost every day. It¬ís ridiculous,¬î Boreth said.
Listening to Boreth speak about the man, one would think he had been his closest confidant.
He described Hemingway as ¬ìaccident prone.¬î The man shot himself in the leg by accident, pulled a light fixture down on his head in Paris ¬ó likely causing a concussion ¬ó and somehow survived two plane crashes.
He can recount the author¬ís favorite brand of gin ¬ó Gordon¬ís, if you must know ¬ó and what high school he graduated from. Despite all that, he¬ís happy that he and Hemingway were separated by time and history.
¬ìI¬ím happy that I never met him, because invariably I probably should have been left with a sour taste in my mouth, even though it would have been interesting for a while,¬î Boreth said. ¬ìHe was really good at drawing people in, and then being horrible to them.¬î
Hemingway was equally horrible to himself.
The vital man depicted in a photograph standing next to a fish as long as he is tall became a haunted, broken thing. His body was wasted by alcohol and his mind damaged by shock treatments used to treat the depression that ran in his family.
Given his physical and emotional state, his eventual suicide was ¬ìreasonable,¬î Boreth said.
In Boreth¬ís book, you will hear little of this. Instead, it spends time with a man, sometimes happy and sometimes sad, but who always found joy in food.
¬ìAs I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.¬î Hemmingway, ¬ìA Moveable Feast.¬î