Edible Nonfiction Challenge
Adam Leith Gollner takes the Edible Nonfiction Challenge
The author of The Fruit Hunters gets us salivating with his celebrity entry, "Breakfast in Ischia." Never has a still-live crustacean sounded so good.
Breakfast in Ischia
by Adam Leith Gollner
On the volcanic island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples, you can go grocery shopping in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Each morning, skiffs full of just-caught fish line up along a wharf beneath an ancient clifftop castle. The pier bustles with customers inspecting the catch, much of it unfamiliar to North American eyes.
Luckily, I'm with an expert: Nino Di Costanzo, a Michelin-starred chef with slicked hair and aviator shades. The 34-year-old is peering into a bobbing hull full of stingrays when a fisherman hands him a beautiful red gallinella with elongated blue-tipped fins. "They use these like legs to walk along the sea floor," he tells me, spreading the fin like a fan to highlight its eerily large wingspan. "If you touch them when alive they'll shock you."
Oversized scampi don't have that problem, something I learn moments later when Nino reaches into a bucket to remove a flailing orange spiny-clawed crustacean, somewhere between a jumbo shrimp and a petite lobster. "The best time to eat them is when they're still living," he says, de-shelling one as easily as a tangerine.
Presto: breakfast in Ischia.
After devouring more live crudo, we head to a small produce market called Eden Frutta to sample Ischia's sunset-orange plums. It's late August, the height of fruit season. After I bite into a ripe white peach from nearby Vesuvius, Nino crushes some sprigs of mint under my nose. "Heaven," he murmurs, as the aroma mingles with the flavors of the fruit.
As we taste various tomatoes, he starts tearing up handfuls of basil. It occurs to me that he's actually cooking - combining and elevating base materials, transforming organoleptic essences. "The secret is to find the right combinations to highlight each ingredient," he explains.
Or, for a writer, to find a chef like Nino.
Adam Leith Gollner has written for Gourmet, Bon Appetit, the New York Times, the Wall Steet Journal, the Guardian, and Lucky Peach. He is the author of The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession. Filmmaker Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) is currently adapting it for the screen.