Our 2023 gathering combined the best of our in-person experience with our expanded global reach. Nearly 180 symposiasts traveled to verdant St Catz, enlivening and crowding the lecture theatre, discussion rooms, and dining hall with the buzz of engaged conversations. There was a very palpable sense that we had emerged from the shoals of the pandemic with an enduring path forward, as we welcomed an additional 125 symposiasts (including many who might otherwise not be able to journey to Oxford) during the two week Conference portion of the Symposium.
The “Weekend” at St Catz featured three stunningly original keynotes investigating the roles of Rules & Rituals in our lives, both through daily meals and in the more exceptional moments that punctuate our calendars. Forty-two live paper presentations were spread over Saturday and Sunday, along with our curriculum-driven shared meals, our after-dinner activities, and our additional plenaries, including invitations to join in our Wiki Club and Sifter “Ask” online workshops throughout the year.
The “Conference” opened on 16 July, and over the next two weeks, we explored (at a more leisurely pace through extended Zoom Q & A sessions) all 48 of the papers including 6 presented by those joining exclusively online. We talked with our guest chefs and our Young Chefs, probed the Keynotes, repaired to the kitchen for a participatory Kitchen Lab, and enjoyed workshops on Wiki editing and brainstorming The Sifter. All concluded on 30 July with a marvelous summarizing Keynote about embracing or breaking Rules & Rituals and the always-thrilling vote for the topic for a future Symposium.
We treasure the ability to break bread together, physically at St Catz and metaphorically through the extended community made possible through our cyber-connections. The ethos of the 2023 Symposium continues through year-long engagements via the Kitchen Table Conversations and collaborations with the Kitchen Lab, Wiki Club, and The Sifter. All this allows us to work productively towards our mission to change the conversation, expand the table, and improve the plate with renewed vigor and joy.
Please indulge my personal, introductory digression, but this year’s theme of Rules and Rituals hit home, for shortly after the Weekend at St Catz and in the midst of the online Conference, I returned to northeastern Brazil to resuscitate my (Covid-interrupted) ethnographic research into the intersection of sacred and profane Afro-Brazilian foodways through the religious rituals, trances, and shared meals of the Candomblé community. As always, the Symposium discussions informed my ideas while I was in the field.
I knew from my nearly fifteen years of work on the community that participants observe strict protocols during these ceremonies, such as gender-segregated seating, recommended clothing, and, not surprisingly, food. Food offerings are placed on the temple floor, and most reflect the Afro-Brazilian roots of the Candomblé community. I saw agidá, shallow clay bowls filled with beans cooked in coconut milk, mungunza, a sweet corn and coconut porridge, efó, a Nigerian inspired stew of wild and cultivated greens, pirão, a condiment of toasted manioc meal mixed with red yams, and acarajé, black-eyed pea fritters, among others. There was also the occasional Portuguese-inspired dish, such as sarapatel, a pork, offal and blood ragout and coxinha de frango, the breaded shredded chicken encased in béchamel and fried in the shape of a Hershey’s Kiss. All these foods became the comida de axé, dishes imbued with the sacred life force to invoke the power to make change. The same foods are served to congregants and guests at the end of the ritual ceremony and are highly desireable because as axé, they ostensibly give the consumer some of that sacred energy.
Wiki-editing session with Roberta Wedge
The cyberworld of cookbooks in a searchable database
Devised by – Kamal Mouzawak and Tara Habis, with Tim Kelsey and the St Catz team
Welcome drinks – Yeni Raki Uzun Demleme, 5 times distilled, Türkiye
To start – Manatish (wild thyme bread), Cucumbers with salt
Main course – Tabouleh and the Garden of Eden served with lettuce, white cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, spring onions and radishes, Hommos (chickpea dip), Batata Harra (oven grilled potato with coriander-lemon sauce), Fattet Batenjenn (aubergines with tomatoes and yogurt-tahini sauce), Muhammara (roasted red pepper and walnut spread), Dolee Mehsheh (pomegrante molasses glazed slow cooked lamb served with spiced nutty rice pilaf)
Dessert – Meghleh (rice pudding with water, anise, caraway and cinnamon), Tawlet signature pistachio cake & cafe
Wines – 2021 Merwah, 2020 Old Vine Carignan and Moscatel from Château Ksara Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Devised by – Simi Rezai Ghassemi with Tim Kelsey and the St Catz team
To start – Osh Reshteh (Pottage made with puleses, noodles and herbs cooked in stock), garnished with kashk (dried yoghurt) and minty fried onions
Main course – Kookoo Sabzi (Herb fritatta with chives, barberries and walnuts) served with salad and flatbread
Dessert – Halva Zanjibil (Buttery ginger bites, made with slowly toasted flour)
To drink – Doogh (Thyme and rose scented yoghurt drink)
Devised by – Micha Schäfer with Tim Kelsey and the St Catz team
To start – Sourdough rye bread freshly baked at St Catz with Shipton Mill Flour, butter from Ampersand Dairy, cheese: Bix, Witheridge & Highmore from Nettlebed Creamery
Main course – A Feast of Vegetables locally sourced from Plantasia Nursery and Rectory Farm – Radishes with lovage, tomatoes with juniper, green beans with summer savory, courgettes with coriander seeds, aubergines and sweet peppers, mashed potatoes with butter smoked by Micha
Dessert – Berries, buttercreme, butter crumble, sourced from Plantasia Nursery and Ampersand Dairy
Wines – 2022 Gewurztraminer Selilda Cantina Tramin Alto Adige, Italy, 2016 Purpura Valahica Davino Dealu Mare, Romania, 2022 Alba Valahica Davino Dealu Mare, Romania, 2021 Gewurztraminer Roen Vedemmia Tardiva Cantina Tramin Alto Adige, Italy
Devised by – Young Chefs: Andiswa Mqedlana, Jonas Palekas, Minwoo (MJ) Jung, and Shannon Compton with Tim Kelsey and the St Catz team
To start – Tomato kimchi with nori leaves, cold marinated soup of kefir and beetroot (Šaltibarščiai in Lithuania)
Main course – Torched cabbage, freekeh, seaweed with orange glaze, Korean inspired Chakalaka with soy beans, carrots, chile peppers, spring onions, spiced miso dressing and sesame seeds
Dessert – Red bean tart with sesame seeded buckwheat crust and perilla-plum jam
To drink – Korean cinnamon punch, rosé bubbles Lubanzi South Africa, 2021 Holle Riesling Klangwerk Alexander Gysler Rheinhessen/ Germany