Special to The Globe and Mail, Mar. 12 2014
University of Windsor professor Rob Nelson has been chopping, grinding and braising his way through sauce-splattered pages of Saveur ever since his wife gave him a subscription to the food magazine seven years ago. Cooking quickly became his principal hobby and a welcome distraction from academic work as a historical researcher. At last count, he had prepared 1,000 Saveur recipes.
Along the way, Nelson went from being a food-loving kitchen neophyte to a passionate and capable global gourmand. It unfolded like a scene from an imagined sequel to the film Julie & Juliain which a food blogger aspires to cook all of Julia Child’s French recipes. For Nelson, the muse is every cuisine on the planet. “I love the way Saveur combines travel, culture and history and the way cooking brings it all home.”
At some point, his methodical and arguably obsessive commitment to one magazine’s recipes took on a life of its own. It wasn’t uncommon for a weekend at the Nelson home to be dedicated to Senagalese cuisine. “I became voracious and always wanted to try more new stuff,” he says. “It drove my family crazy because they might love a certain dish but know that they’ll probably never see it again.”
Still he diligently scrawled notes into the magazine margins as a reminder of whether recipes were worth revisiting. Then in 2012 he was preparing for a European sabbatical and knew it would be unrealistic to lug his beloved magazine collection along. He noticed that Saveur’s website included a comments section for each recipe page and he began transferring his notes onto Saveur.com.
“Fabulous. All loved,” Nelson wrote below the mulligatawny recipe. He gave the Indian-spiced soup a perfect five-star rating. He was less impressed, however, with the same chef’s spinach and chickpeas, giving that recipe just one star. The comment: “HUGE Madhur [Jaffrey] fan, but this did not work.”
Five days and 200 comments later, he discovered that each note automatically sent a message to one of the magazine’s editors. The next thing he knew, he was accepting an invitation to fly himself to New York and spend a day in the magazine’s test kitchen. Meanwhile, editor-in-chief James Oseland was putting together the magazine’s 20th-anniversary issue and wanted to feature Nelson and his story as illustrative of the ultimate Saveur reader.
That’s how the Canadian war historian landed in the annual Saveur 100 issue, sharing the tale of how grilled skewers of marinated chicken set him off on a culinary journey. Nelson’s photo appears on the first page alongside a cast of food world luminaries including Ruth Reichl, Mario Batali and Thomas Keller. Says Nelson, “The greatest honour is being on the same page as Madhur Jaffrey.”