The term “Gastronaut” for some reason clicks a switch in my head where I immediately start humming the song “Supernaut” by the band 1000 Homo DJs. One has nothing to do with the other, so it’s more than a little disconcerting.
References to 90s industrial music aside, Gastronaut author Stefan Gates has gone where few of us may ever be brave enough to tread. He cooks the dishes we’ve all heard about but were too busy, scared or squicked to try otherwise.
As Gates rightly points out, food will consume, on average, 16% of a person’s life – this includes not just the eating but the cooking, procuring and the uh… disposal. Seeing as that’s such a high percentage, and seeing as a whole 30% of our life is gone when we tuck ourselves in at night, doesn’t it make sense to make that 16% the very best it can be?
Gastronaut is a combination of essays, experiments and recipes for the oddest dishes you can imagine. From covering a cake in gold leaf to adventures in cannibalism, Gates explores the far regions of culinary experimentation. The essay How to Stage a Bacchanalian Orgy (In the Comfort of Your Own Home) offers some practical advice for a rather impractical party. He also explores the gastronomical qualities of human substances such as nails, hair and, yep, snot, which is, he concludes, healthier to swallow than to expel.
As an experiment, Gates spends a day eating only foods with a reputation for causing flatulence. One assumes he has a very patient and loving wife.
While the first half of the book is really full of rather useless but humorous folly, Gates fills the second section with a collection of very real but odd recipes. Ever wondered what is in gruel? What about all those funny British dishes like Flummery, Hasty Pudding or Mumbled Mushrooms? And Headcheese – everyone should know how to make that, right?
Okay, so Gastronaut isn’t going to become anyone’s favourite recipe book. But it’s an enjoyable and interesting read, particularly for the sociological aspects if not the gastronomical ones. And if you ever do find yourself in need of instructions on how to make suckling pig, you’ll know where to look.