I really want to make fun of Wil Hylton's New York Times Magazine essay on the wonders of Belgian pipe tobacco, but for some reason I'm craving said pipe tobacco. Mission accomplished, Wil.
[I]f the danger of tobacco is undeniable, so is its exceptional flavor. One afternoon, Vincent and Gaëtane invited a neighbor to join us for lunch, a typical Ardennes dish of endive wrapped in ham, then smothered in béchamel and baked to a crispy finish. Vincent set out a sampling of beers, including the legendary Westvleteren, and as we gathered around the large wooden table, the conversation drifted between the savory qualities of Belgian food, beer and tobacco.
I was struck by how unfamiliar the scene would have been to my American friends who have, in a fashion typical of our generation, embraced the current culinary boom with maniacal fervor, boiling obscure reductions to drip onto bits of fruit exploded by bicycle pumps in homage to Ferran Adrià, and yet, despite this globe-trotting gustatory zeal, haven’t the slightest comprehension of the exquisite flavor that haunts tobacco.
If the modern mythos of the kitchen had arrived a decade earlier, before the vilification of tobacco was complete, the pipe might occupy a place on the palate alongside argan oil and hijiki and yuzu. Somewhere in the multiverse, there is an alternate New York City where the Union Square farmers’ market brims not just with heirloom melons and leeks and squash but also with local tobaccos as vibrant as the Cherokee purple tomato. There is a literature still waiting to be written on fine tobacco; tobacco awaits its Julia Child — who, it should be said, loved to smoke, as so many other chefs have and do. It is axiomatic these days that smoking ruins the palate, but this would come as news to Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain and all the other celebrated chefs who enjoy a good smoke.
And I imagine many of you can relate to this sentiment:
Part of the experience with any tobacco is the relationship it affords with time. Smoking provides punctuation marks to life. It pauses the careening jumble of events to carve out moments of stillness. To some degree, this is true of all smoking. I am as likely as anyone to wince at the sight of a dozen office workers huddled in a wintry alley, but there is something to be said for the experience of stopping and stepping away. There is no similar ritual in the daily habits of most nonsmokers, and the pipe is especially suited to the task: there is the crumbling of tobacco, the packing of the bowl, the careful nurture of the flame, the false light and first tamp and so on, tooling and tending the bowl as the ember gently falls.