Solving the great bay leaf controversy – all in the interests of science

To put an end to the debate once and for all, I asked the work canteen for a dry, dusty specimen and ran an experiment

Simmy Richman@simmyrichman
Saturday 12 March 2016 22:53
One writer's quest to find “a chef who is willing to be honest with me about bay leaves” has drawn a blank
One writer's quest to find “a chef who is willing to be honest with me about bay leaves” has drawn a blank

“What does a bay leaf taste like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf smell like? Nothing. You throw a bay leaf into a broth, and it doesn’t do anything. Bay leaves are bulls***.” So states the Brooklyn-based writer Kelly Conaboy in “The Vast Bay Leaf Conspiracy”, her widely shared article for the online magazine The Awl last week.

But while plenty of the people commenting and sharing the piece agree – with one going so far as to label bay leaves “homeopathic spice” – Conaboy’s quest to find “a chef who is willing to be honest with me about bay leaves” draws a blank.

And very amusing it all is too. Interestingly, though, in spite of many of the chefs Conaboy speaks to telling her to put a fresh bay leaf in water to see if she can taste its 50 or so flavour compounds, at no point does the writer attempt this. So, in the interests of science and to put an end to the debate once and for all, I asked the work canteen for a dry, dusty specimen and ran the experiment on my colleagues. And guess what? Every one of them could pick out the bay-leaf infused boiling water.

Case closed. You’re welcome.

Roll up, roll up …

When the “action sport collective” Nitro Circus comes to the UK this summer, among the skiers, BMXers, mountainboarders, skateboarders and roller-bladers taking part will be a 28-year-old called Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham. But while Fotheringham undertakes many of the same flips and jumps as the other members of the troupe, the equipment he uses is rather different: Fotheringham was born with spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair for most of his life.

“I prefer to think of it as ‘on’ a wheelchair,” he says from his home in Nevada, “because if you say you’re in a wheelchair it sounds like the wheelchair owns you.” Fotheringham calls what he does WCMX, and has now perfected the double backflip and the forward flip, both of which he will be demonstrating on the Nitro Circus tour.

“It took me close to a year to land my first double backflip,” he says. “But crashing is part of the sport, and I’m always trying to change the perception that people in wheelchairs are not able to do anything for themselves. If someone says I can’t do something, that just makes me want to do it.” He’s the wheel deal.

For tickets and details go to

Nitro Circus comes to the UK this summer

Game off!

“Research shows that women account for nearly half of online gaming,” says the press release for a new launch called PoshRow (“Where fashion is sport”). Oh, I get it. Women like gaming and women like fashion, so let’s combine the two things. What could possibly go wrong?

I register on your behalf. This, word for word, is the dialogue from the “How to Play” video: “Upon entering you are presented with a scorecard and a gallery of tiles. Each tile represents a beautiful full-page photograph, cinemagraph or 30-second video. To the left are menu items enabling you to bookmark and review content from each media tile. As you move through the gallery the object is to match the media tiles with the appropriate clue word in your scorecard … clue words may also match with particular words or phrases from a tile’s content …. It’s that easy.”

Eh? Must be because I’m a man.

No shame in this

Precisely one year ago, this column reported on Ant Smith, who hosted the UK’s first Big Small Penis Party. Smith, a performance poet who had created something of a stir online with his work “Shorty”, told me at the time that, “I’ve tried to create a conversation that is simultaneously fun and serious and I don’t think we’re used to talking about this issue in that way. Normally it’s either dry statistics or puerile playground banter.”

Since the success of that event, Smith has become more and more aware of various other types of “body shaming”, and is now inviting contributions to his new project, a CD and party – to take place later this year – which will be called We’re Too Beautiful.

“I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours – that’s what this project is all about,” he says. “The hirsute, the androgyne, the eczema sufferer … by celebrating all of the many different ways a human being can express difference we can put an end to shaming simply by refusing to be shamed.”

See Smith’s fundraising page at

Field studies

Like a summer festival but fed up with the same old bands? Might I direct you to the Also Festival (“think TED talks in a field”), taking place in Warwickshire this June.

The co-founder, Helen Bagnall, tells me that her dream of inspiring people with ideas at “proper” festivals has not always gone according to plan. “At Wilderness (above) one year we put on a talk by the theoretical physicist David Tong. There was a huge crowd, but at a key point this bloke dressed as a beaver came in, pint in hand, looked at Tong and wandered off.” You might say that particular talk went Dave Tong.

Twitter: @simmyrichman

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