We’ve been fans of Swallow magazine ever since we picked up the first copy of ‘The Nordic Issue’, which revealed the then nascent Scandinavian food scene.

For those of you not familiar with Swallow, it is the anti-foodie food magazine and a palate-cleansing respite from the usual soft-focus gastronomic faddism. Founded in 2009 by Creative Director James Casey, each issue is akin to the perfect dinner party where the food is definitely central to the event, but the conversation veers wildly around the table from topic to topic before eventually returning to the cornucopia of morsels at hand.

Issue 3 is focusing on one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting metropolises: Mexico City. Swallow’s investigation of D.F. (as it’s referred to by defeños, or locals) stands as the capital’s most eclectic, electric, surprising and exciting portrait yet.

Volt Café: Swallow’s approach is very different from your traditional foodie mag. A very unique concept. What was your inspiration and why did you decide to go that route?
James Casey: The inspiration stemmed from the fact that there really wasn’t a food magazine at the time that focused on the type of things we wanted to read and see. Mainstream food magazines were very lifestyle, while the independents were rather thin on the ground. Having worked in art and fashion words, Swallow’s direction was rather natural as we wanted to work with people outside the words of food.

VC: Who is your typical reader?
JC: People who are adventurous, but not in an extreme sports kind of way. People who’re equally at ease in both the high and the low.

VC: The covers are almost determinedly off-putting compared to the traditional ‘inviting’ magazine cover, be that food or fashion, yet the photography inside is so beautiful – I especially love the supermarket sweeps. What is the thought process behind the covers? Is it to lose potential superficial traditional foodies in the same way that magazines like NEST or Apartemento shy away from ‘obvious’ interiors covers?
JC: That’s certainly part of it, but I don’t think we’re trying to be off putting. Effectively, there are creative magazines within the realms of fashion, and to a lesser extent with interiors. Food doesn’t have that avant garde in the same way. We’re happy to stake some of that ground.

VC: You were born and raised in Hong Kong and currently live in NYC. Where’s ‘home’ to you and why? If you had to choose one dish that meant ‘home’, what would it be?
JC: Home is New York. I’ve been here for almost 13 years after living in London for a spell. Hong Kong, while being the place where I grew up, is very different to the place I grew up in (in many many ways, much better for it). As for a taste of home, it really depends. Home cooked meals growing up were vaguely British, with dishes from all over thrown in. Chicken Adobo had as much place on the table as did Chicken Kiev.

VC: Issue 3 is even more unique as it includes 20 scratch-and-sniff stickers imbued with the aromas of a particular Mexican neighbourhood developed with the help of Sissel Tolaas, a fragrance expert and artist. What are you hoping the reader will get from this?
JC: It’s a way to bring the reader closer to the destination. While it could be perceived as a gimmick, it also allows the reader to pause and think about the ways in which travel and smell are twinned. They’re unavoidable.


VC: Swallow has covered Scandinavia, Russia and now Mexico. What attracted you to those 3 very different destinations?
JC: Each has its own charms. Scandinavia was really nowhere near the level of hype it is now and the New Nordic movement was both nascent and super interesting at the time. Russia is a personal love of mine—unrepentant Russophile. Mexico is perhaps the first destination with ‘good’ food. Add to that millennia of history and culture and you’ve got the ingredients for a great issue.

VC: We’ve become so obsessed with food & drink, on the one hand it’s great the quality has improved, on the other hand it has given rise to an almost cookie-cutter experience, one where rough hewn furniture, amusing bric-a-brac, filament lightbulbs, craft beers and tattooed hipster staff is de rigueur, making you feel ever-so-slightly manipulated and also bored with its predictability. How do you feel about this? And what makes you feel excited food-wise?
JC: I’ll make the concession that things have gotten better for a certain part of the public. But better in this regard pertains to taste, and not necessarily health. All the cookie cutter stuff is totally dull. It’s fashionable, and ultimately fashion and what’s in vogue changes. Food, as an obsessive movement is part of that, and hopefully we’ll all move on to something individual and more moderate.

VC: What’s up next for Swallow?
JC: East Village, New York.

Swallow will be taking pride of place on Protein’s in-house magazine store The Shelf, where it will be exclusively stocked alongside their all-time favourite food, art and culture reads.

Issue 3 of Swallow will be available for purchase from The Shelf from 2nd May 2013.

Words by Anna Bang


anna bang, james casey, Sissel Tolaas, Swallow, the shelf,