So much for BFFs. Saint Alice finally gets her wish and she’s written right out of the front-page story. (Motherfucked, you could say.) But maybe the onetime carriers of the holy water are all skeert of the blogosphere. Mere days after Natural Wonderwoman was credited in DI/DO with bending the Big O to her demands, she’s portrayed as a total loser in the business pages, at least in the text. I’m starting to think it’s all a scheme to get readers to slog through acres of type to see what the latest take is. Call it Winners & Sinners 2.0.
Archive for March, 2009
A bigger fascination is how someone who, as far as I ever read in the raw, never had a thought deeper than shrimp-shell stock has become the new go-to guy on eating right. Rewriting Michael Pollan in less fluid prose is a heckuva way to expand your franchise. But at least he’s reversing that hoary adage: Great artists steal. Mediocre ones borrow.
I go to media events for many reasons, but learning more about the product/place is rarely among them. Take the Irish orgy with dairy. I’ve had the butter, know some of the cheeses. But I figured the combination of the NYC chef and venue would yield something useful. And so I was thrilled to see an infant onboard when I walked in just after noon on the big day. A baby. At a clusterfuck. Fodder jackpot: The world really is going to hell in a Moses Basket. So of course it turns out the human larva belonged there, given that Mom was the star chef on offer. When she stood up to speak, the hired photographer should have switched to a video camera — he could make a fortune selling demos of what to do when the whimpering starts. Dad instantly bent down and swooped up the whiner to whisk her well out of earshot. Was that so difficult? Why the fuck do parents wait until the howling reaches crescendo level and diners all around them are clutching steak knives with bloody fantasies? Funny how appropriate behavior makes you realize we accept aberrance way too easily. Which is why a mom friend and I got a pretty good laugh a couple of nights later while passing a hip newish wine bar in the neighborhood and seeing what was waiting on the sidewalk. If you want to drive away the young and the unmarried, sure, go ahead and stack your highchairs outside.
I’m wondering about this depression we’re in since I was out again two days later for a 25th-anniversary soiree that I assumed was just your average gangbang. I didn’t even check my coat, just ducked in for a glass of whatever and a taste of whatever else and a little chefspotting, only to be informed that it was a relatively small sit-down dinner. Five courses, in fact. (Seven, actually.) It suddenly seemed like a hostage situation, and I said so, but I felt better when other people agreed: We’d had no idea we were RSVPing for a feast. And it was quite a feast, apparently inspired by Mae West with her “too much of a good thing is wonderful.” Memory Lane was paved with tuna tartare, lobster pasta, steak, and chocolate cake, while the Future Freeway was represented by sea urchin ice cream, fennel soup topped with an Adria-esque beet emulsion and “peas and carrots” consisting of the former in a mold and the latter as an oozing puree. (You had to be there.) All around our three freeloading tables, the place was packed. Only a cynic would wonder if that was a reassuring set-up in the realm of $25 apps, $44 entrees.
Oddly enough, a nasty crack at the dinner about a chef shilling for an absurdly overpriced wine led me to a video of him railing that the big problem for restaurants in America was finding enough chefs, now that even Cleveland has respectable kitchens. The segment was undated, but I didn’t need it to make me wonder WTF on opening my hometown paper and seeing a piece on the allegedly horrific crisis confronting NYC chefs. If things are that effen dire, you don’t illustrate with a photo of Colicchio wannabes auditioning for a teevee show. To believe, I needed to see a line of real applicants around the block, like the one I still remember that stretched from Third to Lex when the Village Voice ran an ad for waiters at Between the Bread in 1983 when I left the NYT the first time, to go to restaurant school, and was looking to make some fast cash. But having put pork parts through the grinder and into the casings myself, I can see how this silliness happened. Some editor who commutes by DeCamp decides it’s time for a recession check and says jump and the underlings just ask: How low? This was as idiotic as presuming the fashion industry is going to hell because a few hundred aspiring Padmas trampled each other. When your lede is a restaurant that’s opening, show me the countless closed ones. Or at least hold off on the caviar lounge “news.”
At the encouragement of the (no longer) tyro eater, I’ve succumbed to Twitter for exactly the reason the incomparable Glenn Greenwald at Salon has: It’s great for “concise derision.” So I’ve already noted that typing with your dick can be dangerous. But I can’t have been the only reader sitting with jaw agape at how a simple treatise on tacos could be stretched into such epic overwriting, far past parody. But at least he’s illuminated exactly what the problem with that feature is. Rarely is one recipe worth 10,000 words. I guess it’s cheaper to let ’em ramble into embarrassment than test a few more of what readers really want. I’m sure I’m repeating myself, but it’s been a long time since I saw anyone wandering around Fairway with a Sunday magazine as a shopping list. . . .
I swear to Jeremiah Tower, the hometown paper must be leasing its water fountains out to the Saint Alice Kool-Aid Co. The latest to drink deeply of the hubris flavor casually informs readers around world that the Cloched Crusader has humbled the Big O into hiring his own longtime chef. Unfortunately, the rest of this paean to the latest “success” makes clear how ugly Americans abroad can be. Why wouldn’t the Academy in Rome cook the way the Romans do before this divine intervention? Did they really need to import “the mother of American cooking” to persuade the kitchen to buy local, cook seasonally? And if this the talk of Rome, I have a bridge on the Tiber to sell Sunday Styles.
Also to be filed under “WTF were they thinking?” was the City piece about the good times rolling on at brunch at a couple of Euro trash heaps. I confess I couldn’t slog through the whole reeking morass, but I see some smart bloggers are extracting the damning quotes by the new welfare princes, Wall Street guys whose bankster employers now have taxpayer money to burn. I walk around this city every day and see more for-rent signs in every block, more blocks torn apart for construction that cannot possibly be completed, more bums, more poop unscooped. And the biggest story in all boroughs was let ’em swill Champagne? Heckuva job, KB and your phony Sunshine Band. Then again, I spotted baked apples at Eli’s for $6.95. Apiece. And frozen crab potpies, box of four, for $75 at Dean & Deluca. Those Madoff millions must be around here somewhere. . . .
Only an overcompensated press corps, though, would continue to do Spam’s bidding and flog the ultimate mystery meat as depression salvation when it is far from a bargain in the post-Butz world. I just got some e-release noting that sales of “fresh meat” are up 7-plus percent lately, even as the country is heading down “The Road” if you believe what you read out of Wall Street. Gullible reporters should get in the checkout line behind the people using food stamps. They ain’t buying canned food when pork chops are $2.29 a pound. And why is it only an opinion columnist who is pointing out the awful price the world is paying for the makings of Spam? I guess because, as a friend just noted, the “news” pages are busy doing restaurant roundups devoted to the Mersa white meat. Quote of the week: Jim Cramer was not an aberration. We are informed by fools and knaves.
I may be repeating myself, but among the many things that amazed me in my 46 months of watching the sausage get made was how many Peeps landed on the freebie desk and how immune even the most pigeon-like among the staff were to their charms. Not once did anyone take the bait and run any item related to the marshmallow equivalent of toadstools. But now I see National Geographic has succumbed. The misguided there are staging a photo contest for which entrants are supposed to shoot Peeps in some travel destination. I guess they win, because I’m writing about it. But I really hope the payback is huge for their soul. The only thing worse, a friend suggested, would be having contestants photograph a Peep on iconographic images, like the Afghan girl or the pyramids they moved. Next, a “Peep virgin” commercial? If so, I hope it uses the yellow ones, breasts bared.
The same friend and I had a long discussion of which came first, dying newspapers or newspapers committing hara-kiri by canning half the worker bees and churning out pap. I wondered the same thing about food magazines after opening the latest issue of one where the already stretched phyllo-thin staff has apparently just been trimmed. Turning at random to one article, I see the President’s first name misspelled and a statement that a DC soup kitchen was founded “exactly 20 years before to recycle the leftovers of the Clinton Inaugural balls.” I know Bill and Hill killed Vince Foster and stole money in Arkansas, among other nefarious deeds, but did they really crash GW the Elder’s parties? Some days outsourcing copy-editing to India doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
Consider this a case of ads imitating bad art. One of the scarier food companies is running a campaign to promote its sliced “meats” to restaurants with a testimonial straight out of “The Wrestler.” In the middle of lunch hour, chain gangster says: “It was like a horror movie. There was an accident with the slicer, and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. It was very upsetting for everyone.” Now he’s using the processed crap. At least there’s no blood on the bread. And any accidents are just where Americans want them: out of sight in the crap factories.
For years we’ve all been reading how museums, like airports and ballparks and other culinary-hostage situations, have been trying to upgrade their food offerings to reflect the great advances toward something approximating American cuisine. So it was beyond surprising for my consort to try to walk into the Met on Saturday with our market bag bulging with tuna belly and broccoflower and Illy espresso from Chelsea Market, along with a doggie bag from lunch at the New French. The security guard refused to let him pass. Absolutely no food is allowed inside, he insisted. The bag could not even be checked in the coatroom. Bob headed home dejectedly while I stayed to meet a friend as planned. But it sorta makes you think you would never want to eat there. What the hell do they serve if food is forbidden? Dendur dust?
If I were the cynical type, I’d be wondering right about now if the great peanut butter panic is not just yet another attempt by Big Food to make irradiation acceptable at last. Once again, I’m reading pieces in credible outlets saying the solution to salmonella is to zap ingredients, never mind the unintended consequences. Maybe I’m just neurotic because I once went along with my consort to a photo shoot at a New Jersey plant that irradiated stuff, and it was one scary place. But I’m not exactly convinced the same industry that foists filthy peanuts and spinach and fake apple juice onto the public can exactly be trusted to do the right thing with an unnerving technology (there’s a reason they give you a lead apron in the dentist’s office). What’s most amazing is that the real solution is so simple. Why not just clean up the food supply? Make sure peanut processors scrub their equipment and the premises, say, and store their raw material more carefully and buy from certified-safe growers. Resorting to irradiation is like expecting cat-killing air freshener to solve a toilet overflow. Wouldn’t it be better to just unclog the pipes? Oh. Right. Nothing to sell there.
Maybe I’m dense, but I remain mystified by this sweeping trend toward “eating down the fridge,” which has now spread to what was once a relatively legitimate news outlet. I could see the Porcine Pantload needing to take a week off from grocery shopping, given that he could live off the fat on a forearm alone for a good three or four months. But I’ll say it again: What in the name of Wegman’s is the point of abstaining from supporting your neighborhood grocery or Greenmarket, where fish will otherwise be rotting on the ice, greens decaying in the produce aisle, milk curdling in the dairy case? If the exercise is in learning how to use all of what you buy, there are far saner ways to recalibrate a shopping list. (Did someone say Epi Log?) And if you blow through all your mayonnaise and capers and mustard, get ready for some serious sticker-price shock when you head out to replenish. As the New Yorker’s recent piece on credit cards pointed out, when Americans put the brake on spending, “Every little bit hurts.” Using up cornichons rather than buying fresh cucumbers is like spending all the cash from under the mattress. Only in overfed America would something so idiotic be encouraged.