Archive for October, 2009

Spotted: Dick

October 2009

As I know I’ve blathered, one of the many lessons from my exciting 15 days lying in a Turin hospital five years ago is that travel is the ultimate 401K, one that never goes down in value. You can almost thrive on almost palpable memories. Which is why I felt not a twinge on missing out on Fergus frenzy. My consort and I once ate nose to tail and I can still feel how queasy we were the next morning. It wasn’t food poisoning, but it was far from pleasant, even with a super-sleek London hotel bathroom at our disposal. And it took me back to my first trip to Europe, to Cornwall in 1986, when the great writer working with Bob advised us that you can eat well in England if you eat breakfast three times a day. It wasn’t true even then. So if Rick Stein came to town . . .  Oh. Right. None of the kool kidz would even know who he is.

Real fakes use onions, not Vick’s

October 2009

I guess I should be worried: The older I get, the less set in my beliefs I am. I used to think “reality” cooking shows on the teevee were just jackassery of the lowest order. Now I’m coming around to acknowledging they are seducing whole new generations into the endless wonders of food. And, unlike sports, cooking is competition open to all. But the best perspective came in a piece reporting Gordon Ramsay’s ratings — 8 million viewers — that also noted Glenn Beckkk’s — 3 million. If the revolution is coming, let it be a food fight, not an exercise in “Freaks” feces-flinging.

As the Inca terns fly

October 2009

When Bob encouraged me to tag along on his photo shoot at the Bronx Zoo, I headed off to the 2 train with visions of Arthur Avenue in my cranial sieve. And our great lunch plus provisioning was definitely vaut the journey. But the real reward was an aside from the PR guy waiting with us at the Madagascar! lemur exhibit, when I asked what the fascinating cat-like creatures eat besides the carved pumpkin they were fighting over just then. As he was talking, I noticed the signage that mentioned the tortoise in the exhibit also consumes “lemur feces.” Talk about nose to tail. Or Kopi Luwak. Then he (the PR guy) added that there’s a tree in the world that can only grow from a seed that has passed through an elephant’s digestive system. And that tree supports 250 other forms of life. It’s chilling until you think that this might be the best negation of Darwinism ever. Americans are consuming more crap than ever, thanks to a seriously compromised food system. Why can’t we evolve to eat shit and not die?

Bring on the Fiesta Latina

October 2009

Given that the food world so often feels like seventh grade, it was rather entertaining if not reassuring to see the whole world acting like the food world. The Big O wins the equivalent of 30 stars from Michelin and everyone reacts as if the Schnorrer did the honor? The race is definitely not to the swift.

52 reasons, all in a line

October 2009

Then again, what if they gave awards and nobody cared? The Maroons must be wondering that right now, since the only coverage I caught was on WNYC, and reflexive at that. Which is amusing, considering that guide really was the prototype for Yelp, with great hordes weighing in on places they might have eaten at only once. Instead of trying to invent the next big thing, maybe media types should be turning old notions into social media. Hmmm, what about the Pillsbury Bake-Off as a cookbook?

And the nomination goes to: Jamie & profiler

October 2009

Speaking of premature exultation, though, the Nobel committee had nothing on whoever it was who designated Panchito’s successor as the next Bill Keller. I mean, he’s a nice guy and everything, but he hasn’t even fucking started the gig. But I guess his anointment sends a clear message to any women and minorities and bootstrappers aspiring to move up the ladder: Connected white guys win! (And I can’t even get too worked up about that, given what a bitch Jill Abramson comes off as, trashing Adam Moss’s feature work as meaningless when she herself only rose to prominence with a dog blog.) What really makes me laugh is thinking about how the Chimp’s enabler must be roundly eaten with envy as he watches the new guy on the beat being showered in roses before filing his first review. As their mustachioed colleague would say: Suck. On. This.

Nutshell in a Playgirl

October 2009

The sorriest ad campaign so far has to be the new one for pistachios, a desperate — and successful — attempt to get media buzz by hiring sleazes like the knocker-upper who was just a heartbeat away from the VP’s mansion. Your guess is as good as mine why someone would be motivated to buy freedom nuts after watching the dim son of an accused drug dealer hawk them. Then again, if cracking pistachios is the great barrier to enjoying them, maybe the idiot beauty queen from South Carolina is the perfect spokesmodel. Anyone else would know to buy them shelled.

Human ashes in the mimosas

October 2009

I also had to laugh at the notion that Chanterelle bit the big one because of its location in the wake of 9/11. Right after that horrible day I walked around Tribeca reporting for the NYTimes how restaurants were doing, and never in six lifetimes would I have imagined it would even come back, let alone be transformed into a vibrant residential neighborhood. Nobu and the Harrison do not appear to be crying the blues, either. The sad truth is that if Chanterelle could be what it was 30 years ago it would probably be doing fine; it actually was the very model of a modern restaurant, with stripped-down decor and a focus on food. Instead, it reaped the Wall Street whirlwind. Leave it to the incomparable Seymour Britchky to sum it up best, in 1991: The original started life on a budget and showed austere restraint; when it moved from SoHo to larger quarters it became “one luxuriously appointed dining room among New York’s many.” He still gave the place four stars, and apologists might want to ponder which others with that ranking survive: Aquavit and Le Bernardin. The other dead are Lafayette, Jean-Georges’ launching pad, and Lutece. Somehow I think it would be better to blame the rise of Chilewich than an unlucky location.

They distort. And they transcribe.

October 2009

I’m not above gloating, but even I was surprised by how quickly I was validated with my prediction that the NYTimes front-pager on killer beef would be obscured by worse horror stories about vegetables. What was it, 48 hours before the Washington Post was trumpeting “Healthy Foods Carry Hidden Dangers”? And those include, of course, leafy greens, tomatoes, sprouts and berries. A smarter commentator than I noted that fresh oysters are actually a pretty minimal hazard for the average American, but why let reality get in the way of a good scare? The mission was accomplished: Dangle a new shiny object and watch the media grab it and amplify.

Follow the bouncing gut

October 2009

A really great book came out in the last year called “Swindled,” on all the ways all through history profiteers have scammed people with food, even lethal food. Obviously nothing ever changes, because the NYTimes let the beef industry respond to its devastating indictment with a lying-through-its-cud letter to the editor saying E. coli is like floods, just one of those annoying acts of nature. Anyone who has read “Fast Food Nation” or seen “Food, Inc.” knows that ranks right up with Eve-ate-dinosaur-apples BS. But this weirdly emasculated media keeps giving liars free rein — the WSJournal let the Coke huckster in chief blame sedentary lifestyles for obesity, not his sugar water sold for cheap in 50-gallon vats. So I am perversely encouraged by Jon Corzine’s sly attack on his opponent for New Jersey governor. Let’s call a fat slob a fat slob. Put the weight on him.

Hungry, girl?

October 2009

Not to harp on the FTC’s idiocy on blogger disclosures or anything, but I was pretty amazed that “On the Media” on WNYC had a guest on insisting that readers/viewers understand when old media types accept freebies. Reporters who cover gadgets and cars, he said, have to take those things because it’s their job to cover them. By that logic, restaurant reviewers should be out gorging on the tab. No?

Junkyards need dogs

October 2009

Speaking of which, I laughed out loud on the C train home while reading Mr. Ami’s profile of the terror of Hollywood when I came to this graf in the New Yorker: One corporate publicist says that calls from Finke are usually agreeable, but adds that two out of ten conversations are bad Nikki. He says, It feels like spit is coming through the phone, she’s so angry. Either the trades had something before she did, and she feels you should have told her first, or something happened that she asked you about two months earlier, and you denied it then—when it might not have been true—and she says, You lied to me! You lied to me! You lied to me!

Been there. Heard that. Only the fury was food-related.

For once, don’t blame Rachael Deen

October 2009

And now we come to the end. Gourmet. I don’t hold a grudge because I only ever managed to sell two teeny pieces, one that was rewritten within a word of its death and another that never ran. Food magazines R not me, obviously. I have no interest in dancing on the shallow grave; any magazine that dies hurts the whole hurting business these days. But I was sort of amazed that no one ever mentioned the title on Twitter until it got whacked, and then suddenly no one could talk of anything else. It says it all that the devoted reader quoted in the NYTimes was so devastated that she was actually going to cook from it for the first time (reminds me of a sin eater). Nearly a million subscribers are not to be underestimated, but no magazine can live by readers alone. Which has been one of my big beefs for years. No one gives a frying fuck about the reader anymore. It’s all about pandering to the advertisers. Campbell’s apparently rules. At the same time, could you imagine the hysteria if Condé Nast had chosen to throw Bon Appétit off the bus in this Bushwhacked economy? The shrieks of elitism would have been more deafening than the gnashing of clueless teeth.

But mostly I am just gobsmacked that so many acres of type have been generated yet so few commentators seem to even realize the online extension of Gourmet was not Epicurious but .com. Everyone blames the internets, but apparently no one ever checks the internets. Story after rant after essay was published all over the series of tubes, and only a couple noted that the magazine had an online presence so strong readers like me let their print subscriptions lapse. NPR actually broadcast an elegy (predictably dull) by someone who said her son gets all his food information online. Well, why the hell wasn’t he reading Barry Estabrook and Francis Lam and Bill Sertl and all the others generating seriously good copy on a regular basis after Ruth seized the reins? The site could have been a contender, a natural extension of the brand from print to cyberspace without any sermonizing by Mr. Cook’s, who really should have been op-eding on how he said the hell with GE Profile kitchens and went straight to readers, rather than trashing the usual e-suspects. Now it’s just fading away.

Two other thoughts: Eater’s offer to run commissioned but unpublished Gourmet pieces for a hundred bucks was crude but at least laid bare how grim things are in the eat-and-type business. That wouldn’t even buy a lede just a week ago, and today contributors would bend over to get that online — a pittance is the new fee. And I did not manage to sell this take anywhere, but all the craziness was really deja vu all over again for me. Exactly 25 years ago, Cuisine magazine was whacked, after exactly a year of the smartest issues under the editorship of Carey Winfrey. I keep all 12 in a binder in my office and drag them out periodically not just in homage but, I’ll admit it, for ideas. Cook’s came back from the dead. Why not Cuisine?

No dogs were harmed

October 2009

Just got the cookbook version of “Going Rogue” (a title about which David Letterman was right: sounds like she’s wearing no underwear). A skinny starlet has “written” her primer on “feeling great, losing weight and saving the planet.” All by turning vegan after flying to the Amazon. Her collaborator’s name is buried in the back, but maybe that was by request given the chapter titles involving “Nasty Food.” Way to sell! No wonder the cover shot, like the Palin original, looks like a feminine hygiene ad.

Instant Starbucks gonna get you

October 2009

Time magazine increasingly seems to be going for the Onion, and not just with that subscription-canceling cover celebrating the Vick’s VapoRub tears of a rodeo clown. The new issue has an ad that outdoes the most out-there parody, with “smart choices” labels on fake butters, frozen sugar water, crappy ice “cream” etc. Whatever you wanna call Country Crock, nutritious is pushing it. It’s all part of this up-is-down, war-is-peace media environment that also allows full-page ads in hometown newspapers shilling for high-fructose corn syrup. Really, at long last, have you no standards?