Just back from Parma and Milan, I’m obviously having a slow time processing where I was and where I am. But I do know Panchito should be lambasted, not lauded, for his nonfood debut — he had his head so far up the Chimp’s ambling ass he apparently didn’t notice equal rights were being held back a decade along with everything else in this country (all chaps, no saddle?) And I do know it was nice to be among people demoralized about their own leader for a change (as the Economist put it, he screwed an entire country). For once, the only jokes I heard about the occupants of the White House were lame ones, about Mrs. O and her ortus. I guess they’d be happier if she were growing wars? Mowing down boyfriends?
Archive for June, 2011
A high point of the week, I must say, was talking with a chef and his wife from London who looked at me blankly when I mentioned Molto Ego. Neither of them had the faintest orange idea who he was. This was a gathering, of course, where a megastar from South America moved among us unmolested. But my faith in the globe was restored. Even though I had to agree with the woman who said that without the guy Americans might not today be buying guanciale instead of bacon for carbonara, made with eggs and not cream.
This was also my first trip overseas with my MacBook, so I could Tweet from afar. And one of the first noted that I had seen no cupcakes in Italy, but that the muffin tops were fucking everywhere. Shortly after hitting send on that, I passed a bakery with a line out the door for its frosted belly bombs. Milan may be, as my friend there noted, as much Italy as New York is America. But Saint Danny could clean up with Shake Shacks there.
Also thanks to this trip I have new appreciation for the ridiculously bloated TSA. If not for insane security kabuki guaranteeing a steady supply of airport captives, would decent, affordable places to eat and drink ever have landed so close to runways? (Can you say Vino Volo at EWR?) Now if only the fear factor could spread to airline catering sweatshops. Whatever was on my deezgusting Continental/United tray as “beef pot roast” was too scary to ingest, even before I started thinking I would be eating a dead cow seven miles up in the sky even as the waters around Japan are getting scarier. On my first day in Milan I was in the food hall on the top floor of laRinascente when the most violent storm I have ever witnessed slammed into the city, with sheets of rain and truckloads of hail. A more primitive people would have been scared straight to Kyoto. But everyone under the glass roof just kept calm and carried on eating and drinking and taking snapshots and making videos. Afterward, I went down a flight to housewares and saw eco-sensitive sponges for sale. In the shape of penguins.
This was a nice little boondoggle: I was flown over to be on a roundtable on the future of Italian cuisine in the world, but thanks to my digital bocca grande no one apparently really wanted me to say much. And no wonder. As I kept thinking, I went to an Italian forum and a hockey game broke out; I only managed to toss a crottin in the punchbowl. Emotions were running hot, on whether Italian is overpriced in Asia, whether Michelin ratings are skewing things (or is it the internet?), whether sushi is mucking everything up, whether emigration has actually done the most to unify Italy (as the left-behinds cling to their regional styles). I did enjoy the strident push-back once someone in the audience brought up “molecular cuisine.” The best response was that it’s not a cuisine but a technique — if you can produce a better bollito misto with sous vide and mirrors, WhyTF not? And I’d say the Herbaceous Chef made the smartest point: Technology has been very, very good to winemaking. You could still do it in amphoras, but why not avail yourself of science? Dinosaur piss is an elusive elixir.
Simmering below the surface, of course, was a debate that undermined the whole enterprise: whether you need to be Italian to cook Italian best. I won’t ID the chef who said, offstage: “You cannot make poetry in a language not your own.” My contention that the best way to nurture Italian cuisine in the world is to keep it vibrant at home sounded pretty trite even to me, but that later led to a fascinating discussion on the effect immigration is having on Italian food in the “homeland.” I heard a persuasive argument that the country had made a mistake after its birthrate dropped to near zero in letting foreigners move in because those newcomers don’t assimilate; they “cling to their curries” and shun the holy trinity of pork, wine and cheese for either religious or cultural reasons. But then I heard an even more persuasive argument that these newcomers don’t go on to open restaurants catering to their fellow resettlers but only places with menus the market will reward: Italian. (No one seemed happy to hear what Albanians have done, especially to pizza, in NYC.) Rolling out of Parma, though, I think I got the last word. Why are restaurants in Rome so horrible? The parents who run them cannot persuade their children to take over, so they hire immigrants in the kitchen who just aren’t trained. I stepped out of the car feeling strangely uplifted. The problem is universal. . .
One chef made the trip so worthwhile I’ll name the name: Angela Hartnett from London. Asked whether being a woman holds you back in the restaurant business, she was the first I’ve ever heard to say it actually “works to your advantage.” She was, after all, on the bill with Japanese chefs at this event: “It’s a bonus to be a woman.” And not in Old Europe, either — in England she did not to have to be a heritage hire, in line behind her dad as Helene Darroze and Elena Arzak were. Her best observation, though? On what makes her craziest: “People with allergies: nuts, wheat, dairy. You’re gonna die. A little bit of garlic is not going to make it faster.”
Lavaplatti sounds so much nicer than dishwasher. Prosecco and sparkling Malvasia and even Lambrusco are all-bloat, no-buzz wines — why do they even try to team any of them with food? Plates at buffets should always have a loophole to attach a wineglass. Al dente pasta is better for the digestion. Aperitivo apparently no longer means free food, only overpriced drinks. But the dread coperto seems to be going extinct. “I want to kill the guy who invented truffle oil.” Never dis a steak as donkey; the latter is actually very tender meat, or so I hear. A la Russe meant everyone sitting together to eat; a la Francaise signified a buffet, which was prevalent until the 19th century, when printed menus began. Or so I read. In a library. Afterword on the best restaurant in town: “You can’t eat the name.” And a maxim to remember: “Only the living have difficulties.”
Now back to the home of the food coven: Why, when you report a chef is leaving, would you not also reveal where he’s heading? Is the gold plating for the bidet thicker from the spurned party? And no wonder the Egopedist has been MIA from print and his name was conspicuously absent from the flier that came with the hometown paper boasting of the big changes coming to the Richless section. If you want “Tomatoland,” why not read it in the original English?
And this new Nigella. Sacre merde. Is there anything better than a cliché? Why would anyone presume we need lecturing on not shopping in supermarkets? For a home cook, the great glory of living here (or in Paris or San Francisco) is the variety of ways to part with food dollars. But I guess it’s all a clear indication that the target audience is officially “out here” (no matter that one of my old friends could never get home delivery of the birdcage liner in Louisville). The thing shoulda been conceived as Kountry Kitchen. Slickers might learn something.
And my brain is still fried, so I’ll step out temporarily by reTweeting myself, with new resonance after being asked in Parma why I was not invited on the helicopter gangbang: Leonardo would have died from exhaustion trying to paint the last suppers at elBulli. How many are there going to be, for Christ’s sake?
I keep Tweeting this, but Jonathan Swift must not be listening: Wingnuts apparently want to ban abortion to guarantee a healthy supply of babies to feed the poor in this country. Why else would they be yammering about “protecting” the unborn while whacking food help for pregnant woman and actual children? And no wonder one segment of the new nutrition plate is only labeled “protein.” Soylent would be too obvious.
The fiscal loons hellbent on starving the government/killing the people also want to cut money for food inspection just as Europe is literally shitting itself over tainted produce. (Cucumbers? Bean sprouts? What else could be infected with cow crap?) I’m not good with math, but I do know a restaurant could not survive just by reducing what it spends on ingredients and staff. It has to charge more. So tax the $135 Milos soup. Or at least those fools so easily parted from their money by the “free market.”
This has to be the most ridiculous product even in a supermarket world that still sells Hamburger Helper when beef is shit-cheap: Tortilla Stuffers. Aren’t those burritos?
Jon Stewart did an epic takedown of the most cringe-worthy pizza date in history but only touched on the most ironic part of it. How could someone who made a pilgrimage to the “Statute” of Liberty to dis recent immigrants be photographed knife-and-forking slices chained by Albanians? Then again, maybe she thought they were from Birmingham.