I was half-relieved when the Big O was seen around the food world reaching over a sneeze guard (and who hasn’t been tempted to do that while trying to communicate with the salsa sloppers)? At last there was a true scandal to get worked up about! But then he went and jumped the line for barbecue, and that was a brisket too far for libtards. Still, imagine the shitstorm if he had had his retinue stand down for that $300 worth of smoky bliss. The kkkrazies would be foaming at the mouth over the billions in tax dollars wasted by the wait. Instead, they have to pray away the gay.
Maybe you can’t judge a cupcake chain by its abysmal scones. But the news that Crumbs up and folded did not surprise me, not least because the chain had already been retrenching and fudging why. You can get by with mediocrity in the food business for eternity. Crappy will kill you. But the bigger lesson: Mom&Pop, don’t let your startup grow up to be taken over by the likes of Bain capitalists. Just as I suspected, when the going gets tough, they’ll dump the debts, sell the assets, and only the little people get screwed. Maybe the Food Network should consider a “Zombie Bakeries” show, cast with some screwed-over Twinkies types. Anyway, banksters are never the best judges of either portion size or how much overkill the market can bear, so I do hope the quick-buck guys are heavily invested in froyo. Half the storefronts on the Upper West Side would be open for real businesses if that oversaturated concept had a meltdown.
I always half-joke that I recognize more names on the obit pages than in the Vows columns these days. But I’m seriously surprised whenever a face and name pop out in the news or arts or other sections. Mostly recently both brought back a memory from 1988, and my first trip overseas, where my consort was shooting a story on what today seems like an unimaginably lavish expense account. The writer was a famous one, back in those days when magazines paid for marquee names who liked traveling large, and he’d brought along his wife, who spent most of the trip sitting in their car as he went interviewing. (Not to brag, but the first thing Bob did was take me shopping for a wax jacket so I could join him in the damp and cold.) Our time together was minimal, but one Sunday we all wound up at a big, fancy, drafty restaurant in the countryside. This was in the early, early days of what would become New British cuisine; we were still operating under the old “you can eat well in England if you eat breakfast three times a day” rule. But the menu here would not have seemed unsurprising in Berkeley. Still, she made a royal fuss with the waiter, insisting she wanted her fish with no sauce, no garnishes whatsoever. Bob ordered the same bright, jazzy dish while drooling over the description. And when the team of waiters arrived and pulled back the gleaming silver cloches on each plate, her fish was fully accessorized. And his was completely naked. Both he and I watched in sadness as she blissfully, and obliviously, tucked into hers. Guess you can guess what the first line would be if I wrote her obit. . .
I like that there’s a new sheriff in Cookbook Town. I don’t even want to think how often I was told there was no money for test-cooking whenever I got a freelance gig to pass judgment on others’ “Blood, Sweat &” compilations. And for 30-plus years I’ve contended there is only one way to assess a cookbook. Get it down and greasy. Even if you have to eat the “profits.” Imagine a world where no “first the duck must be dead” corrections would ever be needed. Best of all: Now it will be harder for ghostwriting drivelists to get away with the verbal equivalent of punching out microwave sandwiches for drunks.
As always, food writers discerning mega-trends at the food show were like blind people trying to describe an elephant. I thought there was more popcorn, and an encouraging amount of non-GMO labeling, and more Korean and Indian inroads, but any of those perceived phenomena could have just been the trunk, or the tail. Also as always, the most popular ingredient was either “no” or “-free,” especially with gluten. When I ran into a big importer friend, we were laughing about all the fads we had seen come and go over the decades as companies seized on anything to get consumers freaked about. I noted that sodium-free used to be the buzzterm, and now there were no end of booths showcasing nothing but . . . salt. And I’m also so old I remember when Brooklyn hipsters were so scornful of the show they staged their own little rebellious counterpart. This year they were in the soulless Javits Center themselves, having ponied up the big bucks to push their artisanal jerky and $7.50-a-quarter-pint mayonnaises. At least none of them appeared responsible for the kale chips that foretell the end of that craze. These crispy messes weren’t just the leaves, as has been the style; instead the greens had been converted into Lay’s salt+grease. Only the bacon cheeseburger cheese from another producer was more absurdly American.
Don’t ask why, but I had to spend way too much time recently in the baby food aisle of every store in our neighborhood. And there was not a jar of lamb and rice to be found, as the vet prescribed. There was, however, a generation of diabetics foretold. Nearly all the options, jarred or pouched, were fruit or fruity vegetable. Even the turkey had to be sweet-potatoed up. Maybe Darwin is intervening from the Great Galapagos Beyond, though. All those thirsty kids set loose in a water-deprived world will speed up extinction. And then the planet can finally right itself.
Usually I jump right on any armchair activism, but I’m resisting hitting send on emails pushing a boycott of the Hobby Lobby of food. How can you promise to stop buying shit you gave up already because it totally sucks?
Speaking of in-your-uterus wingnuttiness, I have been reveling in the squash blossoms from a certain farmer this summer. And every time I prep and cook them, I realize they could be banned because garden-variety babbies are being thwarted. No Planned Zucchinihood here. You seed-sluts plant ‘em and it’s up to you to sort out what to do with the overpopulation.
Butter may be back. Ghee never went away. // Couples’ fights at a farmers’ market are always the most revealing. // Great piece on lobster, tail to taste. // Had occasion to flip thru Fho file just now. Jeebus, what they let her get away with, to this day. // And I second Yuet Lee’s salt-and-pepper squid in this “10 things to love about SF.”
For once I blast out my instant reaction on an issue and I get burned. Of course there was more to the story of the FDA ban on aging cheese on wood; it was not all about a 2012 law promoted by fascistic libs and signed by ol’ Obummer. And of course I’m on the side of the artisanal cheese producers, after having once spent the better part of a day watching Parmigiano-Reggiano being made outside Parma — that small plant was cleaner than any operating room in a hospital catering to hyper-rich Saudis. But I still understand why the government might want to err, even ridiculously, on the side of caution. The great free market simply cannot help itself. With no watchdogs, any producer would be tempted to cut corners; even with policing listeria happens. As for the great free-market argument that “no one would hurt a customer; it would kill sales,” why did the FDA also announce this week that it had set safety standards for infant formula? Think about it. American manufacturers can’t even be trusted not to poison babies . . . .
Okay. This drove me off the Twitter long enough to dust off this little 11 1/2-year-old enterprise: Someone started approvingly Twit-nattering about “family meal” being such a great deal. OMFG, they’re eating foie gras and sashimi together, in a Reuben, no less! Can’t anyone just be serious and admit restaurants are actually not in the bidness of keeping the noncustomers happy? Ask a waiter (and why is that word less politically correct than “server”?) and you’ll nearly always learn he/she has barely tasted the stuff on the menu, let alone indulged in the equivalent of the exclusivity of a Chipotle quesadilla. As I had to Tweet: Someone sneak a smartphone into staff lunch without gullible media present and reassure @gastropoda that grownups actually eat better than schoolkids on a GOP budget. No middlemen allowed.
How clueless is my old two-time employer these days? It appears to be booking seats in the shouty car on the “Reefer Madness” train rather than doing the obvious: Baking up some rex for edible weed, senza green corduroy jeans. For once an ounce is an ounce the world round. (Click here to buy a digital scale.)
My favorite wingnut finally got me to pay attention to the new FDA rule forbidding American cheese producers to age their stuff on wood, ostensibly for sanitary reasons. He was all wrought up about libs and Obummer, so I had to point out that neither likely bears the blame and shame for this bureaucratic overreach. Somewhere, you can be pretty sure, someone from the industrial cheese world got paid to get the law changed. Legislators are not looking out for “we the people,” because we only pay their paltry $174,000 salaries, not make them into millionaires. Artisanal cheese producers have even less clout. But if there’s an upside to all of this, it is an acknowledgement that Big Cheese does feel threatened enough to try to stifle the competition. Once you’ve had a Jasper Hill, or a Rogue, processed crap just won’t do it. Meanwhile, the Big O has set in motion a way for “we the people” to let the White House know what matters, as one more way to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor, who famously never “listened to focus groups.” Another way for the little guy to fight back would be to launch an insidious campaign to send the message that the dread feds are forcing us to shun home-aged goodness just to prevent the occasional outbreak of listeria. Make the bought-off in Congress own their sellout. Call it “Buy Imported.”
Also, too, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised to learn Panchito is a sucker for get-thin-quick scams. This is the gullible dunce who sold a dangerous dry drunk as a harmless good ol’ boy. Of course he would spring for snake oil. And here’s all you need to know about his kitchen cred: Tabasco in the age of sriracha? Might as well confess to finding French’s mustard ass-licking good.
I would wonder why so many food and wine entrepreneurs are expanding to Istanbul even as the country’s own GWB is clearly going all medieval on drinkers’ asses. But then I remember: Eataly’s wine shop didn’t do so well in the progressive state of New York . . .