One of the best parts of traveling with a consort whose job guaranteed him local fixers was learning that most of what the “experts” back here in the homeland had to say was total horse shit. Some dilettante would meet an expatriate in Rome and make a pronouncement that food writer after food writer would pick up and regurgitate until there was no arguing about the proper carbonara, even though guanciale has only recently entered the culi-vocabulary. Starting with my first trip to Europe, to Cornwall for a week in 1986, I have been repeatedly astonished at how many myths can be busted just by meeting real people in real places where they don’t know from T&L&F&W&Cookbooks Inc. And so I let my dander up only slightly on receiving a strange letter from an importer who wanted to set me straight on the origin of the name of a certain varietal I had written about in a moment of expense-covering weakness. Before traveling to the source, I had read the same sentence — verbatim — in about 35 locations on the series of tubes. But when I got to the region and started talking to the people who have grown the grapes and produced the wine for a gazillion years, not a single person had ever heard of it. Instead, they all offered their own root, one that seemed weird but sounded right in the vineyards. And what was the response to my carefully phrased response to the strange letter? “Next time, ask me. I’m an expert.” I guess that’s the polite way of saying, “Americans! Fuck, yeah!” It’s the last bleat of insular supremacy.
Groffoto down Philadelphia way tipped me off to a little item on his teevee about condoms for restaurant pagers — apparently some people actually worry about germs on them, and where there’s no need there’s a huckster to fill it. I always laugh when I see the covers or disinfectants for handles on shopping carts in the grocery store. For some reason the freaked and fastidious never worry about the filth on their lucre. From a bum’s fecal pocket to your Purelled hands. . . .
One of my sources says fixes are being downsized as part of the purge at the Taj Sulzberger, which may explain why half the stories I slog through have at least one glitch (more and more on the front page). First I read about the “complementary” treats for dogs at a cafe in the park, then there was an op-ed reference to the “complementary” potato chips HIllary served supporters. Eons ago I remember filing a freelance story in which I mentioned complimentary appetizers at a restaurant in Virginia. I opened my paper to find it changed to complementary and complained to Big Al. Who wrote back to say the best solution was to use the shorter, less pretentious word: free. He’s gone, everyone’s taking buyouts or being purged and the lesson was clearly never learned. Last copy editor out, please turn on the Spell Check.
(And you would think, with the country overrun with Mexicans no border can keep out, high-paid reporters could learn a little bit about the food. In a piece on calorie counts at Chipotle, a diner is described as “dipping his nacho into his burrito.” Would that be a tortilla chip, by chance?)
Hell is not always other people. Sometimes it’s breaking away in late afternoon on a prime Saturday to get to a performance downtown at 6 o’clock, only to find that the music by a friend of a friend actually starts at 8 and some bullshit cookbook seminar precedes it. Since the tickets were nonrefundable, my consort insisted we at least give the bullshit a chance, so we walked in just as a pedant was droning her way through a presentation on how recipes could actually be read as poetry. Not by her, of course. She stumbled and bumbled through half a dozen as if she had never seen her texts before, even asking for help on pronouncing words both English and Italian. I felt bad when I realized how miserable she looked by the end, but I felt worse for us — if you’re going to engage in performance art, do what performers do: rehearse. Oh, and if there is one occasion when a bra is essential, it’s in a small space in bright lights with a captive audience. I kept getting distracted as the nipples in the clingy top grazed the tabletop. And she was standing at the time.
Of course it went on. And on, with a presentation on a starving-artist cookbook project with a “highlight reel” that ran an hour and 43 minutes. Luckily, the woman who droned that introduction showed only a few segments. And once again I had to say: If you’re going to make videos, could you at least learn to focus? The best piece was on a sculptor of sorts who works with animal carcasses and also makes a Jell-O terrine with a flashlight embedded in it. She switched it on just before unmolding, the camera zoomed in and . . . a bright blur filled the screen. Afterward the moderator suggested everyone in the room share starving-artist stories and volunteered that she had a hundred of them. What I said walking in I really meant as we walked out: Pulling my own teeth would be a less excruciating option. We fled to Lucky Strike, hooked up with our friend by accident and came back for the music. Boozy drinks were handed out afterward, and they even got that wrong. If you want to stage a fiasco festival, at least marinate the guests first.
I guess I’m just surprised this is not sold by Williams-Sonoma, home of the most ridiculous kitchen accouterments: Rachael Ray has now slapped her name on a “garbage bowl.” It’s a plastic thing the speckled color of a call to Ralph on the big white telephone, and the label says it “saves time.” For starters, what halfway-sentient cook would not be working over a trash can? But how anal would you have to be not to just use a regular bowl (or bag) if your designer didn’t realize how crucial location is when it comes to fast disposal of scraps and trimmings? Mostly, though, I wonder if there is anything she would not cash in on. Many opportunities await at the wrong end of the alimentary canal — who wouldn’t want to squeeze her Charmin?
About the only law that still seems to be in effect in America is the one of unintended consequences. Consider the case of the “homeland security” money showered on Long Island. One of my better sources says it has paid for big new boats and crews to patrol the Sound, and of course Osama and his dialysis machine are not exactly swimming ashore out there, so big new boats and crews have nothing better to do than harass fishermen. Who have their own insecurity with lobster stocks never having recovered from the mysterious die-off a few summers back. Apparently tickets are being handed out for oystering minutes past the 4 o’clock cutoff on a catch that used to be allowed from dawn to dusk. Forget the terrorists. The petty bureaucrats have won.
After you have written the most odious and uninformed piece on New Orleans published outside a Dittohead blog, where do you go next? Straight to the ex-wife’s competition to natter (and natter) about how rough your life is. Forget the attempted digs at non-critics that made him look as clueless as he was about puppy drum. My sick suspicion is that he was actually trying to be three whole pages of funny. I’ll put it this way: An icy douche is a laugh riot by comparison. And it doesn’t require cartoons.
This is like kicking a lame ho, but the Human Scratch N Match is really giving bimbos a bad name. I would almost love to be a roach on the wall when the slot decides which copy editor is going to have to descend into the pool of verbal muck to format that crapola and give it a hed. Clearly, no one even attempts to edit it into a publishable state. With Merkato 55, she had me at “the menu is colored.” But the stupid just kept coming. Until I realized that is the whole point. Unlike every earnest reviewer who has ever tried to contort into that impossible position, she has people talking. We study the brain wreck to see if there are indeed limits to cretinism. For the paper, though, it’s a deal with the devil. Let your copy editors amplify delicious nuances long enough and they will soon be letting “seemless bras” into print. And speaking of which, throw one onto the table, please. The promo ads could be for Spitzer services.
Both my parents were WWII Marines who knew from KP, and I still cannot conceive of anyone ever using the word “spud” in actual conversation. But not one of the countless regurgitations of the press release I read failed to shuffle “potato” out in favor of “spud” by the second graf. What, “brown tuber” was taken as a synonym? Even worse than the idiotic flack-talk transcribed into print on- and off-line was the easy bait of a ridiculously overpriced item — if the Pentagon were so transparent with $55 baked potatoes, or $81 burgers, we could halve the $12 billion wasted every single day. And somehow I don’t think it’s truffles pushing up that tab.
I guess we can declare the mojito officially over. A drink that is only worth drinking just after the fresh mint has been muddled is apparently now sold like prefab margaritas. Hemingway would shoot himself if he hadn’t already.
Maybe it’s all the gubernatorial sex coverage bringing it on, but the internets have been going wild with genitalia-related weirdness. Slashfood turned up a bizarre teevee story on a mom freaked to find kiddy straws she insisted were shaped like penises. Keep that toddler protector away from cucumbers and bananas. And then there was the case of the cook who punished a customer complaining about an overcooked steak by barding the replacement ribeye with pubic hair. He was canned, of course, but not for grossness, only thanks to his employer’s insistence that “food safety is our number one priority.” I kinda doubt a little taste of hair pie is anywhere near as dangerous as all the genuinely scary stuff breaking out all over — hepatitis A here, Sbarro’s typhoid there, norovirus at restaurants at Great Escapes. Most of those are spread by food handlers who skip washing after shitting, just pull the gloves back on again. And all the hand condoms in the world don’t seem to be doing what good old soap and water once did. Hard to believe Typhoid Mary now looks like a kitchen trend-setter.
A far more educated writer than I has already spotlighted the bleeding-heart embarrassment on the slaughterhouse whose owner finally admitted Downers “R” Us (can you hear him now, Joe Nocera?) While he thoughtfully spun Upton in the grave, I limited my WTF to a river of drivel on pasties by someone who had apparently never had to survive on them for a week and a half in Cornwall because her consort had to shoot sunset every night when in June that happened to coincide with last call in the pubs. You live in New York City. Speak empanada, damn it.
And while I admit to being mystified by the American fascination with horror films at a time when we are supposedly going to be killed in our beds by felafel-eating terrorists any night, can someone still please explain to me how a movie poster wound up illustrating a food story? The readout from “Your Waiter Tonight” should have been “Is Extremely Tired and Very Angry — All Cookin’ and No Bourdainin’ Makes Mike a Very Dull Boy.”
Even before the Chimp took the concept of democracy and drove it into the global ditch, there was Zagat. And anyone halfway-sentient who did not realize you cannot assess quality by “voting” deserves to eat America’s favorite hot dogs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with McLame. All of which is by way of wondering: How in the hell did the OAD “survey” ever get published? You put a questionnaire up online and really think the responses will come only from people who have actually eaten in the restaurants being judged, and not from flacks and shills and wannabes, not to mention the impressionable who tried Da Fiore on their honeymoons back when James Beard was a pup? Call the damn thing “100 Great Restaurants.” You can’t say they’re the “Best” unless you have put down your feces and stopped flinging long enough to try them all. Pretty bad when the press release challenges its own subject . . .
In other idiocy, please tell me there is not really an award category of “best new farm-forward restaurant.” The sheep shit is getting hip-high these days. May I also suggest licensing for flacks? If you cannot spell complement, you should not be allowed to shill — beers, let’s face it, never have a nice thing to say about cheeses. Another New Rule is that any interviewer who does not know The Food Section should be automatically disqualified from covering the Internets. Give that nitwit food.alltop.com.
The Starbucks shutdown for retraining was covered like it was Y2K all over again — WCBS spent the day hysterically warning listeners to run out and get their caffeine or the sky was surely going to fall; CNN ran a poll wondering how viewers would survive three hours without spending too much. And of course the newspapers all dutifully sent stenographers to cover the biggest non-news since Taco Bell let the rats out. My consort must really be working too hard lately, because he actually asked me why I thought the company would do it. Can you say more coverage than the wingnuts’ nemesis got for buying $1,200 worth of doughnuts? What was most laughable was the bill of goods that a problem allegedly so serious could be solved in 180 minutes. I feel as if I’ve waited that long to get an overpriced iced tea.