Not sure what goes on in editorial meetings these days, but somehow “mom cards know best” results in 10-inch recipes (It’s coconut cream pie, not molecular gastronomy, for pop’s sake! ) and “you don’t need an Italian grandma to learn to make pasta” turns into “consult a bunch of American chefs.” Spring is to be celebrated right before the Fourth of July, with peas not in Greenmarkets and second mortgages required for $60-a-pound morels and $10-a-softshell feasts. And the wackiness is everywhere: Advice on wasting less food runs with ridiculous sell-by dates that result in, yes, more wasted food. But at the main outlet, the one hoping “recipe cards will save the day,” Helen Keller is clearly running the design show. All gray and no white space would communicate better in the original Braille.
In the beginning there was the recipe headnote. Then stories expanded to fill the ad space allotted, and readers got a little foodplay along with four or five recipes. Now the headnote sprawls across two pages. And the recipe is someone else’s. And has been made ridiculous. Having clipped his interpretation way back in the last century, I’m pretty sure Pierre Franey must be spinning in his walk-in in that big kitchen in the sky. From 60 minutes to two days. Next up, barrel-aged pasta puttanesca?
Everything you need to know about the world within and without fud is that a rich rancher who is resisting paying “we the people” to let his cattle graze for a pittance on public land is celebrated as a hero, not a taker, by the same people whining that the poors get food stamps to buy their sugar fizz and lobster. While the latest revalidated four-star chef in town is Tweetebrating his validation as a U.S. citizen. We’ve come a long way from freedom fries when the true patriot these days is the former Frenchman.
Today’s lesson: ice cream sandwiches are meant to be craptastic. Artisanal don’t cut it. // Finally settled a little debate over what espelette is: Separatist paprika. // Apparently if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Ms. “How to Cook a Wolf” must be spinning in her urn. // Funny how it’s always mice in a fancy fud joint. And rats in a real one. // A whole generation is growing up not knowing a kittybag was once an aluminum foil swan. // Canard was word o’ the day on a couple of political blogs. No mention that you need to shred a few birds to make rillettes. // Pizza, you ask? Didn’t we already get the ultimate advice? // Maybe we could both vanquish the abomination “foodies” and disempower NRA nutz by calling them “gunnies”? // Remember when the smart kidz were thinking you should watermark your fud fotos? Good times, Getty would say. // And some deaths you the e-slimed just want to note with a hearty R.I.Pee. Funny how that “hefty but healthy” tome never sold.
Panchito is really the twit that keeps on giving. Lately I’ve been seeing him dissed as an idjit because he was a restaurant critic and so must be clueless about anything non-food. But of course “Columnist Boyardee” was dumb about food before he was dumb about politics again. Although he was clearly a better judge of tuna tartare than of presidential timber.
And I changed my mind about the Heartland “reviewer” once she got her chance to go on “Dining With the Stars.” She dropped her dignity faster than you can say “I’ve got five columns to write” and jumped on a plane to New York with a flack in tow. I’m sure her employer was as thrilled as Dining with all the traffic, but it was a little unseemly, to the point that I was not alone in cynically wondering if maybe the authentic Tuscan farmhouse chain wasn’t underwriting the media tour. The alacrity with which chefs leapt to cook for her was also queasy-making, given that she and her attention-craving son admitted a discerning palate is not her strong suit. But the low point was the giddiness the former JGold Wannabe exhibited on inviting her to the Page One meeting. If all it takes to get that entree to big-decision confabs is to be an internet sensation, we should thank Allah that Keyboard Cat and Charlie the Finger Biter peaked too soon.
As my day drifted away in a digital haze, I did get a good laugh from this almost Taiwanese-worthy animation of a JGold Wannabe review: A porcupine “laughing” over his/her food.
After my consort shrewdly asked me if I would ever be pleased with the hometown paper’s choice of a restaurant critic, I was hesitant to write anything about the erstwhile JGold Wannabe’s Trocadero Ballet-worthy swan song. But a couple of great takes made me focus on what was so misguided about going out on such an obvious high. Admittedly, I know too many people who presume they’re in the 1%, but everyone I know who admits to being solidly in the 99% has left the joint underwhelmed. The price just canceled out the pleasure. Luckily, they’ll never get in now. But his overlords will be wowed by how well their table is treated when he struts in from Holy Toledo.
And I know I’m heartless, but I did laugh at the “no one coulda predicted” tone of the story on the murder in the Vermont food co-op. Haven’t we all been fed no end of tales from the very same publication on how the Park Slope co-op is fascist and full of infighting and right on the edge? (I still remember the JGold Wannabe telling me just the mention of the place made his fingers twitch.) Plus those kinds of shared labor tend to be fraught with scorekeeping of the most dangerous kind. With the post office being pushed out of business despite the Constitution mandating its existence, maybe the new term will be “going co-op.”
And now we come to the sorry end. Or, as I Tweeted it, the aspen falling in the dead-tree forest. I just wish Johnny Rotten were still in the baath and could weigh in on the lightweights taking the heavyweight jobs. My consort keeps saying stuff like “I don’t want to insult you, but food is just not serious news.” And he’s mostly right. JR was so wise in only dabbling in fud while swinging from the side of the heavyweights. Plus he was never empowered with opinions. Heading into a particularly contentious election, with the country on the skids, they picked a fine time to entrust a reviewer with oversight of unbiased news coverage. But if it gives the guy, and his readers, a break from a verbal form of what did in Elvis, I’m all for it.
Speaking of which, did Big Bird barf all over the food page the week before? (Yes, I know I’m way behind, but I was being the good in-law equivalent one weekend and then the good guest the week after.) Someone has apparently never been to Piemonte, and the giveaway was not just that history was ignored (um, why is the tuna always conserved?) But also that vitello tonnato there is not just an art form but a two-part indulgence that can be taken apart — we have a friend who makes only the sauce, fuck the vitello. Garnishes are for Jersey, of course. But it was just sad to see how far that Colavita-seducing page has come over the decades. Say what you will about Marcella and Giuliano, but they knew from real Italian. And once would have been consulted before any restaurateur yapping on his cellphone. (Also, too: Veal — It’s what’s for cucina povera dinner!)
I’m a little behind, but did we really need a Brit advising Americans on how to cook on a camping trip? As Paul Theroux must have wondered, shouldn’t she be sitting in her underwear staring out to sea in Cornwall? I would ask if they’ve lost their fucking minds, but the answer is too obvious. I could deal with bangers on the barbie before fava beans in the field. It’s been 40 years since my family would pack up the bedrolls and the old Coleman stove, and I still remember what a hassle cooking anything but freshly caught trout was. And we had a wood stove to practice on at home. What’s most amazing is not just that a recycled book is being passed off as fresh. It’s that I was the most recalcitrant Girl Scout ever and still know you do not approach a campfire barefoot. You may start thinking s’mores with those marshmallows. But watch out for napalm. . .
I felt the teeniest twinge of remorse about being mean about the AP Stylebook’s venture into food. Because I now wish I had a copy just to see what it has to say about the biggest confusion in the biz: Food writer versus food critic. An organization that you would expect would have a pretty clear take on that let the whole journalism world down this week by doing a roundup Q&A confusing the two. I’ve spent 28 years now answering “What’s it like to be a food critic?” with “I’m not a critic. I write about food.” If the institutions don’t know better, no wonder everyone wants to be a blogger.
All that ranted, I really wish the inimitable AA Gill’s main outlet would open his reviews up to the big wide world again (and not just so I can get more people looking here for “porn star’s scrotum”). His writing is so great I can almost forgive him shooting a simian. Luckily, he also does interviews, and one in Oz made a fascinating argument against one of my “food critic” idols. I find the way she thought and stitched together words so seductive that I have actually read her late at night and considered getting out of bed and heading out to find grape leaves and mushrooms to bake with garlic. But Mr. Cranky makes the good point that her romanticizing of Mediterranean food, in a country still gasping for real chocolate after wartime rationing, set British cuisine back for decades. His review of the new St. John, scanned and emailed by a friend of ours in London, was caustic enough to make me wonder if he might have been appeased if a shooter’s sandwich had been on the menu. But I do trust his take on the pork & beans, far more than what a critic closer to home said with not even a quarter of his ease with the King’s English.
Three words on elBulli: Make it stop. It’s impossible to parody at this point, no matter how jealous you are you missed the helicopter. So up that to five words: Make it fucking stop. Please.
As everyone addicted to it knows, Twitter is the wrong room for an altercation. But as everyone addicted it to it also knows, it is very hard to resist low-hanging baited fruit. So I should have clicked faster when I saw a big name in food wondering if anyone in my part of this little island had actually eaten at a restaurant most of us in these parts had never even heard of. But my point — who but a Brooklynite looking for fodder would bother? — got lost. I guess I came off the dummy for not having succumbed to acknowledging a place that, if it survives, will only do so for a few years because of the old location, location maxim. Having lived up in these parts for going on 30 years, though, I’m not too worried. With a plethora of restaurants opening as canteens for the priciest co-op in the city, the mediocrities that traditionally survived thanks to proximity to Lincoln Center curtains may have to try a little harder. As in: Make the natives restless. Or at least aware.