Still, slowly, working out my thoughts on the biggest loss of the year, but I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised by the pissing on the urn. Once there was elation that it was playing out like some sort of Lysistrata. Now it just seems to be the Trojan Mare.
I had a book client sorta recently who never mentioned his mother without noting that she was looking up at us at that very moment. I always laughed, cuz I definitely know the feeling. Which makes me almost more amused than pissed that strangers would find a dusty ol’ website and choose the famously departed as excuses to fire off hate email to someone who has always been 50,000 leagues from stardom. The first decided she knows exactly why my biggest fan called me a bitch, and she is damned if she’s gonna waste any time on me. Hitting send musta been like an orgasm (and waiting for a response must be like blue balls). And the second was such a devoted, dedicated fan of Julia he had no idea she was singular. I look forward to looking up at ‘em both one day.
Otherwise I really do not know what to say. Working on it, tho. No. One. Like. Him.
Saddest thing about the Magnificent doc? How directly My Biggest Fan nailed what has happened to the food world, and why I have lost so much interest. Used to be you had a week’s or month’s respite before being ka-slammed with a barrage of hottest/newest bullshit. Now it is nonstop.
The best promo ever for a cooking show was this hypnotic Vine: Put your lips together and blow up ratings. My foie is still in crise from Lyon nearly 15 years ago, but my consort and I had to tune in for the first time. What we watched made me think we were, as is too fucking often, there too soon. We had tacked on a train trip after his over-the-top gig in Paris celebrating the 1 percent before they were so close to being worthy of a new revolution, and we had eaten literally at the top of the food chain, where everything was restrained and cerebral. The home of the silk weavers’ brains struck me as, to steal from Calvin Trillin, all “stuff-stuff with heavy.” But here is the redemptive capability of my biggest fan not in the Loudon sense: Watching all that unabashed food porn, I realized that what had seemed so dated and heavy all those years ago would taste pretty splendiferous today. What I mostly learned, though, is that CNN has been spending so much time on the search for the plane it forgot to find any quality advertisers. How many Big Macs can one viewer suffer?
The tongue bath for the down-on-his-fancy-restaurants teevee chef reminds me I never got around to spilling this bile, drafted before I went off the grid for too many weeks:
Maybe 10 years ago or so, I picked up the intercom in my office and my consort’s studio manager said Charlie Trotter was on the line. All these years on, I still remember being shocked. I called him. He never called me.
And what a call it was. He wanted to warn me the food coven was out for my scalp after my review of a cookbook by one of their icons, who they did not feel was properly idolized. They had asked him to sign their lynch note, but he had picked up the phone instead. And so I am at the guilt level of dealing with his death. When he was trashed by a little prick at the biggest-clout paper in the country, I did not pick up the phone and give him my support. I figured he would roll with whatever the fallout was because he was, after all, Charlie Trotter, chef super-hero.
But I’m writing this here and now to get on the record what an asshole that little prick was. When the nothingburger I am once mentioned him by name here on this barely read site, he lost his shit completely. I got an ugly email from him, one even my seen-it-all consort thought was around the bend.
So his fee-fees were very delicate. But he had no problem going onto the battlefield and shooting the wounded for his own aggrandizement. Thanx allah for my biggest fan, who Tweeted about the shabbiness of the treatment one of the most revolutionary chefs in history was subjected to by a newspaper that once prided itself on integrity. And we were not the only ones with elephant memories. From what I hear, Mr. Thin Skin is very lucky he was not a fly on the wall at the after-funeral drinking sessions. To quote one DM: “Yea… That guy was all biz until the real biz gave him heat…I tell u one thing people yesterday have not forgotten nor will they.” I also heard “many folks wrote NYT last year regarding the horrible story.” [At least this new “chef not left behind” piece shows our editors is learning.]
I think my first Tweet after hearing Charlie had died was that he had always been great to me even back when my first Siamese’s name was better known than my own. You could call what he did media manipulation, but I prefer to think of of it as mutual respect. He took care of his own. (Or so I hope.) The two or three days I spent collaborating on a series of “Chef” columns with him for the NYTimes were beyond mind-blowing. I came home convinced he was worthy of a New Yorker profile (and what did I ever do about pitching that?) The guy started out as a gymnast. And drove a hyperexpensive sports car (not sure if it was a Jaguar in 2002) on which the driver’s side door did not work. He had so many quirks and contradictions. But he was a singular human being who will live on in my memory till I lose the last bit of that. As he does in the great book his best pal has written.
I hate to differ with my uncharacteristically soft-hearted Biggest Fan, but somewhere Clementine Paddleford is weeping. Duncan Hines was driving the drive, eating the all-American eats long before a friend o’ the publisher got a regular gig. And speaking of spinning deads, I feel pretty certain that Pierre Franey in the big kitchen in the sky is feeling very pleased no marketer came up with frozen 6-minute meals while he still cooked among us. Also, too, is this the world’s worst title: “The Baby Cookbook”? Years ago, when the feet of a kid now in college sounded like hooves over my head, I had a dream about boiling a baby. What other methods would that guide suggest?
Along with pie instead of cake, one of the best parts of the weekend was chatting over cheese with an uncle of the bride, in from Grand Forks, N.D., home of the world’s most infamous Olive Garden. My consort is the real reporter in this relationship, so he of course had to ask what someone who would know had to say about the internet sensation. First he offered: “North Dakota has a lot of unsophisticated but authentic people.” Pressed as to whether he knew the sensational “reviewer,” he just said: “I know of her. Her husband was the editor of the newspaper. She kept writing after he died.” Shoved as to whether he read her “reviews,” he cut it off with: “She writes about what she eats. It’s just not interesting.” Given that he started the conversation by saying he and his family had been Pentecostals before evolving, I was impressed. Eventually he responded to Bob’s “We’ve covered religion and politics. What about sex?” with: “I’m 77 years old. And I still enjoy it.” Give this guy a book contract! Or at least give his wife one.
People kept emailing me links to the sous vide of the Bitterman, and I first responded with tame thoughts like “everyone involved needs to take a Silkwood shower.” But then I started thinking maybe the food coven is not so bad after all — the circle jerk is demonstrably more despicable. If the guy’s a douche bag (I’d go with scumbag, myself), why even show up at an event for him? Taint is not just a body part. It’s communicable.
Also at the roundabout of politics and fud, I wonder how many cooks/chefs suddenly had a dream when the Big O said the right thing on marriage equality. After all these years of homophobia in whites, you have to wish the best to everyone coming out of the walk-in. . .
And I guess I have to wade into the melted butter even though my biggest fan (not in the Loudon sense) has defended himself well, and one of the best food bloggers out there crafted a verbal-Astaire response as well. I’ll just say what I did all those years ago when a guy whose strongest credential was having eaten at the McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps was first anointed to pass judgment on an art form that probably means more to the city’s bottom line than even theater: WTF were the bosses thinking? Eric Alterman had a good warning that the worst Chimp enabler ever should “stay the heck away from politics,” but letting him back anywhere near food has just been proven equally embarrassing. What the AA is selling is not cuisine for the noble heartlanders. It’s processed crap, tarted up. (Whored down?) I got an email within hours from a friend in Philadelphia who is not even in the food world saying he spotted at least four egregious overstatements, and of course anyone sentient is still waiting for the correction on whether Les Halles is a very busy bestselling writer/television star’s restaurant 10 years on. Mostly, though, the drivel illustrated how far removed your average op-ed writer is from the red states they all claim to celebrate. The rubes aren’t rubes eating from Applebee’s salad bars. They must understand Liberace is not Fannie Farmer.
My biggest fan seemed a bit miffed when I Tweeted that the Beard awards are not the Oscars of food but the Golden Globes. Apparently his great mind had run into the same gutter first. But it struck me on reading all the frothing coverage that the awards would be worth so much more if they were handed out the way the movie Oscars are, by a jury of peers. Instead, you get the industry, the dilettantes, the journalists acting like film critics from furrin countries. Nothing proved my point more than the pen wielder formerly known as Mr. Cutlets jumping into the fray with a “real” story on the awards. He nattered about the NYC winner winning more for her book than her restaurant, then segued into his butt-hurt over not winning for his “journalism.” The FlimFlammer must be so envious. Enron on 12th Street has come up with the perfect scam. Co-opt food writers and they’ll swallow whatever smoke you blow our your ass.
I had torn feelings on seeing a great outlet lose out on an award last week — on the one whisking hand I want the mastermind to rack up every honor imaginable, but on the other I know we’re talking Enron on 12th Street. It’s fool’s gold. And at least @RuthBourdain stayed the hell away from the orgy of self-congratulation, proving him/herself the Stewart/Colbert of the food world in showing “real” journalists everybody knows this is nowhere. In two sentences in the Gray Prison, I never really felt as if I had much impact on the hometown paper, but I did persuade the honchos that cooperating with this Beardshit was all wrong — and who cares if they based their decision on the idea that journalists who cover an industry should not be lauded by it? The important thing is that every year a third-rate newspaper wins is another victory for integrity. As my biggest fan asked: How’s the shrimp?
I know we’re not supposed to blame the Chimp for anything anymore in the United States of Amnesia, but I do want to note, one more time, that I was not the one who nicknamed Panchito Panchito. But if the diminution fits, why not run with it? I kinda like “Malto,” though. Misspell the second half as Eggo and you’d have a very Boehner-colored frozen waffle to accessorize the Crocs.
I doubt I was the only reader to have a very unseemly WTF? reaction to the kicker on Michael Batterberry’s obituary in the most self-important media outlet in the land. He was the courtliest gentleman in the food world, and he’s shipped off to that newsstand in the sky with a snarky dig at a failed magazine? The second title he founded also got short shrift, so good on My Biggest Fan for setting the record straight. The Batt was a unique visionary. And I sense that chefs are much smarter today partly as a result of how he chose to cover the industry. Of course I too thought he was brilliant for putting me on the masthead from the beginning, and for hiring editors who let me write it my way. Apparently something blithely snide I typed here got me kicked off the Christmas party list; I don’t think it was because I finally said I could not do the Year in Review any longer. (That was before pennies became the new dollars.) But he was unfailingly courteous whenever our paths crossed. We just never had an engaging conversation again. Which was too bad, because he was always entertaining, with a very dry wit, and smart as hell. Not least for shedding Food & Wine before it devolved into Gourmet’s more getting-and-spending shadow.