Crisping up the burgers

Maybe I had to have been there, but I was a little surprised to see the bestest new chefs were announced at the tiredest old restaurant. Last time I was there it looked like an outtake from “The Shining.” I know it was chosen because of its own bright new star, but  that says something, too. Rich fucks don’t want adventurous food; they want their baked potatoes and Diet Coke. Bring in the new and it can never last (can you say Anne Rosenzweig 21 times?) Staging a huge event pegged to transitory talent would be like booking your wedding anywhere “I’m a Chef, Get Me Out of Here” is cooking. . . .

Royal nous

I’m not a bit happy that Hachette is now sending me the bullfighters’ magazine (El Decor!) instead of Metropolitan Home, the publication I subscribed to ever since it was Apartment Life and I first lived in a real one. And not just because I lost a reliable and lucrative outlet when they shut down the better magazine, or because it’s damn near impossible to tell ads from editorial. The food column carries the Big Homme’s byline, but if he typed the text and the recipe I’m Meehan Chang. Worse, the wine recommendations come from his own sommelier, and you would never guess what the first one is. (Starts with D and B on a Champagne label.) Once again, I hear the woman in North Wales railing against the government that assured them Chernobyl was no biggie: “They think we’re stoopid.”

Cool Whip bad. No, Cool Whip’s pie.

Eat Me Daily’s smart roundup of the Thanksgiving issues of all the food magazines missed the biggest turkey: Taste of Home. The cover has a desiccated bird stuffed under the skin with sage leaves that look disturbingly like either smashed butterflies or bad mold. It’s also accessorized with figs and champagne grapes, both staples of low-rent kitchens. Reader’s Digest deserves to be bankrupt after destroying one of the major charms of this weird little magazine by turning it into just one more magnet for advertising. My in-law equivalent has always subscribed for me for Christmas, and the best part of having her come visit the other week was showing her just how mutated it’s become so she can stop the madness. She got it, since she’s abandoning more and more of what she calls “books” because she can’t tell the stories from the shilling. Hellmann’s ad next to turkey sandwich story? Check. Party story wrapped around Chex ad? Done. Jimmy Dean sausage recipes designed just like readers’ clip-and-save cards? You betcha. Worst, someone really should have to eat leftovers with cranberry sauce every day until November for making readers confront Tyler Florence on every other page with Katie Brown in between. At least Bobby Hellmann was out of the picture.

For once, don’t blame Rachael Deen

And now we come to the end. Gourmet. I don’t hold a grudge because I only ever managed to sell two teeny pieces, one that was rewritten within a word of its death and another that never ran. Food magazines R not me, obviously. I have no interest in dancing on the shallow grave; any magazine that dies hurts the whole hurting business these days. But I was sort of amazed that no one ever mentioned the title on Twitter until it got whacked, and then suddenly no one could talk of anything else. It says it all that the devoted reader quoted in the NYTimes was so devastated that she was actually going to cook from it for the first time (reminds me of a sin eater). Nearly a million subscribers are not to be underestimated, but no magazine can live by readers alone. Which has been one of my big beefs for years. No one gives a frying fuck about the reader anymore. It’s all about pandering to the advertisers. Campbell’s apparently rules. At the same time, could you imagine the hysteria if Condé Nast had chosen to throw Bon Appétit off the bus in this Bushwhacked economy? The shrieks of elitism would have been more deafening than the gnashing of clueless teeth.

But mostly I am just gobsmacked that so many acres of type have been generated yet so few commentators seem to even realize the online extension of Gourmet was not Epicurious but .com. Everyone blames the internets, but apparently no one ever checks the internets. Story after rant after essay was published all over the series of tubes, and only a couple noted that the magazine had an online presence so strong readers like me let their print subscriptions lapse. NPR actually broadcast an elegy (predictably dull) by someone who said her son gets all his food information online. Well, why the hell wasn’t he reading Barry Estabrook and Francis Lam and Bill Sertl and all the others generating seriously good copy on a regular basis after Ruth seized the reins? The site could have been a contender, a natural extension of the brand from print to cyberspace without any sermonizing by Mr. Cook’s, who really should have been op-eding on how he said the hell with GE Profile kitchens and went straight to readers, rather than trashing the usual e-suspects. Now it’s just fading away.

Two other thoughts: Eater’s offer to run commissioned but unpublished Gourmet pieces for a hundred bucks was crude but at least laid bare how grim things are in the eat-and-type business. That wouldn’t even buy a lede just a week ago, and today contributors would bend over to get that online — a pittance is the new fee. And I did not manage to sell this take anywhere, but all the craziness was really deja vu all over again for me. Exactly 25 years ago, Cuisine magazine was whacked, after exactly a year of the smartest issues under the editorship of Carey Winfrey. I keep all 12 in a binder in my office and drag them out periodically not just in homage but, I’ll admit it, for ideas. Cook’s came back from the dead. Why not Cuisine?

Barely. Legal.

Count me among the many who question Andrew Cuomo’s judgment given his choice in food people. Consider her $55 budget pantry, as dictated to the Daily News on the occasion of the launch of “her” very own magazine (I guess if Rick Warren can get a publication, so can any faith-based fraud): Five pounds of sugar is No. 1; dried parsley is No. 10. In between are four sweet things, three potentially savory and one honking bottle of margarita mix (accounting for nearly half the budget). I assume you mix the soup with the ranch dressing and follow up with cookie dough and cocktail. Not to put too crude a point on it, but that sounds like a recipe for bulimia. What’s that old saying? Lie down with processed crap and wake up with Technicolor yawn? 

Escapes meets DI/DO meets LeDoo

It’s pretty bad when a guy who famously types with his dick comes off as restrained, at least in comparison to the tale of the 4-year-old Adria. I skipped to the overwritten end only to hear the biker character in “Decline of the American Empire” echoing in my cranial sieve: All that yakking and all you made was a fish pie? If ever a recipe begged to be reduxed . . .

Now if she could bake 600 hot dogs in 5 minutes. . .

I actually liked the Seawinkle piece on the nutcase who bakes so many cookies her husband barely knows what to do; my consort and I thought it was sidling toward worthiness of the other hubby’s publication. But while I’m happy to acknowledge math is far from my strength, I kept dividing 11 pounds of butter into 500 trillion and coming up with wallboard — I seem to go through that much for an average company dessert. No wonder people would rather die than get another rewrapped candy box. But as I noted over at the satellite operation, the whole enterprise sounded misguided, especially in this new Depression. Why go through all that insanity just to inflict cookies on friends when you could put your oven to charitable use?

At least no icebergs were harmed

Artful Dodger Award of the year goes to the author of the T-for-Twaddle piece on the New Boonville Hotel sequel in Oregon. This guy can go to work with Turd Blossom now, having managed to glide right past the fact that investors got rooked big time. My consort and I made the pilgrimage to sustainable Mecca way back when, and it’s funny that I remember nothing about the food, just a few details about the B&B where we stayed (friends of Alice Walker’s and Bill Owens’s). Clearly, there are second acts in American lives. And on the internets, no one has to know you screwed up. I saw a reference to Julia Childs in my paper, but my friend out in Santa Barbara missed it online. Ted Stevens was wrong. It’s not a series of tubes. It’s one big eraser.

No good school lunch

Speaking of weightism, I can only hope the latest Time magazine makes the thin-skinned fat-is-fine crowd reconsider just a skosh, although I’m doubtful given how Dick Cavett was slammed on the NYTimes blogs for mentioning classmates at his 50th-year reunion at Yale were not lumbering. But the stories on childhood obesity in the new issue make it very clear that more than aesthetics is in play here — one shows very graphically how avoirdupois affects not just joints, heart, liver and other vitals but also the brain. And kids have no say in the fatter. But as good as the whole thing was, my cynical side has to note that this was the fattest Time since my consort re-upped his subscription. Why? Nearly every other page is an ad for some “healthful” processed food. And snacks is snacks, sugar free or not.

My kingdom for maseca

I also wasn’t so convinced we should think like a chef after reading 30 lessons from them. I was most surprised Lord Thomas recommends bacon made from any old hogs when you can really taste the difference with the heritage kind. And any chef who cares more about carrots than the environment probably should keep it to himself. One thing that does not belong in the kitchen is a disposable razor. Buy that guy a scrub brush if he’s so anal he thinks babies need skinning.

Lettuce? It sells itself

I know food magazine advertising is meant to get you to stop and stare rather than read what you bought the damn thing for in the first place. But the trend toward portraying meat as the nasty bits left after an amputation gone awry is still unsettling. I saw a really gruesome beef thing showing what looked to be scabs of cow. Why? Your guess is better than mine. And another one headlined “pork & nail polish” made me read every word of copy to try to figure out not just why those words were juxtaposed but what exactly those skinned penis parts above them were. Apparently you can use Smithfield’s frozen finest to fix a run in your stockings. Or something. Bring back the GE Profile kitchens with the chubbies chasing themselves in the stainless-steel mirrors. . .

At least it wasn’t fondue

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.

If this is March . . .

The morphing of food blogs into food glossies is continuing apace, which I guess should not be surprising given the stranglehold advertising has over both. But I was still amazed to see that just about every cyber-outlet in town picked up a “story” from the NYPost about a kosher cheeseburger without ever noticing that an essential detail was dead wrong. The “popular” steakhouse in the piece was located on the wrong side of the park. Considering I walk past it at least every other day and have never seen it full, I guess I shouldn’t wonder that the repeat offenders also didn’t realize the shill potential of the original piece was at terrorist alert level. Wait till you hear the echo chamber on chefs with charitable hearts. No shit, Forelock.

You say saucier

Just bitching as the BS backs up: Is there anything duller than someone else’s struggle to knock off the LBs? Am I cynical in thinking Southern is seductive but necrophilia is creepy? Could anyone really be shocked, shocked that ol’ Rach’ might not actually consume the crap she endorses? (I was happily surprised, however, to see some smart editors jumping off the SS Cretinous.) And if you’re not even a real critic, what is the point in writing about a neighborhood restaurant for millions of readers merely to trash it? If it sucked, why would you even go back? I can’t wait for the flat-out rave for the one-step-up-from-Olive-Garden headed for the mothership. . . .

Karma cups for everyone

Let the economic experts who have done so well so far duke it out over whether we are headed for or already in a recession. I’m going to take my cues from restaurateurs forgoing great-but-pricey birds in favor of Bell & Evans (in the land of the one-eyed critic, the blind steward is king) and from food magazines foretelling their publisher’s troubles. You know it’s a leading economic indicator when the Journal of Conspicuous Consumption does a whole issue on high/low eating. Never a discouraging bean was ever seen in those pages. Gold cards must be getting kicked back all over America.

At the same time, it makes me uncharacteristically sad for my profession to see how the national epidemic — greed with a capital G — has infected so many restaurateurs. I was half-tempted by Park Avenue Season for my birthday until reading it is being sued for stiffing employees. Pastis and Balthazar are accused of being just as venal. And the guy who cleans up with those strange Cinema Cafes just got caught with his hand in the sales-tax till, as the Shore owner did before him. The food world has always been exploitative, but now either more bad behavior is going on or more evildoers are getting caught. And if it’s the latter, could the restaurant investigators maybe head over to the banks now? Or the oil companies?