I also suppose it’s no wonder we got Mango Mussolini given that Molto Ego was once considered the most famous chef in America. Orange worship is weird. And I’m guessing there are more than a few women chefs who regret that blurb on their cookbooks. . .
A whole beat could be devoted to covering how the Taint affects big-name chefs who made deals back when he was just a weasel who stiffed contractors. Meantime, I’m enjoying the pushback. First our true national hero persisted. Then the high point of the #sciencemarch came when hundreds of people in the cohort I was among stopped to boo, at four-star levels of loudness, in front of Nougatine/Jean Georges. I go up and down on whether hitting the streets matters, but if it cuts into business for those who lay* down with vermin, I’m all up in it. (*Past tense is a form of forgiveness. Who knew how evil the orange might go?)
Speaking of (slightly staler) diets, this is timely if you conjure “food tasters in the Vatican.”* Given that the Pope was on a pretty restricted regimen, on doctors’ orders, it looked more than a little unseemly to have manicured celeb chefs out crowing about what they were cooking for him. For cripe’s sake, he wanted to sleep on sackcloth and they forced him to lie down on Frette. Not only was it a little too look-at-me, get-me-press, but it was also kinda cruel. If your guest can have only fish and rice, why show off with truffle-and-mushroom risotto and fresh burrata? God forbid Gandhi ever came to town. It would be beef in barolo sauce.
*Not fud, but still amusing: When I was working late overnight on the copy desk at my new gig at the Bulletin in Philadelphia in 1978, we got word that the pope had died. Everyone said: “Yeah, we know. Last month.” Then, on hearing it was the new pope, a cheer went up: “Overtime!” Every decade that passes makes me wonder what they put in that wannabe reformer’s Communion wine. . .
I have to admire the Pentagon for at least acknowledging what the troops are fed is not actually fit to eat. But hiring the ex-Mrs. Rushdie to fix it does not exactly instill confidence. She is not only not a chef; she doesn’t even play one on teevee. I guess it could have been worse, though. They could have contracted with Ms. Goop to squeeze blood — or at least lime juice — from $29 worth of stones.
Speaking of potential goldmines, airport chefs really need to invade Terminal One at JFK, as do a few of those trend trackers who rave about the food revolution beyond the get-there-crazy-early-so-we-don’t-all-die security. I was trapped for hours in the megastorm, waiting for Turkish Airlines to board, and the only crap on offer made the old days in the Cafe Regret look misty-colored. After trudging past all the same bleak offerings repeatedly, I finally settled for a $13 “smoked turkey” club with “Swiss” on “ciabatta.” And, once again, I realized why Americans are so fat. When nothing tastes like anything, you keep eating, and eating. Maybe there was bacon in that mess, but it was really just a salt strip. Someone, say at ORD, should be laughing. Of course, just a few hours in that overpriced food desert gulled me into thinking a guy in a chef’s hat greeting passengers on the plane might be a sign the food onboard might be above average. About five hours later (including two at the gate, one in de-icing and on the runway), dog dinner was served. Not dog’s. Dog.
Here’s the hed if anyone wants to input the text: What’s Eating Bam Buffoon? I wrote it off to Obama Derangement Syndrome, but then My Biggest Fan noted that the poor guy appeared to be needing a hug in his latest get-rich-despite-the-Kenyan-Muslin- Socialist scheme. Now I wonder whether it was the Bamming or the attacks on the Bamming that sent him off the rails. He really once was an icon, and a trailblazer. I still remember one of his acolytes marveling that he even insisted on making his own Worcestershire sauce. And he obviously once knew how to treat his staffers well. But I still marvel that he couldn’t be bothered to comment on that acolyte for the obit I was writing, presumably because I was writing it. It’s been downhill to the bank ever since.
Give this man a documentary. Smartest take in donkey’s years.
One of the most surprising things I learned in my months of research for Julia’s obit was that the Bammin’ buffoon was once a very serious chef, with actual gravitas, not to mention humility. Clips at the Paley Center couldn’t lie, could they? Among the many sins of the Food Network was turning him into the Bb, but he has no one to blame but himself for what he’s morphed into: a victim of Obama Derangement Syndrome. He’s not Ducasse because black president? What makes that doubly sad is that I still remember my first lunch at NOLA, when my consort and I thought a famous athlete was at a nearby table because the staff was fawning so aggressively over him and his companion. Turned out it was a waiter, given a chance to switch sides; as I’ve ranted before, there could not be a better way to improve service. And now the boss would prefer they don’t get Obamacare, or a living wage. I guess that figures. My other recollection from that first trip to New Orleans was being invited to Thanksgiving at the crowded house of a bunch of NOLA chefs. Who were sleeping on mattresses on the floor in return for the chance to stage with the great one. Wonder how rich they are now . . .
It’s easy to walk into the field after the battle and shoot the wounded, but in all seriousness the fatal flaw with a food issue devoted to only the platinum links in the food chain really was the disconnect from a world of hurt. As I’ve been predicting, Walmart has itself seized the day to warn its shareholders to expect lower sales and profits thanks to the food stamp cuts; the Republican obsession with punishing the poors is already boomeranging on Big Biz. And it’s not as if advocacy in a cruelly unequal society isn’t glamorous — Mr. Top Chef himself has been everywhere walking the walk on getting kids nourished better; Mrs. O’s own has been recruiting marquee names to help upgrade school lunches; more and more chefs are signing on for hunger benefits. (And just as an aside, here’s how a kid raised around a soup kitchen turns out.) Instead you got the Egopedist abandoning his usual Mount to sermonize on chefs not staying close to their one-and-only kitchens to keep, yes, the 1 percent satisfied. Which was beyond pot/kettle rich. Are we to believe a cookbook celeb developed every single recipe while building his brand?
Interesting to see the world’s most-starred chef swinging both ways: touting fresh and developing processed. I’d be more scornful if I couldn’t also see the potential, even though his partners in the deal happen to have links to Rmoney of Fail. Eons ago I did a story for Food Arts on how the negative opposite of fresh is not always frozen (think peas, just for starters). But lately fish is entering a new Ice Age that could be good for oceans, fishermen and consumers, assuming the fossil fuels hold out long enough to keep the freezers powered. Glacierized foie gras, though? J’doubt it.
Why has no one started a true reality show of chefs behaving badly? A “Virginian Hustle” scriptwriter could not come up with anything more entertaining than the tale of the chef who brought down both a governor and a “first lady” after they tried to get him to take the fall. You never want to mess with the guy who knows what you eat and how you drink. And drink. Just as amusing is the potentially litigiously unfolding tale of a chef who thought you could just make up a resume, lard it with bogus restaurants and awards and expect the Internets to STFU. Of course, there are those (ahem) who would argue that awards are generally bogus. Suddenly it’s primavera.
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.
A shit-ton of BS escaped me as I took a little mental-health break the last couple of months, and so much of it seems so trivial now that I’m back in typing mode. But two tin-chef tempests can’t go unremarked upon. One involved the stick-up-their-butts old-media types trying to stir up a tempest in laptops over a certain blow-up doll having been accused of blowing a rush up her nose. I knew forcing journalists to pee in a cup to get hired would not end well. Do I even need to rewrite the title of the classic kids’ book, “Everybody Poops”? Who doesn’t know coke makes the food world go round?
Also, too: For all my dissing, I have a whole new respect for Molto Ego for standing wide against the onslaught of cretinous attacks on his support for women’s health. He clearly gets the reality that the “pro-choice” battle is not about rescuing unborn babies but about controlling the more than half of Americakind who happen to have been born with babymakers. The most entertaining part was watching the loons come out and knowing the last thing he had to worry about was a boycott. Duck dicks ain’t gonna be springing for real meals. Better to let them protest by contracting diabetes by gorging at Chik-fil-A. There’s more than one way to prove the theory of evolution . . .
The latest evidence America just ain’t exceptional: Brits are going hungry, too. I did like this line, that the working poor have been “long a part of the social landscape in America.” Sorry. I remember there once was a shining moment when the rich didn’t have to wonder what the poors were eating that night. But then, as the muddled but good-hearted “Place at the Table” illuminates, along came a useful idiot out of California. My consort “rented” that doc the other week from our own public Netflix, the NYPL, and I saw new merits in it even though it remains a mess. “Food insecurity”? It’s complicated — li’l kids can be obese, hungry kids can own horses, well-meaning teachers can sweet-sell $5+ honeydews to kids whose families can’t even afford an apple to slice up for five. But in the end, you walk away from the teevee thinking food banks and soup kitchens are just like everyone else in this country post-Alzheimer’s-Patient-in-Chief: Trying to pretend the trickle-down is not actually a golden shower.
And now to Marcella, whom I never met and never cooked from but about whom I know a story I can never write even though she is the good guy in it. I’m not sure Signora Hazan should be blamed for the Olive Garden, but she definitely made Americans savvier about the way Italian food is provisioned, cooked and eaten in Italy and should be done right here. And she did it without the advantages Julia Child had, television and (chirpy) personality. (I got a sense of the prickliness when I did a featurette by phone on her condo kitchen in Florida — cabinets behind kickboards turned out to have a double meaning.) For all her transformational power, though, it’s interesting to see the food she was so repulsed by is now almost celebrated at hip red-sauce places like Parm. It’s Italian-American and there’s no stigma to it. Meanwhile, I wonder how many other cookbook buyers are like me today, looking more for specialties from one region rather than an overview of a whole historically disjointed country. The Italy shelves in our dining room are dedicated to Parma and Rome, Veneto and Sardinia etc. and to books by the types of chefs Marcella would scorn, with her insistence that Italian is “not the created, ‘creative’” cooking in restaurants. Every healthy thing evolves. I always contended Italian is not a cuisine. It’s ingredients on a plate. And that is what she proved.
A few last thoughts on the way the news spreads now: The Hazans’ daughter-in-law announced the death on Facebook (although she was omitted among the survivors in the Times obit) and from there it spread through the Twittersphere, users exhibiting an almost unseemly urge to be first to RIP. The Guardian based most of its obit, included in the Life & Style section, on an old interview on Epicurious. Safer than swiping from “news” sites, I guess. We also live in an age of obits teamed with recipes, and apparently I’ve been doing tomato sauce wrong. (Cynic that I am, I was also amused to see how very few recipes were cited time after time as iconic. Shades o’ Julia & her stew du beef)
Finally, I can say from experience it’s much easier to write an obit of a legend when you have months to research it. There was some grumbling that Penelope Casas did not get her NYTimely due; as an email right after the Marcella news predicted: “This is one they won’t skip.” From those lips to the Page One editor’s ear. Cynic that I am, I wonder how many editors with resources are in Grim Reaper mode today, speculating on the next to go to that big kitchen in the sky . . .