Chickens delivered by semi

I keep seeing the union rat in front of food establishments lately and am glad to see some push-back against the race to the bottom, the endless attempts to make workers give up more and more for greedy overlords. If even cashiers have no money after paying for their own insurance and pensions, who is going to buy the groceries? And while I don’t want to jump to judgment on seeing chefs accused in lawsuits of cheating employees, I do keep wondering why the Wage Theft Prevention Act was even needed. Wasn’t that guy at the Last Supper all about “thou shalt not steal”?

Of course the hoi polloi eat at Le Bernardin

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.

Never uncork warm Champagne

What was really vaut le voyage, though, was Sara Moulton’s keynote speech at the Les Dames d’Escoffier event I was lured down to babble at. I’ll use her real name because she told real stories: How one of my heroes said flatly that he would never allow a woman to work either front or back of the house in his temple to French cuisine, how ex-pats in Florida killed cruises to Cuba, how the Food Network jerked her around as it went for a younger, more testosterone-burdened audience with WWE (my word) competitions, how so many male stars of today were first on her show (can you say my biggest fan?) In 1999 when I was at DI/DO we ran a big story on why New York had so few top women chefs. Too bad no one thought to interview this wonder woman. I just read it again and should not be surprised, though, that the Quote Ho was thoroughly quoted. Because a guy’s point of view always matters most.

“Sophie’s Chopped Salad,” no (war) horse included

All the suggestions (often bizarre suggestions) for Oscar-themed party food and dinners made me wonder why, if Hollywood is having such troubles, studios aren’t making more movies set in kitchens or restaurants or around tables. Look what that did for “The Help,” and apparently it featured a shit pie. Other nominees missed the whole food boat (witness the struggling for good “Hugo” or “Midnight” homages). Americans are obsessed with food on any and all screens, and the huge overseas audiences keeping the film industry afloat would eat it up, too. Imagine the tie-ins: “The Artist II” Wheat Thins, “now with no audible crunch.”

Duck rillettes in the health food store

Some recycling here: In one day I saw “enterance” and “osco bucco” and also Rocco’s food truck, and that last is the fork stuck in that trend: It’s done. Also in my travels around this little island I came across a mention of a “pea soup floater” and would not want to find that even in the litter box. I also see we can just skip Lent — the Easter candy has arrived. I was mostly amused while others were outraged that a nobody made the front page for losing her teevee gig over plagiarized recipes. It’s full circle for Ms. Perfect, from perp to victim. And finally: “Taste bud map of Italy” sounds like a boot in your mouth.

Dinner. Theater?

I typed a “no cussing” elegy for Charlie Trotter’s over to the Epi-Log, but I’ll add a bit more here because he really is one of the good guys — his food and his integrity are on a rare par. I’ll always be grateful to him for actually picking up the phone and calling to alert me when the food coven was out with pitchforks after I’d reviewed a cookbook and pointed out that the empress of the farmers’ markets was wearing no apron. And he was extremely (uncharacteristically) patient with me when we worked on “The Chef” column together back in 2001. But right now I’m impressed that he’s saying nothing more after making his big announcement. Which makes chefs gloating about still being in business at 25 look even more unseemly. Of course Burger Krap money will buy you time.

140+

Are those the best new restaurants or are they the most easily shaken down? And can you really judge a cookbook by its filler (I mean, I’m no fan of the Goopster, but she did hire a good cook to do the important writing: the recipes — and besides, when was the last MFK Pulitzer for a Tin Chef collaborator)? And here’s one way to rake in the dough:  Expand your prize categories and charge $100 for every entry — just don’t call it Lotto for bloggers.

I also had to admit to new admiration for the Top Tin among Chefs. For all the Barbaro droppings about kids as critics and cooks these days, he produced the most graphic evidence that they just do not have palates evolved enough to appreciate serious cooking. I have cleaned up similar with my own hands. Cats, of course, are another story.

Eyes like butter, teeth like Halloween

Back to fat livers, I have often wondered where the food fascists are when it comes to octopus. I can’t recall ever having read a single word about a protest outside a Greek restaurant or inside any trendy plancha-equipped restaurant. But these fierce creatures are almost too close to human for cooking comfort, and wasting their awesomeness is far more of a crime than letting ducks be ducks, capitalizing on their lack of a gag reflex and natural propensity for gorging. But I guess even the plebes can afford octopus, and that is an “American” word, so the “animal rights” activists will continue to stomp all over humans’ right to eat whatever the hell they please. While no one will speak for the industrial chickens.

UPS with recipes

Finally, I guess because I’m a bitch I haven’t been invited to a cluster fuck in a while, so I was happy to head down to that foreign country — SoHo — for the party for the most unlikely author of a family meal cookbook. It was quite civilized, but what really surprised me was the crowd. I recognized exactly three faces beyond the author’s and committed an unforgivable gaffe with a fourth I didn’t (Oliver Sacks and I have a syndrome). Flacks’ lists must have really gone bloggy. . . . I took my camera for the first time, though, and just want to say to the young ’un in the silly satin shorts hiked up in her back crack: Be glad I’m not bitch enough to post photos.

Elastic ice cream, on a sword

I tried to tune out all the flackery while I was away and only noticed the shilling for yet another a name chef signing up to do airline food because it struck me as more ridiculous than usual after I’d flown Turkish Air, which was like a flight from before Saint Ronnie turned travel into midnight in America. Even in steerage, the attendants passed out menus (along with amenity kits) to build anticipation, then served drinks with toasted hazelnuts, then dispensed dinner and finally took their sweet time clearing trays. By the time everyone was fed and fine, the plane was so serene you could sleep straight through till a full breakfast (eggs with roasted mushrooms etc.) My pasta with eggplant, tomato and cheese on the way over was so good I’ll get an Epi post out of it, and the whole grains and vegetables with the beef on the way home were easily among the best tastes I’ve ever experienced above clouds. No celebrities were involved, though, just good cooks using respectable ingredients. Interestingly, though, on each leg a chef in toque-to-clog regalia was positioned at the door to say buh-bye. Turkish Air must know walking the walk costs a lot less lira than talking celebs.

“We’ll hire copy editors if you pay ’em”

I lost a little of the iota of innocence I retain when I Tweeted about book blurbs, after hearing one for an apparently terrible cooking memoir was written by someone who apparently hates the writer. Jeebus. Has everyone’s phone been hacked? If you can’t tell the truth, can’t you take a pass? And I’m not going to surrender my last wisp of innocence and believe people are actually blurbing without reading. Next you’re going to tell me the Kwanzaa cake wasn’t created by the governor’s arm candy.

Anti-Cobb

Wasn’t it rich that the same guy working up a head o’ outrage about industrial tomatoes was simultaneously flogging a recipe using a fruit that was then, according to farmers in our market, weeks away from being locally available? And I’m not talking melon. And how sad was it that the same chef who was humiliated by one jackass picked himself up, dusted off the Pepsi foam and did it all over again? Almost makes me long for the good old days of Betty Crocker, when a fake home cook really was a fake home cook.

Goop in the window

A high point of the week, I must say, was talking with a chef and his wife from London who looked at me blankly when I mentioned Molto Ego. Neither of them had the faintest orange idea who he was. This was a gathering, of course, where a megastar from South America moved among us unmolested. But my faith in the globe was restored. Even though I had to agree with the woman who said that without the guy Americans might not today be buying guanciale instead of bacon for carbonara, made with eggs and not cream.