Artisanal stake through the heart of the sausage cliché

Of course, that’s the old food world. By chance I finally caught up with the desperately unamusing Xmas windows at Barneys and realized they might count among the last gasps of Tin Chef mania. Teevee is fading. The new superstars of food will be those who pushed hard to get the child nutrition law passed, those who are fighting for food safety, those who make it possible for small farmers to at least dream of competing with taxpayer-subsidized corn/soy conglomerates. Etc. Our next-door neighbors’ daughter has switched her major to food policy, which to me represents a huge leap forward from the possibilities open to me when I decided to leave journalism to go into food in 1983. Once upon a time we only had to lead Americans to food. Now maybe you can teach them how to think.

Having your Kwanzaa cake & your condescension, too

Also, too, the crap you find on Twitter: The usually sensible Kevin Drum touted a cretinous op-ed by a wingnut who is convinced the Democrats lost (the Senate) because they look down on real Americans who prefer to throw together processed crap and call it a meal. (Or something.) That ranks right up there with the Villagers’ knowing references to “the salad bar at Applebee’s.” Never let facts get in the way, of course. First, the whole piece was built around the election of a “loser:” Andrew  Cuomo, he of the questionable taste in consorts. And then there’s the little omission that said consort has, according to her main showcase, sold 3 million cookbooks. Which sounds like a lot if you want the government out of your Medicare. By contrast, Thomas Keller has sold more than half a million copies of only one title, “The French Laundry Cookbook.” Pollan’s “Food Rules” has been on the best-seller list for nearly a year. A higher-class easy-cooking book is No. 1 right now. Unfortunately, even as I looked up only those few contradictions I realized the real fatal flaw in the idiotic argument: Morans can’t read.

I thought iPads collected cooties

I have also been slow to catch on to why so many chefs are opening ambitious restaurants in airports, so I thank Andrew Sullivan for coming up with the perfect description of where you now have to spend hours before flying: police states with shopping. I’m so old I remember when the best you could hope for was a cafeteria line with $15 congealed crap; Chili’s was a major upgrade. But now half the marquee names in food are setting up kitchens almost on the tarmac. And what it all means is that the game has been rigged to lure the sheep into the pen hours ahead of flights so they have time to spend more money, since they know there will be no food once the plane finally takes off. Last time my consort and I flew we spent longer in the security line at JFK than the flight to Buffalo took and had to grab sawdusty sandwiches rather than a real meal. Message: Get there even earlier next time. Make what might be your last meal worth it by enriching a boldface name. . .

“Fry-o-later,” indeed

A friend in real life and on Twitter coined another perfect phrase — United States of Amnesia — and it really applies when it comes to beef. Everyone chooses just to forget the last go-round with lethal E. coli. Especially food writers. The WSJournal had a big roundup on — stop the presses! — name chefs going into the burger business, and it included a perfectly stupid graf on how grass-fed beef is “trendy in food circles partly because of a reputation for being better for the environment (although that is a question subject to scientific debate).” Uh. No. Some of us, even we the non-trendy, choose it because the cattle are fed what nature designed them to eat. Anyone who saw “Food, Inc.” saw graphically what happens when the poor animals are stuffed with grain their systems can’t process. Can you say shit (in the meat) happens?

The 40-year-old breast dough

Another new cookbook is unsettling for a different reason. It’s missing the sticky bun recipe, I guess because rat turds are hard for the average home cook to come by. And it makes me realize a heart-breakingly devoted employee was really just chopped liver. Not a mention of the West Indian who worked longer and harder than the boss herself. Instead there’s a guy who, if he was around 27 years ago, was not makin’ the muffins. Talk about shaking cockroaches out of aprons. . .

One mint, missing in acknowledgments

The other day I mistyped a URL looking for James Wolcott’s singular snark and realized I’d come up with the perfect title for a Tin Chef cookbook: Vanity Fare. Could someone please explain to me why, in this day and artisanal age, anyone would print a recipe calling for cream of crap soup? You know what works great? Actual cream.

And speaking of cookbooks, the moribund weekly that put Coulter on the cover hit a new low with its roundup, easily the laziest I think I’ve ever read. Every day I open our front door to find new books piled up, and the best choices include one by someone most skilled at appearing on the teevee? One whose recipes are not “hers” but produced by minions while she’s off doing what she does best? And the third recommendation is a book you won’t cook from? And the fourth is more a pander than a tout? The whole column took me back to the sorry old days when cooks cooked and writers wrote and editors understood that the twain rarely met in the same contributor. Also, too, can someone please explain to me why anyone would want a beer-braised cheeseburger? Better to grill some stew meat. And wax melancholic about Atlantic City.

Spin, PR wheels

As I Tweeted on reading about the Minneapolis freelancer who shocked, shocked his editors by asking for freebies in rating bars: Old media apparently expects contributors to turn water into wine. “Zero budget” is kinda limited when it comes to palate experiences. Even funnier, the note to restaurateurs almost exonerated him. There’s a big difference between asking for “complementary” and “complimentary.”

For the same reason, I do like to see how the tables are turning with restaurant guides in the city. Given a choice between the Maroons, with their ballots more like life lists than scientific surveys, and the inflated tire guy, what self-respecting chef wouldn’t go for the professionals? They spend the money to do it right. And for all the alleged change of heart, I still remember Michelin’s debut awards ceremony. Some pretty tough guys were rather weepy that night. . .

Did I really ask about food stamps for soda?

Just because I’m a cynic, I Tweeted a link to Time’s piece on the new project by one of the world’s most starred chefs, training poor immigrant women in Paris to become cooks. I carefully phrased my reaction by calling it “interesting” and “small,” just to watch the reaction. And I think it might have been RT’d almost more than any of my 12,000-and-counting other 140-character outbursts. Only one follower, who not coincidentally is a restaurant critic in Brussels, had the right reaction: “Nice PR operation.” Because if you poke that story too ungently, you see that 15 women is the proverbial drop in the bucket with a problem so pervasive. And as the piece noted, some of them are too old ever to make it into a professional kitchen, let alone one as male-dominated as those in France. With such a huge empire — 27 restaurants alone — his heart is in the right place, I guess. But his wallet is stowed somewhere even safer.

Oh, just go eat in a bookstore

Back in the real world, the weird news of the week was the big profile of a cartoon character in Dining. Which definitely brought home how far the section and the food world have sunk. Once Emeril could be taken down as the emblem of all that was wrong with celebrity cooking shows on the teevee. But at least he started out a real chef, one so obsessive he made his own Worcestershire at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, one so respected (and subdued) that Julia Child partnered with him in an episode of one of her own shows. By the time he had turned into a caricature, he was ripe for the mocking. But this guy? When Bob opened the paper and saw the travesty, he asked me about the back story and all I could say was that he was known for being known. I would make some sarcastic comment like how the next thing you know Styles will be showcasing Snooki. But . . .

Blind and tasting, too

In other publicity whoring, what are those “prominent chefs” thinking in suing over the false marketing of extra virgin olive oil? Way to highlight your dependence on crap ingredients, guys. Real restaurateurs would not get caught with supermarket blends. Rachael Ray on the label should have been a pretty good tip-off . . .

Shouldn’t it have been Ginger Sand?

Just when I think the horse manure cannot possibly get any deeper, along comes a ridiculously expensive stove “inspired” by a famous chef. Who dutifully parrots the bull dung that restaurant ranges are what set $40 entrees apart from home-cooked fish and steaks. If that were the case, every meal out would be Michelin-level. Anyone stupid enough to think the BTUs make a difference should stick to Stouffer’s. And I can only assume the company marketing this big-ass stove must have been turned down by the real culos.

“Delicate as a good gumbo”?

Hard to see anything funny in the unending eco-disaster. The awful truth is that Gulf seafood was in trouble even before the greed got visibly out of control. And partly for the same reason. Americans are as hooked on cheap food as much as cheap gas. But some of the concerned reports have had their moments. I felt enlightened knowing the original blackener looks “very much the way he does on the labels of his dry rubs and sauces.” Nice ad in a news column, but I suspect he looks a lot smaller or he would not be on that boat. . .

2,279 to 3

Twitter hysteria broke out when the chef of all chefs Tweeted his first Tweet. These groupies never learn. Everyone Tweets once. Maybe three times. And then the account goes dormant. Or an underling types up promotional Tweets. The chances of the next butter-poached lobster appearing in 140 characters are slim to none. Unless, of course, he cooks at the White House.


I’ll leave the Rocco trashing to those who care, but I can’t stop obsessing on “¡I Cooked at the White House!” Already feels as if he’s been milking his 15 minutes for longer than Andy Warhol has been dead.