The most unseemly striptease ever was the slipping off of chef’s whites for two weeks leading up to 15 minutes at the White House. I think at one point there were 829 news items to be found about it, and that was even before the mole had muddied up the Wagyu. (Never let protocol and letting the hostess announce the menu get in the way of self-promotion.) You’d never know Maricel Presilla managed to do a dinner there without all the grandstanding. For Kass’s sake, I think even the top Tin Chefs were less self-aggrandizing. No wonder the attention whores thought they could crash the dinner again. Security had its hands full just trying to monitor the kitchen Tweets.
Speaking of top chefs, though, I increasingly wonder why, whenever they’re interviewed about what they like to eat, no one ever asks about aspirational food. I was guilty of that with Danny Meyer once (Popeye’s), but these days people seem to need far more knowledge about what’s possible on the plate, not about low-end pleasures. It’s no surprise everyone eats crap. What’s the best thing at the top of the food chain? I would rather J-G, say, admit he loves the foie gras marble on that menu more than a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme. Maybe it’s all part of a culture where 2 percent of the population controls like 90 percent of the wealth, and it makes people with restaurants all over the world safely sound like jes’ folks. We should all shut up and eat our buffet lasagne; it’s what the Trumps do.
And reTweeting myself, I also have to say: Christ on a tortilla, Dining! You’d think Rick Bayless had never cooked rubber chicken before. How can you suck your way to the top of Enron on 12th Street if you can’t crank out dinner for 200? It was really the kind of piece you’d expect to see about a hometown chef in the Podunk Crier. And the hed should have been Someone’s in the Kitchen with Access, because the story went nowhere. Unfortunately, of course, that hed was taken.
Finally, I guess I have to dive into Forgione v. Fool. Where in the name of Madoff was this money expert when looters were pillaging Wall Street? If there was ever a time to cross journalistic boundaries, was it not when his very own stock was tanking? Mostly it’s funny how I never saw that Timesman on his white horse galloping across the Style newsroom to throttle the rudest voice in food as she was berating some sorry soul tasked with merely trying to get her to bestow unicorn dust on some new product/restaurant/event. Rather than blogging his silliness himself, he should have done the proper thing. And consulted Eat Shit & Die herself.
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. . . .
I can’t remember where I saw the photo spread on all the new kitchen tools being designed for insecure parents who want to raise the next Jamie Oliver, but it was pretty damn depressing. The best way to teach kids is with real tools, not dinosaured-up implements. I baked my first cake when I could barely reach the counter, with my depressed-flat mom calling out directions from her bedroom, and I needed no special measuring spoons or bowls. If I remember correctly from half a century ago, kids just wanna look/act grown-up (never understanding they will be not-kids for such a very long time). Let them wrestle serious whisks, senza handles in the shape of a plane or an outstretched body. And they most definitely do not need their own magazine. Highlights was good enough for me, for Goofus’s sake. But the diapers-down most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in this silly trend is that some mega-enterprise has come up with a name for kids interested in food. And it’s almost as tone-deaf as the anti-tampon iPad. Koodies? Seriously? I’d rather eat cooties.
I have to say I never thought in my lifetime the White House press secretary would be not only communicating directly with citizens but also name-dropping chefs. The Big O’s intermediary actually did a #FollowFriday for Bobby Flay and Cat Cora. I guess it’s progress — I can’t imagine Dana Perino having the faintest clue who Maricel Presilla even is, given that if she were ever on Jeopardy she would have picked the Caja China for Bay of Pigs.
Speaking of which, Mme Ami ran a TwitPoll the other day on what the best word is to describe people who are interested in food, rather than the execrable “foodie.” I suggested “normal” but now see it should be “SoBe-shunning.” What in kitchen hell does that clusterfuck have to do with real food? I care less about the Tiger Beat antics there than I do about the way Amex treats its wine writers. But at least we’re seeing a serious divide in this country, between lemmings flocking to culi-gangbangs and people who care about what they eat and who produces it. Give me the New Amsterdam Market over a Smithfield hog promoter any day.
I think it was also at the onetime tyro’s warm-and-friendly anniversary party that someone asked me if I watched the silly dueling-chef shows. I only wish I could tune them out, but they’re everywhere, especially after the huge rippling exposé on the vegetables used in the White House episode. People were apparently shocked, shocked that they were ringers. You mean radishes won’t hold up indefinitely? Come on, fools: It’s a reality show. Nothing is real. I’m just amazed no one has done a remake of “Casablanca” with cleavers and Crocs.
But I know it was at the warm-and-friendly anniversary party (I need to get out more) that I had a conversation about why the relatively mainstream restaurant blogs are so deadly dull lately. The writer I was talking with mentioned they mostly post on real estate, rarely food, and it struck me: No one really has a budget to eat in these hip-happening joints. Plagiarism and speculation (to steal Jay McInerney’s immortal phrase) only take you so far. It’s safer to stick to the dry facts in a comment-crazed world. A lease has to be as good as tongue now.
Thank allah for “Iron Chef.” To put all the ridiculous disillusionment with the Big O in perspective, it was only a year ago that the White House was occupied by a useful idiot whose idea of a good meal was a pretzel and an O’Doul’s, with his wife nowhere near to catch him as he fell. Now half the political wisecrackers I follow are Tweeting on Mrs. O and her stronger-than-Alice crusade to get Americans to eat better. If the tradeoff is a little orange tainting the White House, I guess it’s worth it.
Of course, look what fantasy has gotten “Top Chef” viewers: frozen dinners. Time magazine had a pretty good look at them, including the fact that contestants surrender all rights to recipes (shades of so many cook-offs that are not competitions so much as cynical trawls for marketable ideas). And with countless cookbook authors also selling processed crap, why shouldn’t a fake show jump on the honeywagon? I still haven’t recovered from the Thomas Keller fried chicken kit. And I’m awaiting the Ferran Adria Fizzies.
I know we’re all supposed to pretend 2001 to 2009 never happened, but I had one thought on hearing — and hearing, and hearing, and hearing — the big White House party was crashed: The Secret Service must have been worn out by all those years of chasing the Skank Twins on their margarita binges. Not to mention hiding the pretzels from the Chimp. The return of honor and dignity and a wine-drinker in chief must be freaking everyone out. But I really blame “Iron Chef.” Once the freckled calves got in, the barbarians were through the gates.
It’s also amazing how the holiday seems to bring out so much petty larceny in many souls. I could swear the Bobby Flay game plan for Turkey Day I read in the WSJournal was nearly the same as the one I read a week later in the Daily News. (Double bonus to that flack!) And anyone who believes a poor pumpkin harvest this fall is going to cause an immediate shortage of the canned kind needs a good shot of the bourbon that was supposedly nearly depleted just a few weeks ago and now warrants a full-page ad trumpeting its return. It almost makes you suspect marketers might believe what a woman in North Wales once told us about the politicians who denied Chernobyl had affected sheep there: “They think we’re stoopid.”
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.
And a third hometown paper ran a good piece on the motherfucking cookbook but chose to quote two of the old-timers in the business on the realistic language. I have nothing but (unreciprocated) respect for Julia’s editor, but it was odd to see her dissing something she admitted she had not read. And of course hearing that Jane’s ex is appalled by all the F bombs is about as surprising as the fact that fucking seats at the fucking counter are fucking hard to come by. Cooking was never “the province of polite people.” That sort goes to Washington and resists uttering “Go fuck yourself” on the floor of Congress. Besides, haven’t recent studies shown that the best way to relieve pain from a grease burn is to shriek anything but “fudge”? If you can’t take the language, get out of the kitchen.