The most basic rule of reviewing cookbooks has to be that you can’t judge them by their text. A recipe collection is only as good as its recipes, and the only honest way to determine that is to take the book into the kitchen and beat it up. Otherwise, you’re like a restaurant critic who only reports that the striped bass looked delicious, not whether it was done right or had any flavor. They’re how-to books, for Child’s sake, not vicarious eating opportunities. I know the goal is to be skinny, but this is typing clearly stretched too thin.
Speaking of selling out, the New Yorker’s food issue felt, for the very first time, like the food ad issue. Half the copy seemed to have been trudgingly generated solely to break up the paid pages; the usually brilliant Anthony Lane’s in particular was like listening to teeth being cleaned. My consort noted that earlier issues used one photographer for seamless impact; the latest was a salmagundi. Which is sad, because no publication does food on a regular basis like this most unlikely of publications. The recent Burkhard Bilger noodling on matsutake hunters in the Pacific Northwest was “Beautiful Swimmers” in a nutshell, while the short stories excerpted from “Absurdistan” long ago turned me on to one of the most entertaining food books ever written. But I guess any excuse to commission a Wayne Thiebaud cover is worth toasting, and we’ll always have Roz Chast with her kitchen anxiety cartoons. Maybe the Conde Nast pimps should consider a Bon Appetit fashion issue.
What if you wrote a tell-all and nobody cared? Maybe it was sex among ghouls that was the turnoff, but apparently a sensational memoir from the food world fizzled rather than sizzled. And there could be a lesson in this for a new generation of lie-down-with-chefs types: Jism is a dish best served warm.
A reader more literal than I noticed something more unseemly: The thin line between trend story and free advertising. That milk label was as clear as a product placement in a cheesy movie. The same mostly single-producer sin was committed in the name of uncaged eggs, but that piece was guilty of something worse, a lede so clunky I can only hope it was written by a copy editor with delusions of lyricism. Comparing nickel-premium eggs and $500 phones is bad enough, especially when big business is not beating a path to the Prius factory. But isn’t there a new have-to-have-it product in the world of food about every three hours? The front page, though, seems to be suffering from the same precipitous decline in value as any other real estate. I read that drivel about a Hamptons party all the way to the end, trying to figure out why it was even written, let alone showcased. No answer, just more questions: What the hell are frozen tacos, and why are rich fucks serving them to guests?
All I can say about the girls-eat-steak! travesty is that I never thought the day would come when I would miss old KK. She may have been batshit insane, but at least she would have insisted on a meaningless statistic or two to throw up a mesquite smokescreen of truthiness about the “trend.” Given that the birdcage liner got what it wanted, web traffic at any cost to journalistic credibility, expect many sequels: Boys eat salad. Kids eat vegetables. Strippers sell steak. Oh, wait. I think they’ve done that.