Also kinda suspect Paul Newman would be spinning in his grave if he knew his legacy was advertising dog’s dinners. And I don’t mean pet food. Upscale Hamburger Helper, indeed.
Obvious question debated at HH one afternoon this week: Which came first, the food truck trend or the French with their food trucks? Not debatable was the silliness of a reviewer trashing a chef for producing dated food while describing his place as sounding like a go-go bar. Didn’t karaoke kill those off? In the last century?
Exchange at a certain kitchen counter this a.m.: Hey, this sounds like you, in this story on how careful people have to be in learning slang in a second language: “Literally—While this can mean truthfully or without exaggeration, English students learn it can be used to exaggerate. Example: “We have literally been waiting for a table at this restaurant for a million years,” says Mr. Hayden.” LOL, I respond. Then turn back to what I was slogging through: “Everyone is talking about the chicken for two at NoMad . . .” Of course. The elevator guy, the panhandler at the corner, the fisherman’s wife at the Greenmarket, the lost tourist on 14th Street looking for Bleecker, the 6 million people I follow on Twitter — every goddamn one was talking about that chicken.
It’s “a chain restaurant. Its first branch opened in 1964 in Madras . . . today it has some two dozen outposts . . . Accordingly, the menu aims a little wide.” Hope snarky bloggers in the subcontinent had a field day with this, not least cuz the folks in the photo did not reflect the description in the review. They coulda been chowing down at the newest Olive Garden out in a “snippet” of real America. And I doubt even there too much “dismembered” garlic is a worry, although those unsophisticated but authentic diners might actually need thalis translated as set meals. Who would ever have expected we’d be pining for the good old days of endless gyros and “corn tacos”?
Along with pie instead of cake, one of the best parts of the weekend was chatting over cheese with an uncle of the bride, in from Grand Forks, N.D., home of the world’s most infamous Olive Garden. My consort is the real reporter in this relationship, so he of course had to ask what someone who would know had to say about the internet sensation. First he offered: “North Dakota has a lot of unsophisticated but authentic people.” Pressed as to whether he knew the sensational “reviewer,” he just said: “I know of her. Her husband was the editor of the newspaper. She kept writing after he died.” Shoved as to whether he read her “reviews,” he cut it off with: “She writes about what she eats. It’s just not interesting.” Given that he started the conversation by saying he and his family had been Pentecostals before evolving, I was impressed. Eventually he responded to Bob’s “We’ve covered religion and politics. What about sex?” with: “I’m 77 years old. And I still enjoy it.” Give this guy a book contract! Or at least give his wife one.
As the foodiest of campaigns slogs on, it was rather rich to see the wearer of magic underwear strutting into a firehouse with Rudy 9/11 bearing boxes of not-even-good pizza for a photo stunt. Given NY fireguys’ reputation as great cooks, wasn’t that the equivalent of carrying coals to Austin?
I see those left behind at the hometown paper are not happy about the consequences 30 years on of sitting by silently as the wingnuts came first for the air traffic controllers. Now they have a buried-the-lede video out trying to drum up sympathy that is totally undermined by two Travel developments. First the section ran a typically dazzling AA Gill feature on London that butted up against a typically dashed-off piece on where to eat in that singular city by the Egopedist. Who, as was famously described the first time I had to turn shit into Shinola, is “not a very sophisticated writer.” Hope the editors were provided bags to wear over their heads, but j’doubt it with all the $$$ going to the bought-off CEO. And then there was the cry for help that was a lede story on a luxury eatin’-and-drinkin’ vacation gone bad. Could there be clearer evidence of how “journalists” are disconnected from readers? Or more damning proof that the blind are leading the aspiring seers? I mean, I once led my consort and me to Northern Ireland after hearing only that it was home to a one-star Michelin. But the trip was worth it. And we made it before the Google. What kind of reporter heads off to drop mega-dollars without even interrogating Yelp? Oh. Right. One whose every review needs a correction. Even if she’d gone to the website, she would have gotten it wrong.
A lot of “Dining” sections went unremarked while I was busy and away, but I did save a note or two. The Trotter reprise was a surprise mostly because they ran the same photo as the last time they put him under the microscope, as if there were no permanent digital microfiche. But everything you need to know about the media today lies in the fact that the story actually said our President could not enjoy a last meal at the restaurant because that might associate him with the 1 percent. While the reporter had no qualms at all about boasting about eating there. Again.
And that disconnect helps explain why coverage of how the poors eat is so abysmal. Credit NPR for going to India to scope out how not-the-richest-country-in-the-world manages to feed its schoolkids on pennies a day. But it took the BBC to do a piece on hunger in Las Vegas that was devastating in its graphic descriptions of privation. Not long after I listened to it I was out with a group that included a writer working on a book on Depression eating and heard an anecdote he’d collected about a child back in the Thirties who confessed he had had no dinner because it was his brother’s turn to eat. Um? Guess what’s going on today in the shadow of the most over-the-top restaurants on the planet? But at least fish welfare is covered.
Meanwhile, major “news” outlets continue to print “be afraid, be very afraid” stories about all the germs on supermarket shopping carts. Without ever noting what remain the most bacteria-loaded dangers outside the toilets in the store: dollar bills — from the bums’ poop-encrusted bums to your hands, with many unwashed fingers in between. As I will note yet again, they don’t call it filthy lucre for nothing.
Looks as if the fauxposé of cookbook “ghostwriters” is birthing zombies. The argument just won’t end. But I do wish the original had touched on a rather fascinating ethical issue: ghosts reviewing ghosts. Can you judge an “opus” fairly if you lost out on the gig as collaborator? And would your editor/readers ever be the wiser?
Nobody could top Andy Borowitz’s Tweet observing that G.F.Y. Cheney had gotten a new heart while the Chimp was still awaiting a brain transplant. And probably no one can figure out why Panchito confessed to the condition his condition is in. As my consort asked: “He has gout? Why would I care?” As always, though, the round one revealed more than he intended. No one who thinks “revolting in its bloat” is the best thing in fud should ever be a restaurant reviewer. Images of Nick Nolte assessing ’82 Bordeaux immediately come to mind.
I could swear I heard the top editor of the hometown paper give an interview saying journalism comes first there, but the very next day I went to a media event where the question of the day was: Which food section reads like Page 6? After two stints there, I really can’t imagine any other part of the fit-to-print paper running a piece with so many anonymous accusations, with none of the indicted given a chance to respond. Even worse, there was zero comment from the ghostwriter with one of the longest lists of cookbooks to her credit. You know, the one who might really have some stories to tell, or at least be able to offer a defense of the good clients. Guess peeing in your own pool is not advisable (don’t get me started on the public farter). Which is probably why there was no mention of the Egopedist, either, although average readers would be stunned to realize even Mr. Knows Everything doesn’t write all the words/develop all the recipes. Almost the worst part is that this all of this link baiting came off as a glass house situation — as someone on Twitter asked: “Do all New York food writers have chefs cater and provide spaces for their weddings?”
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.
Also in my little getaway from the center of the universe, I had conversation after conversation about either newspapers as the new Titanics or how wrong it is that 60-somethings are getting shitcanned, with no possibility of ever finding a new job. Running through every discussion was my contention that the formerly arboreal media, as Michael Tomasky famously dubbed it, is totally removed from the real world, where everyone is one health crisis away from a bankruptcy, where you can lose your house through bankster greed. And nothing made that disconnect clearer than the hometown paper’s shoutout for a five-day food-angled trip to Cuba for $4,000 — $800 a day. I have been to that little island off Key West, and I can assure you ropa vieja does not go for Per Se prices.
Finally, and relatedly, I don’t like to gloat but am very glad I did not line up with everyone else in the digital Shirley Jackson “Lottery” and start lobbing stones at the deadpan Dakotan who reviewed the new Olive Garden in town. I started to but then clicked over to her photo and didn’t think the fight was fair; luckily, her own editors are web-savvy and seized on her going viral, and the rest will soon be old-media history. Mostly what amazes me is what was lost in all the mockery: Any derision of our very own hometown paper and its lede food story, one of the hoariest ever ill-conceived: Making your own processed crap at home. Twinkies, you say? Been there, Middle America answers from the distant past. Ho Hos? Are you fucking kidding me?, exhausted food editors everywhere wonder. But the worst insult to intelligence was the attempted news peg. May I say this one more time? Bankruptcy is only a way to get around pensions and screw workers. No one needs to worry about running out of Wonder Bread. Only ideas.