Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cook Report

It’s a sad day when you come face-to-face with the fact that your foodie teachings are provided almost entirely by Professor Travel Channel and Sensei Bravo. I recently took a hard look in the mirror, my eyes glazed over from a Bizzare Foods marathon, and I didn’t like what I saw. Nothing against the tutelage of Andrew Zimmern U., but it was time to consider some exchange programs.

But short of taking off for culinary school (my frequent fantasy), how exactly does the amateur foodie become an encyclopedic expert? When NBC and my agent finally work out the terms of my contract to host Foodie Jeopardy (frequent fantasy #2), will I have to make a pathetically bad, Trebekkian attempt to act like I know all the questions?

Well, a couple weeks ago, I was over at my Aunt Sue’s house for dinner when I wandered into her office. What I saw inspired the foodie in me to take action like a Stephen Covey book: about twelve different magazines, spread out on her desk, all dedicated to the art of acquiring foodie wisdom. Sue is well-recognized as my family’s go-to foodie for both cooking advice and restaurant recommendations, and if she’d attained that status by subscribing to every macuisine in circulation, then I was eager to do the same.

The only problem is that my pockets aren’t deep enough to subscribe to so many magazines. So I went to Borders to see which ones I like best. Back at my apartment, I dumped three bags of magazines (and a few books) on the floor and dove in like a kid swimming a pile of leaves.

Below, some fascinating info from the best reads so far. I’m hoping to place my subscriptions soon and blog similar cook reports every Thursday.

  • Food and Wine honors Tokyo as World’s Best Food City. “Japanese chefs are dictating the world’s dining trends with their fierce devotion to seasonality and respect for aesthetics.” Rounding out the rest of the top 5 were Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, and New York. In their write-up of New York’s “hot food zone,” F&W mentions Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, which Marcy, Don and I checked out this past weekend.

  • Saveur notes that rapper Ludacris has opened a successful restaurant in Atlanta called Straits Atlanta. “Why Ludacris, who had little if any familiarity with Southeast Asian cooking, chose to open a Singaporean place is another question. ‘I just wanted to be versatile,’ he explains. There are, to be certain, rap-star touches at Straits Atlanta; the Billionaire’s Margarita goes for $50. But the real draw is the food.”

  • The Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) is waging a campaign to discredit historians who say that Hitler was a vegetarian. Nazi Party propagandists celebrated Hitler as a vegetarian and animal lover, but JVNA claims he enjoyed sausages, chicken, and “other fleshy delicacies.” JVNA is concerned that Hitler’s ostensible vegetarianism somehow discredits vegetarianism altogether. But Gastronomica says, “It seems relatively clear that the decision to eschew meat has nothing to do with the decision to kill Jews or invade Poland. Generations of men have grown mustaches despite the fact that Hitler sported one, and the Nazi penchant for calisthenics has not made anyone avoid yoga classes.”

  • “The idea of preparing an appetizer just by opening a can might sound hopelessly 1950s to many Americans (SPAM, anyone?), but in Spain the practice remains as common as arguing about politics.” Saveur says the best canned seafood comes from a Galician company called Los Peperetes. I found Los Peperetes on the internet, and, $64.50 later, I'd mail-ordered one 10 ounce tin of gooseneck barnacles.

  • According to Gastronomica, artist Jess Dobkin recently hosted a Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar at a gallery in Toronto. “The softly glowing bar that Dobkin placed at the

back of the room provided the ‘station’ from which the artist dispensed modest samples of breast milk donated by six women. More than three hundred people attended the event, with nearly one hundred sampling the breast milk.” Beer critic John Filson reports, “Breast milk has a silky mouthfeel, leaving a slight film – but much less even than the skimmest milk from a cow.” I do not plan to mail-order breast milk any time soon.

  • In his collection of essays It Must Have Been Something I Ate, Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten provides an interesting explanation for why Asian restaurants are terrible in Paris: “Paris did not benefit from the exodus of chefs and money from Hong Kong in the eighties. As Hong Kong Chinese with command of a second language speak English, they immigrated to Australia, Canada, and the United States, where they could be understood.” As of 2002, when Steingarten wrote this essay, only one Asian restaurant in France had ever received a Michelin star.

  • Meatpacking plants are increasingly cited for excessive cruelty to animals on the kill floor. Observing this trend, Jewish food activists have advised kosher consumers against purchasing meat that is “kosher” in the traditional understanding of the word, but fails to meet other Jewish ethical standards. Conservative and Reform movements are working together to create a kosher certification called Hekhsher Tzedek, which would indicate that food is traditionally kosher and ethically produced. Gastronomica

  • As a final note, I have to say that, as much as I enjoyed these magazines, their ubiquitous, excessively positive comments about food are a little annoying. It's like Dick Vitale calling every college basketball player over the past 20 years who could dribble between his legs "so special baby!" Everything is "delicious" - I'm going back through my old posts and erasing any trace of this word. And foie gras doesn’t just taste good, it’s “insanely indulgent.” Indulge me while I roll my eyes. But my personal favorite was one author’s description of her experience with pasta in Italy: “The dish brought tears of joy to my eyes.” Really? If my dinner companion found the food so good she began to weep, I’d hand her a Kleenex dabbed in pepper spray, pick up my food and move to another table.

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