I Met Alice Waters

It’s been difficult to keep this a secret, but today I finally get to tell you: when we were in Miami, I had the privilege of going to a farmer’s market with Alice Waters. It all happened rather comically. When I met Alice at the childhood obesity panel, I asked her how she ate when she travelled–if she could stick to her ideological guns at an airport food court or at a hotel restaurant. She told me she travels with her oils and other cooking equipment so that wherever she goes she can visit the local market and make herself the kind of food she wants to eat. “Could we go with you to a farmer’s market?” I rather pushily asked. And she kindly answered: “Of course.”

This week’s FN Dish (click here) is the result: a tour of a Miami farmer’s market with Alice Waters, as well as a visit to DiFara Pizza with Food Network’s newest star, Sunny Anderson. You also get to watch me getting my haircut and nerd out talking about the magic of David Copperfield. It’s quite an episode and if that doesn’t leave you satisfied, you should click here to learn Alice’s secret method for making a perfect omelet. I plan to make one ASAP.

P.S. Don’t be afraid to embed these videos on your livejournals, facebooks and/or blogs. Especially the omelet one–people will love it! And the embedding code is right there.

The Indoctrination of a New New Yorker

You guys remember Lauren, don’t you? She was there at the dawn of this blog; my law school roommate in Atlanta who oversaw all my initial disasters and experiments in the kitchen. Surely you remember her from this sourdough bread video? When we graduated school, I moved to New York and she made the ridiculous mistake of moving to Washington DC. (Remember this video from when I visited her there?) Well, the fantastic news is she’s finally come to her senses and moved back to where she grew up, New York, New York and I took it upon myself to re-indoctrinate her as an official New Yorker. For anyone else thinking of moving to New York, here are the official steps [click to enlarge]:

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Welcome to New York, Lauren! Don’t forget to ask for a doggie bag….

Is this better?

For those of you who told me to resize my pictures, my wonderful design team–Leah & Justin–walked me through the process and now we can compare the results. This is how a picture used to appear on my site:

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And this is what it looks like when I resize it in iPhoto to have a 425 width before uploading to Flickr:

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Is the second one better? To me they look exactly the same–but I’m not very image savvy.

And in case you’re wondering what you’re looking at–last week I made a vegetarian chili I found on Epicurious (recipe here) and served it with Dorie Greenspan’s magnificent cornbread muffins, a recipe I almost made again today (which you can find here on Serious Eats).

A Modest Proposal

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We approached The River Cafe with trepidation. “Shhhh,” I told Craig. “They could be outside.”

“They won’t hear us,” he said. “You’re being ridiculous.”

Was I? You see my parents arrived at The River Cafe at 8 pm with Michael, my brother, and his girlfriend Tali in the same car. The plan was that Michael would take Tali for a walk and Craig and I would arrive at 8:30 to find that either (a) my brother was engaged or (b) Tali ran away in tears and Michael had jumped into the river.

Or (c) it hadn’t happened yet. What if he was taking his time? And what if we were walking right into the most romantic moment of their lives?

“Just keep your voice down,” I said sternly. “We don’t want them to hear us.”

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Spicy Cauliflower Soup & Braised Lobster Mushrooms

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How does dinner happen?

It happens in many ways. We ask the person we’re with, “What are you in the mood for?” or we just pick up the phone and dial the Thai place down the street or the pizza place around the corner. Or, if we have the ingredients, we make a quick bowl of pasta and if we’re even more inspired we head to the store and buy ingredients for that recipe we’ve been meaning to try.

The best, though, is when dinner happens organically. When one event leads to another event and by the end of the chain you have a tasty, unexpected meal before you. That’s what happened Sunday night when I made the dinner you see above: a very strange pairing of cauliflower soup and braised lobster mushrooms. How did that happen? Well it all started with stock…

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More on Bourdain

To answer some of your questions:

– We were at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (see here) and, as stated in that post, we were on our last day of shooting, at the Mario Batali Jamie Oliver dinner at Danny Devito’s restaurant. My director and I, exhausted from all the interviews we’d done, decided we’d just enjoy this dinner and not make it a “work” event. But then, at the end of the meal, I said: “Let’s just go into the kitchen to make sure we’re not missing anyone” and so he obliged, pushing through the throngs of people (it was a madhouse in there) and once in the kitchen, who should we find but Mario, Jamie, Giada DiLaurentis, Dave Pasternack and, of course, Sir Anthony Bourdain. Earlier on the trip, I’d reached out to Bourdain for an interview and he’d kindly refused and so, respecting that, I kept him out of things when we shot this video with Mario and Jamie. After that, I said to him: “See, I respected your desire not to do this show” and he said, “I appreciate that.” It was my director Matthew, though, who said: “Just so you know, we wanted you to come on our show and bash the Food Network… we wanted you to say whatever it is you had to say.” At that Bourdain smiled and said, “All right, let’s go” putting his arm around me and assenting to the interview you saw linked to in the post below.

– As for the bleeped bits, I’m happy to share (and this is from the extended video, which you should watch to see the whole thing in its entirety):

* on Next Food Network star: “it’s sort of like watching German anal porn, I can’t turn away… it’s horrifying, but I’m learning something about Germany while I’m watching it.”

* on Sandra Lee: “She should be taken to Guantanamo and waterboarded.”

* any final words: “Watch Travel Channel…it’s so much better than Food Network.”

[The bleeping makes it seem worse than it is–well except for that Guantanamo bit–but those were the parts the higher-ups took exception to.]

As for my own take on Food Network (in case you’re interested), I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. I’m a perfect example of someone who knew nothing about food, who grew up eating processed foods–jarred tomato sauces, TGI Friday’s dinners, frozen pizzas–who only thought to care about cooking as Food Network became popular. Really, it was a confluence of being a miserable law student and finding Food Network shows calming and comforting. True, the shows that won me over were shows that Bourdain would champion–Mario’s and Sarah Moulton’s–but what those shows were, really, were gateways into the food world. It’s not like anyone watching endless cycles of Food TV will suddenly become cultured and cultivated–even watching Bourdain’s show, you won’t suddenly become worldly and wise–it’s just an impetus to go out and learn more. The only real way to learn how to cook is to start cooking. That’s it. Standing in your kitchen, burning your roast beef and scorching your sauce, you are acquiring more knowledge than a year’s worth of even the greatest cooking shows can provide. The key is to get people cooking. Does Food Network do that? Yes, I’m pretty sure it does. And when some of those people who make Rachael Ray 30 minute meals start to say, “You know what? This is getting boring. I want to make something more complex and rewarding, something intricate and historical and important that takes more than 30 minutes” they can crack open Julia Child and make a cassoulet (as I did here). Thought of as a gateway to bigger and better things, Food Network is fine. And sometimes, as Bourdain points out, it’s better than fine: Barefoot Contessa recipes are often the best of their kind and I think Ace of Cakes, Iron Chef America, Good Eats, Nigella Bites, Next Food Network Star, and Tyler’s Ultimate are all excellent shows. Those are my two cents, take them as you will.

BOURDAIN

I fought the good fight, readers, and finally my interview with Anthony Bourdain is live and online. See him and a 14-year old Network Fanatic in this week’s FN Dish (click here) and then watch the extended interview with him here. (Or just type in fndish.com–and make sure to bookmark it!)

Food Tastes Better When It Has a Good Story

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We ask many things of our food. We ask that our food is clearly identifiable (anything strange and murky immediately turns us off); we ask that our food is reasonably healthy–even if that means laying a redemptive tomato on a greasy, heart-crushing 5-pound burger. We ask that our food is prepared in a clean kitchen, we ask that our food is served hot, or at least reasonably warm. We ask that our food is tasty, that it is filling, that it has good value ($20 for two scallops does not a happy customer make). Mostly, we ask that our food fills that very primal need for gastronomical satisfaction. What we don’t often ask is for our food to have a story.

What did you have for lunch today? Where did you get it? Ok, you got it from the sandwich shop, or you made it yourself, but what went in it? And where did that come from? What’s its story?

The plate you see in the above photo has a fantastic story. If I told you it’s just ribs and coleslaw, that might be enough for you–in fact, that’d be enough for most people. When I was growing up, a special treat was a trip to Bobby Rubino’s (A Place for Ribs) where the ribs and coleslaw were plentiful (and relatively cheap) and anyone who asked, “Do these ribs have a story?” would be socked on the head. I’m sure the ribs at Bobby Rubino’s have a story, it’s just not a story you’d want to know. But the story of the plate above is a story that should make you happy. Let me tell it to you.

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