In Praise of Chopped

With The Taste launching on ABC and Top Chef enjoying its 74th season, I’d like to offer up a radical idea: the best cooking competition show on TV is Chopped.

These other cooking shows, with their high-stakes drama and interpersonal conflicts, are 30% cooking, 70% fluff. Chopped is 90% cooking, 10% fluff. Iron Chef comes the closest to that ratio, but Iron Chef insists on a level of theatrics (see: The Chairman) that detracts from the show’s authenticity. Chopped has a format that couldn’t be more straightforward. Round one: four contestants make an appetizer from a mystery basket, one is eliminated. Round two: the remaining three make an entree from a mystery basket, one is eliminated. In the final round, the remaining two duke it out over dessert.

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Pink Grapefruit Halves and Those Who Love Them


2013 is the year of pink grapefruit halves. I don’t mean that in a broad sense, like a trend prediction, I mean that in a personal sense. This year is a year in which I’ve already eaten my weight in pink grapefruit halves and it all started, appropriately enough, on New Year’s Eve day with Matt Lewis, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Baked. We were at Pulino’s in Manhattan and we shared a pink grapefruit half that was so outrageously delicious, I’m not going to tell you about it yet. We’ll save it for the finale.

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Fear of Mayo


Jimmy Fallon likens it to pus. Last night at dinner, the idea of it made Craig’s cousin Katie scrunch up her face in disgust. And me? I used to have nightmares about this female camp counsellor with a hairy lip who ate an egg salad sandwich with dabs of mayo stuck all along the perimeter of her lips. Just thinking about it now makes me cry a little on the inside.

What is it about mayonnaise that provokes such disgust and fear in so many people? And what can they do to get over it? Allow me to speak from personal experience.

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Down With Communal Tables!

[Image via I’m Only Here For The Food]

At long last, after weeks of waiting, we’re going to that great restaurant everyone’s been talking up. We’ve pinched pennies, we’ve cleared calendars, we’ve read the reviews online and the menu and strategized endlessly about how and what we’ll order. Only: this place doesn’t take reservations, so we’re showing up early and hoping for the best. Here comes the hostess now, she says she can seat us right away. We follow her past tiny tables, where pitying eyes peer at us over elongated menus, to an extended piece of wood surrounded by chairs and covered with half-finished plates and half-sipped glasses of wine that all reverberate with the noise of countless voices chattering at high speed. This, we soon learn, is the dreaded communal table and before we can express our willingness to wait for a two-top or a four-top or any top that’s not a communal-top, the hostess drops the menus and flees.

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How I Keep Going To The Gym


There was a tiny period, at the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, when, upon joining a gym for the 300th time, I blogged about this latest attempt at exercise on my Not Food Blog. I wrote about the advantages of a treadmill vs. an elliptical machine (the treadmill forces you to run), what to think about while exercising (the answer: not exercising), and my fear of quitting.

Then, not-so-shockingly, I stopped. People who were reading these dispatches probably thought, “Ah, he quit.” And, based on my history of quitting gyms, these people would have a very legitimate reason to believe that. Only, I didn’t quit the gym, I just quit blogging about it. And, more than 9 months later, I’m still going and–weirdly–kind of enjoying it. And I’m starting to see changes, like the change in my arm you might notice in the photo above. That’s a strong arm! How did I manage that? Here, then, is my advice for those of you who, like me, always quit gyms but want to learn how to stick to it (a pretty essential thing to know if you enjoy eating like I do!).

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One Year in L.A. (A Reflection)

I came to L.A. with the most open of open minds. As New Yorkers twisted up their faces at the news (“L.A.? You’re moving to L.A.?”) I held my head high with secret knowledge. My secret knowledge was mostly food-based. I knew about Jonathan Gold, one of our nation’s greatest food writers, who, in writing for L.A. Weekly and eventually the L.A. Times, had canvassed the city so thoroughly, so meticulously, his writing archives were like living treasure maps that could keep a food-lover like me endlessly occupied. I knew about L.A. farmer’s markets, how the Santa Monica farmer’s market and the Hollywood Farmer’s market would put the Union Square farmer’s market to shame with its year-round, sparkling produce. I knew, like a sports fan evaluating his new home turf, that while my old team had legendary heroes like Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Eric Ripert, my new team had its own share of superstars: Nancy Silverton, Jose Andres and Susan Feniger, to name a few; also, up-and-comers Ludo Lefebvre, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, and Michael Voltaggio. Plus: L.A.’s Mexican food, Chinese food, Korean food, Thai food, and sushi are the best you can find in the United States. I held all of this secret knowledge aloft in my brain as I boarded the plane from J.F.K. to L.A.X. with my cat under the seat in front of me and a feeling of endless possibility in my chest.

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Surfacing on Eliza Island


When Jesse Eisenberg “plugged in” as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” headphones snug on his head, fingers fluttering away at his keyboard, I didn’t draw a line between what he was doing and what I do every day. He was in a world of numbers and codes, algorithms for Farmville animals and “poke” buttons that would one day rule the world. Me? I import pictures of food, edit them in Photoshop, upload them to Flickr and then use them in blog posts and my newsletter. Only, while doing that (and other kinds of writing), I’m also Tweeting, Instagramming, chatting, e-mailing, Facebooking and checking Google Reader in an endless loop. It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex, especially when your job requires you to sit at your computer all day. Two weeks ago, I realized that I was every bit as plugged in as Zuckerberg in that movie. Not only plugged in but also cut off. Cut off from other people, cut off from reality. And so, two weeks ago, I decided to make some dramatic changes before leaving for Eliza Island where Craig’s family has a rustic cabin just off of Bellingham, Washington.

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A Meditation on Green and Yellow Sour Patch Kids

In the dark of a movie theater, as the opening credits scroll across the screen, you’ll see me in my seat engaging in a strange ritual. It begins by removing a single Sour Patch Kid from my box of Sour Patch Kids, holding it up to the light, and evaluating its color. Depending on whether it’s a red/orange or a green/yellow, I either pop the candy immediately into my mouth or press it aggressively into the space between the plastic bag inside the box and the box itself. At the end of the movie, I have a bellyful of reds and oranges and a boxful of greens and yellows. This, I’ve come to realize, is no way to live.

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