May 2008

My Favorite Food Movie: Defending Your Life


Favorite food movies are like days of the week; for all intents and purposes, there are only seven of them. 1. Ratatouille; 2. Eat Drink Man Woman; 3. Tampopo; 4. Chocolat; 5. Babette’s Feast; 6. Big Night; 7. Like Water For Chocolate. [This Serious Eats thread seems to confirm that.]

I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, but as much as I like many of the movies on that list, none of them really capture what it is about food that I love. It wasn’t until this weekend, really, when we popped in one of my favorite movies of all time, “Defending Your Life” with Albert Brooks, that I realized that this movie–a movie about life after death–may in fact be my favorite food movie of all time, even though it’s not a movie about food.

Abbaye de Citeaux, The Soon-To-Be-Forbidden Cheese

I was wary of getting an iPhone because I didn’t want to be so reachable. With just a plain, ordinary cellphone I get enough calls; with an iPhone I’d also get buzzed every time I got an e-mail. And with all the PR e-mails I get to my Amateur Gourmet e-mail address that’s a lot of buzzing.

But get an iPhone I did and though the frequent PR buzzing in my pocket is distracting, every now and then an e-mail comes through that I’m glad I got right away. Case in point: last Friday, I got an e-mail from Murray’s Cheese that said the following…

nibbles 5.20.08

* The Leite’s Culinaria blog has a nice post on Pimiento Cheese, complete with recipe. Remember: this is the cheese Craig and I ate at Watershed in Atlanta. It’d definitely be worth making at home.

* The new is looking pretty nifty. Congrats to them on the new site.

* Also, congrats to Serious Eats on the new Serious Eats: New York. Today’s interview with David Chang has provided three new dishes to try at Grand Sichuan.

* And speaking of David Chang, can you believe it: I HAD a table for four on Sunday night at Ko. You know: Ko’s the place that’s impossible to get into that only takes online reservations. Well I was futzing around Sunday afternoon, playing the Ko Reservation game where I log on and see the page of Xs indicating there’s no way in Hell I’ll ever get a reservation, and lo and behold there was one for 9:15 THAT NIGHT. I clicked it and it said I had 60 seconds to say yes but I didn’t say yes because Craig’s parents were here and we had plans to go to Franny’s. So, the lesson is: Ko reservations are possible, just keep clicking.

* And just in case you want MORE David Chang, here’s a video of Bill Buford’s interview with Chang, Daniel Humm, and Marc Taxiera at the 2008 New Yorker conference.

Calf’s Liver

Working through a favorite restaurant’s menu will sometimes bring you to a dish you never expected to order. Case in point: Al Di La, in Park Slope, is one of our favorite restaurants. We were there this past Thursday night to celebrate the arrival of Craig’s parents and his impending film school graduation. Having been to Al Di La several times and having loved everything on the menu (the braised rabbit, the hangar steak, the pork rib special) the time had come for me to order the dish I feared the most: calf’s liver.

Smoked Salmon Dip

Cooking is a funny process. If I gave you a spoonful of cream cheese and a spoonful of sour cream and told you to put them both in your mouth at the same time you’d gag and say, “Sick, man, get out of my face.” But if I mixed that sour cream and cream cheese together in a bowl and tossed in horseradish, lemon juice, dill and pieces of smoked salmon you’d say: “Ooooh, look at that lovely dip. Let me have it!”

A Ceramic Knife

In certain movies, there’s always a bad guy who thwarts a hero or a town from getting what he, she, or they want but, at the end, learns to love that thing for him or herself. For example, I’d like to cite “Footloose” and “Chocolat,” two movies that I’ve seen but totally forgotten. I do remember that Kevin Bacon wants the town to dance and Juliette Binoche wants the town to eat chocolate, but that Kevin Bacon is challenged by John Lithgow who hates dancing and Juliette Binoche is challenged by Alfred Molina who hates chocolate. Suffice it to say, the heroes win out and in my fantasy version of these movies–fantasy versions because I don’t really remember them–John Lithgow, at the end, sees the error of his ways and starts dancing and Alfred Molina gorges himself on chocolate.

I start my post this way, because I feel like the villain of a movie about knives–a movie in which a hero named SuperChef tries to convince the town to use the sharpest knives possible. I am a double villain because I wrote a chapter in my book about knives and keeping them sharp, I even bought a whetstone, but the truth is my knives really aren’t sharp enough. Which is why, the other day, after work at Food Network, I headed downstairs to the Bowery Kitchen to buy the sharpest knife I could. (I’m a pretty easy villain in the grand scheme of things, I cave pretty quickly under knife guilt….)

The Top 10 Greatest Dishes of All Time

as determined by me, at 12:05 AM, in no particular order.

Almond Cake

Pasta (my #1, if I was ranking)

Caesar Salad

Rib-Eye Steak

Roast Chicken

The Prune Hamburger (it has lamb in it)

The Anchovy Pizza at Franny’s


The Lobster Roll at Pearl Oyster Bar




1. I realize that this list doesn’t really hold together, that bagels aren’t really a “dish” in the same way that cassoulet is a dish.

2. But, in my defense, these were the first 10 foods I thought of when asked to compile a “Top 10” list, so that has to count for something, right?

3. I once pitched this post to Craig and he said he didn’t get it. “So are you talking about restaurant dishes or just foods in general? It doesn’t really make sense.”

4. Craig isn’t here right now, he’s en route from L.A.

5. Craig’s parents are here, though, they’re in town for his graduation. I made them dinner tonight: Caesar salad (on the list!), lasagna (not on the list) and almond cake (on the list!) I’m a man of my convictions.

6. What’s on your list of The Top 10 Greatest Dishes of All Time? No need to write them in order. Or to have your list make sense. Just make sure to write it at 12:05 AM.

Vegas Days 3 & 4: Picasso, The Cook Off & Grand Tasting, “Love,” Daniel Boulud Brasserie, Craftsteak

If you go to you reach a page that tells you “sorry, but you’ve reached the end of the internet.” I bring this up because on Saturday night, at Craftsteak at the MGM Grand, I received a message from my stomach that said: “Sorry, but you’ve reached the end of eating.” It waved a white flag, as did the stomachs of my companions, and by the time we left Vegas on Sunday morning we vowed never to eat like this again.

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