What Your Food Says About You

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Recently, I synched my Apple TV with my Flickr account so that when the screensaver comes on, all of my pictures on there–over 28,000–dance across the screen. And, wouldn’t you know it, most of those pictures are pictures of food. In fact, when I open my iPhoto and try to find pictures of me and Craig or me and my family, I have to fight my way through a tangled web of food imagery; portraits of dinners and lunches and breakfasts past. Recently, though, as I watched these images scan past on the TV in my living room, I began to have a thought: these pictures of the food that I make actually reveal something about me. But what, exactly?

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Just So You Know, Food Arrives When It’s Ready

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There’s a new restaurant trend afoot, one that takes the form of a casual, shoulder-shrug of a sentence, usually uttered by a server after he or she takes your order. It’s the sentence in the title of this post: “Just so you know, food arrives when it’s ready.”

It’s a sentence I heard last night at Alimento, a terrific new restaurant in Silverlake where I had some of the best pasta dishes of my life (more on those in a moment). It’s a sentence I heard last week at Republique with my parents, when they were here for Craig’s premiere. It’s a sentence we also heard at Bar Ama, where we went for lunch with both of our families (pictured above) after scoping out our secret wedding venue downtown. It’s a sentence that didn’t really bother me at first or even, really, grab my attention; but now that it’s becoming more and more common, it’s making me wonder: what’s it all about? And who does this really benefit: the restaurant or the diner?

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Dinner Answer Man

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Roger Ebert used to have a column called “Movie Answer Man” where he’d answer reader questions about movies. I know because I once submitted a question that he published concerning The Royal Tenenbaums when I noticed someone in the credits with the last name Tenenbaum who I thought might have inspired the story (Ebert reached out to Wes Anderson who said there was no correlation). Seeing as I’m on a blogging kick, I thought I’d try out a Dinner Answer Man in which you can ask any food or blog related questions you want to in the comments and I’ll try to answer them all. So have at it! In the meantime, if your question is: “What’s that dish in the picture?” It’s the cauliflower gratin I made for Easter Brunch before everyone devoured it.

In The Night Kitchen

Right before Maurice Sendak died, he did a series of interviews (most notably with Stephen Colbert) that revealed him to be a lovable, slightly grouchy, artist of the highest caliber. I’d known his work, of course, from Where The Wild Things Are and, perhaps more obscurely, Really Rosie but I’m embarassed to say I knew nothing about In The Night Kitchen until I read it standing up, recently, at The Strand in New York.

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How To Not Fight About Food

Today Craig and I are celebrating our seven year anniversary. Our first date was at Lucien in the East Village and that decision didn’t come easy. See, after e-mailing on Friendster (yes, Friendster) we agreed to meet in the lobby of NYU where we were both students. Once there, we started walking to the East Village and I said, “There’s this great place called Momofuku” and he said, “Oh I’ve been to Momofuku, but there’s ___” (I forget what ___ was) and I said, “Oh, I’ve been to ___.” After a brief pause we agreed to go to a place neither of us had been before and that place was Lucien. The dinner was very nice (though I made the mistake of ordering cassoulet; beans aren’t a great choice on a first date) and the relationship, as you’ve all witnessed, has stood the test of time. But that little discussion on our first date walk foreshadowed an infinite number of similar conversations, some of which turned into fights. Fighting about food, in fact, is probably something every couple can relate to. So what’s the best way to avoid a food-related spat? Here are my tips.

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When You Can’t See Your Food (Michael’s Genuine)

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Once I was throwing a party in Atlanta and I had the fluorescent lights on in my apartment and my friend Ricky came and said, “Adam, no, no, no, turn off the overhead lights and turn on the lamps; this is a party, not a doctor’s office.”

The lesson I learned then is a lesson that successful restaurants have long understood: lighting matters. You may take it for granted, but the difference between the corner diner with the buzzing, yellowing strips of light and the trendy, upscale bistro two doors down with sconces and a soft, ambient glow is more than just the quality of the food. Dining is theater–people go out to see and to be seen–and if a restaurant makes you look bad, or makes the food look bad, you won’t likely go back.

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The Food World & The Theater World

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The James Beard Awards were last week, this week the Tonys. It’s often occurred to me that theater geeks have much in common with foodies and now I’d like to make a list of how the theater world is similar to the food world and vice-versa:

* The food world and the theater world are both often seen as elitist;

* The parts of the food world that aren’t seen as elitist (the Food Network, fast food, movie theater nachos) are considered by the elitists to be lowbrow just as populist theater (jukebox musicals, movie-to-stage adaptations) are frowned upon by theater elites;

* Still, both worlds are niche worlds with communities of passionate people who follow the ups and downs of their industry with fierce fascination;

* Restaurants fear Frank Bruni the way that producers fear Ben Brantley;

* New voices are celebrated to the point of exhaustion–David Chang meet Stew;

* Newish voices take a while to be noticed but once noticed are also celebrated to the point of exhaustion–Wylie Dufresne meet Tracy Letts;

* Older voices get their moment in the sun after long careers of hard work–Jean-Georges meet Patti LuPone;

* It’s expensive to eat at James Beard award winning restaurant; it’s expensive to see a Tony-winning play (or any play or musical, for that matter);

* Both communities have lively message boards: foodies have chowhound and eGullet; Theater geeks have All That Chat and Broadwayworld.com;

* If you make it in theater, you often flee to Hollywood to do movies and TV (see: Cynthia Nixon, Mary Louise-Parker); if you make it in the food world, you often flee to “Hollywood” by way of Food Network, the Home Shopping Channel, the frozen food aisle, and restaurant franchises (see: Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali);

* Las Vegas: both restauranteurs and theater producers go there to offer watered-down versions of “high” culture;

* Modern American food culture owes a debt to gay men (notably James Beard & Craig Claiborne) just as modern American theater owes a debt to gay men like Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Stephen Sondheim;

* People turn their nose up at foods they consider weird (offal, for example) the way that audiences walk out of plays they consider weird (“Top Girls,” for example);

* People don’t dress up any more to go to the theater much like they don’t dress up any more to go out to dinner;

* Some save menus, some save Playbills;

* Celebrity chefs fill restaurant seats just like celebrity cast members fill theater seats, (despite frequent bad reviews, Julia Roberts);

I’m sure I can go on and on, but we can leave it at that. Thank you for indulging my desire to point out how the food world is similar to the theater world. Carry on, designers. (Oooh, that leads to the fashion world… but that’s another post.)