Archive for September 2007

Dear Advertisers in Gourmet Magazine,

Wow! As I flipped through the October 2007 Gourmet, I couldn't help but be struck by the great looks of your new products. As someone who's in the process of renovating her kitchen, I'm on the lookout for things to buy. And as you purchased advertising space in a magazine about food, I suspect you're interested in reaching me in the hopes I may buy your sinks and stoves and refrigerators. Alas, you have failed.

ELKAY, your new Avado Collection looks great. But why no mention of it whatsoever on your website? You know, the one you offer the link to in your ad? And Kenmore, you announce an entirely new line of appliances called Kenmore PRO, but the URL you give me redirects to your front page. Only with some poking around can I even locate the PRO line, and when I do, it's a Flash mess that's all style and no substance. Do you even offer a 36" stove? Who knows?

My little pile of ads that I so carefully tore out of Gourmet for research purposes is now headed to the recycling bin. I'm moving on to websites that actually provide information about the products I'm interested in.

Stainless steely yours,

Since I missed so much stuff over the summer, you can expect some out-of-season links to appear over the next few weeks. Like this one: Maine may have lobsters, but if you’re looking for the quintessential fried clams, head straight to Massachusetts. I've been craving fried clams for ages and reading Peter Meehan's article about juicy Essex clams has sent me over the edge. Next time I visit Boston, I'm heading straight to Woodman's.

Chain consistency at the local Starbucks

StarbucksThere is only one Starbucks that I visit with any frequency, and it's one near my old apartment and around the corner from my gym. Over the years, I've thought about why I don't mind this Starbucks and I chalked it up to a familiarity with the staff. Last week I stopped in after my first visit to the gym in two months (yay!) to discover that it had been closed for a remodeling. And what I found was a completely changed store. Apparently the renovations entailed an update to the latest Starbucks concept in interior design.

As I stood there in line, taking in the rug, gold gilt mirror, and plush armchairs in one corner, and the mid-range restaurant upholstered booth in the other, I realized what had made this Starbucks different: It had developed the worn familiarity of a local coffeehouse. The few armchairs were shabby, the tables were always haphazardly arranged. The counter was banged up and the doors were chipped wood in need of attention. It was great.

But now it's got that circular Starbucks lighted sign in its window. They've redone the whole counter, changed where you pick up your drink, and installed a microwave so they can sell those wretched breakfast sandwiches. It's now just another Manhattan Starbucks. Everything that gave it its own identity and authenticity is now gone, and I haven't been back.

Ever since I've been thinking about if it's even possible to have an authentic experience at a chain. In order for the chain to succeed, it needs consistency both in product and in branding. This one, until recently, offered the consistent chain product. But the branding, at least in terms of store interior, was missing. Now that it's been restored, the spirit of the place is gone. I know consistency trumps authenticity when it comes to chains. It was foolish of me to develop feelings for that Starbucks because it seemed different than the others. Different can't survive when global sameness is the goal.

From August 31 comes this update on Alinea chef Grant Achatz from the Wall Street Journal. A team of doctors at the University of Chicago are trying to "cure the cancer using an atypical method of treatment" rather than the standard approach that could cause Grant to lose his sense of taste. Continuing wishes for a speedy recovery, Chef.

Opening oysters by sound

There's a great piece of information almost buried in the article about Spanish chef Ángel León in the October Gourmet (which is awesome, btw). Chef León isn't just a chef, but also a scientist/inventor (what chef isn't in Spain these days?) and while watching a documentary on Pompeii, he came up with a great invention:

He remembers hearing...that when the volcano blew in A.D. 79, millions of shellfish in the coastal waters around Pompeii were forced open by shock waves from the explosion. This idea sent León back to the laboratory, where he came up with a device for opening oysters by means of low-frequency sound waves. The oysters are placed in a bain-marie six at a time, and at the touch of a button their shells loosen their iron grip. No more digging about with knives is required; no nasty bits of shell are left in your oyster.

I tried to poke around a bit on Google for some information about this but didn't find anything. I'm curious about the effect of the sound waves on the shellfish. Are they killed by the waves, and in death they're opening their shells? Or are they still alive but opening their shells? Even if you use this method for shellfish shucking, you still need to detach the oyster from the shell for easy slurping. But I find this whole thing fascinating. I wonder if we'll see this method spread at all. It might be too expensive and slow. After all, the world's fastest shucker can open 33 oysters in a minute.

There's a great new blog I just found out about called Food Karma Alert. The author, Cory, is a PhD food scientist/chemist and provides great links surrounding each issue he's posting about. His goal: "I'm going to attempt to briefly summarize the specific [food] issue at hand and provide references in order that we may be proactive and respond in whatever way is afforded us." I look forward to following this site and really like how easy he makes it for his readers to take action. [via Rebecca]

A couple links I'm behind on, so you may have already heard the great news that chemo has reduced the tumor in Grant Achatz's tongue by 75% and he is set to begin radiation soon. You're still in our thoughts chef.

And in other Alinea news, Grant and his crew will be releasing a cookbook in the fall of 2008. It will contain 600 recipes and a companion website. I can't wait for it. It's great to see a chef of Grant's caliber sharing his knowledge rather than hoarding it. (See my thoughts on keeping recipes free.)

Cupcakes and birthdays and pies

"Cupcakes have recently been marched to the front lines of the fat wars, banned from a growing number of classroom birthday parties because of their sugar, fat and 'empty calories,' a poster food of the child obesity crisis." And apparently folks aren't happy about the fact they can't send a bundle of cupcakes to school with their kids on their birthday. I actually think it's a good idea to prohibit birthday treats, but for different reasons. When I was little, my school didn't allow anyone to bring cakes or cupcakes or anything on a birthday. One, it was unfair to the children whose parents didn't have the finances or time (or both) to bake such treats. And two, the kids whose birthdays fell on weekends or over a holiday break were left out from hosting their own celebration. I appreciated that because my birthday was always over the Christmas break. Seems like that logic still holds, regardless of the fat content of cupcakes.

Also in the same article, I was saddened to read "that in the modern age, the cupcake may be more American than apple pie — 'because nobody is baking apple pies,' Professor [Marion] Nestle [of New York University] explained." Damn these cupcakes, for ruining the West Village, for making kids fat, for disrupting school activities, and for making people forget about the glories of pie! If Ollie's allowed to bring sweets to school for his birthday, and happens to go to school in July, I will send him with a pie! I think I'll also bake one this weekend because the greenmarket is filled with apples, and there's nothing like a nice apple pie in the fall. Mmmmm...

Fresh Direct helps you eat for two

While shopping last night at Fresh Direct (an online grocer), I discovered they offer an Eating for Two section on their website. (Note: to see the list, enter the ZIP "10003" when asked for a ZIP code, then you'll be redirected to the proper page. Annoying, I know.)

The section is great. It breaks down stuff to purchase by pregnancy dietary requirements, like folic acid and calcium, and then shows you sources of those requirements in various products. With a simple click, they're in your shopping cart. What a nice way to relieve some of the burden of pregnant eating. If only I'd noticed this when I was pregnant.

I am stitching together a working micro farm, (total size yet to be determined) for one growing season, from parcels of donated land or growing spaces, located in assorted environments in each of the five boroughs around the city. Leah Gauthier looks to grow organic heirloom vegetables and herbs in New York City during the summer of 2009. Sounds like a neat project. [Thanks Jason.]

Two ears long


Ollie has been growing at a tremendous rate, and he's now as long as two ears of late summer sweet corn. Will he be as round as a pumpkin by Halloween? Only time will tell.

In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union. Is it possible all the EVOO we're using is really soy oil and canola oil with industrial chlorophyll? The New Yorker takes a fascinating look at the issue.

In New York Local: Eating the fruits of the five boroughs, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik goes hyperlocal and lives to tell us about it:

You go local in Berkeley, you’re gonna eat. I had been curious to see what might happen if you tried to squeeze food out of what looked mostly like bricks and steel girders and shoes in trees. I wanted to do it partly to see if it could be done (as an episode of what would be called on ESPN “X-treme Localism”), partly as a way of exploring the economics and aesthetics of localism more generally, and partly to see if perhaps the implicit anti-urban prejudices lurking in the localist movement could be leached away by some city-bred purposefulness. If you could eat that way here, you could do it anywhere.

Each day I get less and less interested in localism, perhaps in direct correlation to its rise in popularity and its growing army of fanatics.

Dine somewhere else to-day and somewhere else to-morrow. I wish you to dine everywhere, said the editor to the writer at the New York Times in 1859. And thus began the tradition at that paper that continues with Frank Bruni today. A fascinating look not only at the way people used to dine, but also how they used to write. I'm glad the New York Times finally opened up their archives.

You can't single out one part [of the food system] and say something that's come from thousands of miles away is automatically less sustainable - it's much more complicated than that. The Financial Times looks at food miles and shows just how complicated the issue of sustainable food production really is.

Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a blog. And while a chef having a blog to promote his new book isn't something I'd necessarily blog about, there's something really cool about seeing it on Blog*Spot. Even after all these years, it makes me proud.