A meal at L'Enclume in Cartmel, England. "This was 24 flawless brilliant courses by a chef who is not just 'at the top of his game', but somewhere out in front of his rivals. For me he's edging ahead of Heston and Ferran." That would be Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck and Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, in case you're not keeping up with the who's who in molecular gastronomy these days. While it looks amazing, I must admit to a bit high tech food fatigue. One of the courses featured tzatziki foam. The thought of eating tzatziki foam just doesn't appeal these days. [via Jason]

Lady ChefA list of New York's Top Lady Chefs shows there are many accomplished women working in the kitchens of this city. But it also confirms the point I made last week regarding the types of kitchens women helm in NY: these aren't the places that garner a lot of stars from the critics, no matter how delicious they are. The list is a good start towards raising awareness of the issue, and I'm glad it exists. It's just that, me being a real capital F Feminist, I'd rather they didn't say "Lady Chefs" and really, chefettes? Chefettes?! I know, I have no sense of humor. [via Eater]

Organic farmers need to consider a definable but rare use of an antibiotic within organics when it’s the humane thing to do. "Organic agriculture regulations in the United States explicitly reject all applications of antibiotics for livestock." No other country has an absolute ban like the US, and the limited use of antibiotics administered by a veterinarian may be the more humane course of treatment. As the author notes, "it is better to have a live cow than a dead organic one."

A national network of no-fishing zones could help us avoid the disappearance of popular commercial fish from our plates. "In precolonial Hawaii, a district headman could declare portions of fishing grounds off limits by means of a rule called a kapu." Paul Greenberg calls for kapus off the U.S. coast to save our fisheries.

I'd like to see if I can feed the two of us for one month on a "Thrifty Food Plan" budget using organic food. My friend Rebecca attempts a food "budget of 74.00/week or 320.80/month, the USDA "Thrifty" standard for a family of 2 adults, aged 20-50 years." She's two weeks into her month-long experiment and it seems to be going well. That food looks pretty tasty too. Well done, Rebecca!

Regina Schrambling over at Gastropoda:

Probably the most idiotic letter I have ever read in a newspaper came from the soft-headed woman whimpering about foie gras who said she would not want a feeding chute jammed down her throat, therefore ducks should be spared. By that logic, the fact that ducks would not want shoes rammed onto their webs means humans have to give up footwear. Aren’t there online forums where this kind of nincompoopery can go hide?

She has no permalinks so I've quoted the whole thing here. Of all the anti foie gras arguments, I too find the anthropomorphological one the least compelling.

After my friend had finished her meal, she was then presented with a $75 check. A mix-up at New York's BLT Burger results in the accidental ingestion of the $62 Japanese Kobe Burger rather than the $16 American Kobe Burger. Yikes!

I wish we could go back to the good old days when junk food looked like junk food, healthy food looked like healthy food, and there wasn't a whole lot of confusion. Coke is now offering Diet Coke Plus, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and further bluring the line between junk food and "healthy" food. [via The Ethicurian]

Mark Bittman contends that $200 can equip a basic kitchen that will be adequate for just about any task, and $300 can equip one quite well. For the most part, I agree. By shopping at restaurant supply stores, you can get solid equipment for reasonable prices. Good news if you're just starting out or need to replace a lot. At the end he lists some items you can do without, and he's again, probably right. But I love my KitchenAid stand mixer and wouldn't want to do without it. In fact, I own that and I don't own a food processor.

In a similar vein, last December I did a little test pitting a restaurant supply frying pan against an All-Clad pan. The results, Are Expensive Pans Necessarily Better? were posted to Serious Eats.

This is too cool: instructions on how to make a Han Solo in carbonite chocolate bar. Looks just like when Jabba dipped him at the end of Empire, but more delicious. [via BoingBoing]

The New York Times offers an editorial today about Chefs Topped With Debt and accuses school administrators of viewing students as "little more than dollar signs."

American regulators and scientists have also been aware for several weeks that cyanuric acid may have played a role in causing sickness or death in pets. It looks like it may be a combination of melamine and cyanuric acid (which also boosts protein levels* in food products, and is even cheaper than melamine) that caused the recent pet deaths. So I wonder if the pig and chicken and fish feed also has cyanuric acid or just melamine? I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.

* Update: I didn't write this very well. The additives don't actually increase the amount of protein, rather they give higher protein level readings on common tests. So they give the appearance of more protein in the food.

CookiesWhy must I turn this website into a house of lies1? You no doubt are wondering where the results of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Search are, since I promised they'd appear yesterday. Well, will you accept the excuse that my mother's in town visiting and so I haven't had time to wrap everything up? I hope so. Because it's true. Results sometime after she heads home later this week.

How do you get toddlers to eat vegetables? Or babies, for that matter? Healthy parents want to know your secrets over at Serious Eats.

Coming soon to New York? Dill pickles brined in Kool-Aid. Though they started out as green dills, "they now have an arresting color that combines green and garnet, and a bracing sour-sweet taste that they owe to a long marinade in cherry or tropical fruit or strawberry Kool-Aid." Children are the biggest consumers and the trend seems to have started down in the Mississippi Delta. I'd like to try one. Just one.

According to a 2003 study, slightly more than half of the men and 70 percent of the women knew of the five-second rule, and many said they followed it. That is, if you drop something on the floor and pick it up within five seconds, it's "clean" and you can eat it. Harold McGee investigates and formulates the five-second rule, version 2.0: "If you drop a piece of food, pick it up quickly, take five seconds to recall that just a few bacteria can make you sick, then take a few more to think about where you dropped it and whether or not it’s worth eating."

Here's an easy headline for the next month: [INSERT ANIMAL FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION] were fed food contaminated with melamine, the chemical linked to the ongoing recall of pet foods, though the contamination level was probably too low to pose a danger to anyone who may have eaten the [INSERT ANIMAL FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION], federal health officials said.

This time the latest item is farmed fish. "It wasn't immediately clear if any of the farmed fish entered the food supply." Let's see: pet food, then pork, then chicken, now fish. What remains? Dairy cows, so our cheese and milk may be contaminated but probably "at levels too low to pose a danger to anyone." Beef. Turkey. I wonder about the possible cumulative effect of all these levels that are too low to pose any threat. At some point, depending on the spread of the contamination (which clearly doesn't seem to be known or under control), the levels cease to be low, don't they?

Sexism in the kitchen

Today Eater posts a letter from New York restaurateur Keith McNally claiming Times dining critic Frank Bruni has an unremittingly sexist slant. The proof? His failure to issue anything more than one star to a restaurant helmed by a woman chef. The issue of women chefs in the kitchen, both their number and their comparative fame to their male counterparts, is important to me. Ed and I have discussed this issue a lot, especially the number of female chefs in New York City versus San Francisco. But I'm not sure McNally is correct here.

First you need to look at the types of places that get three and four stars in New York: they're high-end gastronomic temples, not cozy small restaurants like Prune and The Spotted Pig. The New York four stars are all French (Daniel, Le Bernardin, Jean George), Frenchish (Per Se), or Japanese (Masa). Neither French nor Japanese kitchens are known for their, um, let's call it open-mindedness. That's not to say a woman can't be head chef at any of these places, but if you look at the places women do run, they tend to be more in the school of Alice Waters California/New American places. And as long as four stars at the Times goes to places in the traditional fine-dining model, it's unlikely women will start getting four stars in New York anytime soon. After all, how many women were awarded four stars when Ruth Reichl was reviewing for the Times?

Of course, that doesn't address the question of whether the Times should be more open to what three and four star dining experiences should be. And it doesn't explain why San Francisco has women running large, fine dining establishments (Boulevard, Jardiniere) in greater numbers than New York, places that would garner two stars at least from Bruni if they were in New York. (Though to be fair, all the San Francisco four stars also have men as head chefs.)

What Keith McNally is calling the disease is really a symptom of a much larger problem. Frank Bruni may or may not be sexist, but when you look at what he's reviewing, it's hard to find a large number of restaurants chefed by women that's he's overlooking, or failing to properly credit. The real problem here is the real problem in the rest of the working world: women, for all their education and talent, don't rise as high as men. Whether you want to blame the glass ceiling, sexism, life choices like taking time off for children, the government for not providing maternity leave and child care, or plain old female "opting out," it's everywhere you look. Number of women partners in top law firms. Number of women deans at universities. Number of women CEOs of Fortune 500s. Or number of women chefs running nice restaurants. Frank Bruni hardly seems like the problem, but I admire Keith McNally for raising the issue because I think it's an important one. And I'll be interested to see if/how the Times and Mr. Bruni respond.

2006 might be remembered as the year in which the wine market went mad. "At these record levels, some wine is literally too expensive to drink. Advisers tell clients that the index of wine prices at auction performs better than stockmarket indices. Hoping for a windfall, a few individuals and some investment trusts move in. Cases of rare wine disappear into temperature-controlled cellars, only to return to the market when the speculators think a sufficient profit can be made." I remember being surprised when I learned lots of wines bought at auction are cellared and then resold, never drunk. Seems a shame, like those folks that own a beautiful sports car and never drive it.

The culinary school financial trap

Would-be top chefs face a challenge that most lawyers, engineers or nurses do not: few jobs in their chosen field pay enough for them to retire their student loans. Culinary school graduates are struggling to make their monthly loan payments in an industry where "the average hourly wage for a restaurant cook was $9.86." With two-year culinary school tuitions and supplies closing in on $50,000 "as many as 11 percent of graduates at some culinary schools are defaulting on federal student loans."

Yikes. Anyone considering culinary school should spend some time getting some real world restaurant experience (and don't count your high school fast food job). Not only will see if you really like it, you'll get a sense of how much you can learn on the job and how much you're likely to make. Then you can do the calculations and decide if attending the Culinary Institute of America for $90,000 makes sense.

I spent time working in a professional kitchen, trying to decide if I wanted to go to culinary school. Ultimately I decided not to, in part because I couldn't see how I'd get any kind of return on my educational investment. I knew I'd have to work at least ten years of insane hours to make any progress in a real kitchen, and at my age, that didn't make sense. Other goals (like marriage and a family) would have made the requisite commitment very difficult.

I know the culinary schools aren't going to like to hear this, but I think you're better off learning on the job. Even if you work for free (because you don't know what you're doing), you'll only be spending money on food and rent, and maybe after work booze -- don't think you'll have time for much other life. Within a few months, you should learn enough to get on the payroll in somebody's kitchen. It's hard to imagine you'd be even $25,000 in the hole by that time.

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