Megnut

Tiny burgerA Bite to Eat! is the cutest little miniature fast food ever. I don't know what it is about mini stuff but it kills me. I want to make twenty of these mini burgers for lunch. And they've got a mini plastic tray even!

Keep recipes free

This month Food & Wine columnist Pete Wells addresses patents, copyrights, and cooking in New Era of the Recipe Burglar. He begins talking about the odd experience of seeing copyright notices on food while eating at Chicago's Moto (something that bothered me as well, see An Evening at Moto). He then talks about several chefs who have stolen recipes from other chefs (including presentation, down to using the same Crate & Barrel votive-candel holders!) and passed off the dishes as their own. Clearly, such plagiarism is annoying and needs to be addressed. But the suggestions that follow from Steven Shaw, eGullet co-founder and former lawyer, in the article sound down-right frightening to me. Wells writes:

Shaw told me he hoped to convene a summit meeting with some of the smartest people in the food world to hammer out a workable model for copyrighting food. First, he’d propose changing the copyright code, possibly by making cuisine a subdivision of the existing category for sculpture or acknowledging recipes as a form of literary expression. For enforcement, Shaw leans toward creating a system like ASCAP, an association that collects composers’ royalties for public performances of songs—on the radio, in nightclubs and so on...

...Yes, Shaw agrees that the law would need to carve out a huge number of dishes in the common domain. Like Shakespeare’s plays, classics such as French onion soup would belong to everybody. But a chef who came up with a new soup could copyright it and demand a licensing fee from anybody else who served it. Shaw thinks this would spur creativity; if there’s money to be made from new kinds of soup, then more chefs will make soup. It might even lead to a split in the job market between thinkers and doers.

I don't even know where to begin. The idea that a change to copyright law would spur chefs to new levels of creativity seems spurious to me. The lack of money to be made from soup is not due to a dearth of soup innovations. It's due to the cut-throat margins of the restaurant business. Do we really need to get lawyers involved in what we eat? What restaurateur needs a line item for recipe licensing fees in his already tight budget?

The current copyright law is excessive and if anything, stifles, rather than promotes, innovation. (Current law grants copyright to an author for the term of her life plus seventy years. If I were to live to 100, what you're reading right now wouldn't enter the public domain until 2142!) You can look all around the creative world, from Disney to the recent troubles with the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize, for examples of how copyright has been perverted from the original intent to offer a limited set of protections to "promote the progress of science and useful arts."

So why would we want to bring that burden into the world of cuisine? Heck, the idea of copyrighting a recipe assumes one can actually create an original recipe! But aren't all recipes derivative works? How can I possibly come up with a unique cookie recipe that isn't based on more than a hundred years of cookie recipes using flour, eggs, a leavening agent, a fat, and a sweetener?

The culinary world at its best is a world of craft and art. A fine meal is a performance, not a soulless assemblage of ingredients. I feel good when I eat Grant Achatz's "Hot Potato" at Alinea. I don't want to eat "Hot Potato™ by Grant Achatz" rotely created at some food counter in the airport. Clearly there are issues with how chefs get rewarded for their creativity and effort, and I would love to see the best get the recognition they deserve. But bringing the lawyers in? I don't see how that benefits chefs in the long run, or diners, or amateur cooks. In the end, I suspect the ultimate beneficiaries would be the same people who always win. As we get ensnared in the webbing of our increasingly-complex legal system, the ones who always make the most money are the lawyers.

Salon's favorite food writers relive their worst meals. And thus launches "Eat & Drink," a new series that will run in the Life section of Salon every Tuesday. There's an essay by Michael Ruhlman about a Riesling-and-foam overload in '99. [Thanks Ian]

NYC or SF? Both cities are on par in terms of the level of gastronomy, says Michelin Guides director Jean-Luc Naret.

06 Tastemaker AwardCongrats to Ben and Lock! Food &Wine has recognized them in a list of 15 spectacular talents who have changed the world of food and wine by age 35. "Year-old Eater (eater.com) has become required reading for anyone who follows New York City’s frenetic restaurant scene."

Possible E. coli in lettuce now, and Accidental Hedonist reports Monterey County has been irrigating 12,000 acres of edible food crops with "tertiary treated sewage effluent water" since at least 1998. AH has done a great job with links and information about the E. coli outbreaks.

That mysterious, feared affliction known as the freshman 15 is entirely misunderstood. "[T]he most obvious problem with collegiate calorie counting, that studying Kierkegaard or Conrad after a dinner of seitan and soy chips would render even robust stomachs seasick, sometimes outright ill."

Who Has the Best Croissants in NYC? You'll have to click on the link to find out.

Pork Chorizo Bulk
photo by Anil Dash

Speaking of food TV, apparently there's an HD show called After Hours with Daniel. Chef Daniel Boulud and his buddies hit top spots in New York City such as Blue Ribbon Sushi, BLT Prime and WD-50. This week they visit Aquavit. I haven't seen it yet but my husband caught it last night and said it was pretty good. Chowhound's got some information about it.

Thoughts on Diary of a Foodie

Diary of a FoodieI caught the first episode ("One Billion Foodies") of Diary of a Foodie yesterday on PBS and found it to be both good and bad at the same time. I'm not sure how that's possible, but that was my reaction. The bad: The show tried way too hard to be hip and cool. The camera work was annoying. All the shots of faces were so tight either the face didn't fit in the frame, or off center, so you saw half a face. And they kept framing an object (a branch, a vegetable) and changing the focus from the foreground to the background, over and over. At the end of the program, Ruth Reichl introduced some common sauces in Chinese cooking and the saturation was out of control. And they must have used the word "foodie" a billion times. If the show had been longer than half an hour, my eyes and ears may have started to bleed.

On the plus side, the people they visited in China (a rural doctor outside of Beijing, a traditional dumpling maker, a Peking duck specialist in Beijing, and a "New Shanghainese" chef in Shanghai) were really interesting. I loved the shots of a woman cooking an entire meal in a wood-fired wok in the countryside, as people have done for eons in China. And it was great to watch the prep work that goes into making the Peking duck. During the scene about dumpling-making, there was a great, unforced banter between the visitors making their first dumplings (badly) and those that create hundreds of them a day. For me, the best parts of the show happened when they just let the camera roll on people making food in China.

I plan to watch the next few episodes, but I'm not convinced (yet) this is a must-watch program for me. Did you watch it? What did you think? Maybe I'm being too harsh...

The weekend's looming, you've got no plans. What to do? Make your own gummy worms.

Ruhlman on his own

When Michael Ruhlman finished up his blogging stint here in July, I was sad to see him go. It was great fun to have the opportunity to read frequent musings from one of my favorite food writers. But all along, my secret plan had been to get him addicted to the immediacy of blogging so he'd launch his own site. [Insert evil "mwah ha ha" laugh here.] Now I can announce I've succeeded: Ruhlman's very own blog is live! Yay!

Shacktoberfest begins today at the Shake Shack and runs through October 15th. The Shack will be serving special wursts, beers, and concretes. You know I'll be there at least once!

Dethorner, the perfect guide for the imperfect man, has been covering food all week. I've already linked to some stuff over there, but really you should check it all out. Lots of neat links, even if you're perfect or not a man.

The weakness exposed here is the weakness of a highly centralized food distribution system. Interview with Michael Pollan about the spinach E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak, organic fertilizer, and the risks of our food system. [via The Ethicurean]

In Defense of Food Network. "Buford can moan about dumbed-down cooks like Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis replacing more traditional, gifted chefs on the Food Network’s programming menu or he can moan about how people don’t know how to cook anymore, but he can’t complain about both."

Thrillest has the scoop on how to pre-order your very own Jamon Iberico. They'll be available early next year, which should give you enough time to save the ~$750 an 8 lb. ham will cost you.

Michael Ruhlman broke the news about the possible New Jersey foie gras ban on this site last week. Now, he and Bourdain discuss the situation over at Salon.

Loving liverwurst

Flying Pigs FarmA close reader of this site knows that I am a liver fan. Recently at the Union Square Greenmarket, I happened upon Flying Pigs Farm. I'm not sure how I missed them before, but now they are in my weekly shopping rotation because they sell the most amazing liverwurst! "Mild seasonings mixed with equal parts of pork liver and jowl--nothing else! Traditional German recipe." Not only is it delicious, Flying Pigs Farm pigs are all rare heritage breeds, and the farm is Certified Humane Raised & Handled. That's some liverwurst you can feel good about. And your tummy will feel good about it too, as mine does nearly every day now when I have a liverwurst sandwich for lunch.

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