Foie: One chef's response

When I first spent time at the CIA, one course I took was taught by a woman named Eve Felder. I wrote about the class, and her, and by the time I returned to the CIA she'd become one of the academic deans. Eve, a former Chez Panisse chef, is probably the most humane-minded chef I've ever met. The depth of her care for students, for chefs, for our food, for cooking and for the earth seemed to me then and now to be boundless.

So I asked her where she stood on the foie gras issue, and here's what she emailed back:

Thanks, Michael. No, I do not have an issue with foie gras. My philosophy in most everything is that one has to experience what another person (or animal) is experiencing prior to making an informed judgement.

When I was a young chef, I spent about a week on a foie gras farm in the Dordogne valley in France. I spent days force feeding ducks.

The experience I had in France is that they fed the ducks a warm mash of corn, water and duck fat that was administered through a funnel.

The funnel had a wire in it that helped to expedite the mash from the sides and through the tube. The wire moved when you pressed a peddle with your foot. Sort of like a sewing machine.

I sat in a comfortable small straw lined corral with 6 ducks in 6 corrals on a small stool. The warm mash was poured into the funnel. I held the duck under one of my legs and extended its' neck upwards and gently opened its' mouth and inserted the tube to about the top of the chest. As I pressed the machine with my foot, I gently pulled the funnel up until the bird's throat was filled with mash.The funnel moved across the ceiling from corral to corral.

It was an extremely gentle and intimate experience. The animal does not have a gag reflex. They always waddled away perfectly happy and full and ready for a nap.

As you know, I'm sure, ducks naturally gorge prior to migration. They are genetically programmed to make sure they are full for their ultimate flight. People who are taking issue with this have attacked a very small artisinal industry that is easy to target. I am actually heartsick that they have made such inroads. What will be next?

Gourmet baby food is all the rage. They mention "puréed peas with fresh mint" as an example. That sounds like something you could make at home so easily. [via The Food Section]

Adam reviews a movie about a man whose way of running a restaurant is so idiosyncratic that one might frame an entire philosophy or system of government on its credos. Yes, he's seen "I Like Killing Flies," the film about Kenny Shopsin.

Now you can get your bottled water on the rocks. Purified ice cubes are here at last! No more tap water sullying your single malt or your Evian.

Finally! I got the recipes ported over from my old site and you can now see them here. The design isn't so hot, need to do some more tweaking, but at least they're there. Now that they are, I recommend you make a bread salad or heirloom tomato salad for dinner tonight.

Dreaming of the Christmas goose

It's broiling hot today in New York City, and as I scurried around the greenmarket attempting to buy some tomatoes before I burst into flame, I noticed a sign at Tamarack Hollow Farm. Tamarack is one of the nicest vendors at the market. When I bought my first pork shoulder, I asked the vendor how to prepare it. He gave me some directions, then pointed to the label on the package. "If you have any problems, call my wife. She'll walk you through it." Culinary phone support included in pork purchase price! Who knew?

Anyway, today's sign said something to the effect that orders were now being taken for duck, goose, smoked ham, and suckling pig for delivery from September 1 through the end of the year. As I walked home, I imagined what I could do with a suckling pig. Then in the stifling heat, my thoughts drifted to goose and I longingly imagined December's snow and icy air, the scent of pine trees, and the fun of having family over for a lovely Tamarak roast goose for Christmas dinner. A huge bead of sweat stung my eye and snapped me from my reverie. It's a 102° and I'm thinking about Christmas goose. I'm tempted to head right back over there and place my order, if only it weren't so hot outside.

Apparently yesterday's meat cake is not the only meat cake in the world. Mark McClusky emailed to share a picture of his annual meat cake. Since 1997, he's been making one for a friend's birthday. This idea is so genius, I will get started on one as soon as the heat wave breaks. I'm picturing an all-cake dinner party starting with some kind of baby appetizer cakes, then meat cake, then dessert cake. Maybe a cheese cake (ha ha) in between?

Update: I've received two emails since posting this. One had the subject "sympathetically beefy" and I thought it must be someone interested in meat cakes. Alas, it was spam. The second pointed out that Martha makes meat cakes too! Those peas in the frosting are too much.

Grass-Fed Rule Angers Farmers reported the New York Times last week. Includes addresses for submitting comments to the Agriculture Department regarding grass-fed legislation. If I'm going to spend the extra money for something that's labeled grass-fed, I want to be sure it's actually out in the pasture grazing for its meal, not standing in a feed lot eating "grass" harvested from unripe corn.

In Chicago, they're teaching people how to eat when food is no longer scarce. African refugees learn how to buy and eat healthy food. [via sw]

Is French Food the pinnacle of food? And if you believe it to be, why?

Good wine now comes in boxes and tubes. Between this and all the screw tops, wine is becoming pretty accessible these days.

I want a meat cake for my next birthday! Yummy yummy.

There's a reason you only eat oysters in the R months: 74 Become Ill After Eating Raw Oysters. Last time I checked, it wasn't Jurly. Nor is today Argust 1st. [via Eater]

Seattle-based DRY Soda offers four flavors of "culinary" soda that were created to be paired with food. They're offered in kumquat, rhubarb, lavender, and lemongrass. Hmmm, I think I might like rhubarb soda. I don't really like soda much because it's too sweet, so something fizzy but more tangy could be right up my alley.

Why Make Homemade Baby Food for Your Baby? I suppose it's easier said than done, what with balancing work and home life and just getting food on the table. But it seems like a good way to ensure your baby's getting healthy, yummy food from an early age.

92nd St Y roundtable on food writing

Christina MeullerIt hit me as I listened to last week's charming 92nd Street Y roundtable on Gourmet's August Summer Reading digest: It is really, really nice, when you hear smart writers having a conversation. And it is even nicer (as a distinctly amateur food enthusiast) when you hear smart writers having a conversation when their steel-trap brains are turned to the subject of food.

Leonard Lopate of WNYC moderated the roundtable. The participants were Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl and four of the contributors to the Gourmet digest: author Ann Patchett, humorist David Rakoff, and Road Foodies Jane and Michael Stern.

The ground covered was not particularly new--or actually related to the practice of food writing--but it was fun. The conversation ranged over food loves and hates, the rebirth of pork in the U.S., favorite restaurants, and a brief, expected riff on the politics of eating and the American diet. Patchett talked about her hysterical objection to a gold leaf-cloaked risotto ("I mean, no little gold family had to die, but still"). Rakoff talked about the food community's reaction to his veiled slam against Chez Panisse ("It was like I was coming out against motherhood"). When Jane and Michael Stern mentioned the food specialty of Akron Ohio--sauerkraut balls--Rakoff politely inquired, "Are we talking cotillions or spheres?"

The idea for the supplement, Reichl explained, grew out of the August, 2004 Consider the Lobster (.pdf) article David Foster Wallace wrote for Gourmet. Reichl admitted she didn't know how readers would respond to the article, considering its denseness and length (and rant-ey DFW-ness)--but she loved it. The supplement, then, was designed to be about more than just enjoying food--it should be about the meaning of the act of eating.

She mentioned how Gourmet has traditionally asked writers who don't necessarily write about food to do food writing; Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, for example, came from a piece for Gourmet. "I trust writers," Reichl said. "We got a lot of different voices. I just asked them, what do you feel like doing? And what I got back was great; things like Jane and Michael Stern's piece about their first book tour, which happens to be one of the funniest things I've read in my life." (PS: It is. When I started reading it, on my way to a restaurant in a cab, I had to stall under a streetlamp for five minutes so I could finish the thing in one go. There's a story about Walter Cronkite's faulty hearing aid that's just, oh, brilliant.)

Things we learned: Ann Patchett is a bad eater. Rakoff started the talk by exposing her secret comfort food, Spaghetti-Os ("Thanks," she said. "Pal."), and the poor woman spent the rest of the talk fending off friendly needling about her food habits. Turns out she hasn't eaten red meat since her 9th birthday present of a pet pig: "You're scotched as a food writer, if you don't eat the hoof." Patchett's essay is, in fact, the least food-related of the bunch. Reichl assigned her the label of "the fine living person," and sent her to the Hotel Bel Air for a week to write about what it means to be left alone. ("I was out there doing the hard work of fine living for the American people," Patchett said, straight-faced.)

The conversation pivoted for a while around Rakoff's piece on Jews and pork, a subject I'm pretty ignorant about. There was talk about the pork-friendly dispensation given by the Pittsburgh reform platform in the 1880s, and the funny transgressional waltz that modern day Jews have with treyf foods (if the Chinese food is eaten right from the carton, does it count?). Rakoff also mentioned something one of his interview subjects, Rabbi X, head rabbi from a prominent Reform congregation, said to him: that the very idea of kosher veal is an oxymoron, as it's inherently cruel.

Rakoff also made the point (thank god!) about how we're treating Gourmet salt like a sexual fetish. "I mean, would I rather not eat things impregnated with lead, with mechanical pencils?" he said. "Sure….But you're picking your salt, you're not choosing an oncologist." Reichl's vaguely arch response, as one who obviously knows her pink Hawaiian from her fleur de sel: She likes arguments about food, she loves the idea of someone saying it's absurd to get 12 types of salt at a restaurant: "I don't care what people think about food as long as they think about it." (Throughout the talk Reichl seemed to veer towards didactic…Her attempt to make it a more sober-minded, thoughtful discussion, I suppose?)

Jane and Michael Stern were breezy, delightful fonts of obscure food information, spouting exactly the stuff you want from a couple who's spent the past twenty years trolling the country for good meals. They talked about the hand-ground paprika they'd found in a Hungarian butcher shop in Akron, Ohio, the fried chicken from Bon Ton Minimart in Henderson, Kentucky, the chili rellenos from the carwash-meets-taco-joint in El Paso, TX, the excellent ribs from Curtis' Barbecue in Putney, Vermont. The only problem at Curtis', Jane said, is that you have to eat the ribs while avoiding eye contact with Mr. Curtis' massive pet pig, Isabel. "The meat really is great, though," Michael said. (Patchett looked ill.)

Reichl mentioned she found all of Jane and Michael's pieces political, as they're so clearly in love with the people they meet on the road--the Sterns are saving a disappearing piece of American culture, she said, by writing about these people and their food. (The thing I would have liked answered (something that was actually asked twice, but neatly sidestepped both times): How do the Sterns manage to write together as a pair? I mean: Are they sitting across a table from each other, lobbing sentences at each other? Are they tag-teaming paragraph by paragraph, restaurant review by restaurant review, or what?)

Here, the things each of the panelists admitted they absolutely won't eat (Patchett abstained):

Reichl [after much hesitation]: honey [cue smothered audience gasp!]. "I just, I just can't go near it," she said, visibly uncomfortable.

Rakoff [from a National Geographic street food article he discovered when he was little]: salamander skewers. "I remember reading and shrieking, tiny little shrieks," he said. "Years later I did try tiny grilled octopi, which were delicious; but at a certain point you get close to what can only be described as… the beak…. And they start getting clacky and cartilaginous."

Michael Stern: chitlins steamed in vinegar. (Well. No debates there.)

Jane Stern: On a sweltering trip to St. Louis, she and Michael stopped at a restaurant--and noticed the door prop was… a raw chicken. (Patchett: "What, so, what you won't eat is raw chicken?" JS: "No, what I won't eat is a doorstop.")

Politically, the discussion touched (of course) on Pollan's book. "It's true what he says," Reichl said. "We ought to have glass abattoirs. We would eat differently if we did, and we would think differently." She talked about a time (not so long ago) when you went to the Essex Street market and pointed at the chicken you wanted for your dinner; the rule was, give animals an honorable life and then kill them decently.

On the subject of organics: "I never thought I would be saying this, but I'm very worried that as organics become more mainstream, we'll be importing more and more, and it will be the death of US farmers," Reichl said. "Buy locally as much as you can, buy American as much as you can." (This prompted a smattering of applause; funny, though, the studied avoidance of Wal-Mart's organic policy in all this. There was a moment when Lopate mentioned it, and all the panelists seemed to become, uh, very interested in their water glasses. I get it: I understand it's a different discussion. Not to mention I'd imagine Wal-Mart's arm is pretty far-reaching: I'd rather not be on the receiving end of a Wal-Mart slap.)

At a certain point, the inevitable question came in: How do you make a living out of food writing? Patchett's response (kind of neither here nor there, though the question was pretty unanswerable, anyhow): You put in your time, she said. You have to spend the eight years at Seventeen magazine writing about "What's in your locker???" and then gradually work your way up to, you know, all-expenses-paid week-long stints at the Bel Air.

Well. Thanks, Ann.

What Reichl finished with: the sort of food writing that makes up the summer digest isn't just about food, really. At least, not to the exclusion of other subjects--food is just the common denominator, the entry point to the stories. Junot Diaz's piece isn't about eating sushi, Reichl pointed out, it's about his relationship with his father. Pat Conroy's piece is a hazy, magical little ode to Paris in the 70s. Monique Truong writes about acculturation and motherhood. And Thomas Beller talks about how selling egg creams as a teenager in New York saved his life.

Which is all to say: This is a collection of damn good writing, period. Not surprising, given the sharp conversational skills of the authors. I'm hoping Gourmet sponsors more events like this in the future.

Guest reviewer Cristina Mueller grew up in Berkeley and now lives in New York. Her fridge stayed Californian: Humboldt Fog, cilantro, half an avocado, and a ream of Trader Joes corn tortillas. As writing goes, she does a lot on perfumes and de-wrinklifying serums. She also thinks she would make a pretty successful deli florist if it ever came down to it, and would like to find somewhere within driving distance for pick-your-own blackberries. Once, she spied on Ruth Reichl as she got her breakfast muffin (a corn one) toasted and buttered at the cafeteria grill station. She is sorry for spying, but she did find her—and the corn muffin—very charming.

Wine and War

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest TreasureAt some point in time, I ordered Wine & War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure from Amazon. Then it languished on my bookshelf for ages, passed over for other, more glamorous titles. But after my wine experience at the Taste 3 Conference in mid-July, I've gotten really into wine, so I grabbed it for my plane ride to Blogher.

"Wine & War" tells the true story of French winemakers struggles to keep their cellars from being plundered by the occupying German forces, and also their struggles to keep up with the German's incessant demand for wine. From Champagne and Alsace to Burgundy and Bordeaux, husband and wife authors Don and Petie Kladstrup weave tales of hastily constructed wine cave walls with the more dangerous exploits of the Resistance.

It was a very enjoyable read and I learned a lot about the wine-making process and some of the famous French wine families. It also further piqued my interest in wine and now I'm determined to not only learn more, but drink more too. You'll enjoy this book if you're interested in wine or France. If the triumvirate of wine, France, and the Resistance is your thing (Hi Mom!), you'll definitely love "Wine & War".

How to decode wine labels. While new world wines are pretty easy to figure out, I still have a hard time with European labels. I've been trying to learn more about wine though, so I hope this isn't a problem for much longer.

If you read the guest review post about Heat but didn't follow up with the comments, you should check them out. There's some really thoughtful stuff in there and it makes me realize how great it can be to have comments turned on on the site.

New York City has many Ray's Pizzas, which was first? One of my favorite bits from the movie Elf has Santa telling Will Ferrell which Ray's is the original Ray's.

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