Bourdain "bet[s] five years from now Grant Achatz, once he totally finds his groove, is going to be the greatest chef in America." [Thanks J]

A woman lives right by the Union Square Greenmarket and does all her shopping there. More importantly, her column in the New York Times about "using the Greenmarket as a family's larder, will appear every other week this summer." I would like to see one about how much she spends on groceries a week there.

Somehow I missed this until now: predicting World Cup results by a nation's food. Fish & Chips (England) will play Caldo Verde (Portugal) next, though the match I'm looking forward to is Sauerbraten (Germany) vs Matambre (Argentina). I know sauerbraten is delicious but matambres (rolled, stuffed, baked or grilled flanksteaks) sound good too. Who will win the meat showdown?

Hervé This and the cooking of a 67° C egg and other sciencey details about molecular gastronomy from Discover. Coolest article I've read in a while.

Another article about Grant Achatz and Alinea from Wired and I think we've reached a saturation point on this topic. After all this reading, the only way to further your understanding of the experience is to simply go there.

From the March 2005 Food & Wine, Pete Wells on disorientation, imitation, emotion, and perfection at Grant Achatz's Alinea.

Another from the archives, this time it's Sauté Wednesday's Keller vs Blumenthal showdown, comprised of conflicting quotes between the two master chefs. Very entertaining, and raises some good questions. I salt like Keller; my veg cook in a pot reminiscent of the north Atlantic.

Someone's pissed off about Bill Buford's fact checking in the NYer. What's funny (not ha ha) is I think the New Yorker has far and away the best fact checking of any publication I've ever been interviewed by. But also I thought it was odd in Buford's piece when he mentioned dessert being a modern concept. That seemed wrong to me

From Slate last summer: The Slowest Food: Why American chefs have taken up sous-vide cooking. The answers? You can't overcook your food and your results are very tender. I also think it's just different and I bet that's why more chefs are trying it. That and you're not sweating over a hot grill and/or burning yourself all the time.

Foodite's collection of Molecular Gastronomy information is a good introduction to the subject. It contains a definition, an ingredient listing, and links to practitioners.

Cook at home like Cantu and Achatz with your own anti-griddle or thermal bath for sous vide. Alas the prices are still a bit prohibitive for a home chef, unless you're a home chef who wants to freeze everything you eat so you get your $845 worth of anti-griddle.

Thoughts about The End of the Plate

Last week I attended a discussion at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum entitled "Presentation: The End of the Plate?" Moderated by Darra Goldstein, the co-curator of the Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500–2005 (on view until the end of October), it featured three chefs Ms. Goldstein deemed emblematic of the avant-garde in the kitchen: Katsuya Fukushima (minibar by Jose Andres, Washington DC), Grant Achatz (Alinea, Chicago), and Homaru Cantu (Moto, Chicago). The chefs were joined by industrial designer Martin Kastner, the man behind chef Achatz's "utensils" at Alinea.

Gerald from Foodite also attended and has a good summary (with pictures) of the talk. I'm not going to rehash what he's already covered and instead will focus on what piqued my interest during the 1.5 hour discussion and subsequent Q&A1.

Kastner talked about design and the versatility that we require of our eating utensils. Forks and knives do many things well rather than one thing perfectly. This makes sense at home, but at Alinea they had different goals, and strove to create instruments that would do one thing perfectly (e.g. the Squid). This allows Alinea to control the diner's experience, bring an emotional level to it, and change the way a guest spends 3-4 hours at the restaurant. I find any discussion of versatility vs. perfection endlessly fascinating.

There was quite a bit of talk about labels. Achatz mentioned "hyper-modern," "avant-garde," and "molecular gastronomy" as the labels people try to apply to his cooking. (Keller recently said MG was a term made up by the media and no one in the industry used it to refer to their cooking.) Goldstein felt "post-modern" was an apt description for the type of cuisine practiced by these cooks, especially as they're given to wit and self-referentiality. While I agree with her, saying you're going to a post-modern restaurant sounds, well, annoying. It's bad enough everyone throws around the word "deconstruct" in culinary critiques, we don't have to whole-hog bring post-modernism into the kitchen, do we?

Asked whether they like to be labeled, the chefs refreshed with their responses. Achatz's said he just cooks, that this is the way he's chosen to do it, it's not intentional. Cantu said he doesn't pay attention, that it's just a collection of ideas and he's trying to find a new way to cook. On the whole it seems the analysis of their cooking is much more intellectual than their pursuit of it. My take? They're driven by their individual imaginations, and by their passion for cooking. If we're going to give a literary label to them, I'd say it sounds Romantic. Maybe I'll call them the nouveau romantiques?

From Achatz, with regards to people who say he's too gimmicky, he asks if they've eaten at his restaurant. Most who criticize have never experienced, he says. Applies to more than just food, I'd say. There was also talk of how one's upbringing influences his/her cooking and Kastner said it's impossible to drop one's "cultural baggage." I liked this term and think it's a good thing to keep in mind when examining anyone's approach or reaction, including one's own. We all carry cultural baggage that influences our experiences, and it's not limited to food.

Two final comments: Achatz said, "It's not dinner anymore, it's something else." I got what he meant at the time, now re-reading in my notes it sounds a little precious or pretentious. Can the new hyper-modern-avant-garde-nouveau-romantique-extreme-cuisine push boundaries and still fulfill us on a basic level? Also there was a lot of use of the word "food stuff." What happened to the simpler "food"? Is "food stuff" somehow different? It sounds more abstract, less tangible, colder, more scientific. I don't want to eat food stuff, which makes me think of mechanically separated meat. I want to eat food!

It was an interesting discussion and though I was familiar with a lot of what was discussed (having eaten at both Moto and Alinea) I found it engaging. And now I want to go to DC and eat at minibar.

1 Dear everyone: When you go to a talk like this and you're given the opportunity to ask questions, please follow these suggestions: 1) Don't ask something that's already been discussed during the lecture. You appear to have not paid attention. 2) Don't ask two questions, and for God's sake don't ask three questions! This isn't your private Q&A with the speakers. Pick one question, ask it, and let someone else ask a question. 3) And finally, make sure your question is actually a question! The Q&A is not your opportunity to expound upon your opinion of whatever you think we need to hear. Chances are we don't. Remember: it's not you we came to hear speak.

An oldie but goodie from the Morning News: The Art of The Cure, or how to cure pig's jowl in a small New York apartment. [via WesFoodie]

This mom makes beautiful bento boxes for her daughter's lunch. I love the smiley unagi stars. What a great way to make lunch fun for kids, I would have gone crazy over this as a child. Since my mom didn't grow up in Japan, we had less designed treats in our lunch. But she always would wrap my milk money (six cents! milk was six cents!) in tin foil and make it into little shapes or sculptures, like a swan. I loved opening the bag to see what shape it was each day. [Thanks Jason]

Related to my greenmarket price griping: New Farmers' Markets to Open in Low-Income Neighborhoods. "Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn has made farmers' markets a centerpiece of her plans to reduce hunger and increase awareness of nutrition throughout the city, especially in lower-income areas." Maybe I'm just wrong about the expense of local produce.

The expense of eating local

Summer is in full swing at the Union Square greenmarket and everything I anticipated all winter has begun to arrive. Sadly though, I'm wondering if I can afford to buy much of it. Here's what I witnessed for sale last Friday: a small basket of heirloom tomatoes for $7, a pint of raspeberries for $7, a quart of cherries for $7, and strawberries for $6 a quart. It's my first summer living in close proximity to the market, and I was astounded by the prices.

I stopped to get some raspberries for a jam I was making; I needed 1 1/4 lbs for their juice. At greenmarket prices that's $21 for the raspberries! Sad that I couldn't afford local berries, I headed to Whole Foods. People complain about the cost at Whole Foods but it seemed cheap in comparison. I was able to buy three pints of California rasperries for $2.98 each.

I really want to support local foods and farmers, but I don't understand greenmarket pricing. Does it really cost the individual farmer that much more to grow raspberries and deliver them a few hours away? Shipping raspberries 3,000 miles from California can't be cheap. Sure Whole Foods has some economies of scale, but I didn't realize they reduced costs by more than 50%. Or maybe I'm disconnected from the true cost of food. Do the prices at the greenmarket actually reflect the costs of producing such food in our area? Or are items at the greenmarket overpriced because it's hip and trendy to buy local food?

No matter what, I feel conflicted and bummed out now. I'd envisioned buying tons of stuff this summer at the market, eating local and supporting regional farmers. I don't like the idea of buying fruit from California when there's fruit to be had from New York. But it's hard to imagine dropping $50 for fruits and vegetables that we'll eat up in two days, especially when I can get the same stuff for half the price elsewhere. Welcome to Megnut's Dilemma.

Evidence continues to mount that trans fats are the evil fat. In a study at Wake Forest they fed two groups of African monkeys the same percentage of fat. "After six years on the diet, trans fat-fed monkeys gained an extra 7.2 per cent of their body weight, compared to just 1.8 per cent in the control monkeys."

How to make a thermostated waterbath for sous vide for under $150. This article assumes you have more electrical knowledge than I do and sounds complicated. Can't you just put a thermometer in your waterbath on very low heat and get the same result? I still want to try sous vide at home.

Soda Fountain Recipes from the 20's and 30's includes one for a 'Catawba Flip' which sounds like a Purple Cow to me. I love soda fountain drinks (and anything called a 'flip') and whenever I'm on Nantucket I get something from Main Street's pharmacy soda fountains.

Great long list of American road food spots from Jane and Michael Stern. I love these kind of lists: it's fun to spot places I already know and to gather ideas for new ones to visit.

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