Megnut

What a line up: Bill Buford with Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain at the NYPL on June 21. "Join Bill Buford, author of the kitchen memoir Heat, as he plunges into the life of Mario Batali and his rise to extraculinary fame, along with Anthony Bourdain, executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles."

Try a Pecorino Romano instead of a Parmigiano-Reggiano next time you're looking for a cheese for grating. Change, like cheese, is good.

Patricia Wells reviews Thierry Marx's Château Cordeillan-Bages near Bordeaux in the IHT. With dishes such as liquid quiche Lorraine and virtual sausage, it sounds like chef Marx might be attempting some of that technomodern cuisine in France.

A recipe for Roasted Alaskan Halibut with Pan Seared Foie Gras Over Stewed Morels with Wild Asparagus. That's some good closure on a day's worth of posts. We went from halibut to foie gras to halibut and foie gras. Phew!

An evening at Moto

Moto is one of those molecular gastronomy restaurants (like wd-50, Alinea, El Bulli, and Fat Duck) that are technomodern, or post modern, or just plain weird, depending on who you ask. Always a fan of weird and tech anything, and with my interest piqued by the Fast Company profile of chef Homaru Cantu, I made a reservation during a recent trip to Chicago.

We had twenty courses, not including the menu. (Yes, the menu was edible, served with curried lentils and accompanied by a cold cucumber chaser. It was delicious.) Some courses were good, some were so-so, none were bad, but few were knock your socks off great. Some things, the "goat cheese snow & balsamic" for example, seemed to be trying too hard -- difference just for the sake of difference. Sure it's cool that you can use liquid nitrogen to freeze goat cheese into "snow" pellets. But if the resulting dish doesn't taste any better than (or arguably even as good as) unfrozen goat cheese, what's the point? Pushing culinary boundaries should be done with the ultimate goal of making something yummier.

When dishes worked, they worked very well. Taste and texture were excellent in the "bass baked tableside & paprika" that arrived on our table in a super-heated polymer box. As we enjoyed other courses, the box perfectly cooked the fish. It was moist and succulent. Another winner was the tempura-coated sea scallop resting in a luscious pool of sweet Jerusalem artichoke purée. It was accompanied by a section of grapefruit and a chunk of pineapple, both of which had been infused with CO2. The carbon dioxide transformed the fruit's flat water into sparkling, and the result was a piece of fizzy fruit, akin to a piece of solid full-flavored fruit soda on the tongue. I loved the fizzy fruit and thought this was one of Cantu's best inventions. Update: Cantu did not invent fizzy fruit. More information here.

Invention is the word for what chef Cantu does in the kitchen to be sure, and they never let you forget it while you're dining at Moto. Not only do articles about the restaurant brag that you can't see the kitchen without signing an NDA (we did not ask for a visit), the two edible paper items contained nearly a paragraph of edible printed copyright legalese. Servers arrived to tell you about the 'patent pending' innovations they were about to lay down on your table. After a while all the secrecy and ownership began to irritate me. While the chef/kitchen culture isn't necessarily about giving and sharing, cuisine is built upon the work of generations. Tweaks are made, new recipes and changes created and offered back into the pool for the benefit of all. At some point I just started to wonder, is this place about the food or about the inventions?

In the Fast Company article Chef Cantu says his goal is to use his inventions to help feed starving people. But his desire to feed the world seems at odds with the secrecy of his kitchen. What governments or organizations are going to pay fees to Cantu to use his food printer or polymer box? Wouldn't it do more good to make it as easy as possible for people to implement his inventions? If he needs to recoup his technology investment, maybe they could do something with Tropicana to get kids eating carbonated fruit. Now that would be something. In the meantime, I'd rather they keep the secrecy in the kitchen and delight me with the food.

Moto
945 West Fulton Market
Chicago IL 60607
(312) 491-0058
website

Just a little fun fact: Sony is such "a sprawling conglomerate that [they] sell just about anything from flashlight batteries to online banking services and even foie gras." [source]

AH reports that Michael Pollan's blogging about foie gras behind the Times pay wall. Curse you New York Times and your Times Select! You've locked up our hero in a tower like a mean old witch/stepmother. Michael Pollan is doing some of the most interesting and important writing about food right now. He's doing it frequently and it's being published in the easiest possible manner for massive distribution and influence. But only the Select few can see it. Even if I paid to access it, I couldn't share it with my readers. So much potential unrealized.

Two podcasts with Anthony Bourdain from eGullet co-founder Jason Perlow's site Off the Broiler. I continue to be astounded by what podcasting has done for food blogging. Everywhere I look, someone's got some fascinating interview with somebody else about food. If I'm not careful, Megnut could turn into an all-podcast revue blog.

A recipe for strawberry soup from Heston Blumenthal. Now that strawberries are coming into season, this sounds like a delightful treat. Since the recipe is from the UK, it needs a bit of translation to American. "icing sugar" = confectioner's sugar, "clingfilm" = saran wrap, and "liquidiser" = blender. Oh those Brits! They may use funny words, but they sure make a good strawberry soup.

Suzanne Goin's Caramelized Bread Pudding with Chocolate and Cinnamon recipe sounds amazing. I love bread pudding and you can bet I'm going to try this out soon. Also on the same page is Sautéed Halibut with Arugula, Roasted Beets, and Horseradish Crème Fraîche. Pacific halibut is on the list of safe fish, so this is one you can happily make at home.

A guide to what fish you can safely eat from the New York Times. Sadly, my favorite bluefish doesn't seem to be on the safe list. I hope that's because they think people don't like it, and not because it's filled with mercury or overfished. Does anyone know?

Lovely garlic scape photos and recipe ideas over at SFist.

Q&A with author and Batali apprentice Bill Buford. His new book about his experiences, Heat, was released yesterday and I'm anxious to read it.

Today's New York Times looks at soldiers' food care packages in Iraq. Reminds me of the story my grandmother tells of mailing my grandfather his favorite molasses cookies during World War II. Unfortunately by the time they arrived on his ship in the South Pacific, they were moldy and inedible.

How did I miss this Ed Levine post on fried clams? He lists some good spots close to home here in NYC and also CT, MA, and ME. I love fried clams, though not as much as fried scallops (which are one of my favorite foods to eat in the whole wide world). I've been thinking lately about clams and wishing there were good spots here in the city. I'll have to try Ed's suggestions. And I have a suggestion of my own: Danny Meyer, why don't you open a Clam Shack along the water some place? [via Eater]

Sam from Becks & Posh writes to say:

Coriander - means the leaves and Coriander seeds means the seeds. I never once heard it the other way around.

Since Sam's from a country that actually uses the term coriander, I think this provides more evidence that Emeril's wrong. Of course now Sam says cilantro like the rest of us...

The great cilantro coriander debate

Last night I was watching a bit of Emeril Live on the Food Network. Half-listening to the episode about grilling, I suddenly tuned in when I heard Emeril say, "When it's young it's called cilantro, and when it's old it's called coriander." That surprised me, as I always thought it was simply a localization issue: cilantro in North America and coriander everywhere else. Clearly it was time to do some research.

First stop, my trusty Larousse Gastronomique whose entry sits under the heading CORIANDER (CILANTRO). It says it's "[a]n aromatic umbeliferoius plant used both for its dried seeds, either whole or ground and its leaves." Further on it notes "[c]oriander leaves, sometimes know as Arab parsely or Chinese parsley in France and as cilantro in the United States..." There is no mention of age. I check Wikipedia's entry on coriander and it says a lot about the history of the plant, its various uses and parts, and nothing about any difference in name as it relates to the age of the plant.

Verdict? Emeril is wrong! Or rather, being a bit misleading. Both articles note the seeds are commonly called "coriander" (rather than "coriander seeds") and the leaves are referred to as "coriander leaves." Since the seeds are dried before they are used, it is a fact that they are older than the fresh green "coriander leaves" or cilantro one finds in salsa. So technically Emeril is correct. But is that really what he meant?

He would have done better to say something along the lines of: "Cilantro and coriander are the same plant, but in the US we use the term cilantro when referring to the fresh leaves, and coriander usually refers to the dried seeds of the plant." Maybe that's too much to say on TV, or maybe his audience doesn't care that much. Maybe I care too much. But it seems to me that if you're going to educate people about food, you should try to be as accurate as possible.

Wondering how come it's so expensive to go organic? Grist Magazine tells you why, but they can't resist slipping in some advice at the end with, "You know, going veggie is a very useful, highly effective environmental step. And it can be cheaper than going organic." I didn't like that.

A listing of good domestic rosé wines from the San Francisco Chronicle, in case my recent posts about rosés have piqued your interest.

The Omnivore's Dilemma : A Natural History of Four MealsIf you are not currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan: stop everything immediately and get yourself a copy. It's that good, and that important.

I've been reading it for a week now, and had expected to write a review when I'd finished but it's taken me longer than I anticipated to get through it. There's so much to chew on I find I just stop reading mid-paragraph to think about everything he's saying. And really, it's so eye-opening that it's foolish for me to wait until I'm done to tell you: if you care about food, read this book.

Here's a small sampling from some of the pages I've dog-eared:

Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest. (p 108)

"The organic label is a marketing tool," Secretary [of Agriculture] Glickman said. "It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is 'organic' a value judgment about nutrition or quality."...Some intriguing recent research suggests otherwise. (p 179)

Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate....Yet growing the food is the least of it: only a fifth of the total energy used to feed us is consumed on the farm; the rest is spent processing the food and moving it around. (p 183)

[T]here are no pigtails in industrial hog production. Farmers "dock," or snip off, the tails at birth, a practice that makes a certain twisted sense if you follow the logic of industrial efficiency on a hog farm. Piglets...are weaned from their mothers ten days after birth (compared with thirteen weeks in nature)...[b]ut this premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a need they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. (p 218)

Our food system depends on consumers' not knowing much about it beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner. Cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it's a short way from not knowing who's at the other end of your food chain to not caring...[o]f course, the global economy couldn't very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds. (p 245)

So fight the indifference, and fight the ignorance. Go read The Omnivore's Dilemma. No book has changed the way I think about food and food production more than this.

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