American regulators and scientists have…

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.

Why must I turn this…

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.

Coming soon to New York?…

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,…

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…

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 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…

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.