I had a great time seeing Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain and Bill Buford chat at the NYPL last week—if you didn't get tickets before it sold out, don't blame me, 'cause it's not like I didn't tell you about it in advance. I wanted to write a long piece except that I was mostly too busy laughing to take lots of notes. $15 well spent! Here are four of the things I managed to scribble down that I think you'll appreciate:
My favorite discussion, i.e. the one that made me wish I was taping the entire thing, was Bourdain discussing the culinary tipping point he calls the "sushi barrier". He posted about it on eGullet early last year:
My theory, for some time, has been that the most significant point in modern North American culinary history was that moment when Westerners decided it was alright--even desirable--to eat sushi. That barrier-crossing raised all boats for all chefs of every stripe. Suddenly it was permissable to serve mackerel, octopus, fish roes, sardines and other traditional European seafood that were once largely shunned. What chefs found to be acceptable quality in seafood lept--as there was always a Japanese restaurant willing to pay for the good stuff (hence creating reliable demand for more variety and better quality). And once the bone-deep aversion to eating raw fish disappeared, other barriers fell as well. The dining public became more daring and willing to experiment.
New York City food nerds, alert! Mark June 21st off on your calendar and take out your credit card, you are about to buy a ticket to see former New Yorker fiction editor Bill Buford talk at the NYPL with two of our most favorite chefs ever, Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain, in the latest installment of the Kitchen Secrets series.
I haven't gotten around to reading Buford's new memoir Heat yet but now I'm definitely going to have to before the 21st, because parts of it detail how he came to quit his job at the New Yorker and start apprenticing at Babbo under Batali himself. As for Bourdain, not only is he Amazon's featured guest reviewer for Heat (subtitle: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany), but his latest book The Nasty Bits just came out two weeks ago, so I guess I'll be picking that up too—just as soon as I finish my current read which is, coincidentally enough, his infamous Kitchen Confidential.
P.S. Heat's been getting reviewed left and right, but here are two I particularly enjoyed reading: Will Work For Food (Julia Reed, NYT) and Eating Out (Jason Epstein, New York Review of Books). If you read only one, then for your own good choose the latter as Epstein does a marvelous job with Heat in the first part of the article and an even more spectacular one with Julia Child's My Life In France in the second!
Two hours north of Barcelona and only open six months out of the year, Ferran Adrià's experimental flagship El Bulli is widely considered to be the best restaurant in the world. So, as you might well imagine, it's rather hard to get reservations and even if you can get them you'll have considerable travelling costs, but for a few hundred dollars each you can get Adrià's El Bulli cookbooks off of Amazon and have fun in your own kitchen. Each hardcover book is "filled with full color photographs, presents not only El Bulli's unparalleled recipes, but also an analysis of their development, philosophy, and technique" and is "presented as a boxed set that includes the main volume, along with a detailed Users Guide and an interactive CD that contains each recipe, numbered and catalogued by year."
El Bulli: 1983-1993, the first volume, is only available special order and at its list price: a whopping $492. Most expensive cookbook ever? I sure think (hope?) so, but if you know differently please let me know.
El Bulli: 1994-1997 is slightly cheaper than its predecessor but still also going for its list price of $450. Third volume El Bulli: 1998-2002 is currently deeply discounted from $350 to $220.50, so if you're an Adrià fan or know someone who is, that probably makes it the El Bulli cookbook to pick up this season.
(Free Super Saver Shipping, if that helps!)
....What happened next was a seminal moment for me, because two minutes later, none other than Tom Colicchio himself appeared at our table (I'd met him a few times at Gramercy Tavern), and he was loaded for bear. “I have four pages of your comments that I downloaded from the Internet. I am going to go up to my office to get them and I want to go over them with you.” Not only was it an amazing scene to watch, but it was an amazing display of the power of the Internet. Here I was, Joe Shmoe, never had a piece about food published anywhere, and Colicchio wanted to ask me about my comments. Okay, so I’m not giving myself enough credit for making comments that obviously hit close to home for Tom, but who was I to have my criticisms taken seriously? That interaction has a lot to do with why I am here writing on this platform today. After all, if I could say things that got under Colicchio’s skin, and which he didn’t dismiss as the writings of some nutjob, maybe this Plotnicki guy actually knows something about food and dining out.
Superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, he who reinvented the city's approach to food and dining out (not to mention nouvelle cuisine) over two decades, has the cover of New York Magazine all to himself this week, plus a lengthy piece written by Jay McInerney, author of quintissential 80s New York novel "Bright Lights, Big City".
The backlash might seem inevitable, from the outside. The guy, after all, has had nothing but hits, and until recently he’s made it look easy. He’s rich: Prime Steakhouse in Las Vegas, just one corner of his empire, did $16 million in business last year. He’s earned not just one but two four-star ratings from the Times and won seven James Beard awards. He just moved into a beautiful apartment overlooking the Hudson in the most talked-about residential complex in the city, a project in which he was a partner. He has a beautiful young wife, former Jean Georges hostess Marja Allen, the mother of his 4-year old daughter, Chloe. He doesn’t seem tortured like Thomas Keller, nor wacky like David Bouley. What’s not to hate about someone this successful and seemingly well adjusted?
If he was ever complacent or distracted, he’s definitely not feeling that way now. One of his most likable qualities—and he is a very likable guy—is his willingness to take criticism to heart. He thinks of himself as a host, and he hates to see his guests unhappy. “Maybe I was stretched a little thin last year,” he says in his melodic, mumbling English, flipping an omelet in the spotless kitchen at Jean Georges while he watches two sous chefs plating an order. “I open four restaurants. But I love creating new things. It’s difficult to be creative once a restaurant’s open. People want the same dishes. For me, the creativity is in opening a new place and starting a new menu.”
Vongerichten is opening another restaurant this week, his eighth in New York: Perry, in the West Village, a 60 seater. According to the piece he's been struggling with his partners in V (the steakhouse he opened in Columbus Circle's Time Warner Center) and will make the decision whether to leave it or stay after this summer. So if you haven't been and have been wondering, as McInerney put it, "Do you need a chef of Vongerichten’s magnitude to cook a steak? Isn’t that like hiring Cy Twombly to paint your house?", this is the time to go.
NYC The Industry: Artist in Residence. Luciano Lunkes is one of many personal chefs in New York, who shops and cooks gourmet meals in their employer's massive and fully kitted out kitchens. Lately I've been seeing flyers pop up for a cheaper alternative, people who will come to your apartment and cook a week's worth of meals of your choice for you and your family, that you can defrost at meal times. Which sounds great if you have children but on the other hand, this is Manhattan, the holy land of delivery.
Corinne Trang, "the Julia Child of Asian cuisine", has an exemplary site: it's highly informative and very elegant, so not only is it easy to find what you're looking for but you also get a sense of what she's about. I still think almost any web presence is better than none at all, no matter what field you're in, but if you're going to do it then you might as well do it right, like Trang has done.
The James Beard Foundation Awards for restaurants and chefs have been announced. Winners include Karen DeMasco (Craft, NYC), Mario Batali (Babbo, NYC), Lee Hefter (Spago, Beverly Hills), Andrew Carmellini ( Café Boulud, NYC), Thomas Keller (Per Se, NYC), and Danny Meyer (Union Square Hospitality Group, NYC).
Photo courtesy of Michael Harlan Turk. Thanks!
The 92nd St Y has a trio of great food talks this May you might want to think about attending:
Fergus Henderson, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich: Adventurous Eating
Gael Greene, moderator
Wed, May 4, 8:00 pm, $25
"Join this group of intrepid tasters and find out more about the world’s most unusual meals. Fergus Henderson is the chef of the UK’s acclaimed restaurant St. John and author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. Mario Batali is star of TV’s Molto Mario and chef-owner of the New York restaurants Babbo, Lupa, Esca and Otto Enoteca Pizzeria. His new book is called Molto Italiano. Lidia Bastianich is chef-owner of Felidia, host of the popular Public Television series Lidia’s Family Table and author of a new book, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen. Food writer and critic Gael Greene moderates. Her memoir, Insatiable, will be published in spring 2006."
Ruth Reichl in Conversation with Liz Smith: Food and Dishing
Wed, May 18, 8:00 pm, $25
"Ruth Reichl is the editor-in-chief of Gourmet and the author of the bestsellers Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples. Her most recent memoir is Garlic & Sapphires. She has been the restaurant critic at The New York Times and the food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times."
This next one has already sold out (New Yorkers are cheese-crazed, after all) but I thought you should know about it anyway. If you really really really want to go, perhaps you can beg or pay for someone's spare ticket on Craigslist or outside the 92nd St Y right before the event; also the Y sometimes releases a bunch of tickets an hour before events at the box office, so give them a call!
Steven Jenkins: The Master Cheesemonger’s Favorite Cheeses
Sat, May 14, 7:30 pm, $45
"If you love cheese and wine, this program is for you. Learn all about cheeses (and the wines that love them) from Steven Jenkins, Fairway Market’s king of queso, and Joshua Wesson, Best Cellars’ guru of grapes. Jenkins will present nine cheeses in a comfortable and relaxed setting and Wesson will pour a quartet of quaffs to accompany them. Come hungry and ready to discover a new world of great tastes. Jenkins, author of Cheese Primer, was the first American to be inducted into France’s ancient and elite Guilde du St.Uguzon in 1976. His show, The Jenkins Chronicles, can be heard on NPR’s The Splendid Table."