What tragic news this morning to learn of Anthony Bourdain’s death. I am going to watch a few episodes of his most recent episodes of Parts Unknown. In the meantime, his 1999 piece “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” in The New Yorker elucidated his thoughts on good food and how restaurants are run. I had not seen or read the piece until today, and it is a fascinating read, which “rocked the entire industry”:
Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.
On Bourdain’s favorite foods:
What do I like to eat after hours? Strange things. Oysters are my favorite, especially at three in the morning, in the company of my crew. Focaccia pizza with robiola cheese and white truffle oil is good, especially at Le Madri on a summer afternoon in the outdoor patio. Frozen vodka at Siberia Bar is also good, particularly if a cook from one of the big hotels shows up with beluga. At Indigo, on Tenth Street, I love the mushroom strudel and the daube of beef. At my own place, I love a spicy boudin noir that squirts blood in your mouth; the braised fennel the way my sous-chef makes it; scraps from duck confit; and fresh cockles steamed with greasy Portuguese sausage.
I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.
RIP, Anthony Bourdain.
Food critic Pete Wells at The New York Times has just come out with a scathing review of the Bistro at Villard Michel Richard, the fancy new restaurant at the newly renovated New York Palace in Midtown Manhattan. It’s worth reading in entirety but these two paragraphs are the best:
Think of everything that’s great about fried chicken. Now take it all away. In its place, right between dried-out strands of gray meat and a shell of fried bread crumbs, imagine a gummy white paste about a quarter-inch deep. This unidentifiable paste coats your mouth until you can’t perceive textures or flavors. It is like edible Novocain.
What Villard Michel Richard’s $28 fried chicken does to Southern cooking, its $40 veal cheek blanquette does to French. A classic blanquette is a gentle, reassuring white stew of sublimely tender veal. In this version, the veal cheeks had the dense, rubbery consistency of overcooked liver. Slithering around the meat was a terrifying sauce the color of jarred turkey gravy mixed with cigar ashes. If soldiers had killed Escoffier’s family in front of him and then forced him to make dinner, this is what he would have cooked.
The New York Times on the allure of the Doritos chips:
The inventor of Doritos envisioned this snack in 1964 as a marketing powerhouse that could deliver endless varieties of new flavors. But none of the formulations would surpass Nacho Cheese, whose irresistible taste sent Doritos into the processed food hall of fame, and more recently into a partnership with Taco Bell. I visited Steven A. Witherly, a food scientist who wrote an insider’s guide, “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” and we raided his lab to taste and experiment our way through the psychobiology of what makes Nacho Cheese Doritos so alluring.
On one of the most popular flavors, Nacho Cheese:
The blend of ingredients in Nacho Cheese is given one of the finest grinds in food processing: flour grinding, which creates a powder that fills every nook and cranny on the chip. This maximizes the amount that will contact saliva. Intentional or not, one byproduct is the powder left on your fingers.
Licking the dust from the fingers in its pure form, without the chip to dilute the impact, sends an even larger flavor burst to the brain.
The notion of “forgettable flavor” is vital:
Despite the powerful tastes in Nacho Cheese, the Doritos formula balances them so well that no single flavor lingers in the mind after you’ve eaten a chip. This avoids what food scientists call “sensory specific satiety,” or the feeling of fullness caused by a dominant flavor. Would you eat a whole bag of rosemary chips? With Doritos, you go back for more.
Read the rest here.
Harry Rosen is 103 years old and lives in New York City. He made a fortune in his life in America as a supply company owner, after fleeing the pograms of Russia, having arrived to Ellis Island with his family. These days, he goes out to fancy restaurants in the city, which he considers his therapy:
“I haven’t eaten dinner home in many years,” said Mr. Rosen, who tried singles groups and other activities after his wife of 70 years, Lillian, died five years ago, when she was 95.
But nothing brought him the comfort of a fine restaurant.
“It’s my therapy, it lifts my spirits,” he said Wednesday evening while examining the menu with a magnifying glass at David Burke Townhouse on East 61st Street.
Twice a week, a server there greets him, walks him to his usual corner table and brings his regular glass of chardonnay, his appetizer of raw salmon and tuna, and then the swordfish, skin removed, with vegetables specially puréed for his dentures to handle.
“The food and the ambience, it’s my therapy — it gives me energy,” he said.
His favorite restaurants are Café Boulud on East 76th Street, Boulud Sud near Lincoln Center, and Avra Estiatorio on East 48th Street.
A 61-year-old man — with a history of home-brewing — stumbled into a Texas emergency room complaining of dizziness. Nurses ran a Breathalyzer test. The man’s blood alcohol concentration was a whopping 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas. However, the man denied having had any alcoholic beverages that night. So what happened?
Turns out he has a rare condition in which his gut is lined with an over-abundance of brewer’s yeast, which would make alcohol (ethanol) when he consumed carbohydrates. NPR details:
The patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae…So when he ate or drank a bunch of starch — a bagel, pasta or even a soda — the yeast fermented the sugars into ethanol, and he would get drunk. Essentially, he was brewing beer in his own gut. Cordell and McCarthy reported the case of “auto-brewery syndrome” a few months ago in theInternational Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Brewer’s yeast is in a whole host of foods, including breads, wine and, of course, beer (hence, the name). The critters usually don’t do any harm. They just flow right through us. Some people even take Saccharomyces as a probiotic supplement.
But it turns out that in rare cases, the yeasty beasts can indeed take up long-term residency in the gut and possibly cause problems, says Dr. Joseph Heitman, a microbiologist at Duke University.
This is a wonderful piece by Frank Bruni (former restaurant critic for The New York Times) on the joys and pleasures of becoming a regular at your local restaurant:
I’m no monogamist, that’s clear. More of a polygamist, but I dote on my sister wives. I’ve come to see that the broccolini isn’t always greener on the other side of Houston Street, and I’m here to sing what’s too seldom sung: the joys of familiarity. The pleasures of intimacy. The virtues of staying put.
What you have with a restaurant that you visit once or twice is a transaction. What you have with a restaurant that you visit over and over is a relationship.
Great point here about the smiles:
[T]he smiles you get from hosts, hostesses and bartenders who know you are entirely unlike the smiles from ones who are just meeting you. They’re less theatrical, less stilted, warmer by countless degrees.
I love this addendum from Jason Kottke:
This is a totally minor thing but I love it: more than once, I’ve come in early in the evening, had a drink, left without paying to go run an errand or meet someone somewhere else, and then come back later for another drink or dinner and then settle my bill. It’s like having a house account without the house account.
I haven’t yet made any nearby restaurants a regular for me, but now I am really tempted to pick one or two.
I am having one myself this weekend, so it seems apropos to read this short piece in The New York Times on the origin of the picnic:
The word “picnic,” however, is of more recent vintage. An early mention can be traced to a 1649 satirical French poem, which features the Frères Pique-nicques, known for visiting friends “armed with bottles and dishes.” In 1802, the term made a hop to Britain after a group of Francophiles in London formed a Pic-Nic Society to gorge, guzzle and perform amateur theatricals. Participants drew lots to determine who would supply which dish — from calf’s-foot jelly to blancmange.
Read the rest here.