There is a lot to read these days if you love food. Much of it is crap. For the last month, I have been spending a lot of time looking at everything online that I can get my hands on in an effort to wrap my arms around a project I am working on. All this is in an attempt to gauge the depth and breadth of restaurant writing, blogging, food criticism, and culinary lit. I came across this spectacular interview with Rozanne Gold, one of the smartest and most talented people in the food biz. Waaaaaaaay back in the day she worked for my dad, and thanks, in no small part, to her, I have the food life I have now. What she says about food writing, women in the food biz, the current attitude of young chefs, etc., is phenomenally insightful.
Greg Morabito had a provocative piece on eater.com detailing 10 restaurant concepts that are meaningless in 2010. I like this list. At the end of the day, talk is cheap and cliché-ridden labels lose their effectiveness faster than you can say gastro-fusion. Perhaps Chinese kosher vegetarian restaurants are the next new things?
Eater also had this round up of reviews on Anthony Bourdain’s newest tome, Medium Raw . I don’t get the angst-y seriousness of some of the reviews. Tony doesn’t even take himself that seriously. One review said, “Ten years ago, Bourdain was a proud member of a strange, somewhat criminal outcast culture, and he produced a work that really didn’t need a follow-up. In the interim, he’s become a cultural icon, but his new book feels redundant, out of touch, and more than a little sad.” Another said, “Despite the author’s crass, colorful prose, many of these episodes read like leftovers . . . Perhaps Bourdain’s anger is so dusty because, let’s face it, life’s been good to him. How much longer will he be able to run on toxicity? Though Bourdain shows that he is capable of writing breathtaking culinary travel pieces (see his rapid-fire descriptions of global delicacies) and can rip someone a new asshole in a much funnier way than most, the lazily constructed Medium Raw comes across like puke on a page. He’s no longer the marginalized character from Kitchen Confidential. So what’s he still so pissed about?”
C’mon people. Tony is one of the most insightful and honest chroniclers of the food scene today and he’s not pissed. He’s puzzled . . . puzzled about the success and popularity of people whose content he finds pedestrian and annoying. He is puzzled about why someone would go to the extra effort it takes to ruin simple Italian food. Truly. And his book is a terrific read with some very strong opinions. I don’t agree with everything in it, but its informative, well written, laugh-out-loud funny and wildly entertaining. You need to read this book! What’s more, his current life status as a successful dad, husband, culinary pundit, and TV star doesn’t make his opinions any less credible. Quite the contrary, I suspect.
One particular "skewering" of his has been blown out of proportion. Five years ago, Bourdain, like many of us loudly exclaimed that Grant Achatz was the future of food. I told everyone after my first glimpse of my first plate at Alinea that it was the most important restaurant in America. I still feel that way. Bourdain recently dined there. He didn’t care for it as much on his last visit as his wife did; she swooned over their meal. Tony felt the food didn’t emotionally connect and to him, that’s important. Me too.
And last week I had another amazing Alinea experience. Grant "cooked up" a bowl of pea soup, a perfect springtime dish. The composition included frozen pea puree (nitrogen process of course), freeze dried peas, pea shoot tendrils, ham gelee, Iberico ham powder, teeny sherry reduction ‘beads’ created in an alginate bath that encapsulates the sherry reduction in a thin "skin" similar to a micro-balloon, and frozen olive oil "ice cream: cubes. It was served with a spoon specifically designed for these dishes where small combinations of two or three elements are intended to be eaten at once, no more. That way each taste is a riff on the theme of Peas and Spain but none replicate each other. It was superb—n insanely simple grouping of flavors turned on its ear using brilliantly thoughtful technique.
But that wasn’t the best part. The moment I took the first bite I grinned and turned to Grant and told him the first thing that popped into my head: “Tastes like my grandmother's soup; it reminds me of her!” Grant, who is unfairly maligned as an overly serious dude almost broke his chin smiling and couldn’t contain his pleasure at eliciting in me the whole point of the dish. Primarily to taste good, but close behind it, was his desire to evoke exactly the kind of response that I gave him. He is the total package and his next restaurant, aptly named Next Restaurant, will allow more of America to sample what he and his team are creating.