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Jonathan Day

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by Jonathan Day

  1. An amazing man has been taken from us. I had the privilege of working with Steven through eGullet's maturing. His energy and work ethic were nothing short of amazing. E-mails from London that reached him in the middle of the night were answered within minutes. We met a few times in New York and spoke now and then, most recently just before his move to Quirky. He had optimism, vision and wisdom. I will miss Steven.

     

    Deepest condolences to Ellen and PJ, and to all of Steven's family and friends.

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  2. Luc Dubanchet, former editor of GaultMillau, and Laurent Seminel, former art director, seem to be the originators of Omnivore and of the "Generation C" idea. They have published the first guide dedicated to "Jeune cuisine", covering 150 restaurants in France. Sample comment:

    Pourquoi pas de notes ? Parce que la critique et la cuisine doivent enfin sortir du système scolaire infantilisant dans lequel elles se sont cloîtrées. Comment comparer sur une même échelle de notation (ou de symboles) un formidable bistrot novateur et la magnificence d’un palace ?

    That means, roughly : Why don't we give out stars or numerical ratings in our guide? Because both cuisine and culinary criticism need, at long last, to abandon the infantilising schoolroom system in which they have been imprisoned. How can one compare, on the same grading scale, a wonderfully innovative bistrot against a magnificent "palace"?

    Click here for a list of the restaurants of the "Jeune cuisine" chefs. It isn't clear how young these chefs are; at one point the site says, « jeune » n’étant pas une question d’âge mais d’état d’esprit -- i.e. that youth is not a matter of age but of attitude. On the other hand, the "Prix du Jeune créateur" competition they will be holding during their food festival in February is open only to cooks who have achieved the rank of chef patron (owner), sous-chef or chef de partie and are younger than 31 years old.

    The whole idea of "Generation C" reminds me somewhat of Les Six, the group of "avant garde" (for the 1920s) composers who assembled around Erik Satie.

  3. My father's mother was a Home Economics teacher. She was an enthusiastic cook, and one of the worst cooks I can remember. More than anything else, she loved to put together a big family dinner at Christmastime, with all of the uncles and cousins and brothers and sisters and grandchildren in one house. She would burn hams, make horrid floury soups, and, each Christmas without fail, make Green Bean Casserole. The relatives on that side of the family were not particularly discriminating in food, and generally hungry, so most of the glop disappeared quickly.

    Her brother, Clement, was a notorious miser. He hated to throw away any food. Uncle Clement gnawed cabbage cores and cheese rinds, saved bits of leftovers and fried them up in olive oil for his breakfast each morning. My grandmother's ham always had a scorched skin; he would cut this into small pieces and chew on them.

    My father's family was prolific as well as hungry; when my grandmother celebrated her hundredth birthday there were something like 80 very close relatives present. One Christmas we had around 40 of them in her house. Grandma was excited about the number of people she had to feed, and she made a huge vat of Green Been Casserole.

    This time the casserole was so horrible that nobody ate more than a few bites of it. So the Green Been Casserole pot went back into the fridge, and it came out the next day, and the next.

    Finally, several days after Christmas, she again served warmed-up Green Been Casserole with lunch. Uncle Clement looked at it -- by now a grey-green porridge -- on his plate. Then he stood up, went to the stove, took the pot (still about half full of casserole) and tipped all of it into the bin. We were stunned. "Uncle Clement is throwing away food!" whispered one of the younger cousins. My grandmother quietly left the kitchen. I don't recall her serving Green Been Casserole again.

  4. Drinking too much alcohol is much less of a problem in France than in the US and other European countries.  There is something inherent in French culture wherein it is considered very poor form to drink too much and/or become inebriated. 

    Of course it is still a problem, but to a much smaller extent than in other countries and the US.

    I'm as much of a Francophile as anyone. But the French are high alcohol consumers, the highest in Europe according to the table shown below.

    It is drawn from a paper, "Alcohol and suicide in 14 European countries - A comparative time series analysis" by Mats Ramstedt of the Stockholm University Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRad). It translates consumption into litres of 100% ethanol equivalent, so that a bottle of wine (750 ml) at 13.5% alcogol would count as about 0.1. Hence the table below says that the average French person, 15 years or older, consumes the alcohol equivalent about 215 bottles of wine per year.

    Annual alcohol consumption per capita 15 years and older (litres of 100% ethanol)

    Low-consumption countries

    Finland 6.4

    Norway 4.4

    Sweden 6.5

    Average 5.8

    Medium-consumption countries

    Austria 13.1

    Denmark 9.3

    Belgium 11.1

    Ireland 7.9

    The Netherlands 7.7

    The UK 7.5

    West Germany 11.4

    Average 9.7

    High-consumption countries

    France 21.6

    Italy 15.6

    Portugal 15.9

    Spain 15.5

    Average 17.2

  5. Try The Food Room, on Queenstown Road in Battersea. This used to be an upmarket Aussie place called Stepping Stone; now it's French ("modern European") and they are doing some interesting work. I believe it's 3 courses for ₤25; you can also have a cheeseboard for a modest supplement.

    Nearest tube would be something like Vauxhall, though that would be a hike. Better way to get there would be overland rail to Queenstown Road; it's not a long taxi ride, either.

  6. I wandered into the Marylebone High Street Divertimenti today. The display featured Falcon range cookers (now owned by Aga) and wine refrigerators. There was a brochure for a Falcon fridge (the usual kind, not limited to wine), that looked pretty good. I asked the clerk for the cost. After five minutes of shuffling through notebooks, calling various people, calling Aga, the answer was...we don't know. In fact, we're not even sure if we can get these fridges. Call Aga on Monday, they told me. Maybe they can sell you one.

    If Divertimenti are owned by Aga, the new owners have some work to do...

  7. Suppose that you were a gros bonnet, a well known, multi-starred chef. Suppose that your restaurant were profitable, but not hauling in the big money. You could establish a second restaurant, and a third, and a fourth; you could write cookbooks.

    Or, you could make a deal with Picard (a leading manufacturer and distributor of frozen food) or Unilever (whose Best Foods division owns Knorr and similar lines) to lend your name to their products. The money-to-effort ratio in the second option is overwhelmingly better. Opening restaurants and writing cookbooks is hard work and risky, from a purely financial point of view. And, if you were approaching the end of your cheffing career, the temptation to cash in by endorsing powdered sauces and frozen quiches could be hard to resist...

  8. I'm surprised at the surprise. Here are just a few websites of French producers of ready-made foods:

    http://www.metro.fr

    http://www.distram.com

    http://www.ubffoodsolutions.fr

    These products are intended for "collectivités" (schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.) and "petits unités" (small restaurants). Do you really think that the little restaurant on the corner lovingly simmers stocks, to turn them into fond de veau and that into classical sauces? In all likelihood it doesn't. Quite a bit of the ravioli you find in restaurants is industrially made and frozen or chilled. Lots of the fish you eat in restaurants, some of them starred, has been frozen. What about those lovely patés, terrines, rillettes on offer in the traiteur or charcuterie? Many of them are industrially made, in large quantities. A few traiteurs still produce their own products, but this requires long hours and hard work.

    Here, from one of these sites, is a recipe for "Blanc de brochet, Nantaise" (pike in cream sauce), for 100 persons: Take frozen pike fillets, heat them in a steam oven, hold warm. Boil 5 litres of water and add 500g of KNORR PROFESSIONAL BEURRE BLANC SAUCE POWDER. Bring it back to the boil. Off heat, mount it with 500ml of thick crème fraîche and 1.25 kg of butter, cut into small pieces. Coat the fillets with the sauce; season and serve. If serving in England, you may leave out the additional cream and butter. (Last sentence was the translator's addition...)

    In some cases, these products aren't as horrid as they sound, though many are far from the real thing. But if the reviewers and the customers can't tell the difference, it's not surprising that restaurateurs and shopkeepers cut corners.

    You can always ask the traiteur or waiter whether the product they are selling is made in house (fait maison).

  9. Good point. I think in some cases the owners live in "the flat above the shop" or not much further away. The butcher we use has a very short drive from his shop. Taking a break is practical.

    Another reason, of course, is that customers expect these shops to close. Nobody is outraged if a shop is closed at 1 pm, because nobody shops then. To implement a system like this in the UK, you'd have to get all of the shops in an area to change hours together. Otherwise, one shop would be tempted to stay open and grab custom. Nobody would want to go first.

  10. I think opening times and peoples' work and home schedules have a huge effect in the choice of where to shop for food. I know it's why we sometimes end up at a supermarket when I'd rather be shopping at Borough or Northcote Road in London.

    One thing that works well in some parts of France and Italy is that specialist shops (fishmongers, fruit and veg, butchers) open very early -- our butcher is regularly at work by 6:30 am and often earlier -- and close late, around 7:30 pm and sometimes later. They compensate for this by closing daily from around 12:30 or 1:00 pm to around 4:00 or 4:30 pm. They tend to close on one day of the week but stay open on Sunday morning.

    Hence a notional schedule for a butcher or specialist shop in the south of France is

    Monday, closed all day

    Tuesday, open 7:30 am to 1 pm and 4:30 pm to 8 pm

    Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday ditto

    Sunday, open 8:00 am to 1 pm

    This may seem odd, but it's convenient. Offices and banks tend to be open roughly from 9 am to 5 pm, with a relatively short lunch break. So you can shop early in the morning and be done for the day, or stop at the end of the day.

    Supermarkets tend to be open longer hours these days -- 8 am to 8 pm, often with no lunch break (the French word for this is "non-stop"). They will typically close either Monday or Sunday. Everything is closed Sunday afternoon.

    In Britain, the supermarkets seem to be moving closer to the American "we never close" model; unless the specialist shops and markets can somehow adapt, it's hard to imagine the Tescobury's world domination plan (or at least UK domination) failing.

  11. I second the recommendation of La Cave du Septier. I have not visited the shop but use them regularly, ordering by Internet or telephone for delivery within France. Their service has been consistently reliable and the people online and on the phone well informed.

  12. Hi all,

    I'm from New York City, and am planning a trip to London in early January. I'd love to be able to dine at Gordon Ramsay...I'll be coming with my mom and younger brother. Would it be advisable to bring a child there? And do they have any kind of other menu for a child, since I'm pretty sure my brother would not appreciate the regular menu as much.

    I don't think they have a child menu -- it's not that kind of place. I've always found the staff at RHR friendly and accommodating, but the room is not large and the menu is ambitious. Definitely worth a call beforehand, to check on the kitchen's flexibility, and on pricing. You could end up with a very expensive dish of pasta and cheese...

    Or why not send your brother to a group like Pippa Pop-Ins to relax while you enjoy your meal?

  13. In any case, if the site is to be believed, the almond mixture, not the pastry, is what defines a Pithiviers. Hence calling something a Pithiviers* where a round pastry is filled with game or other meat instead of almonds is a metonymic substitution of the container for the thing contained -- or perhaps it's the other way round.

    Synecdoche is the specific term for this sort of part-for-whole metonymy.

    One of those words one has to use when the opportunity presents itself.

    Sorry a bit OT.

    Thanks ... I thought there was a specific term, but couldn't remember it.

    Do you recall James Thurber's attempt to find an example of the Thing Contained for the Container? His teacher, Miss Groby, wasn't amused. But he found two, both concerning food:

    (1)

    Angry wife, brandishing a bottle of milk at her drunken husband: "Get out of here or I'll hit you with the milk!"

    (2)

    An old vaudeville routine --

    A: What's your head all bandaged up for?

    B: I got hit with some tomatoes

    A: How could that bruise you up so bad?

    B: These tomatoes were in a can.

  14. Your radical relativism doesn't sit well with your job or with a food board. I would have thought the existence of critics, guides, discussion forums and so on was precisely because the participants believe that one can argue about aesthetics to a certain extent.

    There are choices between what you call "radical relativism" (where no statement about food is more than a personal and private feeling) and the the stance that some posters take on some food boards (where a statement that "Restaurant X is good" is seen as parallel to a statement that "any map can be colored using four colors in such a way that adjacent regions (i.e. those sharing a common boundary segment, not just a point) receive different colors").

    For example, people could set out their criteria for what they enjoy, and then evaluate dishes or restaurants against those criteria. This enables a reader to calibrate others' tastes against his own and decide how to interpret their comments. It is highly useful; there are posters whose advice I tend to follow and those whose advice I question; not because I see the former as cleverer or more experienced, but because I have learned that their criteria are a good match with mine. That doesn't mean that the second group is stupid, inexperienced or "wrong", it just means that we're looking for different things.

    The behaviours Steven is referring to were once more common here, and condescending remarks, with subsequent fireworks, much more frequent. It was amusing as a kind of self-referential soap opera ("Did you see that John Smith was slagging Sarah Bloggs because she actually admitted she enjoyed dining at La Boulue?") but, ultimately, a waste of time and effort. It's possible to avoid that kind of discourse without descending into relativism, radical or otherwise.

  15. Let me repeat part of Dave Scantland's post from earlier on:

    Everybody who has had a point to make in the Psaltis discussion has had the opportunity to make it ... the purpose of this topic was not to rehash the Psaltis affair but, rather, to discuss the phenomenon of psuedonyms and what they mean for online discussion. That discussion is worth pursuing. From this point on, rehashing of: any specific topic; any decision to delete; or any member's status will be removed without further comment.

    I'm going to leave Rocketman's post up here because he has responded to calls to identify himself, but everyone, including Rocketman, should avoid any further discussion of the Psaltis matter on this thread.

    Thanks.

  16. So a Pithiviers is just a Frenchified term for "pie"...except that if you change "Meat pie" to "Pithiviers" on the menu, and scratch a few swirls in the pastry with the tip of a knife before popping it into the oven, you can charge a few extra ₤₤₤ for the same old product. Is that it?

  17. A follow-up question, if I may.

    I see your point about olive oil vs animal fats -- and I experienced something like this in Tunisia, where there seemed to be olive oil in the dishes in Djerba but more animal fats (including camel) deeper into the desert. And in Djerba there were more grilled and sauteed dishes than in the more remote regions, where we tended to be served stews of various sorts.

    Do you have a sense as to why animal fats would be more commonly used for long-simmered dishes than olive oil? Is this because olive oils break down or emulsify on long cooking? If it's correct that in the olive oil-dominated regions you see more quickly-cooked dishes and in goose fat-dominated regions, more slowly-cooked dishes, is this due to some characteristic of the two cooking fats?

  18. Paula, it's great to see you in this Spotlight session. Thanks for joining us.

    Your books on Mediterranean cooking have a lot on slow cooking, things simmered for long times in clay pots, les plats qui mijotent au coin du feu. Slow dishes.

    Yet there's another Mediterranean -- the area roughly between the Cinque Terre in Italy and some point in southeastern France. Colman Andrews, in Flavours of the Riviera claims that the area ends with the Var river, just to the west of Nice; I would stretch it further west, perhaps as far as the end of the Bouches du Rhône and the start of the Var, around Bandol.

    However you define the region, my sense is that its cookery is generally lighter. I'm not referring to the touristic caricature that reduces this entire cuisine to grilled fish, mesclun salad and tomatoes, all drenched in sunny olive oil. But, even in winter, the Riviera, both French and Italian, sees more use of the sauté pan (and perhaps the deep fryer) than the clay pot.

    Do you agree? Does this difference in cuisine happen because the climate in this area is milder with less mistral and less cold, than the areas where slower, "warmer" dishes predominate?

  19. The website of the City of Pithiviers has a section on local gastronomic specialities which explains the origin of this dish and provides some recipes.

    It refers to two varieties of the local pastry. "Pithiviers fondant" is made with ground almonds, sugar, butter, rum and eggs. This mixture is formed into a cake, baked in a slow oven, cooled and then covered with white fondant and decorated with glacéed cherries and angelica.

    Pithiviers Feuilleté, on the other hand, is the pastry we know, with essentially the same almond cake covered in puff pastry. The site asserts that the fondant dish came first, since "puff paste was unknown until it was invented by M. Feuillet, the pastry chef of the prince of Condé in the 18th century." This sounds odd to me, because I thought that "feuilleté" meant "sheet pastry" (as in une feuille, a leaf or a sheet, referring to the structure of puff pastry). It's as if someone claimed that shortpaste had been invented by "Chef Flakey". On the other hand, Alain Chapel had a chef in his kitchen, who has posted on these boards, named Guy Gâteau, so I guess anything is possible.

    In any case, if the site is to be believed, the almond mixture, not the pastry, is what defines a Pithiviers. Hence calling something a Pithiviers* where a round pastry is filled with game or other meat instead of almonds is a metonymic substitution of the container for the thing contained -- or perhaps it's the other way round.

    =====

    * And the singular of "Pithiviers" is, therefore, "Pithiviers". As in "Did you buy a Pithiviers in Pithiviers? No, we bought two Pithiviers in Pithiviers." Or is it "two Pithivierses"?

  20. I'm not sure what's being advocated here. I suppose we could have a "hall of shame" forum or thread saying, "Member XXX is now a legacy participant because he persistently violated copyright provisions, despite multiple warnings by the staff." Is that what people are asking for? What benefit would it bring, other than humiliation to the member concerned?

    Perhaps some forums work that way; we don't.

  21. Lastly, I'd be curious to know if the post-2004 membership registration system is a.) reasonably foolproof and b.) checked before enrollment is completed? In other words, do moderators have reasonable surety, as indicated above, that they could track down conflicted, irresponsible or even dangerous flamers if it were required?

    As best I understand it, it's reasonably foolproof, though of course any system can be fooled by a sufficiently determined villain. We have had people try to give false telephone numbers, for example, and have their membership applications returned to them as a result. The membership team works very hard.

  22. ...the title and subtitle of this thread was changed, why I have no idea, but it would have been appropriate to ask me for a revision, wouldn't it?

    But then, here I've gone and asked you to behave more like conventional editors, and that's what you're doing! Fixing my copy!

    Glad you appreciate it. But -- not to put too fine a point on it -- we don't regard thread titles as belonging to any individual poster, including the originator of the thread. We frequently merge duplicate threads and change thread names, almost always without consulting any poster beforehand. This is about ensuring that the forum indexes reflect what's actually in the thread.

    On the other hand, we won't generally edit a post (e.g. deleting part of a post that violates the Member Agreement, even if the rest of the post is fine) without prior approval of the poster. Your posts are, truly, your copy.

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