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Everything posted by Culinista

  1. As I posted in the thread you quoted, one major difference I noticed in France is that no one ever comes by periodically to ask, "Is everything OK?" Some North Americans feel neglected if this does not happen. (sometimes, they are) Maybe too commonplace to mention is the idea that the check in France does not come unless you ask for it. Tables in better places are not turned. French people in American restaurants often get the impression they are being rushed out the door (sometimes, they are). And of course, French waiters don't really hustle for tips since service is usually included and anything extra is totally optional. BTW, I often see tourists in Paris overtipping from ignorance rather than generosity, sometimes to the tune of 100's of euros. In France, one never cuts lettuce. One folds it as best one can. I've also never seen a French person leave the table to go to the restroom during the meal. In France, the entree is the first course, in the US, it is the main. French people keep the knife in their right hands at all times, and both hands above the table at all times. Americans cut and switch. Left hands (for right-handed people, the reverse for lefthanded) are Ok under the table. Somehow, upper class Frenchwomen eat everything--even Laduree mini macarons--with knife and fork. I have never seen them touch any food with their fingers except bread. Somehow they don't leave a huge pile of crumbs. I chalk this up to secret training, like the ability to stride over cobblestones in high heels or tie a scarf. Many times in high end French restaurants, the person the waiter presumes to be the host (always a man in my experience) gets the menu with prices, along with the wine list and eventually the check. The others do not. American waiters are generally more conscientious about not presuming who will be paying. Coffee (or possibly an infusion) is essential after a French meal, but never with dessert. Always after. And almost never with milk, unless you must. In America, the customer is king and can have whatever they are willing to pay for. In France, the customer is a guest and must be on good behavior. Many French restaurants will split an order for you, often with no charge. American restaurants, if they do this, will charge. I better stop now, but there are many, many differences, often leading to unnecessary misunderstandings. No one way of doing things is right, but it makes things easier if you are acquainted with customs.
  2. There is definitely more to Japanese food than sushi Unfortunately, there are not many cookbooks in English beyond sushi, which is a special-occasion food. Some of these may be out of print, but for a beginner, I'd recommend Hiroko Urakami's "Japanese Family-Style Recipes," Downer and Yoneda's "Step by step Japanese Cooking" or Takahashi's "The Joy of Japanese Cooking." Tsuji's "Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art" is one of the most comprehensive books and definitely available, but it might be a little complex if you are still looking for instant dashi. If you are in NYC and can get to Kinokuniya bookstore, see if you can order "100 recipes from Japanese Cooking," a bilingual book with some of the best simple, authentic home cooking I have seen. Whatever you choose, get a book with color photos of the unfamiliar ingredients. In winter, one-pot cooking like mizutaki and shabu-shabu are warming and healthy, not to mention super fast and easy. Japanese people are slim and long-lived for 2 reasons: portion control and genes. If you don't think it's possible to gain weight on rice, just remember sumo wrestlers, heh.
  3. What is cruel about reindeer for Christmas? (other than enduring the inevitable Rudolf jokes, of course.) In Finland reindeer is a very popular food. It's like eating beef here. Of course, I wonder about what foreign visitors tell their kids when they go to visit Santa in Rovaniemi and then spot reindeer on the menu. Back to topic, however. What do you suggest we have for our first British Christmas? I just moved to Richmond in Surrey from Helsinki. There are just two of us, and I'd like to make it special. I haven't had time to get very familiar with my new kitchen yet (a lot of my stuff is still in boxes), let alone know where to shop. I also have a gas oven for the first time-I suspect there will be some adjustment. The final challenge is that I live on top of a steep hill and have no car. (There are buses to the Tube.) There is a nice butcher around the corner, but all the traditional choices seem to feed an army. So I am thinking of a 16 century Spanish recipe for a pheasant stuffed with foie gras and marinated in port. My Spanish-Venezuelan husband has to seafood for Christmas, but I haven't seen any kind of decent fishmonger in town except Waitrose. I have yet to try Waitrose, but are there people who can deliver things like percebes, live spider crabs, trustworthy oysters, etc to Richmond? Or is Waitrose good enough? I could go to Borough or central London for a special event, but do I have to place an order in advance? Also, is there a way to make this menu more British? And where does one get good bread and plum pudding? (Or whatever pudding is appropriate.) And finally, if I'm permitted to ask non-directly food-related questions, why is Boxing Day called that, and will there be a way for me to buy a live Christmas tree without a car? What do people eat on Boxing Day and Christmas Eve?
  4. Catherine Deneuve probably eats her macarons out of hand since they don't travel well or hold for longer than a few hours, especially on a humid day (they are largely meringues). They should be like snowflakes, melting delicately on the tongue on impact. Even after a few hours, they get heavier and gummier. By the next day, they aren't worth the calories. Only possibility is a ziploc bag, and even then, the macarons will probably break in transit. Personally, I don't have a single favorite. I love the Laduree caramel and sea salt, the clear fruit flavors. I love PH's truffle, olive oil, and rose for their intriguing complexity, I adore the chocolate macaron at Gerard Mulot, the matcha and yuzu at Aoki...
  5. Vinobiondo, I went to Grand Vefour about May 2004. And that second group was not meant to be "destination dining." It was part of my personal list of places where I ate very well and did not feel ripped off, although not necessarily sublimely. I think they are good places to learn about French cuisine at various levels. How has the Cinq ruined special occasions? ←
  6. I used to live near Poncelet in the 17th (left in 2004), and there were quite a few neighborhood spots whose names are unfortunately slipping from my memory. It was turning into a Kosher dining area in places--there was quite a good deli on Wagram of Ternes. I liked the quiche Lorraine at La Lorraine for a quick lunch, but the rest of the menu is quite pricey with standard fare. I am trying to remember the place around the corner from the seafood shops that offered a discount on wine if you went down into the cellars and retrieved it yourself. At 5 rue 5 Diamants, there's Godines, serving huge Basque piperades and giblet salads family style. Very good gateau Basque, and unbeatable prices. Lena et Mimille in the 5th is pretty good value in a hard area. I never managed to find good Chinese or Vietnamese in Paris, and I would love to hear of any place worth trying. L'Homme Bleu at 55 bis rue J-P thimbaud is good Moroccan, but tiny and takes no reservations. For superlative, absolutely dry Bedouin couscous, (quite expensive) I love Wally Le Saharien. Wally is fantastic --he hand made everything in the restaurant--but sadly he is getting on. I don't think he recognized me the last time I was there, and I have known him for years. The couscous is still great, however. Warning: there is no accompanying stew, just roast lamb. (Not much water in Bedouin cooking) There is also no menu choice.
  7. You're very kind, Bux. Sounds like we probably would agree on many things, at least in matters of taste. That curried langostine dish, as well as vmilor's advice and the chocolate tart, of course, was the guiding light of redemption in that whole first awkward L'Ambroisie experience. Without it, I would not have gone back. It remains one of the high points of my eating memories. In the case of Grand Vefour, there was not even the faintest glimmer. The problem is that most people can't afford to suspend economic reality often enough to reach the level where they are truly comfortable taking a gamble in the haute cuisine setting. On this thread, UE tried to avoid precisely that. So many people get that bad first experience and either won't or can't risk getting burned again. I'm starting to think that people should approach their first megabuck meal the way they would approach the high stakes tables in Vegas: play only with what you won't mind losing, because in this day of inflated prices and inconsistent ratings, there are no guarantees. The only way to even the odds is to know yourself and your tastes thoroughly, and do due diligence research before going. The redeeming factor about modern day gastrotourism is that there is incredible information available on egullet and food blogs. I found the most recent L'Ambroisie receipt. 220 euros for dinner, 5 euros cheaper than lunch a few months earlier. There is little difference in price or the quantity of food served, although lunch might feature somewhat lighter dishes. I actually prefer the restaurant at lunch on weekends. The light in the windows is beautiful, and it is pleasant to stroll about the square afterwards.
  8. I just happen to have some recent L'Ambroisie menus around, but some of them are missing prices. Lunch in May without wine came to about 225 euros per person, but it was incredibly generous. We left the carte to them (they have turned around completely and are some of the warmest welcomes in Paris), and they rewarded our confidence with an incredibly rare wild salmon fished from the Loire, the only one in the restaurant. Very interesting experience, especially since we had been steeped in salmon in Scandinavia. We also had their wonderful ecrevisses for the 2nd time, a supreme de volaille de Bresse smothered in morels, cheese, and the ethereal chocolate tart that always seems to come. I can't remember the cost of our recent dinner since I haven't gotten my credit card statement--a good sign, since I think it was about the same cost as lunch, but with better wine. However, it involved lobster ravioli buried in truffles, line-caught bar with caviar and a warm cream sauce (quite the trick with cold caviar...), wild duck, and a big plateful of cepes plus TWO desserts, including that wonderful chocolate tart again. Again, we left the choice up to them, but they know our palates by now. No more sediment in the wine glass or brioches, thank goodness. vmilor assures me it was a total fluke. They have more than made up for the past. My big dream as a gourmet now is that one day I will go and they will bring me the game tart. They won't make it on demand-only if they decide you are worthy, and it is in season, and the chef feels like spending most of his week on it.
  9. I suspected it from taste, and it was confirmed recently by a friend who is currently working there. I had asked him about it.
  10. It may be too late about Le Cinq, but I'm here to warn you about Grand Vefour. Worst...meal...EVER I have had in Paris, and I have a friend in the kitchen there. I felt so badly since we were treated to the meal by friends who had never been to Paris, let alone a three-star. Our four servings of the reknowned foie gras ravioli came out completely differently, as did the main courses (2 horribly oversalted and overcooked tournedos of beef, 2 OK ones but not wonderful and drowning in oversalted demiglace, a cheap short order cook's trick in my book). That kind of inconsistency is something even McDonald's knows how to avoid. To add insult to injury, they use commercial wonton wrappers for the ravioli. Grand Vefour has always been proof positive for me that Michelin pimps for certain places if they have an illustrious tradition. The only way we could make up this experience for them was to introduce them immediately to L'Ambroisie and L'Arpege. Grand Vefour even outranks La Tour d'Argent, my first "fancy" meal in Paris--actually, my first meal, period--on the list of infamy. Your first encounter with French haute cuisine is very much like your first sexual experience. You'll always remember it, but chances are, it was awkward. The problem is that today's high prices have made it a very high stakes initiation. I think a lot of people will try it once and get scared off for life. But with experience, you will get better at feeding yourself at the high tables, maybe one day choosing your meals from the carte with the skill of vmilor. Of course, you have to be willing to invest the effort and a lot of money not only to learn about cuisine, but your own tastes. Prices have risen across the board, and I can't remember now who made this comment in the thread, but it is true that it is really tough now to find solid good food lower down on the restaurant chain. Often, as Moby P pointed out, the small savings doesn't make up for the difference in quality. So not only is it increasingly difficult to get a traditional gastronomic education where you learn the fundamentals and work your way to the sublime, but it is appallingly easy to pay high prices for mediocre food. Without that educational ladder, a lot of people quite rationally follow MobyP's logic and plunk down for a "guaranteed sublime." The problem is, as U.E. found out to his cost, that even at 3 stars and 300 euros+, there is no guarantee you will have a transcendent experience. Even if the restaurant does happen to have the sublime on the menu, whether it is on the tasting menu or the carte, the diner simply might not be at the point where s/he can recognize it. And even for an experienced gourmet who has done the research, in the end you pays your money and takes your chances. Sometimes I feel like I'm being robbed, but other times I feel like I'm paying tithes at church. Those times make the whole crapshoot enterprise of contemporary gourmandism worth it. The thing is, even in restaurants that do understand the concept of consistency and not letting inferior product walk into the dining room, every night is different. Every diner is different. So many factors. I've even learned not to be totally ruled by first impressions--my first experience at L'Ambroisie was awful from the service perspective, and I am normally not at all concerned with service. (The wine waiter, not the sommelier, shook every bit of sediment into my glass, another dropped a brioche down my back, and a third spilled water on the mignardises. They removed the tray only after we pointed to the standing water, and when it came back, the ruined tidbits had not been replaced.) Thank goodness vmilor was here to set me straight, although I am still skeptical of the French style of holding back on first-timers and only unfurling their true capabilities for regulars. Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind on Grand Vefour, but I'm afraid I will never be convinced to go back there on my own dime and without the wholehearted recommendation of a source I deeply trust. Here some places in Paris where I personally felt moved by the food to the point where I didn't notice the price: Taillevent (went right after Tour d'Argent--saved haute cuisine for me, so it has a special place. I have not tried it since 1998.) L'Arpege L'Ambroisie Ducasse at Plaza Athenee L'Astrance Places where I think you find excellent learning ground for the money, or at least you eat well without feeling ripped off: Senderens (probably the best deal in Paris now. The main courses are definitely not 3-star and the service certainly is not, but I'd say you get about 70% of the value for 30% of the price of the old Lucas Carton. And the desserts were even greater value for the money. Far less of a difference, and at around 15 euros compared to 60.) Pre Catalan Le Bristol--problem is, at that price, you may as well go to the top list, but some nice things and a change of scene Au Trou Gascon L'Ambassade d'Auvergne Aux Lyonnais On the tasting menu debate, I think it depends--on the restaurant, and how I am feeling. I always look at the proposed set menus, whether tasting or traditional 3-5 courses, and see if it speaks to me. At least I study it to get a sense of the chef, especially if it is my first time. Of course, it also depends on what my companions feel like eating. The style of the restaurant is very important for me. If the restaurant is a modern one designed with the tasting menu in mind, it seems I owe it to the place to let it present itself in the original concept, and unless there is some unusual constraint, I will order it. And as lxt very eloquently pointed out, it is a great way to learn, and I can't think of anyone who is so expert as to be beyond learning. I do not feel threatened by the thought that I might have one dish that I won't like as much as the others, nor do I need to dazzle the waiter with my gastronomic sophistication. (Although it is a good idea generally for the foreign diner in France, particularly if in a restaurant for the first time, to give some indication that they do know a thing or two about food or at least are intelligently interested.) The possibility that I might have something I love that I never would have thought of ordering is good enough. I do have my favorite ingredients and will try to get as much of them as possible, but I've also had amazing dishes composed of things I would never have gotten excited about or would have ordered on their own. The braised endive with speculoos sauce and strong coffee confiture at L'Astrance was a revelation, as were 2 new potatoes baked in hay and salt at L'Arpege a few weeks ago. (The potatoes were not even on the menu. The waiter brought us some from the next table.) However, I do understand the feeling that people are being forcefed little tapas spoons all the time. Some places, usually the traditional ones, call for full courses. I hope the people at Elkano in the Basque country never hear of the tasting menu. And there is the middle ground, as vmilor mentioned. Many places will do things in half portions. Two people can compose their own tasting menu while not having more food than a traditional 3-course meal. (Well, the secret here is that often the two half-portions often add up to more than a single portion, and you come out ahead in the quantity/price ratio.) This of course is for people who are very sure of themselves around a menu and are willing to do a little hard negotiation, probably in French. Learning to order is a real art, second only to learning to choose a restaurant, but there is a whole lot of luck involved as well. PS: I have been to Pierre Gagnaire's main restaurant as well as to Sketch and other related endeavors, and I just have not ever been excited about him. Purely subjective, of course, but I find him trying too hard intellectually and not hitting any emotional chord with me. The dishes all seem like good ideas that should somehow taste better. I vastly prefer Mugaritz in San Sebastian, or even El Bulli or the Fat Duck. And don't feel bad about Le Cinq. I didn't manage to warn some good friends of mine who got engaged there last week without consulting me first. It's record of ruining special celebrations gets longer...
  11. I find Patricia Quintana's books amazing--amazingly authentic and well researched regional recipes. The problem might be that they are not really meant for an American kitchen, even though many exist in English. The recipes respect tradition, which means they are labor intensive and feed an army.
  12. I had heard that umeboshi (a very sour Japanese pickled fruit) had similar properties, but I can't remember the citation. Anyone know?
  13. I love their apricot jam, st. honore, and caramel macarons. I must go! Edit: oh, and their croissants! They used to be next to the office in Paris, very dangerous.
  14. I grew up in Greenville but have no idea what the restaurants there are like because I was imprisoned at Bob Jones University Sounds like there is at least one positive reason to go back. Congratulations.
  15. Just to follow up, Neal Street was Ok but not terrific. I did end up going to the restaurant in hopes of fresh porcini, but the daily special of huge, almost carbon-coated mushroom chunks with chalky centers and spiked with chilies did not delight. I'm all for experimentation, but if the chef is going to fly in Italian porcini, he could treat it with a bit more respect. I have another lunch in Covent Garden tomorrow, same company. We'll give Origin a shot, Andy. Any suggestions on what to order or things to look for? I understand the restaurant is about prime sourced ingredients and small dishes. Maybe I'll try walking into Ivy next time Since it looks like I'll be in this area fairly frequently, I'm still open to suggestions, especially places that would work for interesting business meals.
  16. It has been a couple of years and maybe a bit too far north (in SF proper) to qualify as Silicon Valley, but two monuments to steak are on the same block on Van Ness: House of Prime Rib and Harris' Steak House (2100 Van Ness). In my recollection, Harris' might edge out House of Prime Rib just for seared steak itself, but the prime rib, sides (including signature spun Caesar) and the atmosphere of House might be better. House also had better alternatives for non-steak eaters. I also bought aged prime steaks at the market in Berkeley's Cafe Rouge and cooked them at home.
  17. This does sound very typical NM. In fact, it sounds exactly like the one at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. NM takes Am Ex and their own store card only.
  18. I felt like I was gaining weight just breathing the chocolate fumes, but only the knowledge that we were having dinner that night at L'Ambroisie kept me from diving into the vats. I was seriously tempted to get the chocolate humidor. It comes complete with storage trays, silver tongs, square plates, and a tiny knife to split the best bits with your sweetie. Willpower was my middle name that day, but I might get it after all as a wedding gift for friends who like to end their feasts with cigars and chocolate. I did pick up a chocolate that the manufacturer claimed would not trigger allergy headaches because it was processed at low temperatures. I'm bringing it to my chocolate-deprived sister-in-law to test. The chocolatiers making hand-dipped chocolates at Madame Setsuko showed tremendous dexterity. I loved the tea ceremony ware display made of chocolate.
  19. Has anyone been to Neal St? I am taking 2 people I've never met to dinner tomorrow, and I was hoping to get better than the usual post/business pre-theater fare around Covent Garden. Is this a good spot, or is there better within reasonable walk/cab from Lancaster Place? I would try Hakkasan, but one of the guests is visiting from Hong Kong. I've never been to the Ivy either--is that a better option? Thanks!
  20. You won't need to know anyone to try these: Tokyo: Kozue, well-executed Japanese food in a very contemporary setting at the top of the Park Hyatt (stunning views). This is interesting if you want to try kaiseki with bolder Tokyo seasoning, in contrast with the very light--some complain bland--Kyoto style seasoning. Some ingredients in the menu might be a surprise, like whale nabe or fugu roe and sperm. Obana for traditional unagi kabayaki (charcoal grilled eel) or Nodaiwa for wild unagi. Maisen (several locations) for kuro-buta tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet from the black pig). Sushi Dai in Tsukiji for early morning sushi--good tonic for jet lag. My memory fails me, but you should really track down a first-rate soba shop. And somewhere in the vicinity of Asakusa is a great manju (kind of a sweet bean filled cake) stand and an old okonomiyaki restaurant. Kyoto, upper end dining: Hyotei, Kikunoi, or Kitcho for kaiseki. Endo-tempura Daiichi-suppon (turtle) Very expensive but really delicious, especially the soup if you can get past the idea. Ask for a turtle blood cocktail if you like, although we found it pretty tasteless. This is considered traditional viagra. I was the only woman in the restaurant. Hiiragiya or Tawaraya ryokans (across the street from each other, 2 of the best traditional ryokans in the city center) The vegetarian lunch at Ryo-anji, particularly the yudofu-simmered tofu. Very good example of shojin-ryori, Buddhist temple cooking. I liked it better than Izusen. There is also another good yudofu place overlooking the view at Kiyomizu Temple, but I forget the name.
  21. Well I just have to ask: What do you do for a living and where do I send my application? ← Heh, like many here, I scribble about food and travel--general news when I must. I'm a specialist in high-end adventure eating. Carrot Top, the jacket blurb says Jeremy Iggers writes about food, restaurants, and ethics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and wrote another book on journalism and ethics. It does warn that he has a PhD in philosophy, which explains why I keep having vivid flashbacks of my own grad school seminars in modern lit. He quotes Foucault and Heidegger and uses words like "discourse" and "postmodern."
  22. I've read a bit more of Iggers, and as far as I can make out, he argues that the breakdown of traditional (in this timeframe of American history, chicken soup casserole eating) communities and moral values has led to a "harsh new morality of the body." This new morality has replaced the spiritual and social functions of traditional religion. To quote him: "Dieting is the new religion; it projects a vision of the person you can strive to become, offers symbols of good and evil, a daily ritual to achieve, and even, in the form of a Weight Watchers weigh-in, a confessional. And eating is the new sin. With every bite you take, you move farther away from the perfection tht you must achieve in order to reach the kingdom of heaven. And so the thrust of a great deal of food advertising is the selling of indulgences--the promise of foods that offer the pleasure of indulgence without the price." Certainly food for thought in these anxious eating days. And maybe the cult of thinness won't lead to bloody Crusades, but I do know that they are taking a major spiritual and physical toll on practically every woman I know. In college, all my friends were purging or starving. Maybe in this case the diet religion is not about the sublime, but fat is the devil. A side note: there is now a movement bringing together conservative Christians with the new cult of thinness, like "Thin for Him." And vegan animal activists have many of the evangelical hallmarks of Christian pro-lifers. As for free thinkers vs. followers, the ranks of those who worship their bellies are full of people who mindlessly follow the dictates of food prophets, whether it's Atkins or the restaurant critic of the NY Times. I'm not sure free thinking is necessarily a distinguishing characteristic of your denomination. I know plenty of top academic free thinkers who are conservative Christians (computer scientist Don Knuth of Stanford, for example). And I know plenty of gastronomic evangelicals who would die rather than order a latte after noon. I think every system of values has its truly spiritual devotees as well as its mindless fanatics. I do feel sorry for people who in good faith try to follow the ever-changing dictates of "nutritional science." Why are pronouncements from the nutritional Mount Horeb always contradicting themselves? Of the four basic food groups I grew up with, three are now on the evil list. The other foodie followers are the food fashion victims--the ones that feel too superior now for the chicken casserole or tiramisu or chardonnay they loved a few years ago and may secretly still like. Many times I hear people reciting some authority's gastronomic dogma rather than trying to define their own ideas and tastes.
  23. I've been to more than my share of church suppers, and I'd say they are a dead-on barometer for the state of cooking in America. First of all, they are not uniformly awful. There are a few churches in the south that are justly famous for their barbecue and fried chicken suppers, oyster roasts, or gumbo. And I here do have to quibble with Carrot Top's assertion that political correctness does not apply to food and state that I am not trying to reinforce the fried chicken and watermelon racial stereotype of African Americans. I am merely talking about isolated examples, whose numbers are unfortunately dwindling. The chicken soup casserole phenomenon is simply a reflection of what people cook. Church suppers are always semi-demi competitive, and people tend to make their best "company food." Those casseroles are what people think will impress and please their co-congregationalists. Iggers also makes the point that the post-Julia food revolution has separated America into two food classes, the "liberated" and anxious foodies and the Spam and Jello crowd they've left behind. If we combine it with Jackal's proposal, maybe the explanation for why church suppers are not foodie destinations is that the gastronauts have split off and formed their own denomination I heard that Abe Opincar used to write restaurant-style reviews of houses of worship, including their refreshments, for the San Diego Reader. That would be a hoot to read.
  24. Not that I recommend this as a practical thing, but a couple of weeks ago we rented a boat and navigated from our hotel dock in Roses to El Bulli. It took just slightly longer than driving, but it was a fun way to arrive! I love the drive along the ravine and rather miss the days when it was an even narrower dirt road with painted grafitti saying "El Bulli ---->" Camping on the beach afterwards would be the last word in romantic, methinks. We were there the night of San Juan, and there were fireworks at midnight, just as we were making our way through 3 kinds of coffee--regular, upside down, and sideways. I noticed that Mrs. Vmilor showed up for dinner with wet hair, and I suspect her of going for a pre-dinner swim.
  25. I would suspect quite the opposite to be true. If I had had such tight restrictions in my youth, I would opt for the most *trefah and permissable of options ...Ham and oysters and all types of shrimp .. cheeseburgers, etc. all of which I had missed in my upbringing. but I may be completely off-base in my assumptions ... * Forbidden food is called trefah ← I was raised fundamentalist Protestant in the Jell-O salad South--at Bob Jones University, no less--and I make my living from being a no-holds-barred hedonist. Maybe that's what not being allowed to wear jeans, watch TV, or go to the movies until I was 18 will do. I'm in the middle of Jeremy Iggers' "The Garden of Eating: Food, Sex, and the Hunger for Meaning." I don't agree with all of his arguments, but he has some interesting analyses of the way sexual repression has been replaced by food anxiety, drawing a correlation between the sexual revolution and the post-Julia Child foodie revolution: "Child offered us a bite of tarte Tatin and...we looked at our Jell-O molds, tuna casseroles, and Hostess Twinkies and recoiled in shame." He cites a study that single women today feel less guilt about sleeping with a married man than they do about being seduced by Haagen-Dazs, and he points out that "sinful" these days is most often used to refer to dessert. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that food rather than religion has become the central battleground of personal moral conflict. Look at all the wrangling about dietary evils (salt, cholesterol, fat, MSG, Jell-O, carbs) and the politics. When it comes to both religious and gastronomic dogma, I'm an avowed agnostic. I've always questioned authority--my sanity would not have survived otherwise. Take, for example, farmed vs. wild salmon. Yes, most salmon farms are horribly crowded and pose serious environmental problems--well documented elsewhere. However, I don't think domesticated salmon have to be so different from domesticated chicken. I visited a salmon farm in Norway last month, and it looked just like my uncle's Tyson-like chicken farm in Japan. I even tasted some of the fish food. It tasted like bonito flakes. But why couldn't a premium farm-raised salmon--less crowded, raised on natural feed--not be the gastronomic equivalent of a Bresse chicken? People don't think wild turkey is automatically better than domestic--in fact, most people have to learn to like the taste of wild game. In May, I was served a wild salmon from the Loire at L'Ambroisie. (Important note: we did not order the salmon since it was not on the menu--the restaurant had only the one. The chef thought it would please us.) It was a very curious fish--very pale, even for a wild salmon, almost a ghost of a salmon. I was interested in having the new experience and it was of course perfectly prepared, but I could not say it was the best salmon I ever had. The fish had swum many, many miles more than other salmon and was at the last extremes of exhaustion, not to mention lean and delicate. I could also have said flabby and tasteless and still be right. Honestly, there is also something to be said for a fat fish custom fed for full flavor and harvested in the prime of life. However, taste aside, was it right to eat something so rare? Did it have a chance to spawn after going so far? I have a friend who does not consider a 3-star experience good unless it features something rare. Is depleting the already perilous wild stock even further better for the environment? I eat anything as long as my own moral conscience allows, and I think that's par for the course in modern smorgasbord Western ethics in general. Foie gras yes, beluga not any more. As for foam eaters, I've often been called a food snob for my more extravagant flings and championing of modern foods. However, I do think there are at least two kinds of foodies: those that eat for pleasure, and those that eat for status. Iggers points out (not entirely accurately) that once everybody in America ate pretty much the same thing, but after the foodie revolution, there grew a class divide between those that still eat Jell-O and those who have recoiled in shame. Frankly, life is too short for pointless shame. Eat what gives you joy is my personal creedo.
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