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John Thorne

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  1. In response, thanks to you all for some truly stimulating exchanges. I'm too lazy to set down a list of my own favorite quotes, but you can be sure they weren't written by me!
  2. I wrote that last night just before going to bed, and my thoughts were a little slow. I think your description is great: if you're the right sort of person, they're there to ponder, admire, puzzle about, even, yes, navigate by, as I have used Richard Olney and Patience Gray both. M.F.K. Fisher, like the other two, actually, were (are) subscribers; I wrote an essay, "Loving to Cook," immediately after reading Fisher's essay in the first edition of The Journal of Gastronomy. It wasn't written in imitation or in homage or in argument; it just came bursting out. Maybe a little of all three, but not intentionally. Thanks.
  3. Quite honestly, in it's largest sense, I don't really have an answer. As the "webmaster" of my own site, I know how hard this is to do well and I've found eGullet as easy to use as it is pleasant to look at. The quality of the posting is very high and I'm impressed with the range of participants, from what my nephew would call /\/00|35 to old pros. Beyond that, I haven't given it much thought, except that -- for me, certainly, my first thoughts are rarely my best, and this has meant my postings have not always left me feeling very good. Time and thought would have kept me from making a fool of myself regarding Kenneth Lo's book, which did not result from his travels in China but his extensive (and admitted) borrowings from Chinese chef publications. In my defense, it's been over decade since I read through the book (this information is in the introduction), and I forgot. But still. I probably could have saved myself the embarrassment of translating "red bean-curd cheese" as "red bean paste", but I don't feel so badly about that, since this is just the sort of thing the home cook has to struggle with, and can't hope to always get right. "Write in haste, repent in leisure." But the positive side is what is most enjoyable here: the spontaneity. I wish you all happy postings. PS: /\/00|35 = "noobs" = "newbies"
  4. Hmm. What you write reminds me of the story of the hippie/counterculture couple who watched with dismay as their daughter transformed her bedroom into a Laura Ashley showcase. "Why didn't she want to be free like them?" Do you think Jane and Michael Stern sneak off incognito to haute cuisine restaurants and secretly indulge in scallop foam? It would be nice to imagine...as it would that if nutritionists all decided we're better off fat, we would all become thin just to spite them. "I'm so SICK of all this macaroni and cheese!!" Part of secret eating is surely throwing off prohibitions and rules that we're at least secretly sick of but it is also assembling stuff that our public selves have been taught don't belong together: like grape jelly on pasta or butter sandwiches. It's hard to make conceptual order out of chaos.
  5. "In my opinion the next John Thorne is the young Matthew Amster-Burton." Him? He's not my disciple, he's my brother. "Ezra would have settled right comfortably onto a stool at the No-Name Diner and joined volubly in the conversation." And he'd be welcome, too, as long as he kept off the subject of usury. As to the rest of what you say, I don't know. I agree with Shaw about the "faux-regular-guy schtick" and I don't like to think that it applies all that much to myself. It's more accurate to say that I suffer from multiple personality disorder: there's the guy who writes seriously about serious food; there's the guy who goes and makes his lunch from a can of Progresso soup; and then there's the nut who meticulously peels off the smoked casing from the kielbasa he just took out of the Jensen-Luhr smoker and makes a po' boy out of it. They all claim equal time and they all have their fans and foes. You wouldn't believe the hate mail I get about the No-Name series: so much for the appeal of cracker-barrel philosophy. The Gaston-Bachelard-tinged stuff goes over much better. Finally -- yak, yak, yak...I know. Sorry, but it's my last day -- I thought the last post from Shaw really hits the nail directly on the head. If, for instance, Jeffrey Steingarten tried to go to Paris on his own and visit all the best restaurants, he'd have a VERY different experience -- and potentially a much more interesting one to write about. But drop the name Vogue and all doors swing open; all chefs are your friends; reservations are always found. True, this is as much a part of reality as the experiences encounted by the innocent enthusiast, but it is reality of many parts -- as Shaw sagely enumerates. To have all that at your elbow and to act as the guy next door hit with a stroke of luck gets to be a little creepy.
  6. Ed Behr and I are friends and I think that the way you describe him is exactly right, although what I think we have in common is that both The Art of Eating and Simple Cooking are vision driven, not profit driven, if only in the sense that you hold to the vision and try to make ends meet. As you know, Ed is trying to transform The Art of Eating into what I (but not he) describe as something like the Paris Review of the food world. (The problem is that he doesn't have the pockets of George Plimpton.) If he manages to do this, and he's gone a great distance with it, he'll have created something truly unique: a food publication that is neither scholarly nor glossy but intelligent, independent-minded, and motivated by a very real love of serious food writing. Now Simple Cooking could never evolve in this manner. It is, I sincerely hope, a very fine thing, but it will die with me -- probably ahead of me, but who knows. This is, I think, because, although I have gift that is very much my own, I really don't have a vision. Murky depths maybe, but no proposition, no method to put forth that someone else could pick up and run with. Because of this, I can't have disciples. I think this is true of M.F.K. Fisher, too. The new M.F.K. Fisher is often announced but the comparison never holds -- not at all, usually, but certainly not for long. The same is true for another writer I greatly admire, Patience Gray. For me, HONEY FROM A WEED says everything about Mediterranean cuisine that neither Paula Wolfert or Clifford Wright has come close to saying, but you can take what they've done and go ahead with it. You can't do that with her writing; it just stands there like a rock. And a rock is something that you notice, even admire, but steer around and keep going. This is the price that has to be paid. There are other books I would put on the same shelf as my own -- speaking strictly from this perspective (I think Patience Gray is a sybil and so out of my league entirely): Daniel Spoerri's MYTHOLOGY & MEATBALLS, T Earle Welby's THE DINNER KNELL. All the same story. If I had been a novelist instead of an culinary essayist, I would have been Ivy Compton-Burnett. So, I think trying to imagine someone as being my disciple is as wrong-minded as imagining me as Patience Gray's disciple. All you can say about that is that God broke the mold before he made either of us.
  7. "It's one of my favorite corners to hang out on. " Janet, believe me, it's a very scary place. It's much more fun to hang out with the prep cooks.
  8. "Am I the only sane person in the room? " Finally, you understand the problem.
  9. "But John, that's how I think of your writing, which I like very much." But, Stephen, if you like my writing, for God's sake, you know the last thing that I am is any kind of expert. About talent, well, I suppose I do have some of that, although it is very rough hewn. Perhaps one could say that "Food writing, like any writing, is best when ignorance and talent collide"? Or, better, drag Oscar Wilde out of his special spot in Hades to retort, "Food writing, like any writing, is best defined as the place where ignorance and incompetence so often collide." "John T's [criteria] apply to another (essays and memoirs)" Well, gee, thanks for tossing me a dog biscuit and pushing me back into my "literary food writing" corner. I would argue that sensibility is what makes one cookbook superior to another, however factual it may be. It is sensibility, not just expertise, that makes Shirley Corriher so engaging, and she and I couldn't be further poles apart. You can say, "well, that's just your taste," and I won't deny it, but, believe me, my taste embraces a universe.
  10. "First, the bookstore didn't have any of your books in stock." Not surprising. The small city I live in has several bookstores and at least two gourmet food emporiums and one cooking supply store all with cookbook sections, and my writings are nowhere to be found here. I could do something about that, of course, by moaning and groaning, but...would they sell any if they did get some copies? I also notice that both SIMPLE COOKING and OUTLAW COOK are hard to get hold of new OR used. Flattering, but.... I didn't know Shirley appeared on Alton Brown's show. She must be a lot of fun; if her prose is any indication, she's a character and a half.
  11. Thanks. A writer could ask for nothing more. As to what you say about Laurie Colwin, it may be that her private appetite didn't follow her to the supermarket, wagging its tail. A lot of my snacks originate as odd bits of this or that which catch my fancy and get squirreled away at the back of the refrigerator. This is probably because I've lived by myself for so long that this aspect of my personality isn't as deeply buried as it ought to be. As it is, Matt is afraid to go poking around in the back of the fridge for fear of what might turn up. We've solved that by giving me one shelf all to myself. It is full of little containers of mysterious liquids (some of which I can identify and others that I can't), chunks of meat in various stages of cookedness, etc. etc., including a preserved duck leg I bought at a Chinese market that I can't quite figure out what to do with. Anyone know? Can I just eat it?
  12. " Chicken roll being a childhood favourite deli product that now that I think about it must have been mostly chicken skin with a bit of meat." Yes! Thanks exactly what I remember thinking when I tasted it. And, yes, it was good, after its fashion. Better than deli turkey breast, certainly. Also, the reference to "scraps" might also refer to the bits and pieces of my knuckles that were lying around on the cutting board after I finished boning the chicken. Certainly, I know that they gave the finished ballotine a certain special quality....
  13. So Thomas Mann. No, no, no. I've always found real life preferable to anything I've encountered in books, although the act of reading is as real-life as anything else. You forget that I grew up as an Army brat and lived for years in different places around the United States and abroad, notably a year each in Japan and in Germany. That spoiled me because it made me think of travel as actually living somewhere, not shooting through it. If Simple Cooking had found a readership averaging 3000 subscribers say as opposed to 1500, I probably would have made a real effort to live abroad, and in several different places. Not only to sample the food, but to experience the light, the weather patterns, the smells and sounds of everyday life. A single photograph can get me daydreaming for hours about the sky over the suburbs of Buenos Aires. It may not be too late. Now that Jonathan Day has declared me a "highly successful" food writer, can fortune be far away? Fortune enough at least to rent a walk-up flat in some dingy quarter of Lyons?
  14. "Grilled cheese" is a bit of a subset of "bread and cheese." My most frequent breakfast recently has been thin slices of Ecce Panis pane rustico, a flattish rustic loaf that is very crusty and chewy, almost to the point of absurdity, toasted and then layered with slices of some simple melting cheese like Havarti. I put this on a plate and slip it back into the hot toaster oven while I finish brewing my coffee (right now Sumatra from Chicago's Coffee and Tea Exchange. He got upset when he learned we were so broke last summer that I had had to switch to canned coffee for awhile. Bad year 2002.) As far as grilled cheese sandwiches are concerned, my ideal version is made with sharp Cheddar topped with roasted red peppers, then fried in lots of butter. As to bread and cheese, we're lucky to have a very good cheesemonger nearby and so we regularly go pick out something nice -- in the refrigerator right now we have a superb piece of Taleggio patiently waiting for tomorrow's supper. And they often have obscure unpasteurized French cheeses if you happen to catch them while they're still in stock.
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