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John Whiting

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Everything posted by John Whiting

  1. The world is full of restaurants serving crap. I'm grateful for every little exception, whatever the ulterior motives may be.
  2. Once you're in France, the Logis guide should be in every Logis hotel; they're everywhere.
  3. It's a sad fact that good eating and sleeping places in provincial France are, to put it euphemistically, in a state of flux. I'd get hold of a copy of the Logis hotel guide; it won't lead you to any gastronomic epiphanies, but it's very useful in out-of-the-way places. For a general overview of French history and cuisine, Waverly Root's "France" is a wonderful read, but it has both the strengths and the weaknesses of having been written half a century ago.
  4. It irritates me to see traditional and inventive bistros set up for a "let's you and him fight" scenario. But of course there's no news without conflict, so when it doesn't exist, it must be manufactured. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a fresh new experience like Spring; sometimes I just want a plate of super gambas and frites at L'Ecurie done exactly the way I've eaten them there for years, ever since they were recommended by an up-market chef and his family who always ate there on a Sunday night. They were "the best in Paris", he claimed. Was he right? I couldn't care less; they were delicious and reasonably priced, and I didn't regret the absence of an expensive infusion drizzled around the edge of the platter.
  5. For those who are not aware of exactly who/what we are losing.
  6. John T shares with two other fine-food-writing Johns (Thorne and Hess) the indispensible realization that there are other more important things going on in the world. As Paul Richardson so succinctly summarized it in his Cornucopia: A Gastronomic Tour of Britain, Fortunately we still have his wide-ranging and free-wheeling presence in John Talbott's Paris, whose Alexa rating is likely to bump sharply upwards.
  7. Precisely. The food we eat is as ephemeral as the air we breathe. As whole economies collapse before our eyes, such detailed, carved-in-stone certifications of excellence are as arbitrary and unproductive as oxygen counts in industrial cities. By the time next year's mutual grope comes around, how many of these establishments will still be solvent? Not sure if this was your intent, or if I'm off the mark, but you come off as incredibly condescending and for some reason even angry towards a whole group of people that I'm sure you would otherwise consider your peers if you met them in due course at said lobster shacks over a beer. It's barely worth noting were you not the sage of a place like eG. ← Context is all. If Robert were to meet any of these judges in a fine restaurant, I'm sure that he would greet them respectfully; if he were to spot them coming out of a brothel, he would probably look the other way.
  8. L'Atelier in Paris remains high at no. 18 in the San Pelegrino 50 best ratings. So much for the "famous for being famous" list.
  9. Absolutely spot on. This is classic food to a predictable standard, not flights of gastronomic fancy. Pragmatism rules -- we're talking nourishment and simple pleasure, not transubstantiation.
  10. All this discussion of narcissistic cheffing is a thin layer of froth on top of the massive substructure, which is the daily cooking and eating of real food. When the weather gets stormy, the froth blows away.
  11. As I would expect from its roots in Greek mythology, I have never encountered "narcissistic" in any usage other than the pejorative. Within the context of this thread, there are roughly two categories of restaurant diners: those who expect the familiar and those who demand surprises. At their extremes, the former will happily order the ame old dishes in the same old bistros; the latter will plan their visits to El Bulli a year in advance. Individuals may sometimes shift from one category to the other, but the more dogmatic in either camp constantly heap scorn upon each other. I like an occasional surprise, but on the whole I tend to go along with Jane Grigson's shrewd remark: "We have more than enough masterpieces; what we need is a better standard of ordinariness."
  12. I'm using priesthood as a generic term meaning an enlightened elite from whom knowledge and/or taste flow outward. In cuisine as in art, such a status is sometimes imposed on them by their followers rather than claimed by the practitioners themselves. [cf. Life of Brian ]
  13. We should perhaps come up with a less pejorative word than narcissistic. What we're talking about is an artist's ability to set his own agenda, a revolutionary achievement usually credited to Beethoven and the rise of romanticism. In other words, the artist/chef ceases to be a servant and becomes a priest, culminating in the elevation of Adria and Blumenthal to mythical status. None of the above is tended to be dismissive but rather descriptive. My wife and I quite enjoyed Blumenthal's recent TV series of quasi-historical feasts and, unlike John Cage, I'm rather fond of Beethoven
  14. I can think of at least three Nobel Prize economists who are not so sanguine, partly because they are prepared to factor peak oil, soil depetion and global warming into their economic prognoses. As for the top-end restaurants, the market will produce new billionaires to replace the old -- there will just be fewer of them and therefore fewer surviving venues to take their money. In the depths of the Great Depression, Maxim's, the Ritz and the Stork Club were still doing nicely, thank you.
  15. You might check this statement with any fellow-American who has recently lost health insurance along with employment.
  16. As usual, Robert Brown has got it right. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the financial markets knows that the prognosis for the food markets is equally unrosy. Meanwhile, we’re off to Lyon, where Jean-Paul Lacombe has seen the handwriting on the ledger and relaunched his Michelin-starred Leon de Lyon as an up-market brasserie. We look forward to being able to afford it.
  17. This week’s Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 (available for online listening until Sunday) deals at length with the effect of the credit crunch on the British restaurant trade. The most ominous threat, dealt with at the end of the programme, is the trend towards firing skilled chefs and buying in prepared components and even complete dishes from mass-producing commercial suppliers. As the latter move up market, it’s a trend that is sneaking in the service entrances, not only of gastropubs, but of respectable upper-middle establishments.
  18. I've finally succeeded in editing, uploading to You Tube and linking from my website to the interview with John Talbott that I recorded in early January on the economic aspects of the Paris restaurant scene.
  19. As a "destination" bistro, La Mere Agitee may easily disappoint; it's up and down, but I prize it for having something of the feel of the sort of place which A.J. Liebling frequented in Paris back in the 30s. "In learning to eat,", he wrote, "as in psychoanalysis, the customer, in order to profit, must be conscious of the cost."
  20. Looks like I'll have to start reviewing the Paris gutters. . .
  21. This will not be a problem for long; the sub-prime chefs will soon go the way of sub-prime mortgages.
  22. It's not just the classic equation of supply and demand within a closed economy, but of a drastically reduced supply of food on a global scale which is already hitting the third world and which is beginning to reach us as well. My paper for the Oxford Symposium, "Eating the Earth", goes into this in exhaustive detail, but you can skip to Gwynne Dyer's brilliant wrap-up which I quote at length as a postscript.
  23. Here’s another prophecy: as raw materials become more expensive, we’re likely to see a widespread shift, not only from the luxury cuts of meat, but from the super-sourced ingredients whose meticulously documented provenance bumps up the cost. Attention will once more be paid to the skill with which a chef does the best he can with what he can afford. There will be a renewed respect for inventive cooks such as M. F. K. Fisher’s Dijon landlady, Madame Ollangnier, who was notorious in the local markets for buying their cheapest merchandise, however unpromising:
  24. I believe you are referring to one of the stories from Rouff's La vie et la passion de Dodin-Bouffant, gourmet. The king was the prince of Eurasia – a big foodie of the day. He wanted to meet Dodin's chef Adèle Pidou so he prepared a huge feast and invited Dodin-Bouffant (hoping to impress him and get an invite to his). However, instead of impressed, he was aghast with the Prince's excess. Nonetheless, he did invite him round, but decided to serve a humble four-course meal. The main dish was a simple, but incredible pot au feu... ← That matches the story as I remember it. Thank you -- I've been trying to dredge it up for years.Postscript: The story is told in baroquely embellished detail by Marcel Rouff in his novel, "The Passionate Epicure". It was reviewed in the New Yorker by Francine du Plessix Gray, who was once a student at Black Mountain College. An incredibly sexy snapshot of her appeared in one of the books about this amazing place; I promptly fell in love with her.
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