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John Whiting

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  1. From my online review of Cyrus Todiwalla's Café Spice Namaste:

    If you want to eat well and also help train young chefs for a fraction of the tab you’ll pay at Jamie Oliver’s much-publicized Fifteen, try Zen Satori on Hoxton Street near Old Street tube. It’s the student restaurant attached to Cyrus’s award-winning Asian and Oriental School of Catering. While Jamie struggles to turn fifteen drop-outs a year into employable chefs, Cyrus and a staff of 18 have in five years trained about five hundred of society’s rejects and placed them in the restaurant and catering industry. A happy palate, a full stomach and a warm glow of satisfaction will cost you—well, a sum approximately equal to the name of Jamie’s restaurant.

    Zen Satori  40 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NH, Tel: 020 7613 9590

  2. ...half the point of getting the guide is to slobber over the *** write-ups.

    This is in fact all I ever do with *** write-ups, and old ones are as useful for this purpose as new ones. Within the price bracket of the bistros I actually frequent I've found Time Out useful. Not infallible--who is? (aside from John T :biggrin:)
  3. Hampstead Garden Suburb has made its own inimitable contribution to the genre. Just around the corner from us is a former public men's/women's lavatory now functioning as the Café Toulous (minus the e for some reason).

    The proprietor's sense of humor is far-ranging. In a ward which was 37% Jewish in the 2001 census, the builders had instructions to tell inquiring members of the public that the new structure was to be a mosque. I eagerly welcomed its addition to the neighborhood until I saw a Brakes Brothers van parked outside. A promising venue for intellectual discourse has turned out to be merely a resting point for au pairs with toddlers in tow.

  4. We find the Dordagne very beautiful, but a bit too full of Brits.
    Funny, I've rarely encountered a Brit in this area, even though it is on their "favorites" list.

    That could be because the Brits in that area are better integrated into their communities than, say, the arrogant Angloegotists that took over Cannes/Nice in the 19th century.

    One item of equipment that I've found invaluable for the past ten years of European driving is a good reliable self-contained GPS, the sort that you can plug into the lighter socket of any car. The one I swear by is the Garmin StreetPilot 2610. It's been discontinued but is still around at a fraction of its original cost. It lacks iPod, a host of phony voices and cellphone interface, but what's great about it is its rock-solid reliability, the accuracy of its maps and the easy option of choosing minor roads in a more or less straight line to one's destination, thus avoiding both the expensive A roads and the long slow tailbacks of the heavily travelled N routes. I've sometimes driven for an hour without seeing another vehicle.

  5. On the other hand, "scholarly" reading, the sort that is done in academic circles, demands that one take into account as much as one possibly can not only about the writer themself and how they lived their life up to and including the culture they live(d) within, in order to "fully" understand for purposes of critique, the writing, no?
    This is a professional necessity for those who earn a living by continually coming up with information and opinions not previously expressed by their competitors. In order to be both profitable and exciting, the stock market of ideas must rise and fall unpredictably and arbitrarily. :biggrin:
  6. I find myself less and less interested in the personal lives of artists. We live in an age so scurrilously preoccupied with gossip and so eager to debunk and discredit that we take a public figure's worst behavior, however atypical, as the true measure of their worth and sincerity. In his autobiographical Reflexions, Richard Olney positively smacks his lips over Fisher's mistaken memory, an unspecified number of years later, of her nocturnal visit to him in 1970, but the effect is to make one lose a certain respect for the author rather than the subject. Alice Waters, whose integrity I have witnessed for years, has often been belittled by her inferiors and endures it with dignity.

    I read what Fisher wrote; I am not interested in her personal failings, whether real or imaginary, any more than I would listen to the Art of the Fugue and wonder if its genius might be vitiated by Bach's business ethics or sex life.

  7. I find it interesting that, as has already been observed, this discussion is unisexual. I don't think of Fisher as distinctively a food writer or even a female writer. Her world is the larger one in which I live, or try to live, and her psychological insights are unsentimental and trans-sexual. I think of her much as I think of John Thorne, who boldly wrote, "Food writing's guilty secret is its intellectual poverty."

    I find it curious that women in this discussion can find her so lacking in human sympathy as even to call her a bitch. Her sympathy for tortured human creatures is profoundly generous. Whenever I reread Long Ago in France, her late autobiography of her early student years, I am taken back to a time and place as vividly imprinted in my memory as my own youthful experiences. It is full of characters that could so easily have been turned into comic caricatures, Peter Mayle fashion, but every one is sketched with a generous sympathy that shames either scorn or snickering. Those few people I know who knew her well respect her person as well as her art. In her writing, her most mercilous personal criticisms were always of herself.

  8. If you're domiciled in Bloomsbury, try lunch at the October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, just off Queen Square. They serve Tuesday through Saturday from 12:30, and it's best to be there early rather than late. My sound studio was in their basement for twenty years and they never served me a bad meal.

    For South Indian vegetarian, Diwana Bhel Poori on Dummond Street near Euston Station was the very first such restaurant in London and is still one of the best. Their £6.50 buffet lunch always forces me to overindulge.

  9. I've just noticed this stimulating thread. In The Taste of America, John Hess wrote the last word to be said about regularly scheduled restaurant reviewing. Along with his wife Karen, he had

    yielded to an urgent appeal to take over the critic’s job at The New York Times in early 1973, with the understanding that he would not have to stay longer than a year. We threw in our napkins after nine months, sick of the gourmet plague that had marked our first meal for pay, and our last, and most of those in between.

    What he depressingly discovered was that newly opened high-end restaurants are usually 10% cuisine and 90% hype. The communication that takes place in the cooking and eating of food can be like a conversation between friends, but more profitably it's a blatant hard sell, because that's what makes the biggest noise, gets the most attention and makes the most money. There are good restaurants out there in all price brackets, but a weekly column can’t devote itself to saying over and over that X is still serving Y and still doing it very well.

  10. There's an added dimension to the difference between goose and duck foie gras. Geese cannot be force fed by machines--they have to be hand held though the funnel is often machine fed--but ducks can be mechanically force fed by violent methods that can result in a lot of pain and 20% mortality. This is not common in France, I believe, but it is common in Eastern Europe whence a lot of cheap duck foie gras now comes. If such things matter to you, it's best to know your supplier. I've written more on the subject here.

  11. This thread holds a certain sadness for me. Some thirty-five years ago my wife and I used to eat occasionally at the shiny new Little Chef just outside Grimsby. The food was simple but fresh and decent, unlike the glop that was standard at the transport caffs which were the only alternative. But gradually the Little Chef's apron got dirty and we stopped eating there after ten years or so.

  12. Onion at the corner of Southampton Row and Sicilian Avenue, the pedestrian zone just north of Holburn Circus, has been serving the same great sandwishes for at least thirty years.

    Ah good call, just started work round the corner discovered it today, that's a proper sandwich

    Thank heavens they're still up to standard--haven't eaten there in several years, but it still looked the same outside.

    EDIT: If you're working in that area, try lunch at the October Gallery, Old Gloucester Street just off Queen Square. (My sound studio was in their basement for twenty years, and they never served me a bad meal.) If you like fish and chips, there's the Fryer's Delight, 19 Theobald's Road. They still cook in lard--if you like the distinctive flavor that that gives, it's now hard to find.

  13. The new edition is out. Still under the editorial supervision of Rosa Jackson, it continues to be the most useful guidebook [i.e. hard copy] in English. I haven't gone through this one in detail, but for the past decade I've found the Time Out Paris food guides to be pretty reliable indicators of what the cuisine and ambience of a bistro is likely to feel like.

    This year there's much more coverage of the growing multicultural scene and of Le Snacking, which, for better or for worse, has become a necessary option now that "Parisians spend an average of no more than 34 minutes on the midday meal."

  14. I'm delighted to see this thread given an independent life. Here's my first response, which I wrote for a private forum (not web-based) that I'm a part of:

    The “Statement on the New Cookery”, signed by (inter alia) Heston Blumenthal, firmly

    disassociates itself from molecular gastronomy:

    > The fashionable term "molecular gastronomy" was introduced relatively recently, in

    > 1992, to name a particular academic workshop for scientists and chefs on the basic

    > food chemistry of traditional dishes. That workshop did not influence our

    > approach, and the term "molecular gastronomy" does not describe our cooking, or

    > indeed any style of cooking.

    But Shaun Hill, during a Guild of Food Writers workshop on January 14, 2002, told a

    different story. He went to the first of these workshops in Sicily,

    > …where they looked at the science of food….It had two Nobel Prize winners. There

    > was an American chef called Fritz Blanc and Pierre Gagnaire—it was very

    > high-powered—and Harold McGee, and the rest were all physicists. I didn’t go to

    > the last one and I gave my place to Heston Blumenthal, who became completely

    > besotted by it. It is fascinating, but it’s important to keep your eye on the main

    > thing, which is that the food should taste all right.

  15. Restaurant choice is not so great though.
    It strikes me that the places listed here that you can actually get into are designed to be part of a guessing game as to which country you're in. Not a single bistro that the French would go to in search of their own familiar cuisine.

    Russ Parsons once wrote (in these pages I believe) of

    ...the growing uniformity I find in restaurants around the world. It gets to the point that I sometimes can't tell which city I'm in - Paris, London, Alba, LA? Roughly the same ingredients prepared in roughly the same way."
    That would certainly apply to MacRobuchons.
  16. According to Wylie Dufresne, Marc Veyrat was cooking chicken sous-vide in November 1997.

    We live in an era when not only the PR is mass-produced, but even the food itself. A friend of mine wrote:
    I saw the birth of sous vide as a food preparation technique in 1988 in an R&D lab at Nestle in Switzerland. It had not yet been used in restaurants, and was developed as a method of mass production cooking for precooked meats sold in atmosphere controlled packaging in supermarket refigerated cases. The advantages were that the end product was more appealing to consumers than frozen meats, it had a 45 day shelf life in the proper conditions, which was considerably longer than any other pre-cooked, non-frozen meat product, and it had significant cost advantages, making for more profitable pricing. Michel Guerard was consulting chef to Nestle at the time, and he began to use the technioque at Eugenie Les Bains for his "light" cuisine.
    It's the story of modern art: transform a mass production technique into a movement! It was an entirely logical step for Guerard, whose object was to produce the most interesting flavors with the fewest calories. When the result is slathered with high-fat sauces and followed by a plate of creamy cheeses, it rather misses the point.
  17. Heston Blumenthal would perhaps be happier (and better) in a time and place that did not demand a mixture of two parts food to three parts hype. As for the ever-repeated Surprise Menu, Thomas Love Peacock destroyed this misguided aesthetic in his satirical novel Headlong Hall (1815):

    “Allow me,” said Mr Gall. “I distinguish the picturesque and the beautiful, and I add to them, in the laying out of grounds, a third and distinct character, which I call unexpectedness.” “Pray, sir,” said Mr. Milestone, “by what name do you distinguish this character when a person walks around the grounds for the second time?” “Mr. Gall bit his lips, and inwardly vowed to revenge himself on Milestone, by cutting up his next publication
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