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Alan Richman's House


Fat Guy
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I'm not sure one tablespoon of mayonnaise makes a dressing "mayo based," nor is mayonnaise much more than eggs and oil -- nothing wrong with that as a component of a salad dressing. The menu, moreover, hardly seemed eclectic to me. Rather, it seemed old-fashioned Jewish-American. If you went to my mother's house for dinner in the 1970s the menu wouldn't have been all that different -- she even did tempura on occasion.

Mayo certainly can be little more than eggs and oil, it also can be a wide assortment of chemicals - check the labels next time you're in a grocery store. The bigger issue I have with it is that using mayo instead of egg is that it is unnecessarily lazy. It doesn't produce a superior dish, no matter how heavily overdressed the salad is.

I'd be surprised if your Jewish-American house had a significantly different menu than the Jewish-American house I grew up in during the 70s. I wouldn't call what Richman served any sort of cohesive menu.

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The theme was Jewish food: pigs in blankets, braised beef, potatoes, blintzes.

I guess the frankfurters were beef, then?

Hebrew National.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Hilarious.

So, all the guy does is eat in restaurants.  Comfort food (even with shortcuts like Pillsbury (OMG!) dough) is exactly what I would expect to get if he invited me over for dinner.  That's what he made, FG said it was awesome.  I don't see what the problem is.

Something about people in glass houses...

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I'd be surprised if your Jewish-American house had a significantly different menu than the Jewish-American house I grew up in during the 70s. 

Apparently, it was completely different.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Hilarious.

So, all the guy does is eat in restaurants.  Comfort food (even with shortcuts like Pillsbury (OMG!) dough) is exactly what I would expect to get if he invited me over for dinner.  That's what he made, FG said it was awesome.  I don't see what the problem is.

Something about people in glass houses...

Are you also shocked by the number of doctors who are overweight or who smoke?

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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Are you also shocked by the number of doctors who are overweight or who smoke?

If a chain smoking doctor had a regular column about the dangers of smoking in a magazine with national distribution, yes I'd be surprised.

Would you be surprised if Ruth Reichel showed up to a potluck with a sack full of McDonald's hamburgers?

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Would you be surprised if Ruth Reichel showed up to a potluck with a sack full of McDonald's hamburgers?

Are you suggesting that using a tablespoon of mayonnaise in a salad dressing is the same as bringing McDonald's to a potluck? I think it's a lot more like Thomas Keller using frozen French fries at Bouchon: it's a labor-saving shortcut appropriate to a casual venue.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Are you suggesting that using a tablespoon of mayonnaise in a salad dressing is the same as bringing McDonald's to a potluck? I think it's a lot more like Thomas Keller using frozen French fries at Bouchon: it's a labor-saving shortcut appropriate to a casual venue.

The frozen fries in Yountville are more common than you might think. They're a consistent product and Bouchon serves a huge number of fries every day of the year. It's less about saving labor and more about having a reliable product.

Nevermind the mayo. The whole meal looks to have been quickly thrown together, taking as many shortcuts as possible. I'd expect better from someone who claims to be an authority on food.

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I think this is all dependent on whether his intention was to have a blockbusting gourmet dinner or whether it was to have some people ove rand have some fun.

I will have to disagree as to whether it's necessary for Alan Richman to be an accomplished gourmet cook in order to be a good food writer or to be a good restaurant critic. Plenty of amazing cooks are crappy writers/critics, and vice-versa. How many art critics are accomplished painters? How many opera critics can deliver a rousing rendition of Nessun dorma complete with full-voice high B? Not many, is the answer. Closer to none, in fact. Many of these people have a good understanding of what goes into painting and singing, but that doesn't mean they can do it themselves.

--

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The whole meal looks to have been quickly thrown together, taking as many shortcuts as possible. 

If you want to make pigs in blankets using "as many shortcuts as possible," you buy them premade and frozen, and you just heat them up in a toaster oven. You don't par-cook your hot dogs, cut strips of dough and wrap them by hand. If you want to take "as many shortcuts as possible" when making tempura you buy it premade and frozen, or at least you make your batter from a mix rather than from scratch. If you want to take "as many shortcuts as possible" when making a green salad you use dressing from a jar and "parmesan" cheese from a can. If you want to take "as many shortcuts as possible" when making braised beef you buy it already cooked. You don't boil, then sautee, then roast your potatoes when you could buy frozen potatoes in a bag for a "reliable product" (incidentally, in addition to the "reliable product" excuse, Keller has stated on the record that frozen fries are, for him, a labor- and space-saving device). You don't hand-roll blintzes in homemade crepes with a filling made from three kinds of cheese. You don't even have people over for dinner, and if you do you just order out. I think Richman just chose -- as most every professional chef outside of a Michelin three-star context does -- a couple of shortcuts that he didn't think would have negative impact on the final product. I ate the food and agree with his assessment in the few cases where he used minor shortcuts. There were flaws with the meal: somewhat overcooked tempura, Brussels sprouts overcooked to the point of burning. But the choice of dough and use of mayonnaise did not diminish the meal in the least. And I learned a thing or two by watching him cook.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If you want to make pigs in blankets using "as many shortcuts as possible," you buy them premade and frozen, and you just heat them up in a toaster oven. You don't par-cook your hot dogs, cut strips of dough and wrap them by hand. If you want to take "as many shortcuts as possible" when making tempura you buy it premade and frozen, or at least you make your batter from a mix rather than from scratch. If you want to take "as many shortcuts as possible" when making a green salad you use dressing from a jar and "parmesan" cheese from a can. If you want to take "as many shortcuts as possible" when making braised beef you buy it already cooked. You don't boil, then sautee, then roast your potatoes when you could buy frozen potatoes in a bag for a "reliable product" (incidentally, in addition to the "reliable product" excuse, Keller has stated on the record that frozen fries are, for him, a labor- and space-saving device). You don't hand-roll blintzes in homemade crepes with a filling made from three kinds of cheese. You don't even have people over for dinner, and if you do you just order out. I think Richman just chose -- as most every professional chef outside of a Michelin three-star context does -- a couple of shortcuts that he didn't think would have negative impact on the final product. I ate the food and agree with his assessment in the few cases where he used minor shortcuts. There were flaws with the meal: somewhat overcooked tempura, Brussels sprouts overcooked to the point of burning. But the choice of dough and use of mayonnaise did not diminish the meal in the least. And I learned a thing or two by watching him cook.

The shortcuts you suggest would produce a meal I imagine even he would be embarrassed to serve. The blitzes look good, the rest of the meal, not so much...

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I love how these things change as they go further and further from the source. The story jumps over to Eater where Steven somehow becomes "Steve." Then, by the time it's on Gawker, he's "an Internet food writer."

I also have to wonder whether either Eater or Gawker bothered to ask permission to use the photographs. :hmmm:

--

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I love how these things change as they go further and further from the source.  The story jumps over to Eater where Steven somehow becomes "Steve."  Then, by the time it's on Gawker, he's "an Internet food writer."

I also have to wonder whether either Eater or Gawker bothered to ask permission to use the photographs.  :hmmm:

Gawker's pretty up on what they can and can't legally do in terms of "fair use" when it comes to photos....

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Ha! The funniest part of the Gawker report was the first comment: "Those napkin sniffers at eGullet are vicious!" Reading FG's review was fun, but the subsequent "napkin sniffer" comments from some reminded me of why eGullet can be such a bore at times.

"Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." TMJ Jr. R.I.P.

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(Eater got the story from me so it was fair for them to assume permission. Nobody from Gawker asked permission, though the greater sin was probably the way my post was summarized. Of the major blogs I've dealt with, only Grub Street follows strict print-media protocols and formally asks permission, gives accurate photo credits, etc. Presumably Diner's Journal does too but I've never dealt with Diner's Journal directly.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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For what it's worth, I loved your original write-up.

I think it's asinine that any of us here, in these forums, would stoop to critiquing anybody's dinner party based on pictures and ingredients. I'm a little embarrassed for the writers of some of this feedback.

Food, when not used as fuel, should be about pleasure. And a dinner party should be about creating a shared experience that brings both emotional and sensual pleasure.

If you were paying for the experience, then the host might have different obligations. But this guy was there to share the night and help you indulge in a little distraction from life, and it sounds like that happened here.

If those made-from-pilsbury pigs-in-a-blanket felt right on your tongue, then none of us should question that.

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Steven-superb job! You wrote a humorous piece that created the perfect image in my mind of what dinner at Mr. Richman's house would look like-and taste like, and smell like, and sound like. While I've only met Mr. Richman in passing, (outside the doors of Guy Savoy in Las Vegas), I've always imagined him to be a bit of a curmudgeon in his writing but a quite likeable fellow and gracious host in person. I'm thinking he's the type of guy who would have offered you some type of retro cocktail with Rye whiskey?

I wouldn't expect Alan to seek out artisan puff pastry at Whole foods to use as the wrapper for hand-cured sausage cut from heritage breed pigs. No, I would fully expect Richman to do just what you reported he did-purchase Pillsbury dough in a can (found only in your better mass-appeal supermarket deli cases)-to wrap his little hot-doggies.

Now I don't know you well Steven, but I suspect that maybe you knew in the back of your mind that in some way your piece would stir the emotions of some eGullet devotees and turn the tables of the story of a pleasant dinner into a discussion as to the merits of the food critic as a chef. While I am tempted to take the bait, I'll hold off for now. A little.

"How awful." Some would proclaim that "It's sacrilegious"-a living icon in the world of food journalism who serves "Pigs in a Blanket." For crying out loud people, take a drink of your Gin Gimlet. Let's not be so serious that we feel the need to analyze Alan Richman's lack of training at the Cordon Bleu or his inability to turn out Truffled Chicken Served in a Pigs Bladder. He writes about it. He doesn't cook it.

Did Mikhail Baryshnikov have to know how to hand-stitch ballet shoes in order to dance in them?

Well Steven I think your story is just great, and delicious, and funny. I'm glad you had a good time and no doubt you'll be back for another fun dinner at Chez Richman, er Home Cook Alan Richman, very soon. Thanks.

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Steven-superb job!  You wrote a humorous piece that created the perfect image in my mind of what dinner at Mr. Richman's house would look like-and taste like, and smell like, and sound like.  While I've only met Mr. Richman in passing, (outside the doors of Guy Savoy in Las Vegas), I've always imagined him to be a bit of a

I too, enjoyed reading this account. Coincidentally I was the house guest of Alan last week which ended with him cooking dinner for several of us on Friday night.

The menu consisted Chinese Meatballs, Vegetable Tempura, Crab Cakes, Prime Rib of Beef, three step potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts and roasted carrots and we finished with a banana cream pie. He offered to make the pigs and the blanket and the salad, but we decided it was too much. I had volunteered to stop in in Lobel's and pick up a Prime Rib of Beef, but Alan was insistent that I get the full A&P experience.

While I can see how some might find Alan curmudgeonly in his writing, he is in fact quite the opposite in person. I have had the pleasure of accompanying him on a few restaurants reviews and he could not be more insightful and professional in his approach. He looks for ways to love the food and the experience, which despite his optimism, seems to be getting harder and harder these days. He is also a gracious host and very good cook.

Dinner was excellent. His simple Chinese meatballs were excellent. In fact, I duplicated his recipe for some guests in my home earlier this week. The texture of the tempura was excellent. Crunchy and bright giving way to perfectly cooked vegetables on the inside. I particularly enjoyed the yam version. Steven made a comment above that he preferred the second batch to the first (I believe) and I think I was the opposite, I found the texture of the tempura more crunch and clean in the first batch whereas the second was a little more toasty to me and had less crunch.

I am not a big fan of crab cakes, but these were wonderfully lumpy and held together quite nicely. Clearly a signature dish in the Richman House.

The prime rib, despite not having Prime pedigree, was excellent, perfectly cooked with an excellent beefy flavor. The brussel sprouts which were sauteed, then roasted were excellent, almost as good as the nearly perfect ones we had the night before at Momofuku (which was an incredible meal in and of itself). The carrots and potatoes were both very good. I am not convinced, however, that the three steps to the potatoes yields a noticeably superior result than simply tossing with fat and roasting (I prefer goose or duck, but will use olive oil in a pinch).

In any event, I enjoyed Steven's write up and I was glad that I experienced very similar treatment the following week. For those that criticized Alan's choice of ingredients or ability to cook, let me address the latter first. He can cook, he understands food and he loves to eat, drink and entertain. As for the ingredients, I, like many others here, may opt for the better quality (more expensive ingredients) when preparing a meal. But the proof is in the results. Alan's prime rib (which I would have never purchased myself) was as good as any that I have prepared from better pedigreed meat, it was different in that there was less inter muscular fat, but its flavor was excellent and it was perfectly cooked. The meat balls were made with simple ground chuck, but couldn't have been better. I attribute this simply to the right choice of ingredients he chose to mix with the meat and his deft hand in creating the perfect texture for the balls. He also performed similar culinary alchemy with his banana cream pie...made from simple boxed ingredients and one banana, but transformed into a tasty, lovely dessert (and I never eat dessert)

While I would cringe (being a bit of a food snob) at the thought of serving mini frankfurters wrapped in Pillsbury biscuit dough I would have no trouble trying them if Alan were to make them. Steven clearly liked them and I have seen what a capable cook can do with modest ingredients, so I think odds are pretty good that would taste pretty good despite their humble components.

Thanks for the nice read

Edited by SManlin (log)
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. . .

While I would cringe (being a bit of a food snob) at the thought of serving mini frankfurters wrapped in Pillsbury biscuit dough I would have no trouble trying them if Alan were to make them.  Steven clearly liked them and I have seen what a capable cook can do with modest ingredients, so I think odds are pretty good that would taste  pretty good despite their humble components.

Thanks for the nice read

I have seen what a capable cook can do with modest ingredients...

I think this above all is what endears me to Mr. Richman or at least to 2 accounts of eating his cooking! I don't know him, didn't even know of him until reading this topic but I believe he meets my standards of what makes a good cook. A reasonably competent cook working with the best ingredients doesn't impress me nearly so much as one who can take supermarket ingredients and turn out a meal that impresses two discerning diners. It's the kind of competence I aspire to. Thank you both for sharing.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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