I moved over to blogger. If you are reading this, you really want to go to http://blog.medellitin.com. If you are an RSS reader, please click here for an updated feed. I am still doing what with the bloggerin’ just not here.
I just watched Dinner With The Band on IFC. You know, that Sam Mason (WD50 alumni and ex-Tailor chef/owner) TV show. This show will not resonate with a lot of traditional jerk off to food porn types that tune into the food network. But I suspect that IFC watching crowd that watch The Rollins Show, and watched Dinner For Five might have found a new show to glom onto. In fact, I think the show might be a pretty even mix of both, plus… uhm… cooking.
What You Might Not Like
The show is more about the music than it is about the food. It is far from being an instructional cooking show, and if you don’t like the band, you are unlikely to make it through the episode. Right now, this is really a live music show with a chef-host. If it were my show, which it clearly isn’t I would tip the scales to feature a little more cooking. Most people that tune in will know who Sam Mason is and not know who the band is.
What I Really Liked
Inside of the cooking segments are the mechanics of a cooking show I could really love. Mason doesn’t dumb down the food and manages to talk through the food as he cooks it without being instructional. I don’t really know why, but I found the use of graphics/titling is amazing. That’s right, I said the titling was amazing. They define terms as Mason is speaking and label ingredients. It could be the nerd in me, but they are really effective and are every bit a part of the show (think Man On Fire remake with Denzel Washington). Each episode features a meal plus a cocktail/beverage. While I’d like to see more cooking time, what you do get to see is great, no bullshit cooking and very clearly Sam’s food. They also publish the recipes (even the cocktails) online here.
Worth Watching. Even if the music isn’t your cup of tea, the cooking clips are better than just about any cooking show I’ve seen. It does conflict with The Daily Show, but that’s why I have a DVR.
This month’s TGRWT is being hosted by John Sconzo over at docsconz. There is some good discussion this page as to the definition of ‘Cooked Chicken’, and I think the conclusion was, as opposed to roasted (as opposed to Raw Chicken).
This is one of those pairings that is a little easier to combine, and google will refer people to all kinds of recipes from different cultures. Some commonalities will include:
- Rice dishes. Chicken/Pumpkin Risotto? How about we move over a a bunch of time zones make it a Pulao.
- Curries/Sauces. Both ingredients hold up well with anything curry-like or even sauces like a mole.
- Soups/Stews. You can also use both of these ingredients in a soup or stew from any cuisine that has something kinda pumpkin’y/squashy. Pureed Pumpkin Soup topped with chicken. Both ingredients in a more simple stock. Anything goes.
- Use of Pumpkin Seeds. Awesome tossed with salt and some spices then roasted. Can be used as a garnish or as part of a sauce (see Mole).
Just remember the deadline is coming up on December 8th.
INT. ANY OVERPRICED RESTAURANT — EVENING
The restaurant is packed with beautiful people jammed into clothing that no human being should actually be able to fit in. At the table where these beautiful people will not have to be encumbered with his physicality, sit PABLO and his girlfriend PICKLED JALAPENO. PABLO is underdressed and waving his arms wildly as he is talking. PICKLED is trying to pay attention, but her phone is lighting up with text message after text message.
If a tip is to
“To Insure Proper Service”
why do we do it at the end of a meal? You can’t insure your house after it burns down. It’s really To Reward Proper Service. T-R-P-S. It’s tuh-errrpppss.
PICKLED just stares at him, her eyes revealing that she is calculating the cost/benefit analysis of a nice dinner versus the her ability to endure another evening with this raving lunatic. She looks over PABLO’s shoulder noting that their waitress has overheard their conversation.
Hi folks, you doin’ ok over here? Have any questions about the menu?
Trrrrrrrr-ppppsss. Yeah, what’s good here?
Well, tonight we have a fish special, an 8 ounce butter poached Escolar fillet, served over a bed of micro algae with ferzizzled potatoes. Escolar is a delicious firm textured fish, with a fat content I know you will love.
Ferzizzled potatoes. Sounds Fancy! I’ll take it.
(turning to PICKLED)
And what would you like?
I’ll take the salad. Can I have the dressing on the side and a poached egg on top?
Coming right up.
As the WAITRESS walks off, a diner at the neighboring table motions to her. The camera pans over to the table where we see FRANK BRUNI is dining with SNOOP DOG.
Yo, that Escolar sounds tight. Can I get a —
Mr. Snoop, I assure you, you don’t want the special —
Don’t be tellin’ me what I want. I want the frezizzled potizzles!
Snoop, an eight ounce portion of escolar
(pauses and leans close)
It’s the culinary equivalent of
The WAITRESS nods once, confirming FRANK BRUNIs statement.
Thats some cold shit.
The camera CUTS back over to PABLO’s table.
Did you hear that? She just un-recommended my dish to snoop.
From The Wire?
No! The other Snoop.
You can’t un-recommend something! The bond between server and patron is sacred! I am going to say something–
(through her teeth)
Don’t. You. Dare.
It’s totally coming out of her tuh-er-puh.
There is nothing more infuriating than having someone scoop you on a topic you wanted to write about. Actually, that’s not true. It is even more infuriating when someone gives it a really good treatment, like Adam Roberts, who had a great post over at The Amateur Gourmet about why you shouldn’t ask your server for ordering advice at a restaurant. With a couple of exceptions, he breaks down a number of reasons for why you shouldn’t ask “What’s good?”.
Reasons like: all of the items on the menu should be good (at a certain level of restaurant), they can’t know your palate or mood, and that you never know if you would have been happier with your own selection. He also mentions the social awkwardness of asking for a suggestion and then not ordering it.
I think menus can be deceptive, descriptions are terse and sometimes inaccurate. At a restaurant you have never been to, your server is the only interactive window you have into the food. The real issue is that the question “What’s good?” is not going to get you to the best answer. Some will tell you what is most popular, some will give you an honest opinion, and I am sure it has happened at least once that a server will push an item that the restaurant needs to move.
I remember when I was teenager I went to a restaurant where the waiter prevented me from ordering a dish. By prevented, I mean, he drew on the menu, crossed out what I wanted to order and circled a different dish. I took his advice and ordered whatever he had circled. While I was waiting for my entree to arrive, someone at the table next to us had ordered what I had originally wanted. I heard them say “This is disgusting, I can’t eat this.” Now granted, this establishment one can draw on a menu, but still, your waitron may know things you don’t.
I think if you engage your server properly, you can get really great advice. Don’t ask what’s good and end it there. Ask what they like about their recommendation. Tell them the general range of what you are craving. I am almost always debating between two dishes.
I do have to admit that I have a fear that I am going to end up in some Larry David like nightmare at the restaurant. Maybe a yelling match because I don’t follow her advice. Or perhaps …
TO BE CONTINUED
Sadly, I had this post mostly written for the better part of a year. I finally sat down, listened to the audio again and finished the post. It is important to note that this reflects my understanding and take on their conversation, and I am may have unintentionally misrepresented them.
As mentioned previously, I had the privilege of attending “WIRED & LIVE present GRANT ACHATZ & NATHAN MYHRVOLD Moderated by Mark McClusky The Cutting Edge: Tales from the Culinary Frontier” way back in october. Of all the events I have attended recently, this was the only one with really good moderation. In attendance, I saw Jeffrey Steingarten, Tim Zagat, Alex and Aki from IDEAS IN FOOD, and even one of the teachers from cooking school. Best part of all of this is: you can listen to it yourself. Don’t want to listen to it? Here were my take-aways:
On The Beast That Shall Not Be Named
Mark was pretty relentless in trying to get Grant and Nathan to discuss the labeling of this style of food. Molecular Gastronomy, Modernism, Techno Emotional Cuisine… call it what you will. They managed to avoid putting a label on it, citing how different the cuisine is between the chefs that play in this sandbox. However, Nathan described the Modernism/Molecular Gastronomy as a movement instead of a style, comparing it to art and architecture. I really liked this analogy. A lot.
Some of defining characteristics of this movement:
- breaking rules and making the diner think.
- drawing inspiration from science.
- novelty, originality and invention.
He went on to say:
A lot of this kind of food doesnt necessarily have to be delicious. […] great poems aren’t always fun to read, they aren’t always happy.
Where is it ok to make someone think, to give a dish that may not be conventionally delicious but as part of the dialogue with the diner evokes thoughts or emotions versus just saying every single thing has to be finger looking good. Making profound food is not the same as making totally delicious food. […]
A lot of the food that is done in this new style, like a poem, plays on an earlier theme, has the equivalent of a literary reference, makes a culinary joke or counterpoint.
While Grant didn’t really reply, I have to believe that his goal is to do both. I think one of the most challenging things about being a chef is that their art has to be delicious. A restaurant has to survive long enough for someone to be able to look back on it and remember its genius. Another thing that makes this period of time exciting for me is that restaurant culture (for all of its downsides), has given more and more diners the language to understand these references and emotional touchstones. As a result, chefs can produce more challenging food, and still succeed.
On Alinea, Chicago and Spain
In Grant’s intro he described his background, in which he dropped this little gem:
… manipulating and controlling a period of time in people lives, to try to evoke emotion. Doing this through food, through service, through ambiance was very exciting to me.
This quote really put my dinner at Alinea into perspective. My meal at Alinea literally challenged me from every direction. Now I think the meal was over four hours long, but I was more intellectually exhausted by the end of my meal.
They also delved into the fact that this kind of cuisine is being driven out of Chicago more than any other city. In fact, Nathan actually said:
ny is a backward hick kind of place when it comes to this type of modern food
They both gave huge credit to Charlie Trotter and the alumni of his kitchen (and others) for opening Chicagoan’s minds. Grant and Nathan both basically stated that Spain is the new France.
Leading me to tweet:
france : spain :: new york : chicago
Sous-vide was a thread that ran through the conversation. There were questions about botulism, the NYC health department and whether or not sous-vide would enter the home.
Turns out the number of US botulism fatalities in a year is unbelievably small (and by small I mean 2-3), with a disproportionate number of cases coming from Alaska. That doesn’t mean we should throw caution to the wind, but the concerns are overblown.
The NYC health department has draconian requirements that are more strict than both US FDA and EU standards. The result is that it discourages restaurants from utilizing the technique. As of August 2008, 19 restaurants were approved by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Nathan didn’t think it would be as common as the microwave, but Grant countered that there is “level of convenience that hasnt been explored” with sous-vide. gachatz went on to talk about prepackaged food designed for SV and that PolyScience working on a kitchen sink that doubles as an immersion circulator.
nathanm had a great response to the concerns that sous-vide will take the soul out of cooking:
What you want to be a thermostat for a living?
I can’t actually write any more. I have listened to bits and pieces of this talk a bazillion times. You owe it to yourself (and me) to listen to it once.
Ryba added that the taste of carbonation is quite deceptive. “When people drink soft drinks, they think that they are detecting the bubbles bursting on their tongue,” he said. “But if you drink a carbonated drink in a pressure chamber, which prevents the bubbles from bursting, it turns out the sensation is actually the same. What people taste when they detect the fizz and tingle on their tongue is a combination of the activation of the taste receptor and the somatosensory cells. That’s what gives carbonation its characteristic sensation.”
There are two crazy factoids here. The first is that the sensation is identical when the bubbles aren’t bursting, which seems to defy logic. You’d think there would be some sensory difference. Second, somewhere people are drinking and dining in a pressure chamber.
The scientists found that if they eliminated CA-IV from the sour-sensing cells or inhibited the enzyme’s activity, they severely reduced a mouse’s sense of taste for carbon dioxide. Thus CA-IV activity provides the primary signal detected by the taste system. As CA-IV is expressed on the surface of sour cells, Chandrashekar and co-workers concluded that the enzyme is ideally poised to generate an acid stimulus for detection by these cells when presented with carbon dioxide.
Given that CA-IV is expressed on the surface of sour cells, and that we can mask sour flavors using Miraculin (the active ingredient in Miracle Fruit) and other taste-modifiers, can we do some home brew experiments at home? I suspect you will still taste the fizz with Miraculin/Soda as I think Miraculin is used as a sweetener in soft drinks in Asia.
Why do mammals taste carbonation? The scientists are still not sure if carbon dioxide detection itself serves an important role or is just a consequence of the presence of CA-IV on the surface of the sour cells, where it may be located to help maintain the pH balance in taste buds. As Ryba says, ” That question remains very much open and is a good one to pursue in the future.”
I saw Dave Arnold speak awhile ago where he expressed a dislike for some of the culinary uses of carbonation, citing that the effect was similar to spoilage. Combine the fact that carbonation is detected by the sense of sour, and I think this really makes sense. It took a long time for me to have any tolerance for stronger sour tastes (yogurt, sour cream), because well, they tasted like spoiled product to me.
What really blows my mind is how little we understand about something as basic as taste. Growing up, we only had sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Today we have umami (savory). Maybe future generations will have ten tastes. And each time we discover one along the way, chefs will figure out how to coax those flavors out in a delicious way.