Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Last Word on TV and Cooking

Michael Pollan thinks deeper and harder about food and our relationship to it than anyone I know. By personally engaging in four different forms of eating (manufactured, big organic, sustainable farming, and living of the land) in The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan completely transformed the way I thought about the economics and ecology of our American eating habits. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find myself engrossed in a mini-opus in the New York Times called "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch," and finding out Pollan had authored it. It is a lengthy exploration of the evolution of cooking on TV and the paradox that we now spend more time watching shows about food than actually cooking it.

Pollan concludes that the loss of cooking has been bad not only for 1) our waistline 2) our humanity. (In a former life, my workaholic editor from a former life subsisted on cold cuts and carb-free drinks. He came into my office once and saw a photo in my Doisneau calendar of workmen in Paris gathered around a park bench for lunch--a jar of milk, a loaf of bread, some sardines maybe. It may not have been cooking but I'll never forget his wistful remark: "They look so happy.")

Back when I watched TV, I could spend hours watching Food Network, but truth be told, there was probably only one recipe I ever tried from watching it, pasta with pumpkin and sausage, (which I have made at least five times and is not as strange as it sounds). The network exec there was right when she said that food TV was less about preparing it than eating it, thus the oft-cited epithet of "food p*rn."

I'd like to say that I cooked more when I turned off the TV, but other things filled the void--mainly, surfing the internet. It's only been this last year that I actually have cooked more--probably at least three times a week--because I actively decided I wanted to (last 3 days--quinoa salad recipe from mom, a cauliflower recipe from Ubuntu, and a zucchini and egg pasta from Mark Bittman). In this economy, we can't go out to eat as much so the only way I'll have a freshly cooked meal is if I make it myself. I do feel more creative and connected to my food when I'm cooking but so far, no luck in the first part of Pollan's conjecture--we're only tightening our belts figuratively.

It's the End of TV as We Know It

Slate Magazine reports on Bob Garfield's book The Chaos Scenario with the headline "Is Television Over?" Apparently, the host of the radio show "On the Media" is arguing that the quality of network shows will get worse as audiences fracture, but they, and the advertising agency heavyweights that create TV ads, have yet to figure this out or what to do about it. The only shows that will maintain their quality will be on paid cable, while web videos will get better and better as they find their niche audiences.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

World's Youngest Food Critic?

Some middle schoolers want to go to Disneyland, others, Le Benardin
Even though this blog is about my ever-changing relationship to TV, I couldn't resist following up on something I heard while listening to an interview with food critic Ruth Reichl. An 11-year old girl stood up during the question and answer period and asked what she should be doing now to prepare to be a food writer, other than blogging about her dining experiences. "Do you cook?" Reichl ventured and the girl said yes. Reichl seemed suitably impressed--other than saying that she should travel (as much as her parents were willing, anyway), all she could muster was to say "Keep doing what you're doing! What's the name of your blog?"

So here's a plug for "sandysquirrel's" blog "I Am Not A Picky Eater." At the tender age of five, she recognized Jacques Torres on the street as easily as she would the Big Bird. She rattles off the names of judges and guests of Top Chef like the names of the Jonas Brothers. Barely into her second decade of life, Sandy has already made pilgrimages to Chez Panisse and has Eric Ripert's autograph in her journal. In other words, Sandy is a foodie.

She started her blog this January after a Christmas visit to New York (which she has been obsessed with since Serendipity's frozen hot chocolate scene and Top Chef season five) and has made eight posts, most of which were made while tagging along on her brother's college tours. The enthusiasm that comes through in her writing must be rubbing off on the staff of the restaurants; of Tabla, she writes, "While we waited to order dessert our waiter came over. She started saying “We thought you might want stretch out a little bit before you order (it had been a long meal). Would you like a tour of the kitchen? Well of course we said yes.”

The title of her blog is both dead-on and ironic, since she will try the most adventurous thing on the menu, but of course, would much prefer four-star dining to your average diner. While most kids Sandy's age would turn their noses up at anything more exotic than mozzarella and pepperoni, Sandy's not afraid to venture into uncharted regions. Case in point, her review of Bread Bar: "Chef Floyd gave us some suprise [sic] treats, which were a chickpea salad (with two kinds of chickpeas I had never heard of before) and a really unusual halibut with watermelon curry (Really. I’m not kidding.) The halibut had a yummy crunchy coating on top. Very cool textures."

I can't judge her palate, but her willingness to stretch her taste buds puts her far beyond most kids her age (or her brother's age for that matter). I can tell, however, that this preteen is an incredibly precocious blogger. Her best posts are the ones where she doesn't limit herself to star and dollar sign ratings but talks about the experience in context. She fairly drips with disappointment that they will not make their dinner reservation at Tabla:
"Our horrible transportation karma really came to a head on Friday. On our way from Kim’s house to Boston’s airport, we found out that our flight was cancelled. Delta had “thoughtfully” put us on the next flight, at 2:30. Well, the weather got really bad at LaGuardia, so our flight was delayed. And delayed. And delayed again. We finally bailed at 5:30 and DROVE back to New York."
I wish Sandy luck as she continues to hone her writing skills and her palate. Her reviews may slow down when she goes back to school this fall and can't get out to NYC but fortunately, as near as I can tell, she lives in the other food mecca of the nation, the San Francisco Bay Area. Her reviews today are fairly sweet, since she's going to some of the most notable restaurants in the nation, but you can tell one day, the acid will seep through:
On her second visit to Flex Mussels: "New for us were the crowds and noise (thank you, NY Times review!). It was very loud this time, which was not as fun. "

On Donatella Arpaia's Kefi: "When we got their I noticed that the gal at the front of desk needed to button up her shirt. So we got to the table and everyone had a table setting but me."

And my favorite, on summer blockbusters: "My mom had lunch plans with a friend, so the rest of us went to see Transformers. It was only okay for me. My brother and dad probably thought Megan Fox deserved an Oscar for her AMAZING performance!"

Watch out Gael Greene (or Roger Ebert for that matter)!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Impressions of Julia

That voice--Julia Child was born to be imitated. Before I even knew who Julia Child was, I was laughing at Bill Cosby warbling over a cabbage and Hawaiian comedian Rap Reiplinger getting sauced while cooking a rubber chicken (I was far too young to be watching Dan Ackroyd on SNL doing his French Chef schtick). While Meryl Streep will be starring this weekend as Child in the comedy Julie and Julia, it's time to remember the first people to milk Child for laughs.

Bill teaching Theo to carve a "turkey" on the Cosby show

Rap Reiplinger on the Aunty Marialani Cooking Show

Dan Akroyd on SNL as "The French Chef"
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