Bill Buford’s meat-oriented think piece in the current New Yorker, based on his having read three recent books by committed meat men, has as its moral the necessity of knowing, and caring about, the animals you ingest. This has come to be pretty much a dictum of modern foodie culture, but we’re not so sure about it. For one thing, having read the piece through, we still don’t know what Buford’s attitude is toward regular meat. Sure, he likes it when his pork comes from some ancient butcher who raised it in his living room and cut up every part at a big shindig with his fellow French villagers. But does that mean Buford will stop eating commodity meat? Somehow we doubt it.
Ah, had we the luxury to lie around and read densely packed food features! As it happens, there are two out now both worth your time. In the current New Yorker, everybody's favorite roving food writer, Bill Buford, does a number on the chocolate wars and the quest, now dominating the minds of choconauts, to find the perfect cacao bean. And here we were just coming up to speed on coffee! (The article is not online, but there's a cool slideshow from Buford's trip.) The other piece, on a subject matter we're much more familiar with, is a very fine feature from the Times magazine on the Lebewohl family and their efforts to relaunch, in the face of an increasingly alien world, the new and improved 2nd Avenue Deli.
A Counter History [NYT]
Slideshow: Food of the Gods [NYer]
We’re still scratching our heads over an essay in Slate today, in which a British journalist, fretting over what he considers the unseemliness of today’s food writing, declares himself out of the game. Is it for real? Something about the piece had the whiff of a put-on, like Ernie Kovacs’s poet character, Percy Dovetonsils, or one of those stuffy authority figures who get hit with a pie in a TV commercial appealing to teenagers. “The food writing that’s in vogue today consists chiefly of a bellow of bravado,” writes Paul Levy, formerly of the British newspaper The Observer. Today’s food writers, he says, “thrive on the undertow of violence they detect in the professional kitchen, and like to linger on the unappetizing aspects of food preparation. The gross-out factor trumps tasting good as well as good taste.” Is he kidding?
More than a few people thought Alias might give up the ghost when chef Shane Coffey left last year. But the place has a way of staying in business, and new chef Mark Barrett seems to have stabilized it. (Barrett was hired in April but has only been cooking in the place for three weeks.) The menu at Alias has a split personality: On the one side is the pub grub that has helped keep the place in business these many months, all burgers, nachos, and the like; on the other is Barrett’s upscale, seasonal Italian food, reflective of the work he did at Babbo. (Readers of Bill Buford’s Heat will remember him from the book, in which he made a memorable clam sauce for the staff.) Why the long delay? Barrett was away in Uzbekistan, of all places, where he ate “tons of plov [pilaf] and sashlik [kebabs], some horse meat, and even dog.”
The Gobbler recently introduced the world to what he called the “Refined Meathead” school of cooking. Meatheads are mostly male, pork- and offal-obsessed cooks who disdain classical (read “French”) haute cuisine in favor of an earthier brand of cuisine. Mario Batali is king of the Meatheads. David Chang is a Meathead. Daniel Boulud, who grew up eating robust Lyonnaise food and cooks the best pork belly in town when he feels like it, is a closet Meathead. Who are the rest of the Meatheads? How would you know one if you met one in the street? Here are the Gobbler’s Six Meathead Commandments.