Thursday, November 30, 2006

Yan Can Cook; But Can Rachael?

Used to be all you had to worry about when you ate out was finding a hair in your food or, worst case, picking up some bacteriological disorder. But now you apparently have to bring a geiger counter to prevent ingestion of polonium-210, especially if you are sitting nearby anyone who has gotten cross-wise with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Makes me think that when I see those bumper stickers that say "Worst President Ever" cruising around Silicon Valley, those drivers are just not thinking globally enough.

Now it is obvious how Putin and George Bush can be divisive lightening rods, but how is it that cute, perky Rachael Ray stirs up similar "love-her, hate-her" passions amongst foodies and the general public?

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s with Public Television as the sole source of food programming, only Julia Child and the Galloping "Inebriated" Gourmet were more falmiliar culinary icons than Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook. Yan introduced PBS viewers to Chinese cuisine, by playing with his indgredients (many of them still writhing) and warmly mocking his ethnicity in a way that has become impossible in this country, since the passage of the "Nothing Is Funny Anymore" Act circa 1985. But at the end of the day, Yan could cook--and still can.

Today we have what? Nine hundred cooking shows across two hundred channels, some in high def. You can perceive the three dimensional crunchiness of a single grain of fleur de sel in all its briny glory. And with all these offerings, no food evangelist stirs up more controversey than Rachael Ray. From 30-Minute Meals to $40-Dollars a Day to $50K an episode (just guessing) of her new talk show format, this perky brunette charms middle America, while pestering nearly every food snob and chic metrosexual--and just about everybody else who just hates to see people be happy.

But can she cook? Well, I got to witness a taping of her talk show, The Rachael Ray Show, last month--a surreal experience. Huddled into an audience-prep room with three other guys and three hundred women SRO, we were plied with free bagels, danish and coffee. I felt like an uninvited guest at a planned parenthood clinic. The research says that women speak 20,000 words a day, compared to 7000 for the average man. Doing the math this put us at a 6 million to 21 thousand word disadvantage and frankly, I had trouble getting my 7000 words in edgewise. I was saved when our "audience attitued officer" arrived to get us mentally prepared (sans the alcohol Emeril provided on his show) to scream, clap, yell and otherwise act like the idiots you see on TV.

We were ushered onto the rotating stage, where we witnessed an hour or so of segment taping, focused on helpful hints for getting through the day, week, month in America a little happier and a little healthier. Best segment: how to stop your kid from getting sick. Sure wash their hands like four million times a day. But what I didn't know is you should change their clothes when they get home from pre-school or school because bugs are sticky and will continue to migrate from clothing and infect your rug rats long after contact with other children has passed. Who woulda thought?

Then Rachael made a pork loin in a pan. Any good? Well, I was in the back, but the ladies in the front who got a taste couldn't stop talking about it (or anything else for that matter). My conclusion, she probably can cook better than most of us, and in general helps improve the average home cooking quality across the country--which, by the way, is pitiful. But to make sure, we are having a dinner party for one of Max's friend's families this Friday and Max wants meatballs. The Food Network has a 5-star rated Rachael Ray meatball recipe online--and I am going to make it. Something tells me the boys and the parents will like it.

Finally, and this cannot be overstated, Rachael is hotter in person than on TV. They say the camera adds ten pounds. Well the other side of that coin is that "in person" sheds ten pounds (which makes me happy most people meet me in person). And those missing 10 turn Rachelle from cute, perky girl next door, to sleek smokin' girl next door. (For the record, I grew up next door to tall lanky George Sarantitus.)

So my advice is don't waste hate-cycles on pretty girls, with good (sometimes too good) attitudes, who appear to live clean-enough, help people and make an honest buck, when there are plenty of opponent-poisoning, aide-stealing, child-murdering politicians around trying hard to earn your disrespect. (Just don't let them know you don't like them--especially if you enjoy eating out).

Monday, November 20, 2006

One Flu Over the Truffle Nest

It turns out that food poisoning, or the one-day flu, or whatever it was, is the supreme dis-incentive to food blogging. So wrapped as I was in a fetal stance, prostrate on my bed, writing about the culinary wonders of the world did not rise to the Top Ten of my "to do" list. In fact, at one point, it fell below "make funeral arrangements".

Still, with lots of time on my hands, I was fleetingly able to consider the subtle differences between brands of saltines and flavors of gatorade. Nabisco and blue are my favorites respectively. Plus, this month, the Nabisco box has a comforting picture of perky Rachael Ray, giving one hope that there might be a brighter future.

The gastro-tsunami that engulfed Susan, Max and myself cost us an annual truffle dinner at Oliveto and a home cooked Aloo Gobi lunch from my business partner, Arati. But mercifully, the cloud has lifted before Thanksgiving.

Finally, whoever invented my doctor's prescribed BRAT diet, was a sadistic sort. Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast cannot be combined into any palatable concoction. And, don't say Rice Pudding, which to me has always been like eating teeth. My preference would be an Italian version of BRAT, say Bolonese Ragu And Tortellini.

Anyway, have a great week of FOOD AND FAMILY! And be thankful for health.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bam! Emeril and Daniel Braise the Rabbit

It has been an amazing month. On Thursday, I sat in the front row, eating mussels, during a taping of Emeril Live, the Food Network's flagship show, starring Emeril Lagasse and his endearing enthusiastic personality. Now, I know what your thinking. But I tend not to be overly judgemental of mega-culinary personalities--regardless of how much they must "cook down" to their audience in order to garner a big enough one. Guys like Emeril, Alton Brown, Nigella Lawson, Rachel Ray, Tyler Florence et. al. simply introduce more people to good food than all of the hoity-toity Michelin Guides or gourmet reviewers combined. Without at least some instruction on home cooking, most of us would be relugated to eating breaded, compressed, deep-fried, flaked, factory-farmed, machine-molded, dry white meat chicken pieces.

Further, I have actually eaten at Emeril's restaurants in New Orleans and Las Vegas--AND THEY ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUCK! I have yet to have a bad meal in any of his establishments. Not always off the charts, but never disappointing.

But it gets better. Today on Emeril Live. Daniel Boulud of Daniel, DB Bistro and Cafe Boulud in NY, and restaurants in Palm Beach and Las Vegas was Emeril's special guest cooking from his new book Braise, which he wrote with Melissa Clark. Now Daniel is certainly a world class chef if the one meal I have eaten at Daniel is any indication--and of course Michelin and the New York Times agree. The book is a global look at amazing dishes that share one thing in common: their method of preparation is that of slow cooking with intense seasoning in various liquids.

I took a cooking class from Daniel in Monterey last year at the Masters of Food and Wine, and was amazed by his cooking but, until Braise, found some of his instruction a bit intimidating. Braise, by contrast, is very approachable, save for the occasional tough to find ingredient. On the show, Daniel concocted a rabbit in mustard braise, which seemed spectacular (the plate never got around to me unfortunately, but those partaking appeared in rapture) and a dessert of pears with various forms of licorice flavoring that I will attempt this weekend.

Rabbit is the best meat on earth. Leaner than almost everything and tastier than almost everything. Good free-range organic pork is tastier than almost everything, but leaner than almost nothing. Chicken is leaner than almost everything, but tastier than almost nothing. Rabbit is the dream meat, in my opinion. Bison is a close second, when one wants to combine leaness and tastiness. I tell 3-year-old Max that "Bunnies are pets, but rabbits are tasty" in a doomed attempt to counteract the wierd American bias that allows us to consume 6 week old force-fed baby chickens at will, but regard mature rabbits as too cute to consume. This bias unfortunately afflicts his much-more-influential-than-me mother, so I have little hope in succeeding.

Besides the Rabbit and the Pears in Braise, I am looking forward to trying these recipes from the book:
  • veal breast with cinnamon
  • pork butt with hazelnuts and Jerusalem artichokes (f I can find the latter)
  • smoked chili
  • Thai curry chicken
  • grilled tofu with Chinese sausage, and
  • skate cioppino
The Emeril Live experience is just that. A live taping of an actual show from beginning to end--not segment by segment, but as if it was going to air live without much, if any editing. So it moves fast, and the audience is expected to be raucous--so much so that you actually ache from clapping and screaming by the end of the 90-minutes. Emeril appears genuine. Even with cameras off, he treats people with respect and courtesy and is always thanking those around him--nice to see. The crew is professional and entertaining, part of what it takes to keep the audience in the moment and the show alive. And the band--Doc Gibbs and the Boys--made you wish the commercial breaks would never end.

My only complaints--I didn't get to taste the rabbit and we only got to say "BAM!" one time. French-bistro food is apparently not amenable to the emphasis of the BAM. It should air in early 2007--but the best thing about The Food Network is that it will air at least once a month for the next 200 years. One way to preserve my legacy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Ok, so the title isn't quite right. But I don't know how to put the two french dots over the "o" in Joel in Microsoft Word. Nevertheless, that is the only thing that wasn't perfect about this night at New York's Four Season Hotel and this amazing restaurant.

The perfect foodie experience. Instead of sitting around a white table cloth with a stuffy server, imagine a sushi bar motif, but with exquisite new-french inspired food being passed over the transom to you at a rate about 2X what you actually ordered. Was the pesto adorned, tempura langostine the best dish? Well it was until you tasted the amazing calamari salad with raw baby artichokes and chorizo. Of course its reign lasted only until they served the tuna sashimi with chives; and then there was the chestnut soup with foie gras, and the stuffed quail again with foie gras (get it while the law still allows), and the kobe beef hamburger.

Moreover, the whole time you are talking with the strangers on either side, to the point that after a course or two you are actually passing plates back and forth. Myriad of courses while meeting a writer, singer, producer (that is one person), a fashion designer, and a private equity investor--all willing to share their food (although I think we were annoying the fashion designer a little bit). This was definitely in my top 4 dining experiences of 2006, and that is saying a great deal, since 2006 has been a banner year including: el Bulli, Manressa, Daniel, French Laundry, Drolma, Alinea, Topolobampo and several other contenders.

If you get to New York, definitely get to L'Atelier de Joel (two dots over the French "o") Robuchon at the Four Seasons. Meet some very cool people and eat some amazing food.