Sunday, June 25, 2006

Heat. Food. Good.

Those food men are the size of that guy's head!

I wish that big square behind them was actually a block of chocolate!

So, I'm not good at captions. Nor do I know how to tap dance. Your entertainment, I'm afraid, will be sorely lacking today. Plus, I would never win one of those New Yorker caption writing contests. Sometimes they're not all that funny anyhow. That guy's head above in the picture is hiding the refreshing bucket of beers for the three. That has little to do with anything. I just wanted to say Bucket of beers. (The alliteration of bees is getting a bit out of hand now. Bzzzzzz.)

This past Wednesday, I went to one of those handy talks at the library, with foodie extraordinaire Robyn, to see the current food world's three B's, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, and Bill Buford. Not, of course, without a little creepy walking, not stalking, mind you, on the way in.

Bill Buford has just come out with a fantastic book called HEAT: (an amateur's adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting Butcher in Tuscany), so the event was tied to that as well as Bourdain's latest release of collected writings, The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones, and Batali's general empire of restaurants and own celebrity chefdom.

Robyn has a bit of recap of the conversation that went down, the insults to Rachael Ray, etc. Buford repeatedly recycled bits/anecdotes from his book, which Batali called him out on. I forgive him because he pretty much said everything he wanted to say in the book and that's the whole point, no? Throughout, Batali's energy and passion for his work, his mini-empire, was evident and Bourdain was consistently well-spoken, funny, snarky, irreverent, etc., moderating the discussion until the Q&A with the audience, which was actually interesting and not disastrously self-involved people coming up to the mike just to hear themselves talk. Did I mention I heart Bourdain? (Man, I hope I don't continue this heart-ing business in every entry. But I know I have one more coming up soon...)
Even with the recycled bits of information, from all parties involved, it was very interesting, especially the discussion about celebrity chefs and food trends and the public perception of those and how that's all related. Buford makes the point in his book too, that many of us just don't think about what we eat. It's not really the American way. Think megamarkets, costcos, fast foods, chains, ready-made, ready-packed, gogogogo, gogurt... And this isn't the case in most other parts of the world. (One good thing about growing up in an immigrant household, at least mine, is a deviation from that. No TV dinners. All homecooked Mom-food and you can't get better than that.)
I mean, when you think about it, the US has some pretty weird, divergent attitudes about food. We're fat monsters because our portions are Texas sized and so we go to the gym to look like people on TV and we get eating disorders, we count calories, we only eat meat, we only eat vegetables, and our whole strange Puritanical roots as a country combined with our love for size has yielded this ironic guilt about the substance that we need in order to live. Everything tasty is bad for you - sugar, salt, dairy, fat, bread — so instead of gorging on them, people stay away from them like they're riddled with plague. Mmmm plague.
Anyway, go read Buford's book, if you in any way enjoy eating food. Like some friends of mine can't remember whether they've eaten meals or they just think of food as a nuisance sometimes (sad! I know). This book is not for them. Because it is about obsession, sheer obsession, with food and the making of it. Buford had an impressive career as writer and editor for both the New Yorker and Granta and he quit his desk job to cook, and with every next page of the book, he goes deeper and deeper into food mania. He works in the Babbo kitchen, travels to Italy to learn how to make pasta and carve up a cow. He hauls a whole pig home to his New York apartment on his Vespa and uses most of the parts. A whole pig. Along the way, the book touches on an extraordinary range of topics, not limited to fascinating portraits of Batali and other chefs that Buford meets, a real look in the hot kitchen at a hot NY restaurant and how that is different from being a home cook, the kitchen's attitudes toward their diners, and food history focusing on Italian cuisine and the enigma of when the egg was first introduced to pasta. The love for food is great. The writing is fascinating. Gush gush gush. Heart heart heart.
I don't think I'll be bringing whole animals to my tiny underequipped kitchen any time soon, but I've been noticing myself becoming more involved with food, thinking more about it, trying more recipes, reading more books and cookbooks and blogs. The Dining section of the Times is the highlight of my sad, empty week. I eye those brightly colored Kitchen Aid mixers and those heavy Le Creuset cookwares with lusty glances. I mean, I'm thinking about purchasing an ice-cream maker. Who the hell needs an ice cream maker? It's a slippery slope, I tell you.
Bourdain's book is just what it is, a collection of his previous writings, a bit disjointed. His other books are more engaging, I think, though the best part of Nasty Bits is the Commentary section, the book equivalent to the commentary extra feature on a DVD. The thing that I admire about Bourdain that he owns up to change. He admits his mistakes and is good at that whole perspective thing. It might be, as he puts it, him becoming a wuss being out of the kitchen and all that, but I think the whole travelling thing has really worked out for him. He also turned fifty last week.
Okay this entry has to stop.


Robyn said...

All the cooking I've done in the past few days involved boiling potatoes and reheating frozen grilled eel in the oven.
My parents were immigrants (student...immigrants?), yet I somehow ended up with trying every single TV dinner out there (like those kiddie ones and HUNGRY MAN) and eating lots of McDonald's and Chinese take out. WHAT HAPPENED?!
I love the love of food. My family doesn't share it though. HUG MEEE!!

janet said...

I wonder how large the correlation is between home cooked meals in immigrant households and how much that carries into the 2nd generation's connectedness to their roots. Like, food is obviously the easiest route to connect to a culture, and you've written before on your blog about how your mom doesn't cook all that often? So does that also translate to how you feel about .. errr... Taiwan? (I'm forgetting where your peoples are from). Or is it more a simple case here about not loving food?

Farah said...

Humph...fine...the book's not for me then. I want ice cream. Not a whole pig.