Question In Venice: What Would You Cook When You’re Looking To Score?

“I’m on a boat!” I kept singing to myself. “Everybody look at me because I’m sailing on a boat.” I was referencing the “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Andy Samberg and T-Pain sail the seas making this one simple proclamation. But this was no ordinary sea and I was on no ordinary boat.

I was on a yacht owned by the Missoni family sailing around the Venice lagoon. I wasn’t, though, sipping champagne flutes with a bunch of well-fed, blue blazer and gold button-clad Italian gazillionaires. I was on the judges’ boat at the San Pellegrino Cooking Cup. I won’t go into all the details except to say it’s perhaps one of the most bizarre cooking competitions, ever. Mostly because it takes place on a boat while that boat is racing. I wasn’t sure what food-loving billionaire was smoking when he concocted this idea but I liked it.

One benefit in covering the Cup – besides eating well, of course – was that it allowed me to see parts of Venice I might not normally have seen.For example, I stayed in Giudecca, a neighborhood away from the main arteries of the city and a refuge from the perpetual tourist crush. There were so few tourists there (except for at my hotel, of course) that, at times, the area felt almost desolate. The only problem was that staying there, one is dependent on water taxis and the vaporetti. On the morning of the cooking competition, I accompanied the chef contestants to the Rialto marketplace, a wonderful outdoor market where fishmongers and farmers called out their goods in their very distinctive Venetian accents. There were huge live crabs (threatening to crawl away), squid big enough to feed a palazzo, plus-sized creatures from the sea, cheese, meat and, of course, plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits. I’d been to Venice a small handful of times in the past but I never encountered this market, which is smack in the center of this city. For a town that’s increasingly losing its “real” life, the Rialto market is about the liveliest of live places in Venice. And these people, these real Venetians, and I were standing in the space and doing business where their ancestors have bought and sold things since the 11th century.

I also got to spend time in the 10th-century monastery of San Giorgio on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, near Giudecca. It was here where the closing ceremonies took place. I strolled around the arcaded walkways, this time a champagne flute in my hand.

And while I did all this, I had a video camera with me (okay, it was my iPod) and when I encountered the chefs in the competition or the judges (who are some of the most renowned chefs in the world, by the way), I asked them all one question:

What would you cook if you were looking to score?

As you’ll see I had to re-phrase the question slightly differently to account for language proficiency and so on. But the answers were varied and intriguing. And, if anything, hunger inducing.

Final Season of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ Debuts Labor Day On Travel Channel

You know the old saying; it’s always best to leave the party when you’re having a great time. So it is with Anthony Bourdain, chef/author/keen observationist of the absurd/master of the pithy sentiment, and dark lord of the filthy, matted belly of the culinary underworld. On Labor Day, the Travel Channel will premiere the ninth and final season of its Emmy Award®-winning series, “No Reservations – The Final Tour.”

On September 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, Bourdain will take viewers on a tour of Austin. Later episodes will span the globe, culminating in a Brooklyn-based finale. If you want to get your Tony on, check out the nine-hour “No Reservations” marathon beginning at 12 p.m. ET/PT. Tune in, turn on, pig out.

Below, a compilation of the Travel Channel’s favorite “Bourdainisms.”


Seattle Culinary Camp With Chef Tom Douglas Offers A Taste Of Washington State

seattle cooking classesIt’s a well-known fact amongst Seattleites that the sun always comes out for the summer starting on July 4. OK, that wasn’t true two years ago but on July 5, there it was. Anyway, it’s the official start of our summer and that means it’s also the start of the eating season. For farmers market goers and lovers of the grill and al fresco dining, July is kickoff time.

Perhaps that’s why Tom Douglas, the modern father of Pacific Northwest cooking (the late James Beard being the true granddaddy of PNW cuisine), chose July for his annual Culinary Camp. The award winning chef and restaurateur behind such Seattle landmarks as Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Lola and Serious Pie has held a five-day culinary immersion program every July for the past six years.

Locals and visitors alike will get a taste of local ingredients such as geoduck clams, Dungeness crab, blueberries, salmon, wild mushrooms and cheese in hands-on cooking classes as well as demonstrations and tastings from Douglas – currently a finalist for the James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year award.

Additional educational opportunities will be available from other respected Seattle food and drink authorities; in the past, these have included Matt Dillon of Sitka & Spruce and The Corson Building, Mark Fuller of Spring Hill/Ma’ono, and Maria Hines of Tilth and The Golden Beetle. Former visiting experts have included acclaimed chef Nancy Oakes and her husband, sausage king Bruce Aidells and noted food writers/cookbook authors Rose Levy Beranbaum and James Peterson.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle, so citywide celebrations will make vitamin D-depleted Seattlites even more festive than usual. The Tom Douglas Culinary Camp will take place July 8-12 and tuition is $3,000. To learn more and reserve a spot, contact Robyn Wolfe at robynw@tomdouglas.com.

[Flickr Photo via cbcastro]

Top 5 Travel Attractions of Seattle, Washington

Video: Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time

“Sometimes when you cook swedishly, the meal is destroyed. This is natural.”

Did you grow up watching the Swedish Chef on “The Muppet Show?” I loved that guy. Do you find everything about “foodies” and the Food Network obnoxious and tedious? Yeah, me too. Allow me then, to turn you on to a little Internet sensation called “Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time (ROSMT).”

The mad, brilliant brainchild of a group of Swedish university students, ROSMT started out as a hungover, 2011 New Year’s Day lark. It was filmed in the apartment of “chef” Niclas Lundberg, with the aid of his friend and ROSMT co-founder Isak Anklew.

The resulting “Spaghetti Explosion” was inspired by the spoofy, Canadian YouTube cooking show hit “Epic Meal Time.” Lundberg has taken culinary instruction to a new level, spicing things up with signature moves like hurling ingredients into walls, ripping off hunks of raw meat with his teeth, and using his fists as everything from potato mashers to mixing spoons.

“Spaghetti Explosion” was such a success, Lundberg and friends quickly produced “Meatball Massacre,” and “Sidepork Pandemonium.” The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the guys (five, in all) behind ROSMT are pop-culture icons in Sweden and abroad. Me? I can’t get enough of this stuff. It’s the Pepto-Bismol to pretentious food culture gastric reflux.

Below, I present to you the “Chop Chop Carnage Stew (Alternative Pyttipanna)” episode. Pyttipanna is a Swedish specialty consisting of potatoes, onion, and meat, with the likely additions of fried egg, chopped pickles and beetroot, and really, god knows what else. Enjoy.

Today’s lesson: “Chop Chop Carnage Stew (Alternative Pyttipanna)”


Dropping the F-bomb: why “foodie” needs to go away

foodieLife used to be so easy. You ate to live. Then, man discovered fire and realized mastodon tastes a lot better with a nice sear on it. Around 500,000 years later, Homo foodieus evolved, and now it’s impossible to go out to eat without camera flashes going off at the tables around you.

Mercifully, there’s a Foodie Backlash taking root in America, and I feel the time is ripe (Did you see how I tossed two food puns into that sentence? Annoying, isn’t it?) to go public with my loathing for this odious word and the obnoxious behavior that too often goes with it.

I realize I’m setting myself up here. I’m a food journalist. Don’t I perpetuate all of this silliness, getting readers in a lather over the Next Big Food Thing? Don’t I eat at nice restaurants and drink expensive wine? Well, yes. And, no (and to that latter hypothetical question, less often that you’d think in this economy).

I like to think that through (most of) my work, I promote importance of understanding where food comes from, and urging localized food security. I’m concerned about protecting the environment, public health, and genetic diversity in plants and livestock; conserving natural resources, and finding more humane ways to raise and slaughter livestock.

Does that make me the culinary equivalent of Mother Theresa, or absolve me of my written transgressions that are less pure in culinary intent? Hell no; I can be a hedonist, too. But I’m trying to make a point here. I realize that my bordering-on-obsessive hatred of “foodie” is really about the culture it’s perpetuating. That said, the word itself is infantile, idiotic, and meaningless, and makes me want to poke my eyes out with a larding needle. Can’t people just say they love food?

My biggest issue with foodie as a concept is that it’s detrimental to the remarkable, burgeoning food culture we’ve finally achieved in the United States. In a mere 100 years, we went from agrarian society to culinary wasteland to possessing identifiable food regions. We established a world-class artisan food, sustainable agriculture, and fine dining scene in certain parts of the country.

What went wrong? We paid $200 (for a bottle of estate olive oil), and instead of passing “Go,” we became a cult of food elitists. It’s the antithesis of why many of us got into the food business in the first place. Yes, care about what you eat, but food shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement attached to it.

Do you really need to be on a first name basis with the person who sells you fava beans? It’s a wonderful thing to develop a relationship with local growers but the posturing and farmer name-dropping one-upmanship I’ve witnessed while working at farmers markets in recent years is over the top. Real supporters of sustainable agriculture–of real food–don’t go trolling for discounts or freebies, because they understand just how hard farmers work for a living.

In a perfect world, everyone should have access to fresh, wholesome, local, delicious food, especially children. Thanks to the good work of organizations like the Chez Panisse Foundation and the increasing number of school lunch programs, community gardens, and other food security initiatives across the country, this isn’t an impossible goal for Americans to achieve, nor is tackling our obesity epidemic in a one-two punch.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to spend disposable income, if you have it, on costly ingredients or dining out. But the fetishizing of food, the pissing contest that is the hallmark of the archetypal foodie is what I cannot abide. This is what’s at the heart of foodieism; the need to belong to a special club, with a language all its own. In our status-obsessed society, we need to separate ourselves from the plebes who think that the Olive Garden is serving “Italian” food.

Eating well (not necessarily synonymous with eating “expensively”) is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and cooking for other people and joining them at the table sustains us in ways that go beyond filling our stomachs. Every food lover (see? doesn’t sound so bad, does it?) has a deep, fundamental reason for why they’re so moved by the act of eating.

foodie
For me, it’s the cultural aspects of food, its intrinsic relationship to travel, as well as the people who grow, forage, raise, catch, and make food on a small, sustainable scale that I find captivating. These are things that I was fortunate enough to experience in childhood, and they made an indelible impression on me, as well as fostered my culinary career.

Good food–be it a ripe peach, a great street taco, or a lavish, multi-course meal–brings me joy. For what it’s worth, however, my parents aren’t “food people.” I grew up on a ranch, but I also ate a lot of frozen vegetables and TV dinners, because my mom had two kids to raise, dislikes cooking, and for her, the ’70’s with its advent of guiltless convenience foods was a godsend.

There’s also the bad manners perpetuated by foodie culture. On what planet is it okay to “just pop into the kitchen” during a packed dinner service to talk to the chef…especially when s/he’s a total stranger? Yet my boyfriend and I witnessed this scenario, while dining at a certain famous restaurant.

After three hours of listening to the ten-top beside us discourse on the merits of Brittany sea salt purchased at the source versus approximately 12 other kinds of hand-harvested salt, we were ready to clobber them. Look, if you want to spend your money on that shit and then have a debate about it, that’s your perogative. Just don’t hold a small, intimate restaurant as captive audience. Few things are more deadly boring than foodies in a feeding frenzy.

We watched their lengthy progression of courses congeal and grow cold as they scurried around the table snapping food porn. At meal’s end, the ringleader hopped up and made her foray into the kitchen. And, because it was a small, intimate restaurant and my boyfriend and I were seated nearby, we heard the following words come out of the mouth of the extremely irate sous chef who blocked her path: “Lady, we’re in the middle of fucking service. Get the hell out of here!”

Cue applause meter.
foodie
Foodies should also remember that while home cooking, traveling, and dining out most certainly give you an education about food, they don’t, in most cases, make you an expert. Yelp serves a purpose, to be sure, but it’s often a means of settling a score or self-promoting. Or, in the case of food blog reviews written by foodies (as opposed to, say, writers with actual journalism and culinary credentials, both) a way to say, “I’m a food writer too!” One food blogger I stumbled across while researching this story had written on a recent post, “I think [foodie] is a very serious title. It’s like calling yourself a writer or an artist. It means you have to have the knowledge, talent and experience to back it up.”

Um, please get over yourself. Knowing about food, winning a Pulitzer, being the greatest chef on earth…at the end of the day, it’s just effing food. Not the cure for cancer or achieving world peace.

I think esteemed food writer and author Amanda Hesser said it best when she was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article last year: “Having more people interested in good food is never a bad thing,” she said, but what she can’t abide is eating dinner with people who “only want to talk about food and every place where they ate, like, doughnuts or something, and where the best doughnuts are secretly found. Knowing a lot about food culture is a good thing. That cataloguing of food experience is becoming tiresome. I’m pro-food experts. I’m just not so sure I want to have dinner with them or have them judge me on the coffee I drink.”

Amen.

[Photo credits: mushroom cloud, Flickr user Juampe López, poster, Flicker user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]