“A Box of Salt”

An old friend in Boston, a chef, once remarked to me that, “The difference between a restaurant with three stars and mine, which has four, is a box of salt.”  She had a point.  Indeed, one reason Italian and French traditionally have been a healthier lot is that they eat at home more often, don’t celebrate the chef, and use salt sensibly in their family kitchens.

Research published recently by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) notes a link between strokes and heart attacks precipitated by high blood pressure worsened by eating high salt meals in restaurants; the study describes fast food meals, but if you have ever worked in a restaurant you know that the amount of salt used by cooks is staggeringly greater than at home.  www.cspinet.org/new/200905111.html

Eating out is a luxury, a treat, and often worth the time and money, but as Paul Newman said, referring to fidelity in marriage, “Why eat chopped meat in a restaurant when there’s steak at home?”

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Case Cracked, Mystery Solved

In an effort to discover what will be The Popular Menu Item of 201o, I went to the menus of top restaurants in NYC & Boston.

I suspect that this may not be what Tom Shippey, in the Times Literary Supplement (11/27/09), means when he writes, “Not much can be of more cultural importance, or of more general interest, than food, but its history is not well known.”  http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/

The #1 ingredient in 2010 will be, as was true in prior years, salt.

Marjorie Had A Little Lamb

I’m still puzzled by  Ruth Reichl’s entertaining Twitter that (braised) lamb’s neck may be, “the pork belly of 2010.” http://twitter.com/ruthReichl Outside of Maialino, noted in her Twitter, lamb’s neck does not appear at other NYC and Boston restaurants (ranked top in Zagat’s and Open Table).  In fact, there is little lamb at all.  What lamb there is, outside of Mario Batali’s genius with offal, and Andrew Carmellini’s playfulness, it’s business as usual: “Ordering one chop,  three racks, two loins, one steak, one saddle, one belly (sic), and one shank.  Guys, any idea what part of the lamb we use to make the confit?  Find and fire it now.  ”

NYC:

Per Se: Elysian Fields Farm’s “Selle D’agneau Rôtie Entière”

Daniel: Lamb chops from Elysian Fields

Babbo: Lamb with mint

Locanda Verde: Lamb meatball sliders

Gramercy Tavern: Rack of lamb

Scarpetta: No lamb

Adour (Ducasse): Rack of lamb from Elysian Fields

Jean Georges: Rack of lamb

BOSTON:

#9 Park: No lamb

Radius: Loin of lamb “with tiny tomatoes”

Sorellina:  Roasted Colorado saddle

Hamersley’s: Lamb shank

Craigie on Main: No lamb (As noted below, however, from Marjorie Maws, mother of Tony Maws, chef at Craigie on Main, the restaurant often has lamb three ways: “Roasted Loin, Braised Belly, Crispy Confit”  [Lamb belly?])

L’Espalier: Grilled lamb tenderloin

Oleana: Lamb Steak with Turkish Spices & Fava Bean Moussaka


Lamb’s Neck

Ruth Reichl noted in her very amusing Twitter: “Is lamb’s neck the pork belly of 2010?”  http://twitter.com/ruthReichl

Here in Boston, meatloaf and mac and cheese are the pork belly of  2010.  That and roast chicken, onion soup, flat bread pizzas, and cheeseburgers.   I’m not making this up: Post 390, Stork Club Boston, and Market (Jean Georges Vongerichten’s latest venture to hit town), to name three places that opened here in the past year, all feature these items, respectively.  It’s amazing, really, that a city as sophisticated as Boston settles for this.

Lamb’s neck?  Can’t get there from here.

Bobby Flay, Have My Baby!

The principal reason a love affair has gone on between celebrity chefs and their adoring public is that chefs, like the rest of humanity, want love.  Lucky chefs being able to get it from their work!  Do you hear people say they love their doctors, lawyers, teachers, dentists, or therapists?  Well, sort of, but those professionals don’t feed us and there is something about being fed that evokes a deeper passion from the consumer.  Mom, am I right about this?

But chefs need to take it to the next level.

If Bobby Flay really loved me, he wouldn’t just show me how to cook fish with the Pellegrino family from Rao’s.  He’d have my baby.  Bobby, serious, have my baby! We’ll raise him, or her, I don’t care, as long as he or she is ours, together, forever.

And, Mario–you know who I’m talking about–please don’t stop at the Persimmon Oval Braiser ($164.95)http://www.foodnetworkstore.com/ProductDetail.aspx?R=579644&ccaid=FNFNRSS579644, stop by, talk to me, hold…me….closer, yeah, that’s it.  We can snuggle up and you keep on those orange clogs, baby.  You look nice in them.

Rachael Ray, move over.  I’m talking about Padma Laksmi.  I don’t even care if she can cook.  Salmon Rushdie’s ex-wife is fine.  I can’t say the same for her chicken tangine recipe–skinless boneless chicken?–but this goes way beyond love and enters the realm of passion that is blinding and exhilirating.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/padma-lakshmi/chicken-tagine-recipe/index.html

I love the whole rock star shtick.  Taking a cue from Elvis and on through John, Paul, George, Ringo, Jimi, Mick, Janis, Bono,  Ludacris, Snoop, Eminem, DMX, Beyonce, et. al., we have: Emeril, Jean-Georges, Thomas, Daniel, and Joël.

And soon, I am certain, Padma will be a household name.  At least in this house.  I am in love.

The Color of Money

Standards for health claims made by food manufacturers are stricter in the European Union than in the United States.  Entrepreneurs in the U.S. food industry make outlandish claims for products without sufficient evidence.  Green is the color of money.

For example, in the United Kingdom, in June, 2009, the government released the results of, “a study commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, and carried out by experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who studied data collected over 50 years,” who found that, “Organic food is no healthier than other produce.”  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6732520.ece

Here’s another example, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), released in June, 2009:

“Fish oil supplements which purport to improve brain growth in babies and children have come under particular scrutiny, with the agency rejecting most of the benefits claimed by manufacturers…Omega-3 fish oil producers such as Equazen, whose brands include Eye Q, Mumomega, Cardiozen and Equavision submitted several claims to the EFSA, including one suggesting that Mumomega capsules could help the central nervous system development in foetuses and breastfed infants. All the claims were rejected.”  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article6719095.ece

Which brings us to an absurd and shameful article in yesterday’s Boston Globe in which researchers purport that food can affect mood.  (One of the researchers, on his academic website, notes that he has consulted to a drug company that manufactures creatine, the substance that he is studying to see if it will improve responsivity in women to SSRI-antidepressants.  Is this economic relationship noted in the Globe article?  It is not.)  As the EFSA notes, we do not know yet what foods affect neurology and to say otherwise just ain’t so.  Who benefits from claims that food can help “the central nervous system?”  The producers of the substance.    http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/articles/2009/12/07/new_research_centers_on_the_link_between_nutrition_and_brain_function/

The World’s Best Restaurants

The intention today was to note the ridiculous health claims of “natural” foods–Is that like, “He died of natural causes?”

But instead, it may be best to resist the curmudgeon outlook often associated with solitary activity.  Life is hardship: Lucky us who can dine well.  Why, in Cambodia, rural families make $30-40 per month and suffer massively from infectious diseases, preventable, caused by lack of running water.  There I go again…

The World’s Best Restaurants, in no particular order, and with no established criteria that might make it more scientific (valid/reliable): Zuni, The French Laundry, anything Joel Robuchon does, Buddy’s pizza (Hamtramack), Le Bernadin, Esca, Daniel, Lombardi’s, Galleria Umberto, Taillevent, almost anything Alain Ducasse does, and lots of places in Tokyo.

I feel better already.

Comfort Food

Last night we went to two new restaurants in Boston’s South End and Bay Bay, respectively, and both were lively, staffed with well-informed and vivacious staff, and serving good food.  The premise at both was: American, neighborhood (a.k.a. Drop by often), and priced within reason.  What’s funny is how similar the menus were, including: Meatloaf, macaroni & cheese, and salmon fillets.  This is food that takes time & labor to prepare at home, but works well for a professional kitchen where it can be prepared well in advance of meal service.

So it’s comfort food for the restaurant: Less hassle and, hence, more time to devote to service–notoriously weak in Boston.

Comfort food for customers who don’t mind shelling out for food more often seen at Nona’s or in a diner.

Of course, having a trattoria with pasta would be nice, too, but that might be uncomfortable as great pasta is the most difficult of Italian food to prepare with perfection.

Julie & Julia & Osama Bin Laden

The DVD version of “Julie & Julia” will be out on Tuesday and not having seen it yet, the movie is #1 on my Netflix’s queue.  Friends tell me I’ll love the story of  Julie Powell’s efforts to cook 524 recipes of Julia Child in a year.  When writing the book, Ms. Powell was employed as a secretary by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC).  The LMDC was established after 9/11/01 and has as its mission the rebuilding of areas in lower Manhattan destroyed by  the bombings and attacks.

When one reads Ms. Powell’s blog, which led to the book and then to the movie, the contrast is fascinating between the nightmare of 9/11 and her efforts to transcend it both through cooking and a wonderfully strange, imagined relationship with Julia Child.

Food as a way not to think about war.  Julia as a way not to think about Julie.

Living in Cambridge, home to Julia Child, I saw her twice.

Once, at Savenor’s butcher shop, where she waited on line with a big chicken and a bag of green beans.  The customer between us winked at me and nudged Julia and said to her, “I’m, standing next to a famous person!”  In her high-pitched voice, sounding a lot like Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) from the Marx brothers’ movies, Ms. Child said, “Oh, rillly!”

The last time I saw her she was walking slowly in front of my house, towering over her caretaker, on the way to Mt. Auburn Hospital across the street.

Will the next terrorist attack bring a new spate of memoirs?  “Emeril & Eddie?”  BAM!

Happy, Happy, Happy

Next week it will be interesting to note here new European Union (E.U.) food regulations–much stricter and more comprehensive than in the U.S.  One targeted area of E.U. regulators are unproven health claims made by food companies.  A huge, recent case involved Group Danone, which owns 85% of the Stonyfield Farm company.  Danone had to withdraw its claim that its products strengthened the body; in the U.S., in September, 2009, Dannon Co., its U.S. branch, agreed to pay $35 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged it overstated the yogurt’s health benefits (http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2009/10/02/probiotics-eu.html). This is ironic, too, as Stonyfield-Danone has just launched  a health care program, “The Full Yield,” that is aimed at reaping big profits by providing Americans at work with, “Healthy prepared food.”  (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/health/policy/29diet.htm)

Let’s look at this…but not…right…now.  As Beckett notes in “Happy Days”–“Oh this is a happy day, this will have been another happy day!”

So for now let’s be happy.  Let’s not talk about eating prepared food, or the E.U., or companies that mix profit-driven values behind a vague love for the health of their consumers desperate, psychologically, for love.

Take a walk.  Listen to John Coltrane.  Be pleasant.  See if that makes you happy, happy, happy.