Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Food

Listen, yuppies: a tomato is not a good tomato simply because it is an "heirloom". A tomato is good because it is grown carefully in optimal conditions, with as little water as possible, picked ripe, and never refrigerated. Ninety percent of "heirloom" tomatoes are just as revolting as the crap you get at the supermarket. [Also see Patricia Wells's IHT review of Christian Etienne's tomato menu; Oliveto's will be here, along with misspellings of terroir]. Also in the Chron: Oaktown soul food renaissance; memories of wasabi peas and the '76 Montreal Olympics.

NY: The Times gets Julie Powell* and Johnny Apple to write about Julia; cooking off the grid -- way off the grid; I find it odd that restaurants want you to eat at the bar -- surely both margin and turnover is better for drinks only? To take but one example from Grimes's unfortunate on language this weekend, Alice Waters is a francophile and therefore has always said "rocket," not "arugula."

LA: Russ Parsons's elegy for Julia is my favorite so far; Regina Schrambling knows what to do with zucchini: eat them only in season, which, by the way, is right now; she also knows what the Times left out of her obit. Plus, Clotilde on le fooding [via tfs].

Elsewhere: hoja santa, eggs in a bag [a.k.a. sous vide], and mold science in the Post; cooking with your coffemaker.

*Like Maud, Julie Powell is a Texan in NY, and likes to remind herself of it with the patois of home. But how many monkeys' uncles can one woman be? Uncharitable northerners might construe this as a reference to inbreeding, or the absence of editors during vacation season. More seriously: we're all being told now about Julia the pretension-skewerer, anti-snob, etc. One can certainly understand how this appeals to a Texan in NY, among many other people. But Julie Powell has, I fear, misappropriated this icon, twisting it into a repudiation of the basic rule: it's the ingredients, stupid. Compare Julie's original manifesto from August 2002 with Russ Parsons's emblematic story (from the article above):

She had no truck with anyone who stood between her and a good meal, be it dietitians warning against the consumption of fat, or well-meaning chefs bragging about the purity of their (tasteless) organic produce.

"But is it any good?" she would ask.

The point is not that the quality of the ingredients doesn't matter, but rather that the quality of the ingredients is independent of their ideology. People who prefer "organic" or "heirloom" produce that tastes like crap do not really care about food, and deserve to pay through the nose for the mediocrity this kind of stupidtiy engenders. But I would like to see someone try to argue that mastery of mid-century French technique is more important than procuring the highest-quality ingredients, whatever the label says -- or that this was Julia's position.

clarification: I have nothing against heirlooms a priori. I just believe that a rational price would reflect the fruit quality, which is largely independent of the pollination method. Furthermore, many heirloom varieties simply do not taste good. No tomato tastes good when it is mass-produced, picked green, and dumped into the industrial supply chain. If you really care about tomato quality, as opposed to pretty colors, you will find someone who grows and handles them with care, and you will gratefully pay whatever they ask. They will often turn out to be organically grown (certified or not) heirlooms, because those are things that interest many farmers who care about the food they grow, but they are the means, not the end. And I am fairly certain that this is what Julia Child meant when she asked "Is it any good?"

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