Colin Spencer, whom Germaine Greer once called “the greatest living food writer,” turns 80 next year, and shows no signs of slowing down. His latest book, “From Microliths to Microwaves,” a history of food in Britain from pre-historic times to the present, is the work of a scholar. (In it he argues, in a way that’s reminiscent of Jared Diamond, that agriculture — or at least agriculture as it’s practiced now — is one of the great tragedies of the human race.)
Yet Spencer’s scholarship is only one of his many achievements. Indeed, he’s as close to a Renaissance man as you can get, an accomplished artist, novelist, analyst, activist, playwright and journalist.
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Whether Copenhagen’s Noma is the world’s best restaurant doesn’t matter: René Redzepi, its chef, has responded to his well-deserved recognition with the kind of inspiration and energy that guarantee he’ll be around for a while. Redzepi, soon to turn 34, is also a sweet guy running an oddly nonhierarchical kitchen, and talented people from all over the world are flocking to Denmark to work for him.
Meanwhile, well-heeled people from all over the world are flocking to Noma to get a sample of the restaurant’s “new Nordic cuisine.” (“Noma” is a conflation of the Danish words for “Nordic” and “food.”) Much of the food is actually Nordic, though not exclusively so: the pan-seared langoustine with oyster-parsley purée, for example, could be claimed just as legitimately by New Orleans.
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I’ve known George Faison for 25 years or more; he was a co-founder of D’Artagnan and is now a co-owner of Debragga and Spitler, a New York meat wholesaler that’s been doing business since 1924, and a main supplier to many of the city’s best restaurants. This is a letter George sent late last week to a well-known chef, and one he’ll be sending to others. (It’s worth noting, if for no other reason than to answer the inevitable question, which I asked myself, that George doesn’t only sell naturally-raised meats – he sells industrially-produced stuff as well. But he’s on a campaign to persuade the chefs who insist that’s what they want to change their minds, and I know he’d like to supply only the right stuff.) I’ve changed nothing except misspellings.
This year, Slow Food USA, which defines “slow food” as good for its eaters, its producers and the environment — a definition anyone can get behind — set out to demonstrate that slow food can also be affordable, not only a better alternative to fast food but a less expensive one. The organization issued a $5 Challenge with the inspired rallying cry of “take back the ‘value meal’,” which in most fast food restaurants runs somewhere around five bucks.
Under the leadership of its president, Josh Viertel, Slow Food has moved from a group of rah-rah supporters of artisanal foods to become a determined booster of sustainability and of real food for everyone. Last month it called for people to cook pot luck and community dinners for no more than $5 per person. “We gave ourselves a month to launch the first big public day of action in what we hoped would become an ongoing challenge,” says Viertel. “In those four weeks we hoped to organize 500 people to host meals on Sept. 17. Our dream was to have 20,000 people participate.”
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THE “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli …” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”
This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)
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By Sally Sampson
Theo hates tofu.
This shouldn’t surprise me, since Theo is nine. And like a lot of kids who didn’t grow up in Asian, vegan, vegetarian or hippy households, Theo, who is an otherwise adventurous, sophisticated eater, considers tofu a foreign, even a suspicious, food.
Normally, I wouldn’t give this much thought. But that day, the “tofu problem” was a stumbling block, since I’d recruited Theo and eight other children to shoot the cooking sequences for issue two of ChopChop, a non-profit kids’ cooking magazine I’ve just launched with a few friends with the mission of encouraging nutritional literacy. The shoot was well underway: my friend Sue’s house had been taken over by ChopChop staff, racks of colorful clothing, boxes of sneakers, piles of socks, crates and crates of tableware, cookware and props and shopping bags (recycled, of course) brimming with fresh ingredients.
By Kerri Conan
Groupcook isn’t for everyone, but me, I’m a potluck gamer. And now, as folks eager to show off dig deep into their gardens and larders, the odds of finding something interesting around a summertime Kansas buffet table are better than even.
These bring-a-dish throw-downs provide a chance for folks to strut their best stuff, but I wouldn’t call them competitive. Instead they create a community table, with a rare glimpse into other people’s kitchens, and an opportunity to bulk up your recipe box. I also appreciate potlucks for the chance to pop food you never make yourself into your pie hole every now and then.
By Suzanne Lenzer
I have a secret: I steal food. From myself and from anyone else who happens to be over for a meal. It’s one of the lesser known and certainly more furtive perks of being the cook in the house. I surreptitiously snack as I cook; an olive here, the crispest bit of skin off a roast chicken there.
Perhaps it’s a commitment issue: I’m more comfortable nibbling on lots of small bites rather than committing to any one single plate. (When it comes to a meal, monogamy is not my thing.) I’m sure this is why I love tapas and mezze so much; grazing is more fun than a full meal. Continue reading
By Suzanne Lenzer
I refer to one close friend, affectionately, as a tea bag. She needs time to seep. She moves more slowly than I do, her stories take time to come out (they’re worth the wait), and it’s remarkable that she hasn’t missed more flights over the years, meticulously and methodically packing her bag as the clock ticks ever closer towards departure time.
I am not a tea bag––my inner rhythm is more coffee than chamomile. Being naturally caffeinated can be a blessing (I rarely miss a deadline), but in moving so fast I’m sure I miss important things along the way. Continue reading
By Peter Confalone
[I’ve been friends with Peter Confalone since, oh, 1973. Or so. Back then he managed the 4000 member Cambridge Food Co-op, then worked the meat counter at the famous Savenor’s (Julia Child shopped there). Since then he’s done almost everything, including theater and film, and most recently he’s been “Behind Bars in Miami” -which happens to be the working title of a book he’s writing. – mb]
Things move very slowly here on Miami Beach but with the renovations finally done on my kitchen, I have been using my new flattop stove and convection oven, cooking for friends at a much higher frequency. In doing so I have nearly exhausted my culinary repertoire, which consists mostly of Italian dishes taught to me by my father and stepmother. Both were of Sicilian decent but the recipes they passed on are really Italian-American.
Don’t get me wrong: I love that food. A soup from them I call Minestra della Matrigna – made of escarole, Savoy cabbage, pork neck bones, tomatoes and pepperoni – is fabulous. But since being exposed to true “continental” cuisine I’ve been searching for more authentic recipes. Continue reading