Never mind particular diets for particular outcomes (losing weight, not dying, etc.), I’ve long found it ridiculous that anyone would need to send a set of “food rules” into the world, like those compiled – or collected, rather – by food “guru” Michael Pollan, as if people can’t figure out how to eat by themselves (some great responses by an international group of food scholars below to Pollan’s initial request in the New York Times for food rules they grew up with):
I don’t *dislike* food TV, even though I’ve published things about Jamie Oliver behaving like a rock star, and devoted several years to being one of its critics. In fact, one of the reasons I care about it at all is that I deeply value food and cooking, and I’ve long been curious and intrigued about the seemingly sudden spell (since circa 1990s) it’s managed to cast on popular attention spans.Continue reading “Chef’s Table Season 6: Food Media Fatigue?”
(No one else can resist a good clickbait heading – why should I?)
You’ve heard about “activated charcoal”, right? It’s fantastic stuff, that apparently absorbs all the rubbish toxins from your gut/liver/blood/spleen while delivering an excellent Instagram opportunity (image swiped from Eater):
So post Batali et al scandals, some of the “big” news in the food media world is that France has decided to ban the use of “meat-like terms for vegetarian food“, meaning you can’t call a vegan/vegetarian thing posing as a sausage or burger a “sausage” or a “burger”. Milk, too, will only be called by its name when it comes from a cow (or, presumably some other animal whose milk some of us humans favour, like a goat or a …?), rather than that from an almond, oat, or bloody soya bean, hipsters be damned.
I recently had a short exchange with whomever manages the Twitter account of the acclaimed Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark (city of my birth, incidentally and completely irrelevantly). It was based on an article I recently read in Eater, which I found to be refreshingly critical of the restaurant that’s been everyone’s darling in the food media world since it nabbed the title of the “World’s Best” in 2010 – and retained it for several years thereafter, unseating the likes of Ferran AdriÃ and Heston Blumenthal, but that’s cool, because the emperor does need a new set of clothes every once in a while. Continue reading “Noma 2.0 and what it means to be “cutting edge””
I’ve recently confessed my confusion about how to make sense of the case of the homophobic baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple (because it’s obviously wrong. Unless it’s not, because one could grudgingly respect an asshole who’s willing to forego money for the sake of sticking to his (wrong) beliefs?). Apart from the philosophical conundrum it presents, I was intrigued by the legal implications of the case, which seemed to rely on whether the (non-existent) cake in question could be considered a work of art, in which case it would magically be protected by the rights to freedom of speech. Or not baking. Whatever floats your homophobic boat. Continue reading “Snail porridge not by Heston: homage or plagiarism?”
I recently had the opportunity to watch the documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, a film by Zero Point Zero, the production company responsible for the excellent Parts UnknownÂ (featuring Anthony Bourdain) and The Mind of Chef (narrated by Bourdain).Â
Tower, for those who haven’t heard of him (which is apparently a lot of people, including myself before hearing about this film), worked at Alice Waters’ iconicÂ Chez Panisse restaurant back in the days (meaning the 70s), and apparently helped to turn a little hippie venture into one of the most sought-after restaurants in the area. From Wikipedia:
After his grandfather died, Tower, who was used to being taken care of and supported, found himself out of money and in need of employment.
Inspired by a berryÂ tartÂ he had eaten at the then-unknownÂ Chez PanisseÂ restaurant inÂ Berkeley, California, he applied for a job there in 1972.Â Alice WatersÂ and her partners hired him for his demonstrable skills and brazenness when it came to recreating great French traditional food. Within a year, he became an equal partner with Waters and the others. He was in full charge of the kitchen, the writing of the menus, and the promotion of the restaurant.
‘Being taken care of and supported’, we learn in the film, meant being a child of wealthy parents who took him with them on trips around the world in first-class passage, where he was pretty much left to his own devices by a father he describes as an asshole and a mother as a raging alcoholic whose dignity he had to protect by stepping in to poach, skin and decorate the salmon at dinner parties once he noticed that she was too tanked on martinis to finish the job herself. Continue reading “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent”
The documentary Theatre of Life is a lovely film about a lovely initiative, started by a lovely man. (Yes, most sentences are impoverished by adjectives, and the worst sentences contain three repetitions of the same adjective. Not off to a good start then.)
It’s a film about what started as chef Massimo Botturo’s idea to deal with all the wasted food at the 2015 Milan Expo (that tagline of which was rather ironically “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”). It was (and remains) a fantastic initiative – everyone’s favourite DanishÂ chef RenÃ© Redzepi after all told Massimo that he’s now “in it for life!” (ie. Robert De Niro, below) – which basically involves getting star chef buddies from around the globe (hello Ferran AdriÃ , Joan Rocca, Mario Batali, Alex Atala, Daniel Humm, et al.) to fashion amazing food out of stuff like stale bread and veggies no one (who’s paying) wants to eat.
I’ve been thinking about Keith Floyd lately.
It happens on occasion, in a sporadic, nostalgic fashion (somehow – peculiarly? – when I watch some modern rubbish “food TV”). Here’s what I had to say about him a few years ago when I was being all academic and bookish:
Floyd was in many ways the pioneer of modern food television, at least in the UK and Europe, and particularly in terms of breaking down the artifice that had been a staple of televised cooking until he famously took the cameras out of the kitchen studio and into whichever exotic location he (iconic glass of wine in hand) happened to be cooking in.
He was postmodern before that word was fashionable, talking to his cameraman [“Clive, back to me, thanks”] and often enough scolding him for not paying enough attention to the food. Floyd directed his shows from the stage, and in that way made it impossible for his viewers not to be aware of the whole enterprise as a construction.
By not allowing us to feel like flies on a kitchen wall, Floyd rarely displayed the conceit of imagining that he was stepping into our worlds, and that he therefore had any sense of responsibility to his audience. On the contrary, his particular conceit – and also what made him so entertaining to watch – was that he was allowing us a glimpse into his world, and into a world of food and television where things did not always go according to scripts or plans. It was a world away from the patronizing refrains of “see how easy it is?” which populate our screens today.
Floyd became famous because he was eccentric in his ways, and because he did what he liked. As he wrote on his short-lived blog, “If you don’t like my approach you are welcome to go down to MacDonalds”. Perhaps this was also the reason, sadly, that his fame was soon eclipsed by a number of younger Turks who took inspiration from Floyd to make careers of food and television, as well as a number of television producers who took inspiration to create and nurture a new brand of stars, though less likely to be drinking on set, and therefore less potentially liable to their respective producers.
Slowly but surely, once Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson started appearing on television, we began to see less and less of Keith Floyd, until he virtually disappeared altogether.
Until 2009, that is, when his erstwhile producer David Pritchard published a book called “Shooting The Cook”, which details the rise (and fall) of their friendship and professional partnership. Later that year The Daily Mail published a series of extracts from Floyd’s forthcoming autobiography, “Stirred But Not Shaken”.
In it, Floyd tells his own version of Pritchard’s story, including what he saw as an important correction: “I don’t want to napalm the cooks (as Pritchard has accused me in his book Shooting the Cook). I want to napalm the producers.”
The book also chronicles a number of details of his life depressingly at odds with the Floyd we knew from television: four divorces, a bowel cancer diagnosis, and recurring bouts of heavy drinking and weariness from the fame he had inadvertently earned (walking onto the stage, a bottle in one hand, a glass in the other, he said in one of his last gigs, “Floyd Uncorked”: My name is Keith Floyd. And they were screaming, which is strange because I am not a pop star. I am just a cook.)
That same evening, the UK’s Channel 4 screened a film called “Keith Meets Keith”, which documents a trip by British comedian Keith Allen to France to meet Floyd, his one-time cooking icon. It was not a pleasant film to watch, because physically Keith Floyd was a shadow of his earlier television self.
But he was as acerbic as ever, and had no reservations about calling celebrity chefs – though not, this time, their producers – a bunch of attention seeking ‘cunts’, and pointing out that it made no sense for chefs to become celebrities in the first place, because, as he put it, a chef should be the chief of his kitchen, while the person who cooks is a cook. Just a few hours after “Keith Meets Keith” was broadcast, Keith Floyd died of a heart attack (following a meal, we are told, of oysters, partridge, pear cider jelly, wine and “a number of cigarettes”).© Me, 2012
Years ago I had a friend who used to talk about being “addicted to being a victim”. I thought it very deep and clever at the time (I was a teenager, and he an aspiring poet).
That was before I really cared – or thought that others should really care – about how we use words, or understood that how we use words can *actually* be deep and important.
(For the record, I don’t actually use the word “deep” anymore.)