Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Plastic Wrap Star

After big holiday meals, my mother in law frequently requests that I do any wrapping that requires plastic cling wrap.  She seems to think I have magical powers, but wrapping things up snugly in plastic wrap is practically the first thing anyone learns in a professional kitchen.  A well wrapped container is a container safe from the normal jostling, rearranging and frenzied shuffling that is common in restaurants; it keeps the liquids contained and the contaminants firmly away.

I think the reason kitchen folk are so adept a handling plastic wrap is because everything in a kitchen needs to be done quickly and speed is the key to becoming a wrap star.

We've all seen the effect even a tiny puff of air has on the dangling edge of the wrap, it folds in on itself and adheres tightly so that it's almost impossible to separate them again.  Don't give the air time to puff!  Stretch out the length of wrap you require and tear if off quickly; immediately place the center over the wrappee...

Don't stop to think about this, just do it all in one fluid motion...

Now grab up those two free ends on either side and firmly tug them down and around, hopefully until they meet on the bottom.  Stretching plastic wrap out makes it more clingy, so be FIRM, and pull it tightly around the wrappee.

This entire process should take just a second or two, you have to move faster than the air.  It is not as hard as it sounds, I think you would be surprised at the number of complex things you do in just one or two seconds every day.

Ok, that's it!  It really is that easy, just be quick and be firm.  Much like Luke Skywalker in that drainage ditch on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars, see it happening first and then just do it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Raw Food

Raw food diets are the new big thing, articles are popping up everywhere breathlessly reporting the advent of a new age.  I've avoided reading numerous blogs, ads disguised as blogs and first person accounts of the wondrous results one can achieve by simply not cooking.


I opened a sandwich shop during the height of the Atkins craze, everyone told me it wouldn't work, that evil bread was over, done and not ever returning.  It was a difficult thing those first few months to hold my tongue, but I knew that bread would never be 'over'.

Atkins was a fad, raw food is a fad and fads don't last.  Let me tell you what does last: human nature.  It's human nature to not want to eat less than tasty food at every meal every day.   It's human nature to invent a useless product in order to make money and it's human nature to lunge at every shiny new thing dangled before us.

Am I making us look shallow and dumb?  More human nature for you.

There is no miracle diet, there is nothing new under the sun.  Including raw food.  This too will pass, probably fairly quickly because there is just no such thing as an uncooked creme brulee.  But a few charlatans will amass great wealth because of it anyway, those who got their cookbooks in under the wire or have an amazing juicer for you to purchase.

Let me remind you that my definition of a charlatan is someone who sells you a lifestyle choice instead of food.  Food is not your life people, it is the fuel that sustains your life, and giving food all the power over how you live is a fool's errand.

Fad diets are just another way for people to relinquish responsibility for their own lives.  I see you bristling out there, go ahead and raise those hackles, I'm more than happy to duke this out with you.  But you hide behind these diets as though a fairy tale ending waits on the other side, because you will finally be happy once those ten pounds are gone.

As if.  Fat people and thin people are unhappy in equal, self-loathing has no calories or fat does it?  True happy doesn't need or want a fad diet, true happy understands balance so please quit hiding from the happy.

True happiness and peace start on the inside, they start with you not hating on yourself for having a doughnut.    Food is not the villain, it's not the enemy and it's not your friend.  Food is fuel, plain and simple; it only has the power you give.

I had weight issues for most of my life so I'm not unsympathetic to those who still do.  But I have been neither fat nor thin for a while now, I reside in that happy medium place and rarely think about my weight at all.  Would you like to know my secret?  Happy to tell you and I would be deliriously happy if everyone followed this simple diet plan.

Approach yourself in the mirror three times daily and say, "You are fine just the way you are, you are a beautiful person and I really like you."

In ten days, you just won't care about diets anymore.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Food Fight

I love Hell's Kitchen, I love Gordon Ramsay.  LOVE!  I sent in a tape many years ago hoping to get on the show, ostensibly to bring publicity to the cafe, but Clyde knew the truth.  I just wanted to work with Ramsay, if only briefly, but I never heard back.

In retrospect, I'm not surprised.  I'm not a borderline psychopath and I have mad cooking skills.  Fox had no use for my kind, but it's all good and I still watch.

For now I still watch, but that could change, if the wrong scallop dies on the wrong night, it could change.  I am sorry Chef Ramsay, but you are in my sights today.

At least twice during any given season of HK, I turn to Clyde and ask sorrowfully, "That scallop gave up its life for this?"

It's not always the scallop, sometimes it's a cow or some other innocent protein, but the point is still the same.  Some creature had its life ripped away just so Gordon Ramsay could smash it angrily, hurl it against the wall and dump it unceremoniously into the trash.

That's great TV isn't it?  Seeing his face get all red, hearing him call someone completely unworthy of his time a donkey and then watching the food fly?  I'm with you right up until that last part.

Every season huge amounts of expensive food gets wasted on Hell's Kitchen and it is a punch in the gut to every starving person on the face of the Earth.  Oh my god, it has only been a brief moment in historical time that human beings have NOT had to forage and suffer just to find enough food to sustain themselves.  But we live in the modern era with bananas flown to our doorsteps daily and markets just bursting with foodstuffs.  We were born into plenty and in true human style, we pervert the hell out of it.

It is not just Gordon Ramsay, I single him out because I expect better from him.  He's not an idiot, he's not uncaring; I just don't think that he has given this topic any thought at all.  But he is far from the only example. How many people throng around that Kobayashi kid to watch him cram hot dogs down his gullet.

Competitive eating?  We are sick, sick species.

People in Spain throw tomatoes by the bushel for sport, we here in America chunk punkins for sport.  If you want real sport people, try fending for yourselves, try feeding yourselves every day as though the 7-11 is not there.  You won't get a stupid, useless trophy if you win though, you get to live because eating is a fundamental need of survival.

It's not always going to be the land of plenty, the milk and honey will stop flowing; that is the nature of life.  How are we looking in the karmic balance?  Will Mother Nature see our gluttony and end it for us?


I am trying to scare you, you need to get scared.  Why?  Because most of you do not know how to fend for yourselves, you have abdicated that responsibility to the food producers and will be helpless when they can no longer service your needs.

That can't happen to us?  You mean in our world of excruciatingly centralized food production?  The one where most of the world's food comes from a few breadbaskets tucked around the planet?   We are in more danger precisely because of that, when one of those tiny dominoes fall, all the rest of them come down too.

When that happens, when you are starving, your children starving, how will you remember Kobayashi and Ramsay?

It is not too late to take responsibility, for ourselves and our individual survival.  All it takes is a little respect, respect for the lives of the creatures we eat and respect for the natural balance of nature.  A little respect for ourselves should be thrown into the mix as well because, once again, competitive eating?

I conclusion, I have this to say to the future 'chefs' on Hell's Kitchen:

Use a non-stick pan with a little oil, get it nice and hot, but not to the point where the oil is smoking.  Place the scallops in the pan, season and cook for about one to two minutes, depending on size.  Flip gently, season, and cook on the other side another minute before gently pressing the middle of the scallop with the pad of your finger.  If the middle is still mushy, continue cooking for another 30 seconds, if it springs right back, it is done.  Take it to the pass, return to you station and  repeat.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Super Marketing

And here we are, a day we could all see coming from a long ways off.  Let me start by saying that I completely support the ideal of organic agriculture, I practice it in my home garden reliably.  I also have no quarrel with the USDA, they are public servants, serving the public precisely as the public has demanded.  Keeping up with fatuous trendinistas that pollute the culinary channels with flimsy urban myths about food is a very challenging job, those folks are almost heroic in their pursuit of the truth.

So if you see the above label - exactly like that - then you know that the source can be trusted.  What about this label?

Well it certainly looks healthy, doesn't it?  It's all green and swirly with fresh tender leaves and the word CERTIFIED in big letters.  Tucked neatly beneath that attention grabber is almost an afterthought, organics.  More than one organic mind you, so it must be extra healthy.

Who certified it? For all I know, the Certified Organics are a new hit band full of cute boys with even cuter hair.

Once again, marketing rears its ugly head, roaring out buzzwords designed to make you feel better about yourself.  Not designed to make you feel better.  Do you see the difference?

Example A from the USDA is a hard thing to get, you have to jump through a lot of hoops to put it on your packaging.  Because of this, the consumer has a more than reasonable expectation that the food was conscientiously produced with a minimum of harmful additives.  If the consumer wants to know exactly what chemicals are allowed and other details about the organic label, that information is easily accessible, so they can make informed choices about their food.

Example B is a pure creation of someone's nifty computer widget, there were no hoops to be jumped through, because there were no hoops at all.  They made a pretty picture, they made it green - which is the officially overused marketing concept of 2013 - because, damn, green sure does sell good, and slapped a couple of official sounding words on top.

Oh, they also slapped an extra two bucks onto the price, because we all know that organic things cost more.  It's one of those lies accepted so knowingly by the ignorant.  Yes, truly organic things do cost more, but 90% of the things labeled with some variation or organic or natural are just cleverly labeled things that are just like the un-cleverly labeled things sitting right next to them on the shelf.

Here's a handy rule of thumb, people who are trying to sell you something really good will actually put that good thing on the label. There is not likely to be an actual tree in that snack cake.

The smart label reader will virtually ignore what is on the front, because most of that is marketing smokescreen.  The back of the package, or sometimes crammed down the narrow sides, is where you find all the real action.  I don't concern myself with the nutrition facts for the most part, that is not what you are looking for.  You'll want to peruse the list of ingredients, a short one is best, and get familiar with common ingredients like dextrose and sodium citrate.  They are both just another way of saying sugar and salt, so educate yourself.

Two more things to look at are the place of origin and parent company of the manufacturer.  Most of those homey little green packages from small family type operations are actually owned by the larger conglomerates.  And I think it goes without saying that the less distance a product has to travel between point of origin to its ultimate destination is the least costly, least environmentally impactful choice.

I am always arguing for you to be a conscientious consumer because we have become a species that specializes in consuming.  We consume without thought, in fact many people think that consumption is a duty, but it is a flimsy thing to build a culture upon.

It is too easy to consume and discard, and it is your guilt about all of that gluttony that enables to the manufacturers to exploit you.  It doesn't have to be that way though, you can start a food revolution in your own life that doesn't require someone else's label.

The truth about food is easy to find, but the lies are just so much sexier, aren't they?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

Do any of you have even the smallest idea how much of the cost of your take-out food is actually the cost of the packaging?    Or even the food on the supermarket shelves, do you ever consider the time and money that went into assuring that you would pick this box of cereal rather than the other one?

Sure, you've probably seen something about it on Modern Marvels or something similar, but have you ever really thought about the money you are routinely wasting on the one part of the food that you throw away?


My guess is no, because most people don't.  Most people don't like to think farther than their own ease and comfort, after that is all settled, then they bitch about costs.

I need to make one thing perfectly clear, this is a simple idea:  The packaging will not make what is inside it taste better.

One of my biggest downfalls as a retailer of prepared foods was the packaging, I could not reasonably justify jacking up the price of my great food so that there would be a pretty box to put it in.  My cafe was right across the street from an upscale chain eatery that specialized in fancy to-go arrangements, with many thick boxes, bags, soup bowls and all the trimmings.

My clientele was a mixed bag, from the janitors to Arnold Schwarzenegger, we attracted all kinds of people.  Because of the food for sure, but there was more to it; we knew most of our customers by name, knew what they wanted to eat.  And they knew we were on their side, looking out for the bellies, backs and wallets with equal care.

I got teased a lot by my customers, good-natured teasing about the plainness of my simple sandwich wraps, clam shells and brown bags.  But every time I asked them directly, "Would you prefer to pay a dollar more for each thing on the menu?"  The answer was always no.

Perhaps if it was just the economics, I would have caved to the pressure and invested in personalized, festive packaging.  But it is not just that, not to me.  It is the waste that offends me the most, the disgusting waste of it all turns my stomach.  All that packaging goes right into the trash, almost right off the bat;  and then all that trash has to be hauled away by ever bigger trucks, gouging out deep carbon footprints all the way to the dump.

Going green, my ass.  Hypocrites.

Hey, I already warned you that I wasn't going to play nice, the gloves are off now and you can thank those Rapunzel people if you're looking for a goat.

So, yeah, if you are one of those who chooses anything because of the packaging over flavor, you are a hypocrite.


Because you don't actually EAT with your eyes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Anatomy of a Charlatan

This is it, the spark that lit the tinderbox and it really doesn't look so bad at first blush, does it?  Take a close look at the bottom of the label, right there beneath the clear window that lets you see the ugly sugar you bought so that you can feel good about buying 'healthy' sugar.  There are two little words there Unrefined & Unbleached and it is that second word that is pissing me off royally.

This company's decision to use the word unbleached says everything I need to know about them.  Since sugar is never bleached, BY ANYONE, not even the soulless corporate conglomerates because bleaching is NOT part of the process, they deliberately preyed on the ignorance of the consumer.  This is the first communication I have had with this company and they chose to use that first contact to try and mislead me, not the actions of an honorable entity.

I am sick to death of Eco terrorists using the consumer's concern for planet Earth against them.  Anyone who sells you food by selling you a lifestyle choice instead is a charlatan, pure and simple.  Like all companies, they are in the game to make a buck and they know they can wring more dollars out of you by blowing smoke up your ass.  And you let them.

I looked up their Hand in Hand business, some sort of Fair Trade symbol that was created and administered by the Rapunzel company, and could find very little.  Even their home page just told me where I could buy sugar and hair extensions, yes hair extensions.  Although no claims were made about Fair Trade hair.

No one cares about the hair, but the foodies are a different thing altogether.  It's the foodies these people are targeting and it is a ripe market indeed.  They breathlessly follow each food trend so they can be the 'first' to make tapas, or whatever, in their social circle.  They regurgitate food 'facts' without looking into the truth of them very hard.  And they love to talk, love to pretend they know things and share their 'knowledge' with the uneducated.

Like all those HFCS alarmists, high fructose corn syrup is just more sugary than regular, but those people needed to feel important OR needed to sell you something.  So they manufactured a crisis and all the alarmists ran with it, implying that I would change my ways if I really love my children.

I do really love my children, so I raised them to watch out for charlatans, alarmists and pretenders.

Companies are in business to make money, it is their job to do anything in their power to make you buy.  They lie, deceive, cheat and undermine the competition to get ahead and, since this is 2013, you already KNOW this for a fact.  It is their job to lie and the consumer's job to question, to sift through the hyperbole and get to the bare facts.  If you don't want to expend the energy looking into things, that's fine with me, just don't pretend that you know things when you do not.

The hypocrisy of choosing this small package of sugar from Brazil over sugar from an American company that employs Americans and must adhere to American regulations is stunning.  You do realize that all these Brazilian sugar cane plantations are destroying the rain forest to make more farmland right?  Your fair trade sugar just cost another endangered species the right to exist, good job.

And do you really think that American farmers are not concerned about the health of the planet?  I submit that they are as much or more concerned than you are because that is their livelihood, they have a vested interest in the long term health of their dirt.  They live here, they feed their children the same food you do and they love their children in equal, so why are you turning your backs on them?

No system is perfect, but we Americans pay a whole bunch of tax dollars just to make sure our food producing industries are safe and ethical.  Fair Trade starts right here at home, with the consumer who makes well reasoned choices and not choices based on packaging and deceptive words.  It starts with you being a pro-active consumer and not making food choices based on vanity.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Culinary Politics

I'm not one who pays much attention to traditional politics; it is my general view that anyone who goes into the field of politicking is just too lazy to get a real job and too vain to go on welfare.

However, when it comes to food, I am very much of an activist.  Food is our second most precious resource after water and a cause for great concern in an over-populated world.  But I am not a "foodie", one who is entranced with the romance of recipes and presentations.  Not that I don't love the foodies, their enthusiasm for all things culinary has created a forum for a truly global community, there are no borders where flavor is concerned.

I am much more of a "foodist", it is so much more than just the creation of edibles that concerns me and those concerns have led me here.  There are too many lies, too many misrepresentations and pure ignorance in the community of food that should not be ignored.  It is my pure love for the production and creation of food that is inspiring a series of articles here on Spoon! addressing aspects of current culinary culture that have inflamed my inner activist.

My warning to all new readers is something that people who know me intimately, know for a stone fact about me:  I never, ever lie about food.  I can't lie about something I love so much, it would be far too disrespectful.  This is a warning because, if you ask me if I like what you cooked, I will tell the bitter truth; and that is the same of my opinions about food.

It is also the reason that so many people come to me for advice about virtually every area of the food world. My standards are high and my opinions very well considered; that hard line has won me a lot of respect over the years.  It is not unfair to say that when I recommend a product, website or recipe to someone, they listen because they know I'm not promoting any hidden agenda.  Food fads, trends and celebrity chefs have little influence on me; I've seen too many of them come and go to be impressed.  It is one of the luxuries of being 48 years old, I've had 48 years of seeing how the tides flow in and out so now you youngsters really have something to look forward to.

So, if you stick with me over the next couple of weeks, I am bound to challenge you, to anger you and to provoke you.  I will say very loudly that the emperor has no clothes and I will staunchly defend my positions to anyone.

But I will not lie to you.  Not about food.  Not ever.