Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 26 Jul 07 07:41
I love food. And I don't care if it kills me. I am going to die of something, and I'd prefer it to be really good food that does me in rather than the number 93 bus on Dixie Highway. That said, I was the pickiest of eaters as a child, and I think most of that was in due in large part to the inability of the women folk in my family to cook worth a damn. Now that I'm married to a man-type who can cook (and really well, and without a cookbook, even) I am not so picky. And it turns out that the first of our offspring isn't very picky either. I do hae 2 friends, however that agree with the "GIve me a pill to take in the morning for all my nutrients" school of thought. I guess that's easier, less time consuming and less caloric, but where's the fun in that?
It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Thu 26 Jul 07 08:18
I wasn't picking on Denny's particularly. It's just that the strip of nearly every suburb looks exactly the same, with the same food everywhere you go. Denny's, McDonald's, Starbucks, KFC, subway, quiznos, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, blahblahblah As a guy who travels a lot, I don't like it. I try to find little joints that are good and family owned and original. Oh yes, and inexpensive. It can be difficult to do. And it's getting harder and harder. I don't care so much if they have herb-encrusted Hereford or the special heirloom tomato salsa. I just want food I'm going to like that isn't mediocre. Oh by the way. Not a hippy. Thanks for playing!
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Thu 26 Jul 07 08:52
David, can you say something about the process of writing the book? Where did you start, and what parts were particularly great or awful in the research process?
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Thu 26 Jul 07 09:01
A report from The Heartland. We have farmers' markets and the like, yes, and many good things. Soulard Market stems from Pierre LaClede's 1764 plan for St. Louis, and has been in its current location (maybe a mile or two south of the Gateway Arch) since 1838 http://stlouis.missouri.org/citygov/soulardmarket/ Kirkwood, a suburb about 15 mi. from the Arch, has a farmers' market http://www.kirkwoodjunction.com/Default.aspx?tabid=431 Whole Foods is here, and Trader Joe's. But so are Jay's International in the city, Global Foods Market in the burbs, a great fresh seafood store, and an amazing mess of Asian markets both in the city and in burbs near and far from downtown http://southcityjournal.stltoday.com/articles/2006/12/14/news/sj2tn20061212-12 13ssj_jays.ii1.txt http://www.globalfoodsmarket.com/ http://stlouis.citysearch.com/profile/5757054/st_louis_mo/bob_s_seafood.html The largest grocery chain in town (David mentions this in his book -- it's the delightfully named "Schnuck's") carries sushi at almost every store, it seems, and some of their super stores (the one nearest to a tony university comes to mind first) rival what I was used to at Sutton Place Gourmet when I lived in the D.C. area. (Not quite as much in the way of caviar and really high end product, and more spacious isles, but otherwise.) The restaurant scene is thriving. We have multiple brewpubs and microbreweries. There are many good local coffee emporia, both small local chains and standalone stores, in addition to the omnipresent Starbucks (and also common St. Louis Bread Company -- the ur-Panera). Oh, and the second-largest brewery in town has a restaurant at one location that relies on a wealth of regional purveyors, uses organic produce they raise in their own garden (composting food scraps and spent grain), and also hosts a weekly market http://www.schlafly.com/market.shtml And there are orchards in the region. So we can go pick peaches and apples and berries fresh, fresh, fresh. It's not so good out in the country or in small towns, and may not be representative of the region's cities, but that's how it is in St. Louis, flyover country, in what Fast Company tells me is a slow, boring, decidedly "unweird" city. (And some of you'd *keel over* at what your housing dollar could do here, but that's for another Inkwell conversation, maybe.)
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Thu 26 Jul 07 09:49
(Oh, don't think I haven't sobbed over real estate prices in St. Louis or, more to my taste, Cleveland, which has a large Jewish popular and a very great orchestra.)
James Leftwich, IDSA (jleft) Thu 26 Jul 07 10:04
Not only are their large historic Farmers Markets in midwestern cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, and the like, but even in much smaller regional towns. My parents (retired farmers) in mid-Missouri are no longer able to tend the big 1-acre garden, but for the past fifteen years there's been a great Farmers Market in the nearby town of 19,000. And in my trips back over the years, I've definitely noticed a growing trend toward better and fresher foods and varied cuisines.
David Kamp (davidkamp) Thu 26 Jul 07 10:31
To respond to Lisa's question about how I started writing the book. The very first guy I interviewed, out of convenience, more or less, was Giorgio DeLuca, the "DeLuca" in Dean & DeLuca. He lives in downtown NYC like me and was willing to talk even before the book had officially sold to a publisher. I kind of lucked into having him as my first interview subject, because for him, opening up a "gourmet" food emporium in the 70s was a mission that went so far beyond the parameters of "I like food so I'll open up a store/restaurant." He's kind of a skittering, nuts, funny, but deeply intellectual Noo Yawk character, a bit like Marty Scorsese but more irritable. And for him, food was a path to enlightenment, a renunciation of the mediocrity taking hold in America. And the rise of Dean & DeLuca was caught up in so many other things besides what he and Joel Dean liked to eat. It was a story of urban renewal, how artists revived a moribund industrial neighborhood (SoHo) in New York City's darkest hour, thereby attracting appealing new businesses like DeLuca's cheese shop (a precursor to the store with Dean), thereby attracting visitors from uptown, thereby bringing in more tourists and commerce, and so on. And, given DeLuca's Italian background and penchant for marketing then-obscure Italian products (extra virgin olive oil, soppressata, sun-dried tomatoes, aceto balsamico, reggiano parmagiano, etc.), it was also a story of how foods that had once stigmatized as "too ethnic" or declasse became upmarket products. And then, all of this was bound up in the burgeoning yuppification thing that started in cities in the late 70s and really took hold in the 1980s. These once-humble ethnic foods became, bizarrely, status symbols, totems of the aspirational yuppie dream. In other words, I lucked into interviewing DeLuca first because he was Exhibit A that when we talk about food, we're talking about so many other things in life, and it's fun to see how all these things are inextricably bound together. Over time, I discovered that most food people, like DeLuca, love being interviewed in depth, not just about their recipes but about what makes them tick, why they do what they do. Lots of the California people (Alice Waters, Judy Rodgers, Deborah Madison, Laura Chenel of goat-cheese fame) conflated the 60s counterculture's goals and appetites with their own goals and appetites. (I think some prudish reviewers have been scandalized by the sexual aspects of the characters in the book, but it's natural for a lot of these food people, especially the counterculture-molded ones, to conflate ALL of their sensual appetites. All of the sexual stuff came unbidden, without my prompting. I was as surprised as anyone to hear this stuff coming out of my subjects' mouths.) Nearly everyone was wonderful to talk to. There was no truly "awful" part of the process, Lisa. It was great. Mimi Sheraton, the longtime food writer and former restaurant critic of the New York Times, rather belligerently told me that the book wasn't worth writing and that the whole food (r)evolution concept had become over-hyped, but in the end, even she talked to me a little--and I was never really bothered by her opinion, since I believed in what I was doing. The only actual source of irritation is that I wanted to write more extensively about the beginnings of Whole Foods, but John Mackey, its founder, was the one person--out of hundreds!--who turned me down for an interview for this book. In retrospect, I should have realized that he was too busy blogging under a pseudonym about how lame his competitors were and what a great haircut he'd gotten.
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Thu 26 Jul 07 11:05
Yeah, he was too busy arranging for his own indictment. The Dean & DeLuca story is in a chapter called "The New Sun-Dried Lifestyle," which is headed by a photo of the two at the first store, in 1981. Dean, DeLuca, and Dean's partner Jack Ceglic, all sound like CHARACTERS. Their long friendship, and how Dean and Ceglic changed DeLuca's life, are great stories. This paragraph in that chapter had me laughing: If you were the sort of upper-middlebrow dabbler who followed the lead of the Times Weekend section, your typical SoHo itinerary entailed a gallery hop -- from, say, Andre Emmerich to Ileanna Sonnabend to OK Harris -- followed by a stop at Poster Originals to buy a $15 reproduciton of a Rauschenberg or Lichtenstein for the den, followed by a late lunch at a local "artist's hang" like Food, followed by a visit to the Cheese Store for a little something stinkey to take back to Teaneck. It was a form of cultural nourishment, the SoHo dabble, a visit to the cutting edge, a glimpse of the sleek, arty future the eighties promised. Okay, I admit that I have posted that in part for the benefit of lrph, who will howl for at least one of the same reasons I did. But I'll also mention that my trips from Boston to NYC in the late 70s typically included a stop at McNulty's for coffee and Aphrodesia for dried herbs. Um, legal ones.
David Kamp (davidkamp) Thu 26 Jul 07 12:34
Re: Lisa's remembering that her trips to NYC in the late 70s "typically included a stop at McNulty's for coffee and Aphrodesia for dried herbs." That's another good example of the good side of the food (r)evolution. Good ingredients and treats were that much harder to find in the old days. You really did have to do what Lisa describes--make pilgrimages to get foodstuffs that we now have, more or less, at our fingertips. Growing up in central New Jersey, I remember how we had to drive 25 miles to affluent Princeton to get anything vaguely upmarket like brie or the saffron for my mom's version of Julia Child's soupe au pistou. I remember how big a deal it was to go to Acton, Mass., to visit the first Steve's Ice Cream and enjoy the kind of butterfat-rich ice cream that you can now get anywhere they sell Ben & Jerry's. I remember as recently as 1993 packing pounds and pounds of whole bean coffee from Starbucks into my suitcase as I left Seattle (where my sister lives) for the return back to NYC, wondering all the while, "Why don't they open a Starbucks on the East Coast?"
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Thu 26 Jul 07 12:51
The first Steve's was in _Somerville_, not Acton. (Boston was an early hotbed of great ice cream; in the 70s you went to Steve's, Emack & Bolio's, or Toscanini's for your fix. Hagen Dasz already existed, though; I was introduced to it by friends' parents in the early or mid 70s, the same people who were the first non-Asians I knew who owned and cooked with a wok. My first cookbook was...well, I'll leave it to David to fill in the blank. He can probably guess.) In truth, I also could get good coffee beans at the Coffee Connection, in Cambridge. There was a hippie health food store on Mass Ave called Erewon where I bought fresh-ground peanut butter and other things. (For onlookers, I went to Brandeis, which is in Waltham, about 15 miles outside Boston, but spent a fair amount of time in Cambridge or Boston.) David's right, and markets in his town in central Jersey have probably changed a lot since he was growing up. I spent quite a bit of last year in northern NJ helping my mother pack up and sell her house there, and the big local supermarkets had enough variety of fresh and packaged foods that I wasn't eating all that different from when I'm home in the Bay Area.
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Thu 26 Jul 07 12:54
(My first _Asian_ cookbook was...)
David Kamp (davidkamp) Thu 26 Jul 07 13:01
"The first Steve's was in _Somerville_, not Acton." Sorry about that--I do get it right in the book, you know.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 26 Jul 07 13:11
Another flyover representative here; there's farmer's markets in Kuna, Meridian, Boise, and Nampa (all within 20 minutes' drive) plus an organic fruit stand a mile away plus any number of fly-by-night fruit stands as various crops become available, like the place down the street with asparagus in season and the place around the corner with corn for a week or two. My town has people who raise pigs, and without driving very far I could get elk, deer, buffalo, beef, and lamb raised locally, as well as artisanal goat cheeses. I could go to the back yard and get free range chickens, ducks, and their eggs, as well as rabbit, and if I happen to be out of eggs I can get similar eggs from a half a dozen places for $1-$1.50 a dozen. I have a garden. All my friends have gardens. We trade stuff. I can get organic bulk stuff from at least three places I know of (including the Boise Co-Op, which rivals Rainbow), and we're about to get a gigantic Whole Foods across the street from where I work. It's not all fry sauce and finger steaks here.
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Thu 26 Jul 07 13:48
Sheer curiosity - i'd love to hear more about restaurants in the heartland, too.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 26 Jul 07 14:06
I have not been thrilled by the restaurants here, though admittedly I'm too po' to go to the good ones. The Asian food is horrible. I'd love to try the Gamekeeper, which has, like, game, but can't afford it. One of the nicest restaurants I've been to here was started by a couple of people who moved from San Francisco.:) One thing that is very nice is a lot of Basque restaurants. Idaho has more Basque than just about anyplace, and one learns that 'Spanish' tapas are actually mostly Basque. Sadly, the tapas places themselves don't seem to survive long, but the Basque places carry on.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Thu 26 Jul 07 14:18
[Princeton as a destination for upscale food...the mind reels. We lived there in the late 80s, and figured that the Episcopalians had completely had their way there: eat to live, not live to eat. But the gardens were wonderful.] What surprises me, David, is how utterly accustomed we've become to the foods you mention. It's hard to remember that it wasn't always that way. Though I'm a member of James Beard and eat there once a month or so, I really knew very little about him until I read your book. Could you say a little more about him? He was such a pioneer.
John Ross (johnross) Thu 26 Jul 07 14:51
It seems to me there were pockets of quality and ethnic food before the food revolutions of the recent decades. Before Steve's and Toscanini's, there were Brigham's and Bailey's for ice cream in and around Boston. I was buying fresh produce and meats at Soulard Market in St. Louis in 1970, and there were ethnic grocery stores with Chinese and Indian staples as well. And New York had what seemed like every imaginable ethnic neighborhood with both hole-in-the-wall restaurants and food stores long before Dean & Deluca came on the scene. Of course, it wasn't the same as today, when South Asian fish sauce and free-range chickens are in Safeway and Kroger. But stuff was out there if you knoew where to look.
Eric Gower (gower) Thu 26 Jul 07 15:50
I had the good fortune of reading TUSofA in a single sitting, a highly recommended experience! Totally agree with Ed about the "explosion" going global. It's interesting though that it seems to hit hardest and splashiest in places without great culinary traditions--England, the US, Canada, Australia, even now Holland and Germany--and doesn't make nearly as much headway in countries with the strongest food track records, places like France, Italy, India, and Japan, probably for the occam's razorish reason that they're already happy with what they've got. For people with historically crappy food, this explosion of great and increasingly available ingredients is a total godsend, manna raining down from on high. Not for everyone, of course; people will always insist on eating the same boring crap in every country. Ethnic culinary pockets have almost always been with us, but the "otherness" of it all is rapidly fading (good fucking riddance), and we've never lived in a time when sophisticated global foodieism has this crazy amount of cultural cache. This topic now has me wishing I was microplaning some battarga over this apple I'm eating.
Eric Gower (gower) Thu 26 Jul 07 16:13
Eric Gower (gower) Thu 26 Jul 07 16:15
I'd also love to hear David's opinion of the Waters/Chez Panisse bio book, since I'm reading it right now.
David Kamp (davidkamp) Thu 26 Jul 07 16:32
Eric, thank you for pre-emptively answering Mr. John Ross's point. Yes, of course, there have always been pockets of good ethnic food in ethnic neighborhoods, if you knew where to look. And there was good food in America long before James Beard and Julia Child ever happened along--really good food, as some accounts of the 1700s and 1800s reveal. (The recently deceased Karen Hess, though she was a contrary and occasionally mean old buzzard, was a first-rate culinary historian and has written lots of material on this very subject.) But, as Eric says, there was a greater wariness of "otherness," the food that existed outside of your ethnic, geographic, and/or socioeconomic group. And those barriers are falling away. My dad tells a wonderful story: that pizza, in his 1930s boyhood, was a kind of secret treat that only the in-the-know were clued into. In his town, you had to go to the back door of the Italian bakery in the Italian neighborhood (which mostly specialized in sweets) and ask for a pizza pie, which wasn't regularly sold to customers. Yes, as recently as my dad's boyhood, *pizza* was "other" and exotic. (My dad's father was the baker at the Jewish bakery in the Jewish neighborhood.) Matter of fact, my book's intro opens with Clementine Paddleford, the food editor of the New York Herald Tribune, "introducing" pizza to her readers in a 1939 column, going so far as to explain how it's pronounced: "peet-za."
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Thu 26 Jul 07 17:30
Wow. In my small New Hampshire town of Newport, in the 50s, pizza was an exotic treat that you had to drive 15 miles of country road to Claremont for. Claremont was the big city. Rumor had it that there was a negro family there.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 26 Jul 07 18:34
My dad talks about the first time he discovered pizza. It must have been in the early 1950s.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Thu 26 Jul 07 19:09
I spent a lot of time at the counter at Little Joe's when it was on Columbus. I got to know Franco and Paolo and Maria. They were on the dance shows in Philadelphia, then they were hitchiking west, then before long they were Little Joe. I asked Franco which one was little Joe. There's no little Joe, he said. That was what the sign said when they moved in. Not just pizza there, in fact no pizza, but olive oil and verdulla instead of vegetables, drinking the same wine they cooked with a few feet away. I think that little postwar diaspora did something for our foodiness. In Paris, they admit that they went and got the architecture and art in Italy. we got a lot of foodiness from them.
John Ross (johnross) Thu 26 Jul 07 21:34
Point taken and accepted about pockets of ethnic and "exotic" food. Taking pizza as an example, I wonder about how the quality has deteriorated -- or at least changed -- as it has become a mainstream item. It seems liike the pizza in those neighborhood places in New Haven and the North End of Boston and so forth that inspired the more recent pizza that are either bland and sweet (most chains), or turned into something that is only vaguely related to the original (the fashion for designer pizza ten or fifteen years ago). To expand that and turn it into a question, do you think we lose something when a formerly exotic cuisine or style becomes a mainstream category? Not only the distinctiveness of different traditional forms, but the way things often become modified to appeal to a broader marketplace?
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