30 March 2005

Sumo supper

Gastronomica offers up the sumo wrestler's diet, including recipes (and a downloadalbe PDF): "When faced with the image of a sumotori (a sumo wrestler or rikishi), most food-minded people are likely to ask, "What do they eat to look like that?" ... The simple answer is that sumotori eat chankonabe, a chunky meat or fish and vegetable stew that they cook for their main meal of the day. But this first, seemingly simple, question invites many more. What is the significance of chankonabe, and what are its origins? What does food mean in sumo culture, and how does its use compare to that in other sports? What about food in Japanese culture in general? How can the Japanese people, whom we think of as health-conscious, and with such a minimalist aesthetic, so value obesity? And how can a society fearful of the health implications of McDonaldization accept sumo—a quasi-national sport requiring the consumption of up to eight thousand calories a day—as part of its religious and cultural framework?"

29 March 2005

Indie up-and-at-'em

After almost two months of server and software travails, Movie City Indie is up and running again. Click on the header for more.

28 March 2005

The 60-sec self-portrait

Click on the header for a 60-second QuickTime self-portrait by New York-based designer, photographer, illustrator and filmmaker Jorge Colombo.

25 March 2005

I have finally figured out how to read your reviews

An Ebert reader writes to The Answer Man: I have finally figured out how to read your reviews. A review isn't about what it says; it's about how it goes about saying it: If you are stimulated to eloquence by the movie, then the movie is a must-see. It doesn't matter if you rate it well or poorly; it is the fact that you reacted strongly to the movie, and worked hard at clarity, that tells me what I need to know. If the review looks like it "wrote itself," then you enjoyed the film and I may or may not like it based on personal preference. If the review seems to lack punch, or seems confused, then I know the film was a stinker no matter which way you look at it, and should be avoided for mental health reasons. --Ron Wodaski, Cloudcroft, N.M.

A. By following these rules, one would not always see good movies, but one would usually see interesting ones.

24 March 2005

Much attractive drizzling

Weighing 5kg of Alain Ducasse in the Independent: "In my kitchen, I have a black granite work surface. I swear I saw it tremble under the weight of Grande Livre de Cuisine, the latest master work of superstar French chef Alain Ducasse, a man with possibly more Michelin stars than I have types of pasta in my cupboard. Containing about 700 beautifully produced recipes across more than 1,000 glossy pages, the book is even too heavy for my kitchen scales... Whether the recipes are baroque—Skewered Thrush Breast, cooked on the coals with Wild Apples and Sarawak Pepper Foie Gras anyone?—or simple—Leeks Vinaigrette—there is great emphasis on presentation, with separate instructions, usually running something like this: "Present the pheasant forequarters in a serving dish, slice the breasts in front of the guests and place towards the bottom of the serving plate. Place the galantines on top of the plates and the braised salsify criss-crossed on the side; glaze the tops brown." There is also much attractive drizzling."

23 March 2005

Anti-snob snobs at the Times

Movie reviewer A. O. Scott practices a little reverse snobbery in his Times review of Jonathan Nossiter's lovingly contentious documentary, Mondovino: "Wine is more than a beverage. It is, proverbially, the soul of a meal and, in some accounts, the very cornerstone of civilization, which is one of the reasons I prefer beer." (Rimshot, please!) Scott neglects to mention Robert Parker's farting bulldog, one of the more ingratiating figures in the globe-girdling epic. In the same Thursday edition, Alessandra Stanley's lede to a review of the American version of The Office rips like this: There is no snobbery more insufferable than the one-upsmanship of memory.

22 March 2005

For the love of butter

A lovesong to butter in the LA Times: If Harrods food hall were burning and I could grab only one thing before I ran from the store that has everything, it would be butter. Not milk, not cream, not Somerset Cheddar, not Normandy Brie. Not one of those holds a candle to butter. No other food has anything close to butter's concentrated goodness of clover, alfalfa, rye, dandelions and grass. More at the link.

20 March 2005

Wherever I travel, Greece wounds me

Louis de Bernieres charts his fascination with Greece, beyond having gotten a world-beating bestseller out of the place: "I had sworn never to go back to Greece but realised eventually that there had to be an exorcism. I spent a blissful two weeks on my own in a lovely part of Corfu, sunbathing naked at the end of a long deserted beach. I befriended Nikos, a Greek waiter who was really a farmer, and he eagerly encouraged my enthusiasm for the music that he played every night in his taverna.He wrote down the names: Hadjidakis, Xarhakos, Theodorakis... I was to discover that for years Greece had enjoyed the best quality popular music in the world because all the best composers were setting to music the lyrics of the best poets. It was something that cannot be imagined in Britain, where our composers are all up their own backsides trying to impress other composers, and the poets won't or can't write lyrics. Through the music I got to the poetry - Seferis, Sikelianos, Cavafy, Elytis, Ritsos, Gatsos - and their writing has become so much a part of my intellectual and literary framework that I cannot now imagine living without it. I don't think we have anything to equal them." Plus, the Observer selects 15 places to stay in the cutely-titled "My big fat Greek bedding."

19 March 2005

Vietnam confidential: Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain writes lovingly in the FT about a happy return to Vietnam: By the temple entrance, under a tarpaulin by the water’s edge, an old woman carefully arranges two kinds of freshwater snails in bowls with crabmeat, noodles and tomatoes before ladling steaming hot pork broth over them. The smell coming off the broth is maddeningly good—and she’s doing monster business from the crowds coming out of the temple, so, even though I’m not really hungry, I can’t resist. I duck under the tarpaulin, squeeze through and scrunch down at a long, oilcloth-covered picnic table and try to find some place for my knees among a large, extended Vietnamese family... I catch the woman’s eyes, point to the person sitting next to me, already slurping down the last of his noodles, point and smile. She beams back at me. She knows what I want. You know—anywhere there are cooks, but especially in Vietnam—that when a proprietor or server smiles proudly at you like that, when locals are clamouring to get at what they’re selling, when your fellow diners’ expressions mirror your own, that good food is on the way. They do fast food just right in Vietnam. The glorious tradition of “one cook—one dish” ensures that the person making pho or spring rolls, or bun cha—or whatever they’re selling—has likely been making it, and only it, for years and years. Often the skill has passed down from a previous generation. That kind of close identification with a single dish makes almost everything an expression of family pride, local spirit, even national identity.

17 March 2005

Koren Grieveson's year with Avec

SINCE OPENING ACROSS THE ALLEY FROM BLACKBIRD IN FALL 2003, Avec, a cozy, storefront neo-enoteca with communal dining and simple (but often sublime) Mediterranean-inflected cooking has gotten the best kind of reviews: an enthusiastic regular clientele for the handiwork of chef Koren Grieveson. In her early 30s and Africa-born, Grieveson’s small and large plates draw from an immense, wood-burning oven directly behind the crowded bar; the 800-degree heat accounts for many of the savors at which she excels.

We talked Sunday night as light rain misted Randolph Street, just before the Oscars. I assumed (wrongfully) that would cut into the crowd. “Whatever it is, Oscars, Super Bowl, somehow we always get busy,” Grieveson said with a small smile. She still keeps a punishing schedule, but there have been changes. “I now have a prep cook, to help alleviate the day-to-day butchering, which consumed most of my time. So now I have more time to think about the menu. In terms of reflection about the last year, on New Year’s Eve, [one of the cooks] and I were talking about how the year before, it was just him, myself and one other cook. It’s been tedious… positive… long... rewarding. But fun overall, in the long run.”

Her focus has shifted. “Now I have an hour or two a day to think about the menu, where I want it to go. I never like to set menus, except for dishes that are always requested, like the apple salad [apple and celery salad with toasted almonds, shaved manchego cheese and apple cider vinaigrette], the dates [medjool dates, stuffed with chorizo and wrapped with smoked bacon,] haven’t been changed from day one, the octopus. I change the menu all the time. It keeps me fresh, it keeps my cooks fresh, excited with something new and different to do. At this point, you repeat yourself, ehhh. To me, what’s the point, I get bored. There are those things I don’t want to fuss with, because I have plenty of other avenues I can explore and be creative with.”

Grieveson’s not a restaurant-hopper. “Do I have time to go out and check out other restaurants? I do, but y’know, honestly, if I get a chance to go out, I usually just go to the same places. I have a rare night off here and there, I’d rather just go to a place where I know I’ll be happy with the food, not that tries to be different. Comfort, security, people who know me and a glass of wine and talk a little bit and have good food and go home. I don’t need t go out all the new restaurants and [then] experiment with their style.”

She doesn’t follow restaurant trends closely, but does get out. “I had the pleasure of going to Spain and Portugal last year, really fantastic trips. That’s inspiration right there. Of course I read my cookbooks and feed off inspiration from my guys. But I don’t go to restaurants for inspiration. I just go there to have a good meal and relax and not think about work.”

She’s found a new ingredient she’s excited about. “Dried peppers. Dried bell pepper that we’ve served with the hanger [steak] dish. One of Paul [Kahan]’s neighbors with a local company had these tasty dried peppers for sale. They’re crunchy with their own texture and flavor.” Like dried chili pepper flakes? “Very crunchy. But better.”

And a dish that’s still a favorite to prepare? “It’s not on the menu, but I love making the family meals for my staff, and to be creative with what I have left around. You have a chance to talk a little bit, and I get the chance to experiment with a couple of dishes with them, they’re like my little guinea pigs. But they don’t mind.”

She confesses to an unlikely unsated culinary desire: “I’ve never been to Italy. I love the people, the accent, I love the culture. But I’ve never been, I’ve only discovered it through books and through friends and stories and through recipes. I’ve never been there and I’ve been all around the world. But I’d love to go and get it firsthand.”

She seemed more relaxed than the last time we talked, I told her. I’m just exhausted! But there’s something about a team, a pattern, a great staff, front of the house, back of the house, just phenomenal and supportive, making my job easier. It’s exhausting, but now it’s rewarding. There are rewards, compliments, return customers, and just good friends. Little things.”

One “little thing” that changed was the offering of “salumis” that were a key part of the original menu. “We had such a huge demand, I’ve had to put it on hold for a while. The demand was so huge and with the job I have to do, I could not keep up. I hope the clientele will respect that and not push me too much. But I will not serve Coppa salami or anything that’s not done right. It needs 100% attention. In its place, we’re doing a plate with, let’s say, duck riellettes with a duck liver mousse with truffles, crostini, mortadella with some cured tongue. I love salami, but it’s time for a change.”

[A different version appeared in Newcity, 1 March 2005]

Back to the future with Edie Sedgwick

Everything that's dead is new again in The Guardian: Sedgwick set trends by not caring what was in fashion. She would turn up to posh society dos barefoot, or for dinner dates in little more than a leotard accessorised with bangles, multi-strand necklaces and dangling chandelier earrings. Sometimes she'd be wearing just a white mink coat and nothing else. But, crucially, she had her style signatures: the fragile, alabaster skin; the sootily rimmed teacup eyes; the Liz Taylor dark eyebrows; the silver spray of gamine-like hair, dyed to match Warhols; and black opaque tights. As Life magazine put it in 1965, "This cropped-mop girl with the eloquent legs is doing more for black tights than anybody since Hamlet".

15 March 2005

Thumbing on up

Roger Ebert notes the online critics he likes, citing seven names [link at the heading above], ending with "Ray Pride and several others"... nice, even if it sounds a little like "Ray Pride and several other fugitives from justice are still at large..."

14 March 2005

Travel makes one thirsty


Fosh sign
Originally uploaded by raypride.
rue de Notre Dame, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

13 March 2005

Pinot envy

The Observer's Polly Vernon says, men, mind your tipple: "Men spoil wine. They take it too seriously. They want to master it. They want to dress it up in mystery and tradition, and imbue it with intrinsic maleness so that they can be superior about it. Men reach a certain age—34 or so—and stop thinking they know how to play the guitar, or how to DJ, and start thinking instead that they ‘know’ wine. They stop default-ordering the House option in restaurants, and start asking for ‘the list’. They start thinking stuff is corked. They start believing that creating a big fat scene about the suspected corking, will prove how jolly Alpha and male they are. They hold forth at length about how they despise Pinot Grigio because it ‘doesn’t taste of anything much’." (Plus a top 10 "Shut Up!" at the link.)

11 March 2005

Grub steak: Peter Luger's

Didn't know Peter Luger's massive steaks were available online: for $157, you can order their standard fare: 2 USDA PRIME Dry aged Porterhouse Steaks (averaging 36-38 oz. each), which they aver, serves 4-6 people. We recommend shipping to a work address so that there is someone to receive it. If you specify home delivery, please be sure that a recipient is there to receive it or we will be forced to leave it at your own risk. (Click on headline for tasty meat.)

10 March 2005

Trump erects

The River flows inland.

09 March 2005

Smellaround with Les Blank

On the eve of D.C.'s Environmental Film Fest, the Washington Post profiles the foodie predilections of 69-year-old doc filmmaker Les Blank: "When he shows [his] 1978 film Always for Pleasure, about the food, music and indigenous culture of New Orleans, he has been known to whip up a pot of red beans and rice in the back of the theater. At presentations of... Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers—about the joys of cooking and eating "the stinking rose"—Blank can occasionally be spied tossing several heads of garlic into a toaster oven so that the aroma wafts over the audience at just the right mouth-watering moment. "In the film, when... Alice Waters asks, 'Can you smell the garlic?' the audience yelled back, 'Yes!' " Blank said recently... "I never insist on it," Blank says of his signature bit of showmanship, a technique he has dubbed "Smellaround."

08 March 2005

First Seen: the dawn of the photographic era

From Manhattan's Dahesh Museum, a sampling of images from First Seen: Photographs of the World's Peoples, 1840-1880, which they describe as "250 photographic portraits from the dawn of the modern era. Taken by celebrated professionals and gifted amateurs on tour and at home, these compelling images offer our earliest glimpses of men and women on every continent except Antarctica... made in the first four decades following the invention of photography in 1839..." Vince Aletti writes in the Voice: "Many of the photographers seemed to approach their subjects with awed respect. At best, the results are elegant examples of period portraiture, typically full of odd collisions of artifice and naturalism... The nearly 250 images gathered here come from an important private collection [so they] are uncommonly good (with fine examples by Felice Beato, Roger Fenton, Hill and Adamson, Charles Nègre, and other key figures) and instructively wide-ranging. It's useful to see George Sand, in her natty suit and tie, in the same space with a helmeted samurai, a group of Turkish street peddlers, and a pair of recumbent opium smokers. Exoticism is in the eye of the beholder."

05 March 2005

Mike Leigh, Oscar and osso bucco

Vera Drake's daddy, Mike Leigh, keeps an Oscar diary for the Observer; after dropping a hint that Joe Roth's Revolution Studios may be in for much of his next budget, Leigh writes about a photo session with an unlikely shooter and bleak moments at a nasty supper: "We all hang about [the Chateau Marmont] waiting for Dennis Hopper, who eventually shows up to take my photo for a tsunami fund-raising book... It's suddenly very surreal. Lots of pauses and long brooding moments. He gazes bleakly across the grass at the hotel. He mutters: 'I once lived here for two-and-a-half years...' Then he takes a few tight close-ups, very slowly and ponderously. It actually feels quite good. I sense a warmth. We shake hands. Then he hugs me suddenly, and they all leave. Supper with Imelda [Staunton] and her gang. Matteo's Restaurant was recommended to me. Nancy Reagan's and Frank Sinatra's favourite, apparently, and in deference to our status, they've put us on the Frank Sinatra Good Luck Table. Service ludicrous. Food inedible. Had they served Ol' Blue Eyes my osso bucco, the chef would have wound up with a horse's head in his bed, if not up his arse."

03 March 2005

There are always ------------s queuing up to pull you down to earth

The great, adrenaline-infused filmmaker Emir Kusturica may be pulling his latest movie, Life Is a Miracle from UK cinemas because of a 2-second cut by the censors; as he tells the Guardian, he's also "making a documentary about Diego Maradona, someone with whom he feels more than a little cosmic affinity. I am very impulsive too—I know how it can drive you into the zone of madness. We talk about that goal, the "hand of God", and the church that sprang up in Buenos Aires to honour the footballer, the cult of Santa Maradona. Most people only remember Maradona for the bad parts now... But he was a genius, someone who lifted us and himself up to the level of the gods. When he said after he scored that goal that it was the hand of God, to me it really was. There are always motherfuckers queuing up to pull you down to earth. But we must fly occasionally, we all have to feel that joy or we are nothing.