Monday, August 12, 2013

Yeah, They Do Call Them Bagels

I'm always happy when someone who makes food from scratch is successful. And unlike those food critics who seem to take joy in comminuting anyone who dares to offend their sense of gastronomic superiority, it is very difficult for me to criticize anyone who through hard work and honest effort makes their living by cooking or baking. 

But it made me a little sad to hear a couple of friends from the Upper West Side describe H&H Bagels as the best in NY when to me they represent everything that has been wrong with bagels since about 1975 when it started to become impossible to find bagels that were not the  billowy , cloyingly sweet, Quaalude-to-the-jaw, "bagel-muffin" hybrid that dominate the market today. 

I'm not sure what it would take to turn back the clock on NY bagels and bring them back to their former state as the yeasty, compact, tough and flavor-packed antithesis to the bloated rings of underbaked-goo that pass for genuine Gotham bagels today. 

Anyone opening a shop selling bagels of the type that I ate as a kid (which can still be found in Canada, BTW) would have the tough job of persuading a public that thinks these bagel-muffins are "true bagels." 

And let's face it, bagel-muffins have intrinsic advantages over their predecessors. One of the reasons for the demise of the old style bagel was the shift towards a more casual approach to eating in public. In the NYC metro area before the late '60's you rarely saw adults eating while walking or driving. But as more people moved to the suburbs (making for longer commutes to work in the city) and cars got easier to drive, the old taboos about eating while moving broke down, giving rise to an explosion of soft, hand held convenience foods that could be eaten "on the run."  In contrast, pre bagel-muffins were hard to eat while walking. In fact they were so chewy that it's not hard to imagine that eating one while driving or on a crowded street or subway train could be downright dangerous. (Here I am trying to imagine being a straphanger during the Lindsay Administration who has overcome the resistance of a bagel by biting down and yanking and now has to defend himself against the guy who just got my elbow in his face.) 

I'm guessing that anyone who tries to resurrect the all but extinct bagel that was THE bagel between the late 19th Century and about 1975 (when I last remember buying some in Brooklyn; I know, so not scholarly.) should open in a residential neighborhood and plan to do A LOT of marketing. In the meantime, anyone who wants to experience what bagels used to be like, may have to make them themselves of travel far outside of NYC to find them. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nose to Tail in BS

This article about one woman's  "crusade to spread the gospel of meat" in an April 7, 2013 special food-centric edition of of The New York Times Magazine got my brow furrowed thinking about how media outlets like The Times Magazine have been treating the increase in chefs and DIY'ers who practice whole animal butchery while sermonizing about the righteousness of utilizing every part of the animal for food.

Not to put too fine a point on it:  but do any of these people realize just how wasteful it is to do the kind of butchering that they are touting?  Don't get me wrong. I'm all about "field-to-fork" cooking. But I suffer from no illusions about how wasteful it is to do whole animal butchering on the scale being promoted by The Times article and- let's face it- A LOT of my friends and colleagues.

To get a sense of what I'm whining about, take a look at this photo from the lead page The Times article. Clearly it was set up to advocate the use of an entire pig for meals. Trouble is that what is on the table represents approximately 60% of the edible weight of a hog. Missing is the blood, lungs, liver, heart, stomach, intestines and sex organs -all edible and all MIA.

Assuming that what has been left out of the photo in not in a bucket in the kitchen being made into desert by a nose-to-tail cooking pastry chef, where did it all go?

Well, given that the pig whose parts adorn the table in this photo was most likely killed in a small abbatoir that was not equipped to process all of the parts into food (or any of the other useful products derived from pig parts), the best answer is that with the possible exception of the liver, most of it was shipped to a rendering plant where is was turned into pet food and fertilizer.

Where's the good parts Mommy? 

And never mind about so-and-so chef or whoever who raises his own hogs and kills and butchers them on his own farm. I've seen enough on-farm slaughter to know that no one utilizes all of the parts of a pig -or any other animal- better than the big, vertically integrated slaughter house factories.
You want true nose-to-tail cooking? Have lunch at a Smithfield Pork factory. Otherwise, the next time one side of someone's mouth tells you that they are all about nose-to-tail cooking while out the other side they say they practice whole animal butchering, ask them what they did with the parts that are not on the menu.

Just be prepared for a nose-to-tail dose of shucking and jiving.

The bottom line(s) is that in it's current form, the nose-to-tail cooking movement is at worst, yet another feel-good inducing campaign by chefs et al out to exploit a market for artisanal food or,  at best,  an aesthetic movement peopled with folks who derive pleasure and a sense of empowerment from taking charge of a part of the food web that has, for better part of a century,  been under the aegis of specialists.

But until nose-to-tail becomes nose-to-tail-to-guts and blood,  it would be nice if the foodie media and the public would stop pretending that slaughtering an animal to make head cheese and fracking artisanal salame and dumping its guts into 55 gallon barrel so it can be trucked to a factory and turned into cat food is somehow an act of virtue.

Off (al) to the render! 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

An Apology and the Photographic Record

I don't do a very good job these days of promoting myself and my interests on this blog or anywhere in on the web. The truth is that months ago I got bored with blogging while at the same time I got very busy with consulting work. And now that I'm teaching in the Culinary Art and Science program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, I have even less time to post. I'm sorry about that. I never got bored with my readers. You folks were really the only reason I decided to blog in the first place. What bored me -if bore is the right word- was the pressure of having to keep coming up with stuff to post.
Anyway, I don't know why I decided to break silence on this and post last week and again today but here it is in the form of the previous apologia and this...

... slideshow of some of the action at the butchery workshop I assisted in Lancaster Ky. Many thanks to workshop leaders Kate Hill,  master butcher Dominique Chapolard, master stonemason turned state-of-the-art abattoir proprietor Richard McAllister  and UK Ag's rainmaking Special Projects Manager for sustainable agricultural efforts Chef Bob Perry!

These are some impressive people working at the edge of the envelope of contemporary agriculture and gastronomy. In a domain that is loaded with fanatics who give the impression that they will float into the sky if they remove their shoes,  these folks are the soul of sober pragmatism and I consider myself honored to have been invited into their cohort.

Some of these photos are beautiful, a few even appear to reach the level of art. Suffice it to say that I had nothing to do with making them.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Meat Me in Kentucky

Between April 19-21 I will be assisting at a butchery workshop at the amazing state of the art Marksbury Market  in Lancaster, Ky and cooking with Chefs Justin Dean of the Relish Restaurant Group and Napoleon Ridge Farm ,  Bob Perry of the University of Ky  and other members of Chef's Collaborative 2013 at The Winter Kitchen at Shaker Village.

It's all happening in the great State of Kentucky where the grass is blue and the true Bourbon flows through one of the most beautiful landscapes in all of creation.

Kate Hill
Dominique Chapolard (right) 

The Butchery workshop is being led by author, educator and cuisinier  Kate Hill of the Kitchen at Camont and Dominique Chapolard, a Gascon farmer and butcher who is the former head of Butchery & Charcuterie at the British School of Artisan Food, and the founder of  the  innovative and necessary Grrls Meat Camp

Alas the Kentucky workshop is sold out. However there are still slots available at some of the other workshops that Kate and Dominque have scheduled for their Spring tour. (See below).

Dates & Locations: all events are open to the public.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Go Pig or Go Home

I'm re-posting this for my friend at Punk Domestics. I've got no interest in this other than getting the satisfaction of knowing I've helped.  So please direct all questions about the trip to the good folks at Punk Domestics and Global Epicurean. Bob dG 

Go Pig or Go Home 2013

Punk Domestics and Global Epicurean present

Go Pig or Go Home 2013

8-Day, 7-Night Culinary Experience with Cooking Classes
January 9 - January 16, 2013
Stuffing the salame
Go Pig or Go Home
  • Intro
  • Itinerary
  • Logistics
  • What's included
  • Testimonials
  • Inquire
  • Join us in an exploration of Italy's preserving culture as we travel to the region that embodies more than any other Italy's culinary spirit, Emilia-Romagna. We will make our base on the Adriatic Coast and enjoy the many flavors of Romagna, while sharpening our knives and taking a stab at preserving a whole pig, from butcher to salami.  This 8-day trip features:
    • Seven nights at the family-owned Hotel Sirena on the Adriatic Coast, in the heart of Romagna.
    • Hands-on cooking classes featuring the best local products.
    • All meals, including drinks and local wine selection.
    • A tour of Parma and Modena to discover the secrets of Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto and balsamico.
    • An English-speaking guide throughout the tour.
    • A unique opportunity to learn the art of salumi, preserves and other local specialties at the seasoned hands of artisans in one of Italy's great culinary regions.
    Price per person, based on double occupancy, is 3,500 USD. Single accommodation is available for an additional 250 USD.