Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Calorie-Free Reading

As do many foodies, I watch a lot of the Food Network. I watch "The Best ____ I Ever Ate" which recently even had an episode that focused on deep friend items (including deep fried bacon!?!?). I watch Iron Chef America (though what we really need are the giggling and shy actresses/models that they have on the judging panel in the original Iron Chef). I watch Good Eats when I feel like seeing what a culinary anthropologist might say about s'mores.

I watch all sorts of things. But aside from a variety of culinary magazines, I don't tend to read food-related books. That has changed lately.

A few months back, I saw an article talking about this wine book and how it didn't make anything sound too fancy. That it would talk you through figuring out what it is you like instead of telling you what to like. I figured that since my wine pallet is so sophisticated that I usually just say, "I like red," this might be the book for me. It is. I'm only partially through the book (Drink This; Wine Made Simple), but absolutely love the writing. The author, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, writes like a normal human speaks. She doesn't beat around the bush, and there is no pretension in how she presents a typically pretentious subject.

"Much ado is made about corkscrews, but any one that works for you is good enough. I like the traditional one with the little arms that you life up; they usually cost less than $10 and will follow you to your grave....I admire people who can use a waiter's corkscrew effortlessly, but I'm not one of them (though I keep one in the car for picnic-related emergencies)." Picnic-related emergencies? I love it.

"All that being said, if you spend more than five minutes in this lifetime thinking or reading about corkscrews, you're wasting your time. Magazine editors periodically assign stories about them, but I think this is mostly because they go to the store and don't know which one to by, so they think it's an issue that needs getting to the bottom of. It isn't." Tell it like it is, sister.

My Birthday was earlier this month and since my friends and family know me so well, I received too food books for the day. From my sister and brother-in-law, I received the book that Tom Colicchio says he used to teach himself how to cook. It is Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. Aside from its step by step illustrated and informative guidance, it makes me smile because of my sister. Hearing her immitate the way he says, "you cut it into streeeeeps." She just loves the way he says, "streeeeeps." And I agree - he's just so cute!

The second book I received for my birthday was from my friend Oren. It is Heat by Bill Buford. I hadn't heard about this book before, but the more I mention that I'm reading it to my foodie friends, they all rave - apparently I'm behind the curve. But I'm catching up. This is a riveting and hilarious book about a NY Times writer/editor who seemingly by accident finds himself in the kitchen of Babbo, one of Mario Batali's critically-acclaimed restaurants. The book flips back and forth between Buford's initial days as an kitchen extern (or kitchen slave as he refers to it) serving under a no nonsense prep chef and Mario's initial days as a chef learning his craft first in California and then in Italy. Much time is spent explaining just how raucous he was as a young adult - and it's hilarious. Images like that of "Batali drinking tequila from a goatskin boda bag, the liquor splattering all over his face" continually make me chuckle. As a side note, the book's full title is Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany and that pretty much sums it up.

I recommend all three - Drink This when you want in your face honesty. Complete Techniques when you want to smile. And Heat when you want to chuckle at the image of a drunk guy in shorts and orange clogs who is only one of the world's best chefs.

References (Amazon links, but I suggest borrowing from your local library or buying from a local bookstore):
Drink This: Wine Made Simple by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

Complete Techniques by Jacques Pepin

Heat by Bill Buford