Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Guvnor speaks true..

I haven't posted in a while as the last few months have been a time for determining my raison d'etre for this blog. At times, I felt a sense of inadequacy. Does the world need another food blog in addition to the gazillions out there? And no pictures as well! (as some wag complained). Also, what was I doing this for, who was reading it besides the occasional cricket?

In the end, I worked on my actual cooking for some months, read heaps of books and Gen Mac said " I have returned". And I care not a spitoons worth of saliva whether this blog is read. :-)

The Guvnor is a very smart bloke. We were discussing "Hugh's chicken run" on the AFC and were debating the affordability of organic, range free chooks as opposed to those mutant, Borg like things they farm these days. Understand that it's not a matter of taste or even perceived taste. I tried and tried but I still can't really tell the diff between organic veggies and their chemical filled cousins. However, I do get meats. In fact, I'm organic beef's greatest supporter now

Now, the TESCO and Carrefore mob always bring up price as the issue. And seriously, it's a valid argument. If I drive my SUV and do my shopping at Bangsar Village, it is the height of rudeness and uncivility to pompously declare that someone with minimum wage buy organic at nearly twice the price. So, that would have been end of the argument, no?


The guvnor cut through all this with the panache of a latter day Alexander facing the Giblet Gordian knot.

"Well, Mike. They can always cut down on their chicken consumption and eat more vegetables"

Exactly. We had been so obsessed with the argument that everyone needs to eat meat that we wasted hours debating on how to bring the costs down, or improve farming for existent birds. The solution is akin to family members debating on which vitamins their cancer stricken father should take while the doctor has already recommended the only viable solution: surgery

In other words, we want our cake and eat it too. But if you do so, you'll grow fat. And there's no use complaining one day when you get offers to appear on 'the biggest loser' and Ad agencies want to rent the space on your gut.

It's not politically correct. Lower income families will be incredulous that they have to give up their roast chicken while the bourgeousie continue eating it. But it's correct in that it's an elegant solution. Eat less processed chook, more veggies. The environment is happier. You are healthier for eating your greens. Occasionally eating chickens (the organic variety) increases overall demand which increases the supply, which brings competition, and brings down the prices. It's one of the few solutions which has a win-win component

But I don't see this flying, sadly. Once people have a taste for meat (even bad meat), they'll want it, no matter the cost. And tragically, most of the price we pay is unseen

Monday, November 10, 2008

Those who can't on forums

True confession time. I used to be one of those smarmy know it alls that used to savage restaurants and their cooking from time to time; professing my knowledge from the comfort of a soft dining chair. Well, I still am smarmy but I've toned down my rhetoric a little. What changed? Well, remember this old saying:

"Never judge a cook until you have cooked the line in a kitchen"

Okay, so I took some artistic licence with that. But the point is that eating a little humble pie (with creme anglaise) is a good thing. And this means cooking a little yourself occasionally.

Now look, I'm not expecting you to give every chef an obseqious thumbs up, if I want that, I'll read the food reviews in a certain Malaysian newspaper where everything seems to be 3 Michelin stars, where clearly one of two deserve to be renovated into something more landfills

And chefs are professionally trained. They went to culinary school while you tried desperately to made the debits equal credits in your ledger - that's why they own Chez Wong's and you are sitting there with your similarly Bachelor of Accounting attired girlfriend ordering from their menu. So, when you go home - should she expect you to replicate that whole roasted pig in a maple wood fired oven in your China made RM100 toaster oven? - of course not.

But a little bit of Maslowian actualisation can be gotten if you just play with cooking sometime. Go try and make pancakes. Or make pasta that is good enough to serve to a party of six. Try grilling fish. It's not as easy as it seems. And when you find this out, somehow, you'll just be a little more sympathetic the next time when the restaurant can't seem to get your lamb just right. I'm not saying you should excuse them - but that you'll offer them a smidgen of grace.

The fact is that I have made more bad dishes than good ones. Thrown out more disasters than saved them for posterity ( or my stomach). It's a natural course for those who love the holistic aspect of food. You like what you ate. You try and make it. It doesn't even come close. You get depressed. You try again. It's still not the same...but you don't's yours. You own it.

Congratulations - you've just taken Joseph Campbell's hero's journey

So, don't just talk or post on forums. Do. Go introspective..go into your own heavily underused kitchen and pick up a saucepan..

And you will find your bliss

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bittmann can't take on everything..Sorry!

Look, apart from St Tony the B on the AFC, there is no one I would rather watch than Mark Bittmann. The man is charismatic, the comedic interplay with the other chefs put most sitcoms to shame ( but that's not quite hard - have you seen the donkey excrement that is 'Faith and Hope?. So I love watching his show.

Except for one thing - it's a bummer

What? You just said you'd french kiss the show. True, but that doesn't mean it's a downer and too much reality for me.

Look, we all watch cooking programs for mainly one thing - fantasy.

We like to pretend that we can whip up the same souffles and sauce veloute as Chef Francois there who has spent years at a culinary academy and even more years as a pomme de terre pealer at a Bistro in Marseille somewhere before moving up the ranks. The truth is - you can't

You don't have much of a chance because you are a lawyer, doctor, banker or some other non-culinary related professional who dabbles in cooking on the weekends or infrequently. It's a hobby, not a profession for you; so while you may derive more intrinsic pleasure from it because you're doing it for the 'Lerve' - that guy on T.V needs it for his paycheck; so, he's going to be better

Roger Federer may be sick of tennis playing it day in, day out. You may smile more and experience Joseph Campbell like states of Bliss and peak performnace whenever you don your whites for that Saturday ladies church tournament. Whatever. He'll still kick your ass, everytime

So, it almost pains me when Bittmann does his schitck. He goes "Hmm..okay..let me see what I can come up with." And what he has to come up with is something Joe weekend-chef dabbler can whip up without creating a Hiroshima like mess in his tiny kitchen, breaking down into tears and ordering pizza.

Do you think Bona Fide chef dude is going to be impressed? Of course not. At the most, he'll be encouragingly patronising. He'll use phrases like " That's al dente", "wow! pasta water in the sauce - geez! never thought of that!" or "love the way you didn't poison me"

Come on, I don't want to be reminded how wide the gap is between mere mortals and the gods are. Mt Olympus is out of reach for a reason. And that's cool by me.I want to worship from afar and burn bacon bits to those I can never touch. The whole thought of going mano-a-dios with them is a little...sad, really

Mark Bittmann is one of the strongest mortals ever produced. He represents the best of us mere amateurs, but at the end of the day...the whole Pantheon is just flipping him the bird.

Reverence, Mark, reverence. You Americans need to learn that just because Greeks gave democracy to men, it doesn't apply to deities.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

When food is just about eating

I'm probably going to regret writing this as it is sensitive

Last Saturday, I went to a friend's birthday party at a mexican restaurant. Now, this friend of mine is a great guy and his friends who arranged it are nice people ( I say this as a 100% chicken shite fella due to the fact that they might be reading this blog and I won't be invited to another event again :-) )

I'm a cagey kind of person, which means that if I feel that the 'vibe' isn't there; I might just pike out and go home if I can. Emphasis on 'if I can'. If it's your wedding, chances are I might stay to the end..but, uh...I have left before the vows in the past. I mean, what are the chances of something out of the ordinary happening, like the bride suddenly running off with an alien Elvis on a Harley? Nah, it's predictable. So true to form, I left.

Anyway, ever get the feeling when you go to some events that the meal and the night is just an excuse in futility and ceremony? That all that gets traded is some small talk, laughs and witty remarks. Not that there's anything bad about those..but in my present stage of life...there needs to be more

What transforms a meal into a life event is that wine gets spilled on the linen of life. And it is stained metaphorically for better of worse. In other words, in a world where vanilla, political correctness and niceness are valued over a sense of drama, wildness and passions unleashed - we've settled for the tame dog over the wolf

I want to leave a meal with friends and family saying " Frakk! What just happened?" That, my friends, is the real transubstantiation - the taco becomes the body of real fellowship and the blood of the margarita flows not just as an elixir but as a channel of life in all it's dimensions

If not, then the food is just food. A sense of pleasure in one paradigm but that's all it is - just chewing and eating. But on a larger scale, it's the last supper - a sense of ending and beginnning, journey and destiny...

..and that's what I pray it should be

Monday, September 22, 2008

The trouble with sex and the food channel

Look, like any red-blooded guy who watches the food channel, we are going to admit eventually that we watch some of those shows because the presenter is 450 degrees Fahrenheit, off the Scolville charts hot. And if you tell me you watch Nigella just for her recipes, you're a sick, sick man.

But wait, here's the twist to my post. I'm not going waste your time reading about how I drool over Nigella, Vivien and Rachael Ray. ( I have this weird thing for the Barefoot Contessa (Ave Ina!, but it makes the Guvnor ill; so I'll drop that here..)

No. It's this - drooling is essentially useless

Yes it is. And the reason is because if I asked you to select one person to have dinner with (everything after that, as they say in some of the more seedier aspects of the entertainment industry - can be negotiated), you would be silly to choose your culinary FHM top 10. Why?

Because the Domestic Goddess is essentially domesticated. She has kids, and a husband. And her hubby is the only one who has full rights to her Degustation menu; understand? Same goes for Ms Ray and her ilk. Look, even if you manage to win a dream date with her at Blumenthal's restaurant; what are you going to woo her with? Tales of your culinary misadventures in your miniscule apartment kitchen (notice the Freudian subtext)?

She's heard it all before. Tales of guys going into spasms watching her whip cream and beat eggs. Pretentious dudes going on about food and wine matching. (God help you if you ever went out with Jancis Robinson, MW). So, at the end, she's going to get up ,smile politely and thank you for a lovely evening and...go back.

Back to her kids to tuck them in and think about her next series which films in a few months. You? Unfortunately, it's a taxi to your matchbox sized apartment where you'll watch her on telly all over again

No, guys, the only person you should have your dinner date someone like Tony Bourdain. He may think you're a twat, but he'll drink with you and tell you stories about how his trips to Lebanon and Russia. In between, you'll have cigarettes and lie to each other about how many women you've slept with. All total B.S but at least it's the real deal.

Because at the end of the day, you'll leave and think about making that next trip to Palin. Or Uzbekistan. He'll inspire you. If he can do it, why can't I? (sans camera crew of course). All it takes is an airline ticket and a cheap hotel. Maybe I can get a bowl of Pho. Maybe I'll marry that cute chick selling that doesn' matter 'cause if a guy can't dream, then what's the point of living?

And it's a more realistic dream than you marrying someone on TV because she's already been spoken for but that girl you marry one day in the future- she's going to be your Domestic Goddess. Or you are - depending on who ends up cooking and cleaning.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Decoding Anthony

"Why don't you write a piece on Tony B?" suggested the guvnor.

It sounded good at that time but when I thought about it, it didn't seem to be that easy. What hasn't been said about that lovable racounteur and rogue that hasn't been already put in print? I needed an And I got one from the "Edge" financial weekly of all places

It reprinted a Forbes list of how much some of the more prominent food personalities made last year from all their whori..I mean, endorsements and hard work. The guvnor's favorite hush puppy, Rachael Ray, came in first at a whopping US$18.5 mio. Next came Gordon " I can't speak without (bleeping) swearing " Ramsay and in the middle were familiar personalities like Ducasse and Batali. Oddly, my hero came in last at US$1.5 mio.

Now that's not anything to scoff at, my friend. But that's not what I envisioned for someone with so much media exposure. And after a bit of thinking, this is what I came up with:

The reason I like, no, I love Bourdain is that he is as cynical as I am but doesn't want to give in to that last vestige of inner gloom that will consign him to eternal torment, or worse..Detroit. So, he maintains that disposition that is akin to Fox Mulder; "I want to believe. Make me a believer. Convince me that somewhere in this crocked-up world, a thin slice of redemption can be found in those slices of beef gently cooking in a bowl of pho on the streets of Hanoi."

Whimsical? Of course, life is whimsy. Bourdain reads that better than anyone on the Food Channel. He's a gadly, and one that has been blessed by the Phyrric curse of a life lived Bacchanally through imbibing, inhaling, snorting and injecting all manner of substances. That combination, which normally fells lesser mortals and turns them into severe opaque embarassments has had the opposite effect on him.

It has granted him godlike insight into, if not the human condition, then the precursor to the fall of Man. He is like Alan Moore's main character in "V for Vendetta". The combination of serums meant to destroy him have created a superhuman instead.They have wrecked his mind, teetering in on the brink of insanity and the cusp of genius.

What does this have to do with one and half million dollars, you ask?

Ask yourself, why hasn't he made more? I mean, he's not exactly raging against the machine, is he? We are now in the fourth season of "No reservations" and he appears in other shows. So, he's a system man, but...

..he sucks at the coddling up to the "Man". His Les Halles cookbook? Know anyone who bought it? Les Halles was never more than a really decent bistro when he helmed it, certaintly not in the class of Les Bernadine or Veritas. He doesn't cook on his shows. The only time I saw him cook was on " A chef's story" where he made a cardiac arrest-inducing duck confit. And I like duck confit.

So, he falls in between. He has charisma but he's not classifiably clean. Weep not for Bourdain, he is annointed and will never go hungry or lapse into abject poverty. But he will never scale the heights of Ramsay because he is not as talented, ruthless or self-esteem challenged. he will continue to look you in the eye, and tell it like he sees it, and sod it if you don't like it. But he wants you to believe, and inside, he wants to as well.

And that's why the dude is the man.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ainsley, take your meds, please!

In Bourdain's "A Cooks Tour", he is none too complimentary about Ainsley Harriott, cringingly describing him as "..a grown black man doing shtick, capering and coddling an audience of bison-sized white women who, were Harriott not on TV, would probably call the cops if he wandered into their neighbourhoods."

After having watched a few epsiodes of "Ainsley's Barbecue Bible" on, of all places, Astro 552 (the education channel), I can only say this:

It's like watching the world's most horrendous train wreck. There's luggage everywhere, bodies strewn, a cacophony of chaos..but you can't pull your friggin' self away!

I swear, not even Stroobants painful pronounciation of 'Soup too-lang" or Martin Yan's dead ringer for that ching-chong caricature called Hop Sing on "Bonanza" have I cringed so many times.

It's not that his recipes suck. They look do-able, and he takes ever loving concern to point out that should you not be able to find that wild, exotic ingredient at your local Sainsburys; you can substitute something MSG, I suppose

But the floppy hat kills me, the mincing and the Merrilee Parker squeals. I used to watch "Food Planet" and nearly die in ecstasy whenever she came on, cooking her Beef Burgundy and saying "Scrumptious!". Now, I've found out that she used to work as a food economist for our Ainsley and the fact that he uses the same tagline (albeit two octaves higher) disturbs me...a lot

Another thing that disturbs me is not really his own fault. It's the media perception that blacks are good for grilling and that's all. Rulhman's fine book " The reach of a chef" discusses the plight of a classically trained black female chef who was offered a television cook 'soul food'. The racial typecasting still remains. Look at "licence to Grill". I pity both Robert Rainsford and Ainsley. I'm sure they would rather be making a beurre blanc or sauce velote but noooooo...we want you grillin' them steaks with a can of Grape soda next to you.

Anyway, back to Mr Harriott.

The kids dance with him. He dances around the barbie while cooking fruits flambe. I have to admit, he's better than Prozac. So, you want to watch him because you want to believe in a better, kinder world. A place where cooking isn't just a few ingredients slapped together, it's transcedent: it takes you to another realm of existence

And that's why I'll watch it again. Not because of his naff fashion sense, but the fact that he's part Willy Wonka,part C.S Lewis and a dusting of Enid Blyton. A touch of absurdity, a dose of naievete and a patina of a shadow like reality.

But Lord, I wish he'd drop the dancing.