By Iron Chef Leftovers
James Beard Award winning writer, Josh Ozersky, recently wrote a piece in Time Magazine about the 5 worst food trends for 2013. I usually just ignore these lists, but a friend of mine sent this one to me and since it was written by someone with credentials, I decided to read it. I should make the qualification that most of his books have been written around the fast food culture in the United States, so take that for what it is worth. If you read the whole piece, he does come across as a pompous ass that seems like he would only happy at Applebee’s. I will give you his list, his comments (that I generally disagree with) and my comments.
1 – Rock slime as food
We haven’t seen much of this, I’ll grant you; mostly it’s appeared in a few avant-garde restaurants. Let’s hope, for the love of God, it stays there. Born out of the intrepid, terroir-crazed cauldron of the new Scandinavian cuisine, where nearly anything on or under the ground is considered fair game for foragers, the use of lichens, moss and other primal organisms functions, I believe, largely as shock value. If lichens taste like anything, it is something bad; that’s why the stuff is more often the dinner of snails and bark lice than of people. It’s not as revolting as the equally ostentatious bug-eating movement, but I believe it’s more obnoxious for being more high-minded.
I actually copied the whole section since I had issues with all of it. Ok, I have never tried lichen but I would be willing to bet you it is super nutritious, just like another odd primal organism that is foraged out of the forest – the mushroom. He violates my first rule of eating – you can’t say anything bad about it until you have tried it. As for bug eating – it is common in most of the 3rd world since bugs are an abundant and healthy protein. I figure if a couple billion people are eating them, there has to be something to it. I have tried many species of bugs and I can tell you that they are tasty. The issue here is they are considered high cuisine in America, so he immediately labels them as ostentatious. Funny since the rest of the world sees them as low class peasant food, just like offal used to be.
2 – Pro-am charcuterie.
Here’s the thing about salumi, charcuterie and all the other forms of cured meats that we have come to know and love: they were always the province of experts. And there’s a reason they were the province of experts: they are hard to do well. Now every other restaurant has its own in-house cured-meat program, and the results are often nasty: leathery hams, moldy sausages, and industrial-strength lardo, just for starters.
Most beginners don’t aspire to any ideal, any more than do their customers. Google “bad salumi.” You won’t find a single negative review anywhere on the Internet. That’s bizarre and says something about how uncritically the stuff is eaten these days. Leave it to the pros!
Ok, so if you are not an expert, you shouldn’t make charcuterie. That is just bullshit. I have had plenty of great charcuterie from “non-experts” and I know what the good stuff tastes like. Guess what, most of those “experts” were once people who didn’t know how to make the stuff. Laurehurst Market in Portland make killer stuff and have only been doing it for a few years. Just about every French restaurant makes a good pate. Boccolone, which he sites as an “expert” was created by Chris Constentino, who, if memory serves, taught himself how to make cured meats.
3 – Fake smoke
A recent trend has been the use, or rather overuse, of artificial smoke as a flavoring agent or even as a theatrical effect.
I realize this may seem like a peevish quibble, but it bothers me nonetheless, because it is frequently used in conjunction with equally unnatural modes of cooking like sous vide. You take a piece of pork or duck, cook it for 10 hours in a tepid bath and then try to impose a sham smoke flavor at the last minute with another equally ludicrous tool.
All meat should be cooked over open fire on big spits, right? Seriously, the liquid smoke thing is exactly how BBQ potato chips are made and how most of the chain restaurants make their food taste wood grilled. Sous Vide is anything but unnatural – it is an offshoot of poaching and is actually based on a very sound scientific principal – you cook the food at the target temperature you want it to be and therefore you can’t overcook it. It is much more precise than heating a pan over a flame and guessing when it is done. There is a reason why so many Thanksgiving turkeys turn out dry. I am starting to think this guy is really out of touch with how food is actually cooked and eaten in the rest of the world.
4 – Postmodern desserts.
As David Kamp observed in The Food Snob’s Dictionary, pastry chefs are “the most perverse of food-snob subcultures,” and boy, was he right. Who in their right mind wants to eat an enormous meal, replete with bread, wine or liquor, meat, pasta, vegetables, the inevitable charcuterie and God knows what else, and then have to face a $14 plate of tiny mountains, swooping smears and little heaps of powder. What am I supposed to do with this? I’m not hungry at this point. It adds empty calories and a not-insignificant sum to the bill. And really, the only satisfaction derived from it by anyone at all is the chef who called it into being (and who never actually eats it). If I could have one wish come true for 2013, it would be dessert reform. A single scoop of sherbet is all any human being wants or needs at the conclusion of a big meal. It’s time to take a step back from our gastronomical excesses. And this is the place we ought to start.
Once again, I include the whole section. Look, no one is holding a gun to your head and making you order dessert at the end of the meal. If you don’t want the calories or aren’t hungry, DON’T FUCKING ORDER IT, DUMBASS! I can tell you that I have never wanted or needed a single scoop of sherbet at the end of a meal, hell; I don’t even like the stuff. Oh, and I am pretty sure that sherbet is empty calories since it primarily consists of milk and sugar.
5 – Optional tipping.
And when you consider how much diners spend on some of the items mentioned above, their cheaping out on the staff is one of the grossest acts of impudence in modern society. I don’t know what monster first conceived of the laws by which restaurateurs are allowed to pay sweatshop wages to their employees on the assumption that guests will do the right thing and make up the difference, but until the laws are repealed, we need to pay the people who serve us. I believe there should be a fixed percentage, a rock-bottom minimum of 15% that every diner has to pay. If we don’t want to pay it, we are all welcome to eat cold cuts at home.
Mr. Ozersky, I have news for you – tipping has always been optional. Tipping is a reward for good service, which in a good number of places, is hard to find these days. If you have an issue with wages that servers make, take it up with the state legislators, which is where that issue is coming from. The restaurant industry would die if you automatically tacked on 15% to a bill (although many places will sneak that in on the check), and it would give even less incentive for servers to do a good job. Hell, why should I have to kick in 15% if I received poor service? In most cultures, servers are paid a reasonable wage and tipping, if it does occur, is a relatively modest amount. I don’t care if it Applebee’s or French Laundry, if you want me to give you an outstanding tip, give me exceptional service in the process. I do agree about the wages (In Washington, servers are paid the state minimum wage, which is just over $9 and hour). Once again, America lags behind the rest of the world.