Counter Intelligence

Girls v. Boys

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 29, 2007

male__female.gifA couple of weeks ago when Sietsema reviewed Vermilion, he wrote that Anthony Chittum cooks like a girl:

The discussion made me think about cooking and gender. Looking back over the thousands of restaurant meals I’ve put away over two decades of serious eating, was there any sign that the dishes were created by a man or a woman? What leapt to my mind, especially with regard to young cooks, is a guy’s need to show off, to strut, to pile on when he should hold his punches. Men tend to play with their food, often erecting fortresses and skyscrapers from their ingredients. Women, on the other hand, tend to edit themselves better. Neatness and focus are their general hallmarks.

Which brings me to my point: Anthony Chittum cooks like a girl.

Since then, I’ve been trying to decide if this is absurd or has a ring of truth.  Then last week, Ed Levine at Serious Eats penned “Mama” versus “Show Off Cooks” Test in response to the San Francisco Chronicle’s piece, What is it about the cooking of WOMEN CHEFS that makes it more memorable, more comforting, than that of men?

Joyce Goldstein, the retired ground-breaking chef-restaurateur behind Square One in SF, framed the argument this way:

Listen, there are two kinds of cooks, there’s mama cooks and show-off cooks. Now, not all mama cooks are women but all the show-off cooks are men. Boys with chemistry sets. Boy food is all about: ‘Look at me!’

Mama food is there to satisfy you, to feed you, to take care of you. You remember mama food and it makes you happy. That other stuff, it amazes you, but it doesn’t make you happy.

I’d guess these assertions about cooking like a girl or a mama started with the London Times online, which established criteria in early May with a taste test:

While the dishes were being prepared, the panel, after much debate, reached a consensus on what to expect: simplicity and relaxed style, with sensual but gentle flavours from the female corner, and from the male corner, something with gusto, artistry and much showing off of peacock feathers . . . “Guys just can’t help being competitive,” reckons Sullivan. “Even when we are cooking for friends at home, we like to say we have just slammed something in the oven, but the truth is we’ve probably been poring over books and practising for days, because we have to produce food that makes a statement.”

Is it trends in food– molecular gastronomy versus retro comfort food– that encourage chefs, critics, and diners to neuter (male) chefs who embrace the back to basics approach? Or is it cultural–what Italian chefs aren’t “mama cooks,” for example?  I wonder.  Is it a compliment to say someone cooks like a girl or a mama?

In the meantime, have at it. Who cooks like a girl and who doesn’t? Does gender really play a role?

Roberto Donna-Frank Ruta-R.J. Cooper-Antonio Burrell-Ann Cashion-Alison Swope-Ris Lacoste-Todd Gray-Jonathan Krinn-John Wabeck-Carol Greenwood-Jeff Tunks-Koji Terano-Michel Richard-Robert Wiedmaier-Frank Morales-Eric Ziebold-Cathal Armstrong-Brian McBride-Fabio Trabocchi-Barton Seaver-Michael Hartzer. . . . .


Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 27, 2007

rum1.jpg1) Savor the Smoky Smell of Memphis.  Chicago Tribune.  The second article in the ‘Cue series informs readers that a pulled pork sandwich topped with slaw trumps other barbeque favorites in this Southern town.  And Memphis barbeque style is more varied than Carolina barbeque; it doesn’t quite have a signature.

The flavors of Memphis barbecue seem deeper, sweeter and smokier compared to the vinegared severity of Carolina ‘cue. But as in the Tarheel State, Memphis barbecue is big business, dished out at the big touristy joints downtown, in casual storefront operations known only to locals (and the nation’s barbecue fanatics) and in spiffy suburban outposts of rapidly expanding barbecue restaurant chains.

There are a lot of choices here.

“Barbecue is almost like the churches, it’s on every corner,” said Desiree Robinson of the Cozy Corner Restaurant in the city’s North Memphis area.

And, she said, “The worst you can get is good.”

2) Paella: Oh, What a Dish.  Los Angeles Times.  This Spanish dish is one to enjoy at home. The writer suggests finishing it on a grill:

Paella is something you do in the country, outside, with the family,” Von Bremzen says. “You can get it in a restaurant, but it’s kind of a festive, outdoor home thing.”

How do you do that? Finish it on a grill rather than in the oven, as most recipes call for. That adds a smokiness that you can also play up by using smoked paprika instead of sweet paprika. A Weber works perfectly — just place the paella pan on the grill and cover the grill. The effect is subtle, but it’s a nice option when you’re entertaining outside. Adding soaked wood chips to the charcoal will add smoke, enhancing the effect.

3) Rums of Refinement.  Washington Post. Why didn’t anyone tell me that Jason Wilson would be at the TasteDC’s Rum Tasting?!  Next time. More important, he suggests that rum might be the new bourbon.

All of those expensive bottles suggest that the super-premium rum category is exploding. And the rums are outstanding: complex and diverse, some of them with a fiery, smoky finish, others with more rounded hints of vanilla or molasses. My tasting companion and I joked that aged rum was the new single-malt Scotch.

We were kidding, but the more I’ve considered it over the past few weeks, the more I’m starting to think it might be true. I find myself turning much more often to aged rum, served neat or on the rocks, than I do to Scotch. (I realize that may be heresy in the spirits world, and I am certain I will receive venomous e-mails on this point.) After sampling the top of the line at the TasteDC event, I began looking around for bottles that might convince a rum newbie or skeptic that the spirit is sophisticated and versatile.

4)  US Olive Oil Coming Into Its Own.  San Francisco Chronicle. The Los Angeles County Fair has become one of the premier olive oil competitions in the world, with 400 entries and many U.S. based winners.

5) Frump Free Cooking: Looks that Sizzle. New York Times. Rate their racks in the kitchen.

Found! Pam the Butcher

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 26, 2007

pam.jpgI went to a fun cooking night at Company’s Coming! yesterday: Pam the Butcher’s meat class.  Pam Ginsberg has been in the business since she was a girl, working at her father’s stall at Eastern Market.  She’ll give you her number and walk you through carving a turkey over the phone, or grind up the chain of a filet mignon you’ve bought and combine it with high fat chuck for burgers as a bonus.

She’s at Wagshal’s. Whether you need a hangar steak, some really delicious corned beef, homemade sausages, or a whole pig,  she’s your lady.

Wagshal’s Market. 4845 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

photo by Mary Noble Ours

Talkin’ Tuna

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 25, 2007

From the Times today, Waiter! There’s a Deer in my Sushi!

In this seafood-crazed country, tuna is king. From maguro to otoro, the Japanese seem to have almost as many words for tuna and its edible parts as the French have names for cheese. So when global fishing bodies recently began lowering the limits on catches in the world’s rapidly depleting tuna fisheries, Japan fell into a national panic. . . .

The problem is the growing appetite for sushi and sashimi outside Japan, not only in the United States but also in countries with new wealth, like Russia, South Korea and China. And the problem will not go away. Fishing experts say that the shortages and rising prices will only become more severe as the population of bluefin tuna — the big, slow-maturing type most favored in sushi — fails to keep up with worldwide demand.

So far, it’s the day’s most emailed link on the site.

Here’s the beer popsicles story.

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 21, 2007

beerpopsicles.jpgbeerpopsicles.jpgWill and I picked up my mom at National around 8:30 on April 27th.  I thought we’d stop at Rustico for a pizza and some mosaics, considering that I was a fan and it was close by.  

My mother, by the way, is 64, my height, good looking, and about ten pounds lighter than I am.  Though I’m glad for my mom, it sort of depresses me that I’m 34 and people ask if we’re sisters.  She’s not a vanity freak.  She’s had no plastic surgery.  Where did I go wrong?  In any event, one thing that may keep her young is that she’s not a big beer drinker.  Clearly, Rustico as our dinner choice was partially selfish since I really like beer.  We order a pizza and air-dried beef with the beer pairing:

Air-Dried Beef      (15 trio or 7 each)                     

  • with Vermont Butter and Cheese fromage blanc, baby arugula             
  • with Fuyu persimmons and 25 year old balsamic                                  
  • with Butter greens and toasted coriander

Beer Pairing      (7 for trio)

  • Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted
  • Guinness Stout
  • Humboldt Red Nectar

Next thing we know, two hours later, we have 200 glasses on the table, my mom’s drunk, we’ve just polished off a vat of crab mac and cheese, and I’m wondering who’s going to drive home.  We decide to skip dessert, but Chef Morales insists we try what was to become the plum lambic popsicle. 

Ok. We’ll try a beer popsicle.

It wasn’t in its proper form yet.  It was more of what I remembered as a beer slushie, which,  in retelling the story last night, I’d been corrected– it was a beer granita served in a dainty half-pint glass. So what. Who wouldn’t love frozen dessert beer? I was starry-eyed.

Since then, I had been fantasizing about and talking up the beer popsicle.  A few weeks later, Ann Limpert from Washingtonian asked several internet nerds to respond to about fifteen or so questions about the Best and Worst of Washington for the July issue.  For “Best Cool Treat,” I answered, beer popsicles, of course.  I didn’t realize when I mentioned them that, while they were available, they weren’t yet on the menu.  So Rustico hadn’t sold any yet. This past Monday, the press release on beer popsicles was sent out,  AP picks up the story, and. . . there you have it.  

The good news is, they’re for sale today, albeit in a modified recipe that should appease Virginia’s ABC.  If you like beer, don’t walk, run.  They’re that good.  But really, Chef Morales should be getting kudos for what he’s concocting for the mosaics that are much more interesting than the beer pops–renamed hopsicles.

A Few More Days in National Candy Month

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 21, 2007

As dcist noted yesterday, obscure holidays abound.  Add June as “National Candy Month” to the list.   Where would you buy your candy in celebration?  My first choice is  Biagio Chocolates, the hifalutin shop in which the chocolate is arranged according to region and cacao content.  Selections include Michel Cluizel, Marie Belle, Divine, and Claudio Corallo.  Milk chocolate lovers, unless you’d like a Melissa bar, this isn’t your shop.

For other candies, I wish I knew of some charming, old fashioned candy store like Dylan’s Candy Bar or Economy Candy Corp. in New York.  The only one I know of in this area is Gifford’s, where I’ll get distracted by ice cream every time.

National Candy Month gets me thinking about favorites (Sour Patch Kids)and not so favorite (Tootsie Rolls).  Handsome Donkey has a fun clip on the worst, courtesy of Serious Eats.

 What are your most and least favorite candies? 

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 20, 2007

beer.jpgbeer.jpgbeer.jpg1)  Here to Take Your Order (And Biting Their Tongues).  New York Times.  A great piece on (primarily) women who are career waitresses: “American waitresses take pride in doing work that they realize many people, including some they serve so diligently, put them down for doing at all. ”  Sounds as if incidents like these are less rare than you’d hope:

Waitresses know that “taking it” includes a string of verbal and nonverbal slights: the “give me this, give me that” order, the “you’re only a waitress” show-off vocabulary, the “you are my servant for now” treatment, the noblesse oblige (or no oblige) power regarding a tip, the intrusion into one’s personal life, the twirling of an empty plate in the air until the waitress retrieves it (at Chez Panisse in Berkeley!), the returning of food, the lack of “hello” or “thanks.”

2) Breaking BreadsticksSan Francisco Chronicle. I thought breadsticks were sorta ’90s, but with the ubiquity of cured meats and salumi, they seem to be part of the lollipop trend.

3)  When Chefs Marry Chefs.  Los Angeles Times.  The article observes that married chef duos, “Husband-and-wife teams, almost all chef-pastry chef combos, are helming an impressive number of L.A.’s best new restaurants — it’s a trend that’s reached such critical mass, that it’s actually changing the L.A. restaurant scene.”  Are you surprised that it’s chef+pastry chef pairings?

4) Roaming Charges.  How humanely raised veal is winning friends and influencing people.  Boston Globe.  Small farmers are bringing veal back. 

Veal is the Rip Van Winkle of farm products, meat that all but disappeared from restaurants about 20 years ago. It dropped precipitously in popularity after a successful animal-rights campaign emblazoned the images of calves confined in tight crates. The point of crating is to prevent the young animals from developing muscle, so their meat turns snowy white and tender. The dining public, who were eating about four pounds of veal a year per capita, were reluctant to buy it. Besides the guilt of eating meat from animals so poorly treated, there was a problem with the veal itself. Though the white meat was tender, it was often tasteless. Nowadays, that same meat has a rosy hue. The free-range veal is quite pink when cooked, with a more pronounced meaty flavor.

And from Sunday, “Like wine, beer’s best when it’s served in the right glass”.

5) Deconstructing the Twinkie.  Chicago Tribune. “Thirty nine ingredients and fourteen of the country’s most common chemicals.”

Good food news from Columbia Heights,since the neighborhood could really use some.

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on June 18, 2007

coffee.jpgMayorga on 14th Street has come to life.  Today when I was dodging between my house and Busboys and Poets– both of which had no internet service– I rode up to the theater-turned-coffee shop to enjoy some people watching and a $5 Blue Moon while I wrapped up my work for the day. Last time I went it was absolutely dead.  Tonight there was a brisk happy hour upstairs and a coffee crowd on the ground level.

Though my favorite places in the ‘hood have been Tryst,  Busboys, and Columbia Heights Coffee on 11th, I may defect to Mayorga every so often.  It’s a huge space with open stretches for people watching and nooks to tuck away to get some work done.  It’s bound to be more crowded soon.  I think some volume and a little wear and tear will add some character to the place, beyond what the building’s history as a Mediterranean Revival theater already brings.

Also set to open this week is The Heights in Kenyon Square and Alberto’s second location on 18th Street (I know, its not Columbia Heights, but close enough.).  More information is in this Thursday’s Express in print and online.

I have to say, today’s findings wouldn’t have happened had I not been riding a bike around town.  Yet another reason to ditch the car for the summer.

Make your own beer popsicles

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 16, 2007

I’m a huge fan of beer popsicles at Rustico.  In red, orange, and brown like a Fudgesicle, they come in standard form (see pic) or shaved ice cones on a stick, anpopsicles.jpgchored by a slice of orange.  So far, they’re one of my favorite treats of the summer.

Chef Frank Morales said that to make them, beer has to sit out for 24 hours before freezing.  Though I’m sure there’s more to it than that, this post at Village Voice has inspired me to buy molds at Bed, Bath and Beyond and make my own, using a raspberry Belgian lambic.  We’ll see how it goes. . .

Summer’s Spread

Posted in Uncategorized by melissamccart on June 16, 2007

peach_edited-1.jpgA bite of a Cheap Trick  from M’Dawg–a lick of Dolcezza pistachio gelato on a cone–a suck from an apple tobacco hookah at Chi Cha Lounge–A sip of Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 1 at Rustico –a swallow of an oyster on the half shell from Hank’s –a nibble of chocolate covered fig from Biagio–a craving for something carnal, be it bovinity or porcine pleasures– an overwhelming urge to eat a peach at a FreshFarm market. . . .

Sultry weather makes us lust for the seductive flavors of summer, whether its a full-on feast or a sampling of berries sweet as candy. Speaking of, be sure to check out Kelly DiNardo’s new blog, The Candy Pitch, a tribute to the world of burlesque.