It took Intern Alexis a little longer than usual to get through this week's installment of the Times Book Review — not because of the long weekend, but because she had to stop every 3 paragraphs and get something to eat. That's what happens when the Gray Lady subjects you to an all-foodie edition of the review, complete with both cookbooks and cook's books. This week is light on the literature but heavy on the celebrity chefs; after the jump, Intern Alexis gets more than her fair share of Mario Batali's clogged magic and Anthony Bourdain's bad-assery.
This week's "Food Issue" was crunchy as well as salty and, gosh darn it, made us really hungry (except when we were reading Dorothy Kalins' review of "The Way We Eat" and "What to Eat," in which she writes that on its way to veal-town "a baby male calf, ripped from its mother, faces '16 weeks of confinement in semi-darkness, in a bare wooden crate too narrow to turn around.'" That ruined the ol' appetite. Back to the Special K Challenge we go!).
When we were not drooling ourselves and vowing to cut Veal Parmesan from our diet, we were noting that almost every review touched on the phenomenon of the celebrity super-chef/restaurateur. The words "Batali" and "Food Network" appeared so many times we almost subconsciously picked up the phone to make a reservation for two at Babbo.
First there's Julia Reed's review of Bill Buford's "Becoming Mario Batali" tome, "Heat," in which Reed describes Buford's obsession with Batali:
Buford was smitten by Batali's larger-than-life personality and considerable talent, a "crush" that not only landed him in Babbo's kitchen but led him on an increasingly obsessive nearly four-year odyssey...Buford had first encountered Batali on the Food Network in 1996; by now it's five years later and Batali is so famous he's greeted with chants of "Molto, Molto, Molto" at football games and Nascar races.
Then there's Bruce Handy's review of "The Nasty Bits," by Les Halles chef Anthony Bourdain. Writes Handy of Bourdain's celebrity chef-itude: "From Bourdain's perch as a celebrity chef (he now has a show on the Travel Channel to go along with his books), the view of the contemporary food scene is a fairly rosy one. To his mind, the brand names who have opened serious restaurants in the formerly buffet-dominated precincts of Las Vegas — Keller, Bobby Flay, Daniel Boulud, among others — are largely doing God's work, and even Emeril Lagasse, a foodie punch line, is for the most part unobjectionable. He notes without comment that the Culinary Institute of America, of which he is a graduate, now offers instruction in media training."
If we weren't already sick of these clowns, Batali and Bourdain were among the celebrity foodie types asked to write little paragraphs on their favorite out-of-print cookbook for a two page spread. Can't we just stare at Jamie Oliver instead of reading this stuff?
Finally, hitting us over the head with a stale baguette was John T. Edge's review of "The Reach of the Chef: Beyond the Kitchen," in which "Ruhlman pulls back the curtain as American chefs are 'stepping out of their monk's robes, slipping off their clogs and donning pairs of hand-stitched John Lobb loafers... The issue is that chefs like Keller and Emeril Lagasse are no longer leashed to their ranges: 'The best in the country scarcely cooked anymore as a direct result of their success at cooking.' Instead of cooking, chefs have opened fast-casual chains, pursued television deals, hawked toothpaste."
WE GET IT. Rachel Ray for president.
We did, however, learn something useful from this issue. Quoting from Marion Nestle's "What to Eat," Kalins writes, "On chicken: 'if you eat the skin, you might as well be eating a hamburger.'" Good to know! As an avid chicken eater (on all surveys, we respond to "favorite food?" with "chicken") we like to know exactly what we're putting in our mouths.