Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Conversing with Clark, getting mad at marketers

May 14

My friend Clark Mitchell of Travel + Leisure (we’ve actually been friends for longer than he’s had that job) has a big soft spot in his heart for what he calls trashy food, particularly Tex-Mex queso dip, but other things, too, so I invited him to come to the opening of California Pizza Kitchen’s newest Manhattan location (it already has one Manhattan unit, on E. 60th St.)
Not that CPK’s food is trashy, far from it. But Clark judges food based on its quality, not its class.
We met at Nowhere in the East Village for a drink. I had a bourbon on the rocks and, in an unusual if slight move toward moderation, Clark had a gin & tonic instead of his usual Martini. From there we walked to the CPK on E. 30th and Park Avenue South, passing on the way a restaurant with a giant banner declaring that it had done away with trans fats because it cared about its customers’ health. That’s sweet, except New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has banned artificial trans fat in all restaurants (natural trans fats don’t seem to be bad for you, according to current science). If the management of this particular restaurant cared so deeply about its guests’ health, why hadn’t they gotten rid of trans fats before they were forced to do so?
That got me into a snit about deceptive marketing, and I’ve been getting some amazing lies sent to me lately — companies saying they have allergy-free peanuts, which is impossible; every damn fruit or vegetable representative claiming magical qualities from their stuff; disgusting organizations claiming to be doctors although everyone knows they’re animal rights activists, publishing quarter-truths about the health effects of eating dead animals. They’re just a bunch of vegetable murderers, is what they are.
Clark and I agreed that, no matter what we ate, we would, in fact, die at some point.
“A familiar face!” exclaimed Alice Elliot, who was leaving CPK as we were entering. She introduced herself. Of course I knew her (if you’re very good, someday I’ll tell you the story of the time I carried a giant cardboard check across Midtown Manhattan on a blustery winter night so I could take a picture of IHOP chief Julia Stewart handing it to Alice Elliot for the Elliot Leadership Institute). But it’s polite to introduce yourself even if the person you’re talking to is supposed to know you. It’s sort of the opposite of saying “Don’t you know who I am?”
“Didn’t you win an award?” She asked, which in fact I did, last year. So she congratulated me and headed out into the night.
She was the only person I knew in the restaurant, except for the increasingly ubiquitous Ben Leventhal, who was sitting in the booth next to ours with three other guys, a delighted grin on his face the whole night. I’m glad he’s happy.
Clark ordered the spinach-artichoke dip, which we ate with tortilla chips while drinking Margaritas and marveling at the packed open kitchen, swarmed with cooks who cranked out the food as fast as they could. We had the chicken cobb salad and the carne asada pizza, and finished up with Key lime pie.
We walked down to Union Square to digest and took the Q train to Brooklyn. During the subway ride, we discussed the definition of trashy food. I insisted it was a class thing, not a good-for-you thing, as no one would call foie gras trashy.
True, said Clark, but he pointed out that foie gras is a natural food, not processed or manipulated.
That reminded me of my dislike for foie-gras haters. If you don’t want to eat foie gras, that’s fine, don’t eat it, but don’t act like you know what the ducks are going through. From what I understand, the force-feeding doesn’t bother them, and they do fatten up their own livers naturally before migrating.

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