Friday, June 17, 2011

Aspen: Day 1

June 17
I’m in Aspen for the 29th annual Food & Wine magazine Classic. It used to be the classic AT Aspen, but they changed the name a few years ago to make it less pretentious.

I’m not sure it worked, but despite the need to periodically run the gauntlet of celebrity chef groupies to do the networking I’m here to do, it’s a fun event — basically a three-day party, sponsored by many beer, wine and spirits companies, interspersed with cooking demonstrations and panel discussions.
During the kickoff reception on Friday night I ran into Belinda Chang, whom I’d just met during the James Beard Foundation Awards last month. She won the award for best wine service as sommelier of The Modern in New York, and then, her mission accomplished, she quit.
“I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner,” she told me last night.
I ended up hanging out with her and her friend Justin Warner, who was a captain at The Modern and left to open his own place, Do or Dine, in the decidedly ungentrified Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Justin says his new place is a dive American izakaya, which is to say a bar with great bar food (as opposed to a gastropub, which is a bar with good food that’s not necessarily intended to facilitate drinking).
Do or Dine doesn’t have a liquor license yet, so for now it’s BYO, but Justin, whose beverage people come from PDT and Pegu Club, plans to offer delicious cocktails priced at less than $10.
So that should be fun.
The big post-reception party in Aspen is a barbecue sponsored by Wines from Spain and hosted by José Andrés, but Belinda, Justin and I instead went to Isis, where there also was a barbecue but with fancy American wines and the added appeal — always desirable at Aspen — of not being where the masses were.
It’s probably obvious, but Belinda and Justin are in the picture that accompanies this blog entry.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Matter of Taste

June 13

Oh shoot! The people at HBO were nice enough to send me a copy of A Matter of Taste, a documentary on Paul Liebrandt that I wanted to watch, and I’m late.

The film airs on HBO tonight (9pm EST), and I'm on the road, visiting family in Denver, while the DVD is sitting on my desk in New York.

So, what can I say? Paul Liebrandt’s a hell of an interesting chef. I’ve always found his food simultaneously weird, delicious and incredibly well-balanced. Most striking: Each component of each dish seems to express itself with intriguing clarity and precision.

The Bouley alumnus had a brief and critically tumultuous tenure some years ago, back in 2000, at Atlas, where then-Times critic William Grimes gave him a glowing three-star review, placing him squarely on the map as one of New York’s most avant-garde chefs. Then a review in Gourmet skewered him, uncharacteristic behavior for that magazine.

At the time, some people wondered if the review had anything to do with the fact that Gourmet’s editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl, was Grimes’s predecessor.

Liebrandt, who was something like 24 years old, left the restaurant shortly thereafter.

But that’s ancient history.

Liebrandt went on to run the kitchens at a genuine variety of New York City restaurants — Papillon, One Little West 12th (I kid you not), and Gilt — before finding a home partnering with Drew Nieporent at Corton, where he has once again received adulation from critics and customers.

And also a documentary on HBO, airing tonight.

That network was nice enough to provide me with the pictures in this blog entry, which were taken by Sally Rowe.

Friday, June 10, 2011

In the foothills with the food scholars

June 11

Montanans apparently like to put letters on their mountains. That’s what I’m told. The M in the picture is in the city of Missoula, but it stands for Montana — not the state, the university, where I’m attending the joint annual meetings of the Agriculture Food and Human Values Society, the Association for the Study of Food and Society, and the Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition.

There’s a big concrete L on the next mountain over, which might lead you to believe that Montana has alphabetized its mountains, but a server at the reception last night told me that the L stands for Loyola Sacred Heart High School, which also is in Missoula.

There’s a concrete B on one of the Mountains near Butte, she said.

I’m at the conference because I was asked to participate on a panel about possible careers for people with graduate degrees.

I don't actually have a graduate degree, but they wanted a journalist on the panel, I guess so I can tell them how to be a journalist with their graduate degrees, which I don’t really know. But I do have some thoughts on the topic which I’ll share. It should be a good panel.

The first day of the conference was fun. I sat in on four sessions in which people presented papers or updates on their research or similar academic things.

I spent the morning mostly listening to people talk in some way or another about animal welfare, except for one presenter who talked about using sheep to clear “noxious weeds,” which, believe it or not, is a technical term for non-indigenous vegetation that’s a threat to other plants.

Sheep will eat them in some cases, to very good effect, she said.

Three vegetarians, one whose first name was actually Seven, discussed their research into the “caring-killing paradox” that they experienced and researched as student volunteers on a university’s experimental organic pig farm. It was actually a very interesting presentation.

Then some other sociologists discussed, through narrative, the notion of using a narrative approach to develop a greater understanding of the complexities of animal husbandry — in this case once again involving pigs.

A third sociologist in their group was asked if she ate the meat of the pigs once she witnessed them being slaughtered, and she said “yes, but not without gratitude.”

I don’t think anyone was accusing her of ingratitude, but maybe they were. I can’t say for sure.

In the afternoon I watched people present papers mostly on studies of obesity or eating habits, although I also attended one on how the Philippine delicacy balut — unhatched baby ducklings still in their eggs — was being co-opted by the Western media as an extreme food, simplifying it and presenting it out of context.

I asked him how it tasted, and he said it was sort of like a gristly hard-boiled egg, except the part that's liquid. You drink that first and it tastes kind of like egg drop soup, he said.

One group of researchers found indications that if you use menu-design techniques commonly used for marketing specific items — putting the items in colored boxes, or placing them at one of several key places on the menu where the eye tends to linger, or by using appealing-sounding jargon (hand-picked, chef's special, etc.) they could get senior citizens to order more healthful items.

Displaying calorie and other nutritional information had no effect, they found.

Another study indicated that chefs live unhealthy lives that lead to overeating and excessive drinking. That seems obvious, but, you know, you do need to quantify these things.

Actually, they’re still analyzing their data and it probably won’t be ready until next year.

I haven’t decided what to attend tomorrow. "Anthropology of Wine" looks promising. So does "From Food System Assessment to Food Policy: Indicators That Make a Difference.”

Ooh, and I might start a fight in this one: “Pursuing Poultry Practicalities: Adaptation and Innovation for Sustainable Eggs and Chickens.”

I think I’ll keep my options open.