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A stellar year for women in food

Barbara LynchIn 2013, TIME Magazine published an article titled The Gods of Food, which attracted notice for its glaring omission of women. Time took some heat for the article and 2014 began with low expectations for the treatment of women in the food industry. However, The Braiser reports that despite the dismal outlook, the year proved great for women as they dominated the James Beard Awards and received many other accolades.

The Braiser lists twelve women who "owned" 2014, and EYB members will recognize many of the names. First on the list was restaurateur Barbara Lynch. To say she was busy in 2014 would be a grave understatement. In addition to running her restaurant empire, Ms. Lynch earned a James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Restaurateur, appeared on Top Chef, and is preparing to compete in the Bocuse D'Or in January.

A Lynch protégé, Kristen Kish, is also on the list. This year the Top Chef winner competed in Top Chef Duels and landed on the cover of Cherry Bombe magazine. Speaking of that publication, founders Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu were heralded for their pioneering magazine that highlights not just big-name chefs, but also "the gals in the industry we may not have heard of before."

April BloomfieldAnother woman from the publishing field, Dana Cowin, makes the Braiser list as well. The editor of Food & Wine was lauded for leading the way in giving female chefs their due. In January, Food & Wine will publish an entire issue dedicated to female chefs. Other familiar names mentioned in The Brazier article include chef/authors April Bloomfield, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Nancy Silverton.

Some less familiar names include Katie Button, a James Beard-nominated chef from North Carolina who took "her chops on the road for the most dramatic chef show to come out this year, World's Best Chefs, to interview some of her former bosses, like Adria and José Andrés." Another newcomer is Rosio Sanchez, who worked with Rene Redzepi at Noma. Redzepi selected Sanchez to open a Mexican taqueria, Hija de Sánchez, in Copenhagen next year. 

Gil Marks, Jewish food historian, dies at 62

Encyclopedia of Jewish FoodOlive trees and honey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gil Marks, a culinary historian who wrote about Jewish food and culture, has died at the age of 62. Marks authored several books on Jewish food and in 2005 won a James Beard Award for his book Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes From Jewish Communities Around the World. He is probably better known, however, for his more recent Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.

Marks' books "not only provided a recipe-by-recipe chronicle of kosher menus through the centuries but also examined the role of food in the establishment and growth of cultural traditions," according to his obituary in the NY Times. At the time of his death, he was working on a new book called American Cakes. Portions of that work have appeared on the website The History Kitchen. 

In addition to being a culinary historian who focused on the relationship between Jewish food and culture, Marks was previously a guidance counselor and history teacher at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York. He also worked in Philadelphia as a social worker before returning to New York, where he lived for most of his life. Marks had recently moved to the West Bank near Jerusalem.

 

Chef Sean Brock brings history to Heritage

HeritageChef Sean Brock's recently released cookbook, Heritage, is sure to be on many "best of" lists for 2014. What began as a book about cooking in the Lowcountry (Brock's two restaurants are located in Charleston, South Carolina) transformed into a self-described documentary with "personal anecdotes and reflections on the significance of seed-saving, home-gardening and keeping culinary traditions alive."

The James-Beard Award winning chef found this change to a full-disclosure approach to be "terrifying." Making his personal history public was scary enough, but he also strived to make sure no recipes were shortchanged. He notes that "if the food that you're serving while you're telling a story isn't delicious, nobody cares about the story."

Brock, who grew up in Appalachia, takes a conservationist approach to food. He recalls eating at his grandmother's house, where the food was vibrant and flavorful, and contrasts those memories to the first time he ate Hoppin' John at a restaurant. Brock found it tasteless compared to his family's food, and he attributes the difference to the quality of the heirloom vegetables his family raised. "I'd go back to my grandmother's house, have dinner and everything would be bursting with flavour because my family saved seeds, and they're very in love with specific varieties of plants that they've been growing and eating forever," he says.

Brock would like to open another restaurantm this one based on the cuisine of the Appalachians, but he feels that he wouldn't be able to get enough of the quality food that he wants to use. Read more about Brock's story and why he thinks winter is the best time to cook at the National Post.

Tom Colicchio on refrigeration

Tom Colicchio

As part of its 85 Years/85 Ideas series, Bloomberg Businessweek enlisted chef Tom Colicchio of Craft restaurant and Top Chef fame to expound on the concept of refrigeration. Refrigeration technology isn't even a century old, but it has completely transformed the way we think about food, say Colicchio.

Certain food courses were invented partially because there was no commercial refrigeration. "The idea of an intermezzo course, some sorbet between dishes at a nice restaurant, exists because the fish would be so rank, the chef would have to get the smell out of your mouth." Refrigeration solved this problem but created others, in Colicchio's view.

As we moved away from the icebox and into the era of refrigerators, we were able to eat food from much farther away. Even though we appreciate the convenience, Colicchio argues that it has had a downside. While the farm-to-table trend is an attempt to address this, Colicchio thinks that it doesn't solve it. "Everything starts on a farm and ends on a table. What happens in between is what's crucial; refrigeration and the convenience of having any food when we wanted it stripped the idea of eating seasonally." He notes that in New York City, one study found up to 80% of the food is mislabeled - including allegedly "local" items that are anything but.

Colicchio believes that chefs need to take the lead in relying less on refrigeration and moving produce more quickly from the source to the plate. Of course this is going to cost more, and not everyone will be excited by the concept. Says Colicchio, "You've also got to get the markets to come along to the idea. But too often, we're preaching to the converted."

What's your take on Coliccio's views? Do you think we are too reliant on refrigeration?

Redzepi bounces back after a rough year

Boiled stone crab

For three years, René Redzepi's Noma topped the rankings of the world's best restaurants. But 2013 was "an avalanche of disaster," according to Redzepi. Sixty Noma diners contracted norovirus from tainted mussels, Noma lost its number one spot to Spain's El Celler de Can Roca, and the restaurant's investment structure was changed. But instead of being discouraged by these challenges, Redzepi took them as a wake-up call to change.

He told the Wall Street Journal, "I wouldn't want to be without this motivation. I told my whole team I wouldn't want to be without this tremendous and inspiring push. Sometimes you need a bit of anger towards the world." In 2014, Redzepi began an ambitious program to reinvigorate Noma, open a second restaurant in Copenhagen, and open a pop-up Noma in Japan. He created 90 new recipes and is also helping his long-time pastry chef open a Mexican restaurant across town. 

The Wall Street Journal article provides an in-depth exploration of Redzepi's tireless work to return Noma to the number one spot atop the San Pellegrino rankings. Upheaval appears to be a theme for 2014 in top restaurants, as New York's WD-50 is closing at the end of this month, and The Tavern on the Green announced a major shakeup. Food Arts Magazine also called it quits in 2014. It makes you wonder what 2015 will bring.

Photo of Boiled stone crab & seaweeds from Food Arts Magazine by René Redzepi

Gabrielle Hamilton bucks the cookbook trend

Prune cookbookGabrielle Hamilton is celebrating the 15th anniversary of her NYC restaurant Prune. Coinciding with this milestone is a cookbook named after the eatery. Prune goes against the trend of lavishly photographed, semi-autobiographical chef cookbooks aimed at home cooks, as The Washington Post notes in its discussion of Hamilton and the book.

When Hamilton began working on the cookbook, she attempted to write for the home cook. However, "in about 15 seconds flat, I realized I was lying my brains out," she said. "What I know and what I can really tell the truth about is what I've been doing every day for 15 years, which is cooking in a restaurant." So instead of writing to home cooks, she wrote to the audience she knew best: restaurant line cooks.

You won't find detailed headnotes or behind-the-scenes restaurant stories. Hamilton already provided much of that in her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, so this time the aim was for "the antithesis of the "food porn" that celebrity chefs routinely use to cement their images." That doesn't mean the book is dry or dull, however. Annotations are written in Hamilton's own hand (the book is intended to replicate the restaurant's kitchen binders), and the cookbook is dotted with vivid descriptions of how the food should look, smell and taste.

Even though the book is written primarily to restaurant cooks, home cooks will likely find many of Hamilton's instructions informative. For example, she instructs her cooks to only use special cutting boards usually reserved for pastry: "I have tasted our fruit salad when one of you has carelessly used the all-purpose cutting boards, and no matter how well they were washed and sanitized, there can sometimes be a lingering, remote onion/garlic tinge." Other advice assumes equipment or materials not found in most home kitchens, or is only applicable to a restaurant (like sticking the ham used in a recipe in the oven if a health inspector arrives).

If you have eaten at the restaurant and were wondering if your favorite recipes are included, note that among the book's 250 recipes you will find many of Prune's most requested, including Grilled Head-on Shrimp with Anchovy Butter, Bread Heels and Pan Drippings Salad, and Prune's famous Bloody Mary (with all 10 variations).

Read the entire review, which also includes quotes from Ruth Reichl and a more detailed discussion of what you'll find in the cookbook.

Does the fact that Prune is the "antithesis of food porn" make you more interested in the book?

Jacques Pépin begins filming his last series

Jacques PepinIn an age where nearly every cooking show focuses on conflict and outsized personality, Jacques Pépin stands out. For nearly 25 years, Pépin has starred in low-key, straightforward cooking shows through the public broadcasting station KQED in San Francisco. He says that his latest series, Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul, will be his last.

While Pépin doesn't rule out doing guest spots on other cooking shows, he says he's won't do another television show with a companion cookbook after Heart & Soul, which is set to air in fall 2015. So why is he ending his very successful run? He admits that one factor is his age.  "I do feel older now," says Pépin, who is approaching his 79th birthday. "The series is work. But the book is even more work."

The old-school method Pépin utilizes in his shows certainly looks like a lot of work: he "goes to the market every day and cooks the dishes in his home kitchen while an assistant jots down notes and measurements that are later typed into recipes. Just writing the cookbook can take two years."

The San Francisco Chronicle's interview with Pépin covers what viewers can expect from his new series, transports us to his beginnings in food in 1949, and provides a "by the numbers" listing of accomplishments (including his 24 cookbooks, many with several editions, and 295 episodes). It also provides insight on what Pépin thinks of modern cooking shows and culinary trends. His take on modernist cuisine? "My grandmother used to say, 'Don't eat anything you don't recognize...But that's what molecular gastronomy is all about. That gets tiring after a while, though. Sometimes you just want a taco and a beer."

Although he may be retiring from television, Pépin will certainly continue to influence both home cooks and professional chefs though his many cooking shows and the previously-mentioned slew of cookbooks. Volumes popular with EYB Members include Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food, Fast Food My Way, and Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques.

What have you learned from Pépin's cooking programs or cookbooks?

In defense of dessert

Chocolate creme brulee

Restaurant dessert menus have been on the decline for some time. Perhaps we can blame the trend on people cutting back on carbs or the demonizing of sugar. Or perhaps it is a by-product of the growing practice of restaurateurs eliminating pastry chefs and relying on a limited menu of pre-made desserts as a cost-saving measure. Chef Marco Canora is bucking this trend, and in an Esquire article he makes the case for having a pastry chef.

Canora, chef and co-owner of the James Beard Award-nominated Hearth in New York and Terroir wine bars throughout the city, is the author of Salt to Taste and the upcoming A Good Food Day. While noting that fewer than 40 percent of diners opt for dessert and that pastry departments are not revenue-generators for restaurants, he nonetheless thinks having a good dessert menu is important. "It's the beginning and the end that people remember most," he says. "That's why dessert matters. It's the final moment, that last bit of sweet."

Judging by the number of baking and dessert books in the past few Cookbook roundups, some people must still care about the final course, at least at home. How important is the dessert menu to you? Would you order dessert more frequently if the menus were more inticing?

Photo of Chocolate crème caramel from Martha Stewart Living Magazine by Dorie Greenspan

 

Chef Jason Atherton on cooking at home

Jason Atherton

Jason Atherton's pedigree is impressive: Gordon Ramsay's Maze, El Bulli, his own London restaurants, and outposts in Hong Kong and Singapore. While these establishments feature complex foods, the Michelin-starred chef has a simple philosophy when it comes to cooking at home. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Chef Atherton describes his views on seasonal food, what he considers essential ingredients, and how he uses his favorite cookbooks. 

Not surprisingly from the author of a book called Social Suppers, at home, the social aspects of cooking are important to Atherton. "You have to think about the logical reasons someone wants to go for dinner-it is to spend time with someone," he says. His philosophy is to keep things uncomplicated and not to stress over the food. Even though he is involved with food all day long, he enjoys coming home and cooking for his family. "I don't for a minute think it's a chore to get creative in the kitchen when I come home."

While he is an award-winning chef and cookbook author, sometimes Atherton draws on others for inspiration. "I use cookbooks a lot," he says. "Any chef who says they don't is a liar. When I am struggling for inspiration, reading one sparks off things. The one I use the most is El Celler de Can Roca. It is a beautiful book to read." Read more, including which ingredients he considers essential, at the  WSJ.

Literal chef's plates

Plate

Daniel Boulud's new Washington, DC restaurant, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, represents a homecoming of sorts. Boulud worked in DC when he first arrived in the U.S. thirty years ago. When it came time to decorate his new establishment, he enlisted his chef friends for an art project.

Over 100 chefs from across the U.S. to painted small plates in a manner representing famous artists. A wall at Boulud's establishment contains the renderings of culinary luminaries like Alice Waters, Dominique Ansel, April Bloomfield, Thomas Keller, and Grant Achatz. Some of the chefs reveal hidden artistic talent that they hadn't been able to express before.

"Although he commissioned the project himself, Boulud "was in awe of his colleagues' handiwork: "I couldn't believe some of them. They really spent time making sure these plates were going to be commemorative," he says." Continue reading, and see photos of several plates along with commentary from the chefs, at the NY Times website.

Photo by Darcie Boschee

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