May 2007 Archives

FINGERED

My dilettantish excursion into the fretful-parent genre has generated more response than anything I’ve ever written. It was the New York Times’s most e-mailed story for May 30 and much of May 31, and it elicited 300-something comments on the paper’s site. The article also inspired a segment on NBC’s Today that featured my homegirl Marion Nestle, whose What to Eat is just out in paperback, and whose own Web site/blog has just launched. To Food Snobs, the idea of a Nestle blog is the most exciting development since the advent of Harold McGee’s blog.

Of all the blog hoo-hah over my chicken-fingers article, my favorite lines came from Ed Levine, who boasted of his own son’s wide-ranging tastes but added that the boy “wasn’t one of those weird, obnoxious foodie ‘trophy’ kids who ordered sardines, anchovies, and foie gras with impunity,” and from the Gurgling Cod, who wrote of modern kids’ menus, “This is the road that leads to a species that slurps Soylent Green out of bendy straws running between cupholder and orifice.”

May 31, 2007  Link  General Posts  Share/Bookmark

I AM NOT A FOOD WRITER

But despite my adamant insistences to this effect, I’ve had two food-related articles published in The New York Times this week. Last Sunday, I reviewed The Devil in the Kitchen, the memoir of Marco Pierre White, the histrionic but talented London chef, for the paper’s Book Review. The British press hated White’s book*, but I attribute this to their inability to judge it on its own merits; White is a celebrity there, and a polarizing one at that, so the Brit food writers, already known for their stunt vitriol, were ready to tee off on Marco’s shaggy head. Me, I thought the book was pretty good.

In the Times’s Dining In/Dining Out section, I have an article borne of my frustration with, er, chicken fingers. It’s better explained here.

* Since I originally posted this entry, Mr. James Steen, who was White’s co-writer on The Devil in the Kitchen, has written to me to note that there were some British reviewers and arbiters who liked the book. “Before publication,” Steen says, “there was a bidding war for serialisation rights and all the big players-the Telegraph, the Mail, the Sunday Times-were keen to snap it up, which suggests that they liked it. In the end, it was serialised by the Telegraph. There were some lovely reviews. And yes, there were a couple of bad reviews. Actually, bad is an understatement. They were vicious beyond belief.”

May 30, 2007  Link  General Posts  Share/Bookmark

JAFFEE & ME

al_jaffee_1.jpg

The warm responses to my post about working with Bil Keane have prompted me to remember that I’ve more recently worked with another great cartoonist: Mad magazine’s Al Jaffee. I happen to be the author (with the help of some terrific collaborators) of a series of humor books devoted to cultural snobbery: The Rock Snob’s Dictionary and The Film Snob’s Dictionary, both of which are out now, and The Food Snob’s Dictionary, which will be out this October, and The Wine Snob’s Dictionary, which will be out in 2008. (More titles en route after that, too.)

In the spring of 2005, I launched Snobsite to promote the first of the books, the Rock Snob one. With an uncharacteristic flourish of caffeinated ambition, I decided that I was going to enlist various cartoonist greats to contribute Rock Snob humor to my site, under the banner Snob Comix. The first person I sought out was Mr. Jaffee, because his famous, beloved, long-running Mad feature “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” seemed ideal for adapting to the world of Rock Snobs, whose zeal for petty one-upmanship is pretty much the definition of both snappiness and stupidity.

Mr. Jaffee, who is 86, doesn’t know much about rock music, especially about the lost causes and cult acts that Rock Snobs hold so dear, but, like Mr. Keane, he was surprisingly agreeable to illustrating a script written by me. The result, in June 2005, was “Snobby Answers to Loser Questions!,” the first panel of which is reproduced above. (Note how nicely he worked in the Sigur Ros and Black Flag posters.) You can see the whole three-panel fruit of our Rock Snob collaboration here.

(As had been the case with Bil Keane, I had worked with Jaffee once before–under the auspices of GQ in the 1990s, when I was an editor there. What Jaffee did for GQ was a takeoff on the “Snappy” cartoons starring the “9/10 version” of Rudy Giuliani, who, in the years immediately preceding the terrorist attacks, was becoming increasingly tetchy and short-fused. Jaffee’s cartoon showed the NYC mayor viciously responding to interlocutors he found dimwitted, his lines all taken verbatim from the news.)

Something must have been in the air that summer of ’05. Shortly after “Snobby Answers...” was posted, complete with the illustration above of the dorky man purchasing Beck’s then-new album Guero, Beck released a video for that album’s second single, “Girl,” that paid homage to Jaffee’s other famous, beloved, long-running Mad magazine feature, the Fold-In. In an interview, Beck called the video an “East L.A. tribute to Al Jaffee.” Jaffee’s wife, Joyce, more computer-savvy than her husband, e-mailed me to say, “Pretty hot stuff, eh?”

And what of Snob Comix, my grand plan? Totally neglected: as of this date, I’ve yet to follow up Mr. Jaffee’s contribution with another cartoonist’s. But that may change soon. I’ve had some interesting conversations recently...

May 6, 2007  Link  Share/Bookmark

ME & DELUCA

The very first person I interviewed for The United States of Arugula was Giorgio DeLuca, the more florid and Italian half of the Dean & DeLuca founding duo. (Which was really more of a trio, given the role that Joel Dean’s partner, Jack Ceglic, played in the store’s conception and look.) One reason Giorgio was my first interview was that he’s local: I can walk to his penthouse apartment from my non-penthouse apartment. But the other reason was that he loomed large in my culinary awakening. Visiting the original Dean & DeLuca on Prince Street in 1977, its first year, when I was eleven years old, was an epiphanic moment for me. The array of stinky cheeses and olive oils and whole-bean coffees and (then-novel) prepared foods made me realize that there was a lot more out there to eat than what my supermarket in central New Jersey offered. Alas, I was not one of the customers that Giorgio belligerently and profanely sales-pitched into trying fresh chèvre back then. (See page 202 of the book for specifics on this.)

I’m pleased to say that, at Giorgio’s request, I’ll be the guest speaker/reader at a dinner he’s giving at his restaurant Giorgione on Saturday, May 19, in conjunction with the New York Toasts Italy festival being put on that weekend by Bene, an elegant American magazine devoted to all things Italian. There will be other events featuring other fine people at other fine restaurants–Mario Batali’s hosting a dinner at Otto, his pizza place; Cesare Casella and Bill Buford are doing their Brokeback Toscana Style routine at Maremma; and Silvano Marchetto and his wife, Cancer Vixen author Marisa Acocella Marchetto, are pairing up for a presentation at Da Silvano. But your entertainment dollar will go furthest at Giorgione. For one thing, Mr. DeLuca is an adorable, charismatic old-school New York neurotic. Then there’s the fact that I actually “do” a Giorgio voice when I read his quotes from my book, and it comes out disconcertingly like a bad Christopher Walken imitation. (Both men grew up in Queens, so it’s not totally off-base.) Order tickets today by calling Mary Beth Hubbard at 212-717-6380, ext 117, or by visiting Bene’s site.

May 1, 2007  Link  General Posts  Share/Bookmark

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