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December, 2009 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - December, 2009

The Top Chef Effect

Vegetarianism doesn’t seem to have penetrated snow country. Here in the mountain aerie of The Canyons at Park City, shining ersatz village on a hill, meat is what’s for dinner, in particular exotic meats like elk and bison. Salads are topped with bacon bits, duck confit, and other meaty delicacies. Although they won’t become local in Utah until global warming advances a bit farther, sea scallops, perhaps the richest food of the sea, routinely pop up on menus of fine restaurants.

If you want to live on vegetables in Utah ski country, you’re stuck with chili or bean burritos.

Since this town is younger than Mr. Henry’s Timberland boots, it might seem churlish to expect it to be steeped in authentic tradition. But why must every entrée arrive with a glaze, reduction, or coulis invariably too sweet?


Mr. Henry blames Top Chef. The world has fallen under the svengali sway of Padma Lakshmi, television’s dark-eyed temptress and siren of oral pleasure. Today across the nation young men sharpen knives, grow a soul patch, and dream of seducing Padma with something on a plate. Young women, too, have joined the kitchen crusade.

The upshot of this competitive hedonism is that new chefs are using too many ingredients at once. Last night at The Westgate Grill, Mr. Henry ordered elk tenderloin (raised in New Zealand… no wasting disease there). In itself the elk was delicious, but it could not win a valiant fight with a syrupy blueberry sauce. Passed out beside the elk lay “drunken mushrooms” over-marinated in red wine. Steamed and broiled Brussels sprouts, the evening’s highlight, however, were perfectly prepared.


The question remains: why must chefs insist on overpowering the palate with contrasting and, too often, conflicting flavors? Why can’t they let ingredients speak for themselves? Elk filet is sumptuously elegant and requires little in the way of adornment.

Typical of the Top Chef generation, the Westgate Grill’s salad chef got the look but not the taste. Spinach salad piled in a stack with blue cheese and walnuts looked beautiful and had the right combination of flavors, but it was drowning in dressing.


Padma, hear us! The nation cries to you for balance, for restraint… for bridle, halter, crop and lump of sugar…yes, yes, yes.

Don’t play with your food

Whoever thought vegetables would become the subject of such impassioned debate?

Arguing her points well, ChaChaHeels sent a long and very eloquent post about vegetarianism. For those who wish to eat responsibly, ethically, and nutritiously, it is not enough simply to avoid meat. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) lurk everywhere, sometimes even in organic crops. Seed DNA may have migrated (by accident? perhaps by design!), and if Monanto detects even a trace of their DNA in your seed, they’ll sue.

Mr. Henry appreciated the efforts of local farmers to raise meat using sustainable methods of farming, and he tries his best to buy those products even when it means paying more. eatingdog.jpg

The essence of the attack on meat is not really about sustainability, organic vs. local, or any the more intellectual arguments. When the vegetarian diet becomes more widely adopted, it will be because its proponents convince us that eating flesh is dirty. The cultural construct of clean versus dirty is perhaps the deepest of all taboos and most salient of culture markers. In Korea, China, and Vietnam, for example, it is perfectly acceptable to eat roast puppy.

Here Mr. Henry would like to assure his readers that he considers himself to be a man of open spirit and liberal imagination, tolerant and accepting of foreign traditions. After all, he is a seasoned traveler, well-lettered and well-read. He does not lightly vilify the manners and customs of other people.


If when breakfasting in Bangkok you elect to try the roast grubs, a local delicacy, Mr. Henry applauds your adventuresome spirit. There is nothing so beneficial as a hearty breakfast. But tucking into a savory slice of man’s best friend is a custom Mr. Henry has trouble accepting. Barbaric is a word that comes to mind. Puppies, after all, brim with playful love. The many virtues of the grub notwithstanding, surely puppies bring a greater measure of joy into the world.

Perhaps it comes down to this: Mr. Henry does not believe in playing with his food.

Goddesses of the hearth

In the fifth millennium BC, did women rule Old Europe?


According to David W. Anthony in The Lost World of Old Europe, women developed metallurgy, arguably the greatest technological achievement in the history of man. It wasn’t the village smithee standing under the spreading chestnut. Although they did not rule, it was the ladies changed the history of mankind.

Starting with bread-baking, women extended their mastery of pyrotechnology to the baking of clay for vessels and figurines. They learned how to adorn clay with colors derived from local deposits of malachite and azurite, which happen to be copper ores.

In a very hot kiln, copper ore combines with charcoal to produce copper and slag. By accident, therefore, women tending the hearth discovered the magical process of smelting sometime around 4,500 BC, fully a millennium and a half before similar developments in the Middle East, Egypt, and the Indus Valley.