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The chaos and deliciousness of the current food moment
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This week’s newsletter is a reprint of my most recent newsletter for TASTE (plus some Snack Cart additions), where I’m part of a rotating cast of newsletter writers. To get my newest stuff as soon as it’s out, subscribe to TASTE. I’ve finally moved, so hopefully I can get back to doing a bit more writing now that I’m not stress-crying most nights.
One of the food trends we’ve seen percolating this year is the rise in chefs across the country bringing fresh ideas to iconic American foods. Do I dare use the hated word “fusion”? It’s more than that, though. Diners are embracing new dishes while enjoying the comforting memories associated with the classic originals. This throughline ties together a buzzy blooming onion in New York with rethought American Chinese in Chicago and Korean biscuits and gravy in Los Angeles. And, of course, there is our current McTorta Moment. For crying out loud, the drink of the summer was a Shirley Temple!
In that context, I enjoyed Scott Hocker’s essay about the increasing popularity of sticky toffee pudding across the United States. From fine dining in New York to Disney World, the British dessert is appearing more and more on American menus. Hocker goes into some of the dish’s unique steps and its relatively limited history, even in England.
“A cake covered in delicious and sticky sauce” is a classic 1980s and early ’90s American concept (though the sauce is usually chocolate). When I was a kid, if I was lucky, my parents would let me get a volcano cake (it went by a million other names) when we would go out to eat. I’m sure many of you have similar memories.
Laura Nelson at the Los Angeles Times follows up on the slew of food recalls earlier this year with a deeper look at the meal kit industry. I had never thought about it before, but there is no regulatory body ensuring that meal kits are safe—and that’s even before they’re shipped.
Eater released a package of absurdly smart essays marking the 10th anniversary of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The 2011 documentary on a small Tokyo sushi counter was a sensation and, in many ways, changed the food world. Amy McCarthy writes about how all food on TV now looks a lot like Jiro (not just in documentaries like Chef’s Table but also in scripted series). Jaya Saxena writes about how the movie was a key driver in making Edo-style sushi menus the default “I have a ton of money to spend on a meal” experience in American dining (something I’ve also written about!). Bettina Makalintal writes a complicated and challenging exploration of the movie and the concept of authenticity.
The trick to peeling beets that Samin Nosrat swears by? Paper towels.
Rice Krispies Treats are more than just a one-trick hit of nostalgia—they’re a simple-to-execute snack with a crispy, chewy, gooey texture that is one in a million in the world of desserts. “I love how the Rice Krispies somehow remain airy and crunchy when you take a bite,” observes baking blogger and food writer Vallery Lomas, in a TASTE story about RKT inspiration written by Aaron Hutcherson.
You may have noticed that restaurants at every level are having trouble staffing up. The Washington Post dives into the various perks restaurants are offering to recruit people. Hopefully this isn’t just a factor of the strong labor market but a sign of some soul coming into the industry.
In a recent issue of Snack Stack, writer Doug Mack looks at the history and politics of official state foods. There are 110 official state foods around the country!
One of Los Angeles’s hottest restaurants right now is Horses. The creative American spot received raves in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and it’s tearing up Instagram feeds across the city. We’ll see if that continues, as last week, Eater Los Angeles reported that former Spotted Pig co-owner Ken Friedman helped the restaurant get started and may be a silent partner (the article hasn’t figured it out, as both sides are saying different things). Friedman previous ran a restaurant empire before multiple accusations of sexual harassment shuttered the Spotted Pig and most of Friedman’s other restaurants.
The food scandal de jure racking New York City is: Where, exactly, does the mayor eat? Mayor Eric Adams is known for his long days, claiming that he crisscrosses the city supporting nightclubs and restaurants, but Politico and the New York Times tracked the mayor for a few weeks and found out that he returns again and again to the same few places. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but it seems as if he’s probably not paying the check at his favorite Midtown haunt, violating state ethics rules. Not to mention, the restaurant owners are two of the biggest tax delinquents in the state.
The JSTOR blog has a short piece on the heyday of orange box labels. From the late 1800s to the middle of the 1950s, various orchards and companies used colorful and pastoral labels to help sell their oranges. This is worth clicking through just for the gorgeous retro images. Delightful.
My sister Hope explains a wine meme
Sometimes you’ll see a wine described as “feminine” or “masculine.” Generally, a lighter, floral, and fruitier wine is often described as feminine while a more structured, richer wine is described as masculine. Gruner doesn’t act like a stereotypical floral and “feminine” white wine: it’s zesty, vegetal, and peppery, and awesome to pair with food, especially spicy dishes.
But gendering wine is bad writing! Calling a wine “feminine” or “masculine” is reductive, sexist, and lazy. Notes like oaky, citrusy, acidic, or tannic don’t rely on stereotypes as a crutch and are much more interesting to read.
TASTE’s Kaitlin Bray is an advocate for “aging” your cake, because fresher doesn’t always mean better. That goes for the usual suspects, like panettone and black cake, but also for layer cakes, olive oil cakes, and sheet cakes—with intel from Claire Saffitz, Brigid Washington, and Melissa Weller.
I’ve spent most of this summer amid a tricky / complicated move, but I’ve finally settled and can start thinking about other things on my weekends besides packing, unpacking, and stress crying. Since it feels like I missed a lot of summer food, I needed Cathy Erway’s rapid-fire ideas on various ways to preserve summer produce. It’s worth reading, even if just for the ideas on what to do with jam besides spreading it on toast.
Moving forces you to face the harsh realities of the back of your cupboard (“God, HOW much yeast did I buy during the pandemic?”). I came across several containers of elbow macaroni and have been trying to think of ways to use them that don’t involve mac and cheese. Odette Williams’s recipe for chopped salad pasta might be just the thing. It’s sharp, light, and easy to cook on a still-hot weekday.
My new house comes with a few seriously beefy stove burners, so I’ll be trying my hand more at high-heat stovetop cooking this fall. Last week, I officially christened the house (I set off the fire alarm making stir-fry), but once I’m ready to try again, this Kung Pao Mushrooms recipe is at the top of my list. I’m always looking for vegetarian versions of Chinese takeout classics.
I love JJ Goode, cookbook writer extraordinaire and admittedly terrible cook. In the New Yorker, he discusses the most perilous cooking step of all: “season to taste.” This is a must-read if you, like me, don’t really know what that means.
Stained Page News, a newsletter by Paula Forbes that covers everything cookbooks, is out with its fall cookbook preview. This preview is voluminous, covering over a hundred books, though it’s easy to dive into Forbes’s top ten for a brief snapshot. Paula has an amazing eye, and the books you will be reading and cooking from for the next year are on this list. Paula was also a guest on the TASTE podcast last week, where she talked about cookbooks writ large as well as diving into her top ten.
Watch, Stream, Listen
This week, the TASTE Podcast features a lively conversation with JJ Johnson, the chef and cookbook author behind the growing empire of rice-bowl restaurants Fieldtrip. We cover, among many topics, James Beard, studying at the CIA back in the day (and being one of the few Black chefs in the program), running a BIG restaurant at the US Open, cookbooks, inflation, and selling rice bowls to millions and millions of people.
I’m unclear on why an economic outlet is reviewing a book from 2021 (but hey, summer is for catching up on books). However, this positive review of Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography was a great reminder of how good that book was. Whether you love the book or not, you should subscribe to author Laurie Woolever’s podcast Carbface. It doesn’t come out often, but every time it does, it’s a raucous treat.
Early in August, Papa John’s unveiled “Papa Bowls”: pizza toppings in a bowl with cheese and sauce. There was lots of snark, but nothing quite sums up the insanity like this review by YouTuber and fast food critic John Jurasek. I was introduced to it by Ryan Broderick’s newsletter, where Ryan described the vibe of the review as “haunted public access channel,” which is perfect. The dry and officious tone of the review really heightens the crass absurdity of selling a bowl of pizza toppings.
Hulu released a trailer for a new David Chang production: Chefs vs. Wild, a show in which chefs are paired with survivalists to create meals from things they can scrounge. This seems bananas! There are very few details yet, but I do know that one of the contestants is my friend Sammy Monsour, who Instagrammed about the show and who you can see briefly in the clip. Good luck!
Out of Context J. Gold
The green-chili burrito may be the sine qua non of Los Angeles burritos, spicy, though not as hot as I thought it was when I was in high school, and bright, with the fresh, almost citrusy taste of green chilies against the rounder sweetness of the pork and the grainy, almost fermented quality of the smooth beans (just enough of them left intact to give the rest texture) that cement together the whole. - Link