Why Is Food Writing Usually So Bad?

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:19

    The general mediocrity that informs the institution of food writing's long been a preoccupation of ours here at Soup to Nuts: Everybody on the goddamn planet's chewing and writing simultaneously and, with the exception of Gerald Asher, the great Alan Richman, Ruth Reichl, William Grimes and several others, not a bloody thing's getting said. Food writing as the literary critic's big black sun; as the philosophers' radically non-signifying language. Nietzsche should have read more food writing; it's the stripped-clean language of radical nihilistic forgetting. Ninety-nine percent of the stuff means absolutely nothing. How is it possible for language not to mean? And yet food writers have devised it.

    Luckily, however, the boys in charge of this asignificatory racket are back in the saddle, and our money says that everything is gonna be just fine. Or so we're thinking now that we've been apprised of the fifth annual "writing week" that's going to occur at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone, CA, campus from Nov. 8 through 11. This should be good; and, for that matter, it should be a good environment in which to meet successful, professionally unfulfilled, seeking women in their late 30s, contemplating career changes and thinking of doing the food thing, but who could just as well do something else with the rest of their lives, like bear your children, if you can manage to talk them into it and you're so inclined.

    Two back-to-back food-writing seminars will be offered during the period in question; the classes will cover newspaper and magazine journalism and cookbook writing, and will be taught by what the publicity material's calling "a distinguished group of American food writers, reporters, editors, agents, and cookbook marketing agents," including Food & Wine's Dana Cowin, Reichl and The Washington Post's Phyllis Richman. (But really any group of distinguished writers that doesn't include Florence Fabricant isn't very distinguished at all.)

    Be prepared to watch the craft of food writing improve dramatically by, oh, early December.

    Call 1-800-333-9242 or 707-967-0600. Or else visit the Greystone page at www.ciachef.edu.

    And right around the corner from the Soup to Nuts South Slope Field Office, too: Brooklyn's fine 12th Street Bar & Grill will on Oct. 16 offer a "harvest lunch" to benefit the borough's relatively shabby but still charming Prospect Park?amidst the sappy early autumn foliage of which we recently caught a charming glimpse of a wizened prostitute fellating a gnarly homeless camper. The lunch will be served at 1 p.m. sharp, and will include four courses packed with such dishes as wild mushroom-crusted monkfish with oven-roasted Manila clams, mussels and couscous; also a maple-pecan bread pudding with cinnamon cream. Tickets for the lunch run $35 for the general public, and $30 for members of the Prospect Park Alliance.

    The day also includes an optional ramble through Prospect Park, at 11 a.m. The food, by the way, will be a product of the Grand Army Plaza farmers market and of Urban Organic, the Brooklyn home delivery service of fresh organic produce and groceries.

    Call Randi Sackheim at 718-965-8988 for reservations and more information.

    Attention food and literary editors: Monday, Oct. 18, and Tuesday, Oct. 19, will find a miniseries of "New York in Poetry Evenings" occurring at East Soho's great Savoy, a favorite restaurant of ours that we'll continue to patronize despite this indiscretion. Donna Masini, an "urban poet" and a professor at Hunter College, will read a variety of New York-specific material, including work by Whitman and Lorca (the original South American at Columbia). The food, which ought to be as topnotch as everything else at Savoy, includes Manhattan clam chowder and wood-grilled Delmonico steak. The dinners will take place on the second floor, in the wonderfully comfortable Chef's Dining Room, and will begin at 7 p.m. They'll cost $85 plus tax and tip.

    Monday, Oct. 18, the excellent Hudson River Club, pioneer in the use of regional ingredients and in the presentation of regional wines, as well as occupant of a tremendously dramatic piece of real estate in the World Financial Center overlooking the marina, will hold its annual Barrel Tasting and Harvest Game Dinner. What it all means is that the evening will be grounded in the tasting of wines-in-progress: specifically cabernets, chardonnays and merlots from the Hudson Valley, Long Island and the Finger Lakes. Executive chef Matthew Maxwell will prepare a dinner featuring wonderful seasonal ingredients like quail eggs, rabbit, "wild shot" pheasant and venison. The wine tasting itself will be accompanied by hors d'oeuvres such as smoked venison with fruit compote, pigeon tartelettes and quail eggs with salmon and caviar; reservations for the prix fixe evening, which will run you $125, should be placed at 786-1500.

    Culinary-related events at the Upper West Side's Barnes & Noble location at 1972 Broadway (65th St.): First, on Oct. 16 at 3 p.m., Aeyal Michael Ginor, who's the president of an organization called New York State Foie Gras, presents a session at which he'll shill a book entitled Foie Gras: A Passion, and that features goose-liver-based recipes from top-level chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pepin and Charlie Trotter.

    Then, on Tuesday, Oct. 19, Sharon Lebewohl and Rene Bulkin, coauthors of the Second Avenue Deli Cookbook, will set up and offer participants a sampling of the sort of food you'd tend to find at the Second Avenue Deli.

    Just show up for both events.

    The East Village's First, which has outlived its initial chic to grow into its status as a fine stalwart of its neighborhood's restaurant culture, is now throwing champagne brunches, and will continue to do so indefinitely. Saturday between 11 and 3; Sunday between 11 and 4; and you're allowed to drink as much as you want. The restaurant's located at 87 1st Ave. (betw. 5th & 6th Sts.). Its phone number is 674-3823.

    What ought to prove to be the quintessential nonevent of the current culinary season will occur on Thursday, Oct. 14, when such culinary authorities as The New York Observer's Moira Hodgson, Time Out New York's Adam Rapoport and the Daily News' Daniel Young will convene to present a panel discussion called "Restaurant Critics Reveal Where to Get a Good Inexpensive Meal."

    Damn! It's irksome that none of us ever get invited to appear on these magnificent panels. But then, given the deep and exotic culinary and geographic knowledge that this event will demand of its participants, is it any wonder? What possibly could we offer?

    Well, let's see. There is that donut-cart dude who sells Jim Knipfel his daily light-and-sweet every morning at the corner of 28th St. and 7th Ave. Also...well, we're blanking... Wait! Well, there did used to be that little Hispanic fellow who'd sell us cherries out of a barrel right out here in front of 333...also the cat who used to peddle cart-sausages at the corner of 6th Ave. and 47th St. back when we were fresh-faced and working a summer job right out of high school during that bright summer of 1989... Wonder if he's still there...that certainly would qualify as a good, inexpensive meal... What? It has to be a restaurant meal? No, no, it's true: We don't know nothing about that at all. And neither, we wager, does anybody else who's lived in New York City for under, say, 72 hours.

    Which is why it's fortuitous that this panel of culinary experts will convene to present a panel discussion called "Restaurant Critics Reveal Where to Get a Good Inexpensive Meal."

    Fifteen dollars will win you admission to this spectacular event, which will occur at the New School's West Village campus. About the same amount of cash will also buy you a significantly pleasurable dinner at Rice, Palacinka, Mama's Food Shop, Pepe Rosso to Go, Gabriela's, Veselka, Two Boots, Thali, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, Pommes Frites, the Corner Bistro, Moustache, Joe's Pizza, El Pollo, Big Wong or about 10 thousand other good cheap establishments littered around the city and with which you're probably already familiar.

    To register by phone and for whatever more information you might suck out concerning this affair, call 229-5690. Tickets will also be available the night of the event at the New School box office, 66 W. 12th St., from 5 until 6 p.m.

    New York's Spanish cultural center, which calls itself the Instituto Cervantes and that's located in midtown, offers some appealing wine events throughout this fall?so appealing, in fact, that it's worth calling the organization and requesting a calendar. For example: the Instituto's Friday night series of wine tasting, each of which costs $60, and that on Oct. 15, 22 and 29 will feature the following themes, respectively: wines of the Duero and Galicia; of the Mediterranean in general; and Ribera de Duero bottlings from 1994, 1995 and 1996. For more information?that's really only the beginning of it?call 689-4232.

    E-mail tips and comments to souptonuts@nypress.com or fax to 244-9864.