Aww yeah . . . Top Chef Masters is back

I can now relax back in my chair, loosen the rubber tube from around my arm, and drift in a narcotic sea of food porn. The Top Chef franchise is back with a second season of Top Chef Masters, accomplished chefs competing against each other for glory and donations to a favored charity. Top Chef at its best is a perfect combination of low-impact suspense, creativity, knowledge, craft, and hard work. That becomes even more true when the competitors are already successful; at worst, they’ll lose just go back to their well-reviewed restaurants with stories to tell the staff. (At the show’s worst it devolves into ridiculous product placement and fussy competition twists that add nothing to the enjoyment, but the Masters show has far less of those elements.)

One of tonight’s competitors was one of the very first stars on Food Network–Susan Feniger, owner of Border Grill and a host of Too Hot Tamales. That’s one of the first food shows I remember really loving back in the 90s. Feniger’s older now and it was hard to see her in that face I remembered, but the voice and enthusiasm was the same. And one of tonight’s chefs runs a restaurant in Cambridge, MA called Oleana. I sense a trip to Boston in my future . . .

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Adventures in exotic flavor

Well, they can’t all be home runs. I experimented with a couple of new products from Gagan Indian grocery store in South Burlington. I’d never heard of Rooh Afza, a sweet beverage concentrate designed to be mixed with water, milk, soda, etc. I’m at work so I just mixed it with cold water. The floral overtones are a little strong for me and there’s quite a bit of  the stuff; I couldn’t stand to just waste it. I’m hoping that I’ll find it more enjoyable either in a lassi or mixed with soda, lime, and vodka.

Haldiram’s “nut crackers” (spiced, fried peanuts) are better, but awfully spicy. I’m thinking these are almost all going to be for Suri. Her taste buds can handle more fire than mine, and they’re a really low-carb snack anyway.

I reject your food barriers

poutine Breakfast vs. dinner. Snack vs. meal. Exotic vs. regular. Child-friendly vs. sophisticated. No more! It’s fat, protein, and carbohydrates, together with vitamins and minerals, combined into a form that makes it TASTY. That’s what’s important. Let’s have lemon ricotta pancakes for dinner, cold chicken and sweet potato chips for breakfast, mixed nuts and fruit for a meal and a little poutine to tide us over. Let’s enjoy the simplicity of ramen and teach kids the joys of fish tacos. Who’s with me?

A little wine for the cook . . .

One thing I really respect about food service is its meritocratic nature. Unless you’re selling very cheap food to lots of people, the only way to survive is to consistently put out good food. You can’t bullshit diners into thinking that bad food is OK or OK food is good. It doesn’t matter where you went to culinary school, where you’ved worked before, how much people like you, what awards you won in the past, or who your relatives are–dry chicken is dry chicken.

I think this emphasis on quality has a lot to do with the high proportion of drunks and druggies in the restaurant business. It’s one of the last industries that pretty much never does drug testing, maybe because it’s increasingly become a haven for skilled people who lead legally suspect lives. I’ve got really old fashioned ideas about this. I’m happy so many big companies have employee assistance programs to help workers in trouble, but if someone shows up on time and sober then it’s not any of the boss’s damn business what they were doing before they showed up. Don’t get me wrong, a cook shooting heroin on the line and fucking up orders is a big problem, but until he’s so far gone that he’s actually incompetent THERE AT WORK, no one wants to train up somebody else. If the diners are happy, no one’s stealing much, and cops aren’t raiding the place, then the kitchen staff can be the biggest pack of high, drunken malcontents you ever met.

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The Omnivore’s Hundred

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects

43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Note: the only reason I wouldn’t try the lobster is because I’m deadly allergic to shellfish.


Always nice to have an interesting new place to eat. It’s in Burlington, but I get there often enough. Sadie Katz Deli has opened up in the ancient Oasis Diner location. Lots of good Jewish food there including amazingcheese blintzes. I brought Suri home some chopped liver, a knish, and half of my oniony brisket sandwich. I know their pickles, latkes, and matzo ball soup aer good as well, though I haven’t tried the whiting salad or pastrami. They’re open until 4 pm on weekdays, which helps me a lot–I often find myself hungry during slack time, when most restaurants are closed.