The Food Almanac: Friday, December 7, 2012
Cotton Candy Day, cracklins, and the first refrigerator
New Year's Eve: 24
New Orleans Chefs Hall of Fame
Chef Chris Kerageorgiou, legendary New Orleans restaurateur and founder of La Provence, was born today in 1927 in Provence. His parents were Greek. Chris began his career cooking on ships (where he met longtime pal chef Goffredo Fraccaro, of La Riviera). He wound up in New Orleans as the maître d' of the Esplanade, the high-end restaurant of the Royal Orleans Hotel. Chris opened La Provence, the first really great restaurant on the North Shore, in 1972. In 2006, shortly after selling La Provence to his protégé John Besh, Chris died. He was active until just a few weeks before his passing. He was a real original, with a passion for cooking and for life.
Vincent's opened today in 1989. Vincent Catalanotto, a waiter and bartender for years, was managing a little cafe with the unlikely name "The Corsican Brothers." The owners evaporated one day. Vincent, looking around for what to do next, took over the place. "I found out that I could cook as well as all those chefs that'd been screaming at me," he said. The menu was familiar New Orleans Italian food, yet polished in its way. It was a runaway success, so much so that Vincent never had time to do a decent decorating job on the dining room until the hurricane shut him down. His St. Charles Avenue restaurant was the first significant Uptown restaurant to return after the storm. Both places remain very busy at all hours.
This is National Cotton Candy Day. Cotton candy is spun sugar. Aside from its popularity at festivals and Mardi Gras parades, spun sugar had a brief vogue during the 1950s in classy restaurants. The Brennans bought one for their restaurant, and kept trying to do something with it before giving it up as an impossible mess.
On a more satisfying note, this is Daube Glace Day. Daube glace starts with slowly-cooked beef that's sliced into near-shreds, then cooked in a mold with gelatin, savory vegetables, herbs, and seasonings. It's a familiar part of the most traditional Creole tables around Christmastime, and many old-style butchers and market delis still make it every year. (The most famous version cones from Langenstein's.) You eat it with crackers or French bread as a canapé, or as a dip. It tastes much better than it sounds, and is a wonderful partner for cocktails or those mulled wines we make this time of year.
Seafood Creek, New York is the nickname for Seaford Creek, which winds through a very exclusive area of waterfront homes on the south shore of Long Island, about 40 miles from Manhattan. Although it's a natural creek (flowing into the equally delicious-sounding Oyster Bay), it's been dredged and had numerous canals dug outward from it so residents can bring their boats right to their back doors. A waterfront restaurant called Crabby Amy's is right there.
cracklings, n.— Most often pronounced and written "cracklins." Pork fat and skin, cooked until crisp, eaten as a snack. Cracklings are made several ways, the most delicate of which is to cut the fat off into slices about three-quarters of an inch wide by an inch and a half long. The cut is made through the skin all the way through the fat, then a little bit into the lean meat. It's roasted in a pan until it's crisp. Or it can be fried. The rendered fat is saved for cooking, and the cracklings are eaten as is. Cracklings are more common in the Cajun country and the rest of the South than in New Orleans proper. The only place that's made a name for them is Mother's, where they give them away to waiting customers. It's heart-stopping in its fat content, but sure tasty.
Today is the birthday of Mary Ann Connell Fitzmorris, my brilliant and beautiful wife of nearly 22 years. She hired me for my present radio gig; that's how we got to know one another. She's not much on gourmet food, great wines, or music. But I love her anyway. (She does make the best hash brown potatoes I ever ate.)
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
He who forgets his wife's birthday is surely doomed.
On an unrelated note, today is the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Today is the feast day of St. Ambrose of Milan, the "honey-tongued doctor of the Church" in the Fourth Century. He is the patron saint of beekeepers.
The first refrigerator for home use was patented today in 1926 by the Servel Company. Before it came along, we all used iceboxes. Oddly, it was operated not by electricity but by burning gas. Servel continues to make gas-burning refrigerators and air conditioners. They are unusual in having no moving parts. A very small gas flame powers a gravitational refrigerant coil somehow. They apparently last almost forever, and are popular with people who live or camp far from civilization. (They can run on propane.)
Music to Dine By
Today is the 100th birthday of Louis Prima. He was born in New Orleans in 1911 and became one of the most unusual bandleaders in the Big Band era. His sound was so distinctive that listening to only a second of his vocal performance is enough to identify him. He had a song that sounds like it's about food, although it isn't, really: "Closer to the Bone, Sweeter Is the Meat."
Vaclav Chalupa, a Czechoslovakian rower, was born today in 1967. We're only one letter away from having a second Taco Bell item among our birthday boys today: Jordi Buritlo, a Spanish tennis star, was born when Vaclav turned five... One of American history's many figures named Hamilton Fish was born today in 1888. This one was a congressman and a leading proponent of isolationism... Australia's sixth Prime Minister, Joseph Cook, was born today in 1860.
Words to Eat By
"At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well and talk well but not too wisely." — W. Somerset Maugham
Words to Drink By
"Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends." — Tom Waits, razor-blade-throated singer and songwriter, born today in 1949