The Food Almanac: Monday, March 25, 2013

It's International Waffle Day!


Annals Of Famous Restaurants
Either yesterday, today, or tomorrow can be considered the anniversary of Emeril's. I was there today in 1990, the second evening of pre-opening dinners. The restaurant opened to the public March 26. Things went wrong, as they always do in new restaurants. But Emeril's former employer--Ella Brennan of Commander's Palace--told him, "Change nothing." He didn't, and the place took off. It's hard to believe now, but that was not a foregone conclusion at the time. Emeril had not even begun to achieve the stardom he now enjoys outside New Orleans. It wasn't quite just another new restaurant. And openings with more ballyhoo go down the tubes.

Emeril's, as we know now, joined that rarefied list of restaurants whose influence caused major changes in the dining scene. Antoine's in the 1880s, Galatoire's in the 1900s, Arnaud's in the 1920s, Brennan's in the 1950s, LeRuth's in the 1970s, Commander's Palace in the 1980s, and Emeril's in the 1990s. No restaurant has joined the list yet in the new century, in my opinion.

Celebrity Chefs Today 
Today is the birthday (1954) of Greg Picolo, long-time chef and (since last spring) owner of the Bistro at the Maison de Ville. The Bistro had a series of chefs who left after a few years to open their own restaurants (notably Susan Spicer and John Neal). Greg broke that precedent by staying put. He's now been there longer than all the Bistro's other chefs combined. Which is a very good thing for Bistro fans, of whom there are many. The food is consistently interesting, and Greg seems to be there seven nights a week to see to that.

Deft Dining Rule #200
If you need predictability from a restaurant, find one where the chef has been there a long time. If you want novelty, find one with a history of hiring young chefs who stay a year or two and then open their own places. You can't have both.

Today's Flavor
Today is International Waffle Day. Waffles seem special because they're not often made at home. Waffles are associated with restaurants, with the added touches of which add nice touches like whipped cream, fresh fruit, and real maple syrup, all of which are a lot of trouble in your own kitchen. Restaurants also keep their waffle irons on all the time. That gets around the First-Waffle Problem. For reasons nobody can understand, the first waffle you make is much worse than all the ones that come after. 

The best waffles are made with a thick batter containing a good bit of egg and butter. Because butter can be heated much hotter than water, it gives the waffle not only its fine flavor but also a crisp exterior. The other ingredients are milk, self-rising flour (I find that works better than using baking powder) a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon (not enough to taste, but enough to add a certain something). A really fabulous waffle comes from separating the egg whites, beating them until they foam, and gently stirring them into the batter.

An overlooked possibility is making non-sweet waffles with ingredients like onions and herbs. They are excellent bottom layers of savory dishes. Small oniony waffles carry caviar and sour cream marvelously well. At the street level, restaurants are popping up all over the country serving fried chicken and waffles.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The best waffle irons are the kind with big squares and non-stick coatings. Be sure they heat up a long time before you put the first one in. And be ready to give that one to the dog. Or to Dad.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Maple is a harvesting center for the vast wheat and cotton fields in the base of the Texas Panhandle. It was founded as a ranching center in the late 1800s, and named for Maple Wilson, one of the original settlers. It once had as many as six hundred residents. Although about seventy people live in the immediate area, it's considered a ghost town; most of Maple's buildings are abandoned. It's seventy-four miles west of Lubbock, and just five miles from the New Mexico state line. These are the wide open spaces, high on the endless plains. The nearest place to grab a bite to eat is a place called Place, eleven miles away in Morton.

Music To Eat Chicken And Waffles By
Aretha Franklin, who gets our respect as the definitive female soul voice, was born today in 1943. She takes care of TCB.

Edible Dictionary
hominy, n.--Dried corn kernels treated with a mild lye solution to remove the hulls and germ to avoid sprouting. The name comes from a Native American language, logically enough, since they are the ones who developed the process, using hot water and ash to do the job. When ground, hominy becomes the familiar grits eaten with breakfast in the South. You can buy whole hominy kernels canned or in bags, but it's not much eaten in that form. One dish in which whole hominy is essential is the Southwestern American stew called posole, very familiar in New Mexico.

Annals Of Food Tourism
On this date in 1806, the first people to travel by rail took a train through Wales. Their destination: a place where they would consume a few dozen raw oysters on the half shell. Writer Elizabeth Isabella Spence said about the ride: "I have never spent an afternoon with more delight than the one exploring the romantic scenery at Oystermouth (Mumbles). This car contains twelve persons and is constructed chiefly of iron, its four wheels run on an iron railway by the aid of one horse, and the whole carriage is an easy and light vehicle." She mentioned nothing about the guy who fell off while looking for the bar car.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Today in 1995, Pizza Hut rolled out its Stuffed Crust pizza, inspiring commercials showing people eating pizza crust first. Which, by the way, gets messy when you get to the point of the slice--unless it's a very dry, cheese-poor pizza. The hard part was finding a cheese that would still look like cheese after baking inside dough.

Eating Around The World
Today in the town of Tichborne, in Hampshire, England, a gallon of flour is distributed to every adult in the town, and a half-gallon per child. The Tichborne Dole, as it came to be known, was instituted by Lady Mabella Tichborne. Her dying command to her husband was to make a donation of bread every year on the feast of the Annunciation (nine months before Christmas). She added a curse to it, which came true for one of her husband's descendants. Afterwards, the Dole was kept up without fail, and still is. Here's the whole story.

Annals Of Nuts
Today in 1775 (although there's dispute about the year), George Washington planted pecan trees at Mount Vernon, his home. Some of those trees are still alive. He may have done this at the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson. Both men were strong proponents of pecans, and advised their widespread planting throughout America. It was a good idea. The harvest of pecans--erratic though it may be--is always welcome. And when a pecan branch or a tree falls, its wood is among the finest to burn for grilling food.

Annals Of Food Research
Norman Borlaug was born today in 1914. An American agronomist, he won the 1970 Nobel Prize for the research that evolved into the Green Revolution. He spent much of his career figuring out how places with inadequate food production could grow more and better crops. His notable successes were in Mexico, India, and Pakistan.

Chefs In The News
Today in 2008, Chef Paul Prudhomme was hit by a falling bullet while attending the Zurich Classic golf tournament in New Orleans. He was not hurt.

Food Namesakes
Long-time major league third baseman Travis Fryman hit the Big Basepath today in 1969. . . The mother of film director David Lean yelled "action!" at him today in 1908. . . Kaat Mussel, an outspoken woman in Rotterdam (and seller of mussels, hence her name) was born today in 1723.

Words To Eat By
"He gave her a look you could have poured on a waffle."--Ring Lardner, American writer.

Words To Drink By
"He that eateth well drinketh well,
He that drinketh well sleepeth well,
He that sleepeth well sinneth not,
He that sinneth not goeth straight through Purgatory to Paradise."
--William Lithgow.