The Food Almanac: Monday, October 28, 2013

Chefs Through History 
Today is the birthday of one of the two or three most influential figures in the history of cooking and gastronomy. Auguste Escoffier, called the Emperor of Chefs, was born in France in 1846. His abilities as a chef were formidable, if what was written about him was true. More important was the legacy he left behind: a careful code of methodology for French chefs. What we came to know as French haute cuisine was largely defined by Escoffier. His name appears of countless restaurants, gourmet societies, and products.

Today's Flavor
Today is Wild Foods Day. Much in vogue among urbane chefs, wild plants and animals are the most primitive of foods for humans–and all other animals, for that matter. Most plant foods on our tables are now cultivated, involving species that have been altered for that purpose so long ago that most of the plants they evolved from are now gone. Still, we eat plenty of wild foods, most notably in the seafood department. But even fish has become subject to the manipulations of man. While nobody would say that wild foods are always better than cultivated ones (wild strawberries are certainly not), it is true of many foods. Wild catfish, for example, is much superior to farm-raised.

It's sobering to realize that most wild plants and animals are inedible, or not very nourishing. Animals, which eat only wild foods unless we've adopted them, tend not to be fat. When the first settlers came to what is now America, despite the fertility of our lands, many of them starved to death.

There's a good book about these matters by Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemma. Read it to get a realistic view of where our food comes from.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Wild Rice, North Dakota is six miles south of Fargo, very close to the Red River of the North, the border with Minnesota. It's on the winding Wild Rice River, which flows into the Red. The tributary is flanked by just the kind of natural wetlands where wild rice grows, and it does. The Wild Rice Bar and Grill is right there for lunch and dinner. I'd recommend the duck with wild rice, but this seems like a hamburger and short order place.

Edible Dictionary
einkorn, n.–An ancient ancestor of modern wheat, still growing in both cultivated and wild forms in the Middle East. Humans have been eating it since prehistoric times. They also appear to have made something like beer from it for as long as it's been used for food. It's very rarely seen these days mainly because of the difficulty of milling its big, well-hulled grains. If you even run into it, it may be int eh form of bulgur–the cracked wheat that's part of the recipe for tabbouleh, kibbe, and other Middle Eastern dishes. It may have a future in providing a grain that can be eaten by people with celiac disease.

Deft Dining Rule #201
If you can't see how much pepper is in the glass shakers on a restaurant's tables, it's because they haven't emptied and cleaned the shakers in years. What does that indicate about the restaurant's other practices?

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
You can darken a brown sauce or gravy by stirring in a small amount of instant coffee. You won't taste it.

Monuments And Food
Today in 1965, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri was completed. It symbolizes the gateway to the West that St. Louis remains. Many of those who see it for the first time are surprised that it's silver, not gold. Not, in other words, like the McDonald's arches. And a story I read in a magazine (National Lampoon, I think) said that it was originally planned as a tall spire, with a revolving restaurant at the top. But the narrow center section started to bend, the top leaned all the way over, and the revolving restaurant screwed that end into the ground. They decided just to leave it alone, call it an arch, and hope nobody saw what happened.

Food Namesakes
The Irish painter Francis Bacon was born today in 1909. . . Actress Annie Potts hit The Big Stage today in 1952. . . Bob Veale, a strikeout artist who pitched in the major leagues for twelve years, was born today in 1935.

Words To Eat By
"The greatest dishes are very simple."–Auguste Escoffier, the "Emperor of Chefs," born today in 1846.

Words To Drink By
"I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin."–Hilaire Belloc.