The Food Almanac: Monday, September 9, 2013
Celebrity Chefs Today
It's the birthday (1960) of Mario Batali, one of the most celebrated of American Italian chefs. He was born and grew up around Seattle. Soon after graduating from college, he moved into a cooking career, and has been at it ever since. Restaurants he opened in New York City with legendary Friuliano restaurateur Joe Bastianich were so lusty and unique that he became a major celebrity chef. He's still constantly on television and on tour, and headlines numerous restaurants around the country. Batali, with his infectious enthusiasm for earthy cookery, proves that one need be neither slender nor beautiful to get on television--although the Food Network, in its effort to make everything on its air cute, has moved away from real chefs like Mario.
This is the birthday, in 1971, of Chef Jared Tees. He came to prominence as the original chef at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House. After the hurricane he moved to the John Besh restaurant organization, and opened Luke. He's now stationed at The Besh Steakhouse. Tall, good-looking, well-spoken, talented chef.
Harlan Sanders was born today in 1890, in Henryville, Indiana. His is one of the world's most familiar faces: his portrait hangs in all 11,000 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants around the world. He began cooking when he was six years old, after his father died and his mother went to work. He used that skill to open a cafe in a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky in 1930. His food good enough that it was highlighted in Duncan Hines's guide to dining across America, and for the governor to name him a Kentucky Colonel.
Colonel Sanders (as he was best known) perfected his fried chicken recipe by introducing the use of a pressure fryer. When a new highway bypassed his town, he sold the restaurant and gas station, but was left stone broke. At sixty-five he hit the road, selling restaurateurs around the country on his fried chicken recipe. It was an enormous success, and Kentucky Fried Chicken became an icon. In the early years, the KFC restaurants cooked all the chicken to order. When it went to a fast-food, prepared-in-advance production system, KFC lost a lot of its goodness. I hear that the Colonel was never a fan of the crispy version. When the original recipe with the famous eleven herbs and spices is made properly, it's still pretty good. But it's a long, oily slide from the Colonel's original product. He died in 1980, but his countenance still gazes on all of us as we drive by.
Wing is way out there in a sea of Illinois cornfields, ninety-seven miles southwest of Chicago. It's a warehousing and shipping point for all that corn. The entire town consists of four blocks. An abandoned trackage of the Norfolk and Western Railroad passes through. The nearest place to grab a fried chicken lunch (unless you know any of those nice people in the houses in Wing) is the Easgles Nest, five miles south in Forrest.
This is National Pressure Cooking Day, in honor of Colonel Sanders, who is probably responsible for more pressure cooking than any one other person. Pressure cooking involves closing a cooking utensil with an airtight lid, such that boiling water inside causes the air pressure to rise. Under pressure, water boils at a much higher temperature. The pressure also forces the cooking liquid deeper and faster into the food. None of this haste creates any extra damage to the food. It's not a new idea--French inventor Denis Papin is credited with devising it in 1679. Despite the complete safety of modern pressure cookers and their effectiveness, pressure cooking has never really caught on in the mainstream. Those who like the technique are very enthusiastic, but there lingers a widespread, unfounded doubt about it.
pakora, Indian, n.--A bite-size morsel of food, seasoned with spices, coated with a light batter (usually just flour and water) and deep-fried. Pakoras are street snacks in India, but they have become staples on Indian menus everywhere. Although most involve vegetables, pakoras can also be made from fish or chicken.
Eating Across America
This is the anniversary of the statehood of California, admitted to the Union on this date in 1850. You and I would not eat and drink as well as we do were it not for the farmers of the Golden State. They raise an almost unbelievable percentage of the fresh produce we consume, including almost all of the artichokes, garlic, lettuce, oranges, and eating grapes. Wine grapes grow all over the state. California winemakers vinify almost every variety known in the rest of the world. And one of its most popular grapes--Zinfandel--is its unique property.
Beyond fruits and vegetables, California has a food culture that supports a terrific array of artisanal producers of lamb, beef, cheese, and herbs. About the only food arena in which the state is an also-ran is seafood--but even there it has some specialties, notably Dungeness crab, abalone, petrale sole, and oysters. California's dark side is that it is the world's leading producer of hot air in cookery. Restaurants tend to emphasize good stories than good flavors in their food. Still, it's quite a place for eaters.
Music To Eat On The Dock By
This is the birthday, in 1941, of Otis Redding, the greatest soul singer of all time. He was a terrific composer, too--Respect and Dock of the Bay were his best-known works. His finest recording, however, was the 1930s standard Try A Little Tenderness, which I can't listen to without feeling my soul moved. Otis died tragically young in a plane wreck, at 26. What would his career have become had he lived?
Music To Drink Champagne By
Michael Bublé was born today in British Columbia in 1975. He has become the leading performer of Big Band jazz and standards among his generation. He's a glamorous, polished performer who has even caught the attention of teenagers to the music of the 1930s and 1940s. That's quite a feat, despite the surpassing musical excellence of that material. He packs houses wherever he goes.
Music To Eat Roast Beef By
Dee Dee Sharp was born today in 1945. She had two 1960s hits with food names: Mashed Potato Time and Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes).
Weather And Food
Hurricane Betsy, the first American hurricane to do over a billion dollars' worth of damage in the United States, hit the Gulf Coast near New Orleans today in 1965. It was a Category Four, and traveled across the southwestern side of the city. It flooded many of the same parts of the city that would be inundated in Hurricane Katrina. Many restaurants closed permanently after Betsy, but many more new ones opened to take their places.
Food And Drink Namesakes
Major-league relief pitcher Todd Coffey took the Big Mound today in 1980. . . Jose Negroni, singer with the 1950s group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, as well as a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, was born today in 1940. A Negroni cocktail (not named for the singer) is gin, sweet vermouth, Campari, and club soda, on the rocks.
Words To Eat By
"Nothing rekindles my spirits, gives comfort to my heart and mind, more than a visit to Mississippi. . . and to be regaled as I often have been, with a platter of fried chicken, field peas, collard greens, fresh corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with French dressing. . . and to top it all off with a wedge of freshly baked pecan pie."--Craig Claiborne.
Words To Drink By
"Drunkards are doomed to hell, so men declare,
Believe it not, 'tis but a foolish scare;
Heaven will be empty as this hand of mine,
If none who love good drink find entrance there."