The Food Almanac: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Staff Writer
It's International Waffle Day!
Wikimedia Commons

Waffles seem special because they’re not often made at home.

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 of the Bistro at the Maison de Ville, where he distinguished himself. In 2011, the restaurant fell apart (long story, and not his fault). In 2012, Chef Greg joined Redemption, the newly-reopened restaurant formerly known as Christian’s. He was the ideal person for that job; the restaurant had been struggling to find a direction in its first two years. Greg has a direction, all right, and the menu has not only his stamp but that of Christian’s, too.

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

Maplesville is close to the geographic center of Alabama. General Andrew Jackson came through here in 1814 (on his way to or from the Battle of New Orleans?), and defeated a group of Native Americans who lived in the area. European settlers were soon established, and by the end of the decade the place was named for merchant and postmaster Stephen Maples. The town moved in 1850 to the railroad that had just come through. After the Civil War, Mapleseville held on and became prosperous in the 19-teens. Now 1500 people live there. The place to dine is Friends Diner, right in the middle of the old part of Maplesville. I wonder what flavors of syrups they have.

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

Hamlin orange, n.–The first variety of orange to ripen in Florida, Texas, and (to a lesser degree) California. The Hamlin is sometimes misidentified as a navel orange. It does have a small navel, but it’s different from a true navel orange. Its most distinctive quality is that it is not really orange. The skin is usually artificially colored for sale in stores. The meat of the orange and its juice are a pale orange-yellow. The flavor is good, however, with hints of pineapple. When the Hamlins arrive, it’s good news for orange lovers, because it means the new season has begun.

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.

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

80 Desserts: Belgian WafflesNewest Obsession: Tiny Furniture Made From WafflesDream Registry: Designer Waffles

“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.