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Archive for July 2007

Kitchen Rat

Originally posted on indyrats.com, July 11. 2007.

Okay, I admit it. I am a bad person.  

I didn’t like the movie Ratatouille. 

Just kidding, I loved Ratatouille, but I’m still a bad person because I didn’t want to like it.  

When everyone was banging drums over Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I sat it out. Reviews were about ideology; nobody said anything about whether or not it was a good movie. 

In Braveheart, Gibson misses on historical accuracy, but makes up with luscious cinematography and tales of heroic deeds. I suspect it’s the same deal with The Passion.

I’ll go see the movie in ten years when tempers cool off. Besides, I’m still trying to figure out why I’m so fond of Gone with the Wind, a movie that denigrates hard-working black women, glorifies the KKK and enables the behavior of skinny, sedity white bitches. 

To me, all the noise about Ratatouille was suspicious. You know the culinary/politico patter, “chefs are geniuses,” blither blather about food being art. No one was saying anything about whether or not it’s a good movie. I planned to sit it out and see it in a few years. 

The owner of this blog had other plans. She’d seen the film with her grandson, Gabe, and insisted we go. Bribed with a lunch of custardy asparagus/swiss cheese quiche at Stardust Terrace Café, I was dragged down the streets of Indy and up escalators and elevators like a cat on a leash to this movie.  

As insurance, I purchased a big bag of popcorn. In case the movie was a clunker, I at least had stale popcorn drenched in artificial butter to keep me entertained.

When the ad for No Reservations lit up the screen, my inner curmudgeon mumbled, “even this boner has to be better that what we’re going to see.” 

The pale blue shutters of the French farmhouse in the first scene, melted my cynicism, warmed my heart and won me over.

Everything that’s being said and written about this movie is true and more so.

It captures kitchen culture, down to the detail of how cooks fold and wear their aprons. It captures the balance between vocational discipline (“follow the recipe”) with culinary spontaneity and improvisation. 

It honors decent food. 

For all the computer animation technology, it’s pure Disney. Like Lady and the Tramp. it’s about good vs bad, weak and disenfranchised overcoming obstacles; it’s lots of scenes of little critters almost getting squished.  Despite danger and hairpin twists of plots, the movie ends with everyone enjoying their meal in a relaxed atmosphere.  

The story is about cooks and cooking and restaurants, but it’s so much more. It’s about those who love what they do, whether they are cooks, mechanics, teachers, priests, nuns or ministers. It’s about the call to avocation, dedication to service, the will to do good, the power of pleasing and making others happy.    

Critics are praising Anton Ego’s (the restaurant critic) epiphany about critics versus chefs, but the real epiphany is Ego’s first taste of ratatouille. It throws him back in time, scraping off the barnacles of age and disappointment.  It brings sunshine into his shadowy existence. It alters him, makes him a new man and reminds him why he loves food.

He’s changed, willing to toss caution to the wind and stand up for principle. One bite of humble vegetable stew brings him back to life. 

Remy, the little rat that could, embodies the spirit and the soul of Every Cook.  

He builds a repertoire based on reading Chef Gusteau’s cookbook “Anyone Can Cook,” he practices diligently, he improvises intelligently. Remy is true to the vocation. The desire to walk up to the stage and get into the film was so great; I had to grab the seat in front of me to contain myself. 

For those not initiated in kitchen culture, the scene where the cooks walk out is puzzling.  Commercial kitchens create order out of chaos. There’s a rhythm and a dance; otherwise nothing would get done and no one would ever eat. God is in the details when it comes to food and cooks are forced to focus on minutiae. They’re not big picture people.

Sadly, many cooks prefer the monotony of preparing mediocre food to the challenge of improving, changing or creating the sublime. The film captures that reality. 

Like Anton Ego, Ratatouille lifted my spirits and my soul.

I’ll go to this movie again, and probably again and again. Thanks for good movies and good friends. 

Vive le France. Vive les Etats Unis. Vive Fernand Point & Thomas Keller

Vive the geeks, dorks, wussies and food nerds who made this film happen.

==============================================

Oops, oops, I forgot. Reviews of Ratatouille, the movie, are supposed to have a recipe of ratatouille, the vegetable stew.

I’m not going to give one because I think there are better uses for eggplant, and besides, ratatouille has a gaggy texture.

You have two options:

1) Go to MTAOFC for a classic, authenic recipe.

 If you don’t own MTAOFC (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child) what better time to buy it?

2) Make Confit Byaldi. This is Thomas Keller’s recipe used in the movie.

You can find it at:

 http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/13/dining/131rrex.html?ex=1339473600&en=20bf94f48570832f&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Bon appetit.

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Written by Susan Gillie

July 11, 2007 at 2:32 am

Tapas

Oringinally published on indyrats.com.

I said I wasn’t going to do restaurant reviews. I changed my mind. 

WB and I were supposed to go to Al Green’s Indy Jazz Fest concert. For a myriad of reasons, it didn’t happen. Being the wise, prudent man he is, he sensed danger and set about to repair the potential damage to the relationship. 

We spent an entire day doing what I wanted to do. 

BARcelona Tapas, a St. Louis based restaurant, opened a second restaurant at the corner of Ohio and Delaware. I wanted to find out if all the buzz is warranted. 

I warned WB the restaurant was new and initial impressions were mixed. 

We walked into a long, narrow space. Outside seating wasn’t available, so we dined indoors. Décor was warm and cheery. Although BARcelona has a lunch menu of soups, salad and sandwiches, we wanted tapas.  

We ordered four dishes: Champinon con Mahon (chilled marinated mushrooms in Mahon cheese); Bacalao (crispy codfish and potato cakes with lemon garlic sauce); Callifor al Azafran (roasted cauliflower with saffron, raisins and pine nuts); and Plato de Embutides (assorted grilled Spanish sausages). 

Service, as others noticed, was spotty. They were out of artichokes, the first dish we ordered. Instead of Campinon con Mahon, we were served another mushroom tapas. WB ordered coke; I ordered diet coke. The waiter repeated two diet cokes. WB carefully explained he wanted coke not diet coke, but the waiter brought him a diet coke.  

We ate, paid the bill and left the restaurant to drive over to the Indiana Historical Society. 

As we walked to the car, we shared our opinion of the food. We both agreed: the dishes were greasy, pasty and unseasoned. The Bacalao was passable. I’d love to peek into the kitchen. I suspect the dishes are bagged at a commissary and shipped to the restaurant, then “assembled” rather than cooked. That would explain why the food was unseasoned. 

We don’t want to go back, but we wish the restaurant well.  The fact that it’s not a steakhouse is a step up for Indianapolis dining. Lunch customers and the evening bar scene should keep BARcelona in business. 

At the historical society, we located archives and found Little League All-Star pictures of WB’s brothers. We flipped through microfiche newspapers until we found an article about his All-Star team. We laughed at the fashions and gasped at the grocery food prices. 

It’s a beautiful facility, with friendly, helpful staff. After we were done, we took the spiral staircase past the conference center, to the canal level. We strolled along the canal to the parking lot.  

Hoaglin to Go is the museum’s new caterer and they manage the restaurant. Another reason to revisit the museum. 

When you eat food that doesn’t satisfy you, you may be full initially, but you’re soon hungry. We had an early supper.

I picked up some eggs earlier in the day at the City’s Farmers Market, so I whisked up an omelet mixture. As the liquid hit the heated pan, the eggs puffed up into golden clouds. I chopped some herbs, vegetables and leftover roasted chicken, quickly sautéed the mixture and sprinkled them over the omelets. My version of comfort food. 

WB set the table and poured glasses of honeyed iced tea. We savored the food and our conversation. 

Relationship repaired.  

BARcelona Tapas Restaurant

201 N. Delaware

Indianapolis IN 46204

317-638-8272 

Lunch Hours

11an-5pm

Dinner Hours

5pm-1pm 

Indiana Historical Society

Stardust Terrace Café

By Hoaglin to Go

Tuesday-Saturday

11an-2pm

****************************************************************************’

Susan Gillie is a professional cook and freelance food writer. You can email her at sgillie@sbcglobal.net.

Written by Susan Gillie

July 9, 2007 at 2:30 am

GastroGuzzling

Orignally published on indyrats.com.

It’s been an an interesting year in the food blog world. San Franciso Gate ran an article about out of control bloggers.

Some indulge in vampiric feasts of failing restaurants, playing a newly minted version of dead-pool, “guess which turkey will fold next. Others extort chefs and restaurateurs, threatening their reputations and sales if their victims don’t cough up free meals or advertise on their blog. 

Michael Bauer, food critic for SF Gate dismissed food bloggers as amateurs unqualified to judge let alone write about food. Mario Batali, chef extraordinaire of Food Network fame finds ‘floggers” vicious and pernicious. 

My dopey little food column has not been immune from controversy or criticism. Gastroguzzler, an irate reader, took exception to Food Fantasy #1 about the Columbia Club. 

After years in the corporate world, I’m thick skinned. Aside from telling a line cook who earns $10.18 an hour she doesn’t know what she’s talking about because she can’t afford to eat where he does is offensive to the working class, I chalked up his comments to being humor challenged. 

This week, after posting “Why Does Wedding Food Suck,” I received an angry email from another gastrowindbag.  

It’s the same tone-deaf, scolding, patronizing rant as Gastroguzzler. A page-long lecture about food costs, margins, yada….yada….yada.

I was astonished. All I could think was: 

“Did you read the column?” 

If she had, she would understand.  Food writer Anna Bauer so aptly described the secret “food as the prism through which to view other issues.”  

That’s why I named the column The Unfood Food Column. Food is a vehicle to talk about other things. 

In the case of wedding food, I was hoping readers would read Salon’s interview with Rebecca Mead. Better yet, maybe a few will pick up her book, One Perfect Day. It’s also an unabashed plug for my alma mater, Second Helpings. 

It’s about a far deeper issue.  

Weddings are just one day, marriage is forever (as Joan Didion said, “marriage is time.”).  I hope, that by showing how silly wedding food could be, couples will lighten up and concentrate on marriage. 

As I said, tone deaf. 

Gastroguzzlers are the victims of food porn. Like victims of sex porn, their time, money and energy is used up by their addiction.   

The writing of Gastroguzzlers is lazy and condescending. Snark masks the absence of ideas and creativity. It’s all about the A-list, and as one journalist put it, “it’s sooooooo obvious.” 

Good taste and accomplishment have never been the hallmarks of success in America, and Gastroguzzling is wildly popular. Just watch Gordon Ramsey or read Anthony Bourdain and you realize that America loves posturing and bullies. 

Molly O’Neill wrote:

Food has carried us into the vortex of cool. There, the urge to become part of the story is stronger than the duty to detach and observe and report the story.”

Food Porn, CJR, 2003 

Gastroguzzling has its place and maybe it can lead us to a better food scene. Gastroguzzlers can point out the obvious to us rubes. Steakhouses are not fine dining. They can shame us into the realization that there’s too much drunkfood in Indy and we’d all be better off if the Peterson administration passes an ordinance requiring eateries to serve only vinaigrettes and salad dressings made fresh on premise (“that’s balsamic to you, Bubba”). 

Gastroguzzlers have the potential to bully and scold us toward better food. We’ll eat less (because it costs more), lose weight and save on insurance premiums. 

Who am I to quibble?

Written by Susan Gillie

July 4, 2007 at 2:27 am

Why Does Wedding Food Suck?

Originally posted on indyrats.com.

We’ve all been there. Waiting, we have a few drinks, some cashews or mints. Then we wait and wait and wait. Finally, the wedding party shows up. Dinner was scheduled for six, but the bride and groom, giddy after months of over planning and bickering about details, want another toast. It’s 7:30, we’re ravaged by hunger, finally dinner arrives.  

Iceburg lettuce showing its age, dressed in an orangey “French” dressing, the entrée–rubbery chicken with rice and a gloppy, pasty sauce.  

Once again, we’ve suffered through wedding food.  

In her new book, “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding,” Rebecca Mead exposes the truth: 

Mead made her way from Walt Disney World’s Wedding Pavilion (where brides regularly spend $2,500 extra to rent the Cinderella Coach) to the ersatz wedding town of Hebron, Mich., and a crowded bridal dress factory in Xiamen, China. She also attended trade shows, hung out with newly minted bridal consultants and trailed a celebrity wedding planner, a “multifaith” minister and a wedding dress magnate — all to illustrate the ways in which the industry preys upon both a bride’s hopes and her insecurities by aggressively marketing products that promise to make her day “perfect.”  The result is a concise but searing skewering of the marriage marketplace and the “Bridezilla” culture that has sprung up around it, written in the spirit of the great muck-raking journalists.

Salon, May 21, 2007 

Mead discovered what we all know, America is maniacal about weddings.  

Sentimentality, over-the–top consumerism, gullible parents, spoiled children, with all the excess surrounding weddings, why does the food suck? Wouldn’t you think for $27,875 (average cost last year for a wedding) you could get some decent grub? 

Proof’s in the pudding, or should we say the wedding cake? I asked real-life people about real-life wedding food experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

I asked the Vulgarians. 

These women meet on a semi-regular (monthly) basis for lunch. They’re traveled, with educated palates, sophisticated tastes and they’ve been to many, many weddings.  

So the question, “what was the best and worst weddings food you’d ever had?” 

First glazed looks of profound boredom as they searched their memories for wedding food. Faces began to light up.

Ellen remembered fried apple fritters as the only thing served at one wedding. Sammy said it was bad kosher food at a cousin’s wedding: black-eyed pea fritters and a chicken breast so dry it took three glasses of water to get it down. 

Gail remembered a wedding she attended at a toney Hilton in Denver.  A new chef created his version of nouvelle cuisine, lots of weird colors, big plates/little portions, odd looking mushrooms. The wedding crowd was gourmand, but they couldn’t figure out what the food was.  It was inedible and expensive. 

In Soulless Food Why Is What’s Served at Weddings So Wretched? writes: 

Given that more planning goes into the average small wedding than went into the invasion of Baghdad, the mystery remains: Why is such an essential element of hospitality kissed off so uniformly?

Slate Magazine, June 12, 2007 

Schrambling offers three reasons: quantity trumps quality, pleasing everyone and offering too many choices, choosing receptions based on location, “often the trendiest venue is saddled with the lamest caterer.” 

Schrambling sees another reason wedding food is lame: 

“my cynical side sees more insidious reasons for food that is inevitably for worse rather than for better. Wedding couples are different from the average party planners, thinking primarily of themselves, and choosing menus for meals they will not eat. They’re far too distracted as stars of the show, and know no one will say anything except how wonderful everything is. Why should they care that the sole amandine goes untouched?”

Slate Magazine, June 12, 2007 

The Vulgarians agreed that the best wedding food was served at Marcia’s son’s wedding. 

I asked her son, Joe Dayan, new executive director of the Indianapolis City Market, why the food was so good.

 “My brother is a caterer, I have years of experience and planned everything” he said. “We had lots of hors d’oeuvres; we passed plates of fruit, cheese and vegetables before the entrée was served.” Dayan said. “We wanted everyone to have fun and enjoy themselves..” 

Local food professionals agree that the quality of food is the responsibility of the caterer, but they have tips for couples planning a wedding. 

Select a good caterer. The quality of the food depends upon the expertise and commitment of the caterer. If you’ve been to a party or function and were impressed by the food, use that caterer. 

If location trumps caterer, be realistic. If your heart is set on having your reception in an historic landmark or museum, recognize limitations. Does the location have on-site cooking facilities? If your caterer has to transport the food, sit-down dinners are hard to pull off; better to go with a buffet. 

Stay on task, stay on schedule. Months of stress, coupled with exhaustion make even level-headed brides disoriented. If you’ve told your caterer dinner at six and you’re wandering around toasting guests at 7:00, the food suffers. Asparagus waits for no one. 

Pick what you like, trust your own tastes. Don’t be afraid to be original. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Consider lighter, more contemporary food. It’s easier to prepare and guests appreciate it. 

Here’s the best tip, though.  

Select Just Cause Catering as your caterer. “Eat Well. Do Good.” is their motto. Just Cause Catering provides fresh, creative food crafted by experienced catering professionals.

You can expect a high-quality product for a reasonable price and all profits go to support Second Helpings, a food-rescue, job-training not for profit organization.

Weddings, after all are the celebration of marriage, a sacrament of the special bond between two separate souls. What better way to show your love and commitment to your guests than to hire a caterer whose purpose is to give back to our community? 

Information About Just Cause Catering 

Contact Marcella McMasters

Executive Catering Manager

Marcella@justcausecatering.com

The Eugene & Marilyn Glick Center

1121 Southeastern Avenue, Indianapolis In 46202

317-632-2664 x29 

Marcella will arrange a tasting session for you. 

========================================================================= Susan Susan Gillie is a professional cook and free-lance food writer. She is a graduate of Second Helpings Culinary Training. Feel free to leave comments on this blog, or you can reach her at sgillie@sbcglobal.net.

Written by Susan Gillie

July 1, 2007 at 2:25 am