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Why I Love Restaurants, April 7, 2006  If you look at the most popular food-related sites on the web or food print publications almost none of them are primarily about eating out. Most of them spend their time focusing on cooking and recipes. And this is a funny thing to me. America is kind of nuts right now when it comes to food. Most people are optimizing around cost, convenience, and quantity. And people are eating out more and more. But the people interested in food have decided that cooking is where their interest lies. Here's the problem: if the only people eating out are the people that are optimizing around the wrong things, then the food in this country caters to that audience - essentially, it's garbage.

People who appreciate good food need to go out to eat. And here's why. Even the people who are into food, subscribe to cooking magazines, read food blogs, are likely crappy cooks. They may think that reading recipes makes them good, but I'll bet 90% of them are terrible. And yet, here's a crazy thing... these people who purport to like food, are eating food made by lousy cooks - themselves. Even crazier is that there is a world filled with these people called "Chefs". Strangely enough these "chefs" have dedicated their lives to trying to cook good food for others often at reasonable prices and in convenient locations. It's no wonder that restaurants end up pandering to Americans who eat food like a duck having the gavage. They are the only ones who go out to eat. The others are sitting at home doing a bad job following recipes from "Cooking Light".

The small subset of people who love food and know better than to cook for themselves and just how much good food they can get outside of their own kitchens are carved out as some snobby minority labeled "foodies". I'll count myself among them so my brethren (and sistren?) don't criticize me for my hypocrisy. Us foodies are guilty of fetishizing good food and the people that make it. This website is essentially food porn. I don't think anyone literally masturbates to this site's food photography, but the mental equivalent is repeated hundreds of times daily. What's the problem you ask with this? Nothing per se, except that good food should be so prevalent in this country that we don't have to repair to our high end restaurants and out of the way roadside stands to get our fix.

Essentially we need to create a virtuous cycle where more people want high quality food, and more people can make a living creating high quality food. When you can get amazing food by randomly picking a restaurant in a city you've never been, Wolfgang Puck's empire will crumble. And that will be a good day for everyone.

And this leads to why I love the restaurant. And when I say restaurant, what I really means is anyone who sells food I can eat with no preparation. This includes diners, cafes, bakeries, bagel shops (also I suppose known as bagelries though I think that word is kind of dopey so I won't say it out loud), coffeehouses, chocolate shops, roadside stands, and of course... street food vendors. I love the fact that the world is littered with hundreds of thousands of places where someone wants to save me the trouble of cooking and is willing to feed me, often at a very reasonable price.

What makes this all the more amazing is that creating food for a living is hard, low-paying work. Which means, many of these people cook for a living because they love to do it. Think about it. Not only are there a zillion restaurants out there, but a significant number of people working at these places love  to cook for others. Passionate, professionals, all ignoring their better economic instincts, so they can make me a sandwich, or a nice bowl of soup, or a hot dog, or some foie gras. That to me is amazing, and I for one am grateful they are there.

When you add to this the fact that given how busy our lives have gotten, eating out together is one of the last bastions of the face-to-face social experience, restaurants should become even more exalted in our minds in terms of their role and importance in society.

I know not every cook at every restaurant is good. In fact, I'll claim the overwhelming majority of those that have cooked for me are not very good at all. This doesn't necessarily mean they lack talent or passion. But it does mean they aren't executing well with those natural resources. Yet in Japan, or Italy my odds are better than 50-60% that the restaurant I eat at will be delicious. Do you really think that Italy and Japan naturally produce better cooks? I don't. However, I do believe in capitalism and the power of markets. Businesses find their audience and work hard to cater to that audiences every need and want. The difference between the U.S. and Italy is that in America the audience sucks. They demand higher quantities of food relatively independent of what it tastes like. As I said in my last post, I have spent the last few years on this blog appealing to and trying to influence that very same audience. But the truth is that nobody who doesn't have some inclination to eat well reads this site.

So ultimately I am appealing to you, the restaurateur, the chef, and in some cases both. Someone must take a stand. And while I understand that a restaurant is a business. I believe that you can make a successful and lasting business by being intellectually honest, and staying true to your values. You may have to compromise other things to get there (your rate of growth, your location, your ability to scale your enterprise, your food network show) but in the end, if you can educate the diners in your small corner of the universe that better food exists, consistently, and interestingly, then they will reward you with loyalty and love. And if they don't, I'll smack them.

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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