by Ben Auburn
I can cook only two things well. Armed with top-notch chili powder and a dependable recipe, I can produce a mean yet kind-hearted pot of chili -- not award-winning, or anything, but definitely edible, enjoyably so. Then there's risotto, a misleadingly simple dish, which is to say it's simple to make and people are misled into thinking it's not; all you have to do is be willing to spend about thirty minutes straight stirring. Plus you can put almost anything into it. There you go, two dishes. No chef, I.
In addition, I am by no means a gourmet. Yeah, I'll enjoy a fifty dollar entrée -- not that I've had the pleasure, but I imagine I would -- but it won't be as satisfying as a really good stew, or gnocchi in a simple marinara. The taller my food gets, the less likely I am to like it; but the messier it is, the better, baby. (See Chili, above.)
So with almost no qualifications as a foodie or home chef, I am absolutely devoted to the New York Times food section -- "Dining In / Dining Out". Every Wednesday, without fail, it arrives on my doorstep (in Somerville, Mass., nonetheless), and over coffee of a particular nastiness that only I can manage (in what's supposed to be a good coffeemaker, but never you mind), I devour it, front to back, soup, you might say, to nuts.
Have I ever tried to cook a recipe from its hallowed pages? Nope, though I've sampled one that someone else cooked, and it was . . . okay. Do I ever -- ever -- get a chance to sample the schmancy eateries that the beautifully cranky Will iam Grimes reviews? Even if I lived in New York, I can't imagine having the disposable income, nor the taste for fois gras or a terrine of any kind, to make such a visit possible or worthwhile.
Still I'm drawn to the section like a moth to an expensive wool sweater. Maybe it's because I aspire to a kind of East Coast urban sophistication that I'll never really have -- born in Columbus, OH, raised there and various places in Arkansas and Indiana, I grew up with good eatin', not fine dining. Which is not to say that I didn't eat well -- my Dad is a fabulous cook, and he's equally comfortable cooking hash or roasting a bird as he is making sushi or dishing up Indian or Greek food. It's just that it's always been more important that food be more hot than haut.
Yet there I sit, every Wednesday, drinking in the delicious articles about some particular foodstuff or another, reading the columns about sub-celebrity chefs, carefully avoiding the wine pieces (see, I'm really not meant for this), and wishing for all the world that I had Eric Asimof's job of reviewing the $25 and under restaurants.
It's hard for me to read arts coverage without forming my own opinion about the subject. "Style Section" type coverage -- aka Lifestyles of the Rich (and/or Famous) -- makes me gag as it crams fashion down my throat. The weekly technology section -- "Circuits" -- is usually pretty simple-minded and almost always pretty banal. But the food section, oh the food section, covering an industry I know almost nothing about and describing dishes and places I've never eaten or been to -- it's ten pages of what a friend calls "chewing gum for the eyes," completely impact-less word-gathering.
Cooking: I love it, I know nothing about it and probably won't for sometime, or until chopping and washing dishes suddenly takes one quarter the time. The New York Times food section is food porn of the highest caliber. They might as well call it Dining In-Out-In-Out. Serve it up.
back to the junk drawer
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