Trying to make sense of the Amazon-Whole Foods Market buyout? Start by reading Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman. I recently reviewed it for the Weekly Standard. As with all of Ruhlman’s works, Grocery is a pleasure to read. The history is fascinating and the trends are intriguing—our shopping habits and the structure of the supermarket itself continue to evolve. But we seem to be heading back toward the specialty stores of yesteryear. This is mostly because supermarkets can barely compete with Walmart and now Amazon. But Grocery is also a homage to the author’s father, who genuinely loved shopping for food. The elder Ruhlman especially loved butter: “Any conduit for [butter’s] entry into his mouth sufficed: boiled artichokes, snails, lobster, bread, it didn’t matter. The man felt a kind of ecstasy when ounces and ounces sluiced down his gullet, nutritionists be damned.” Sounds like my kind of guy!
Photo of Whole Foods, East Village, New York: David Shankbone
So we finally got around to putting together a podcast. And by “we” I mean my fellow Galley Slave alumnus Jonathan V. Last and former Weekly Standard colleague Sonny Bunch. It’s called The Weekly Substandard and it’s a podcast about movies, television, and all things pop culture—in essence, a nerdcast. It’s probably only a matter of time before we start discussing D&D and the greatest boardgame ever: Axis & Allies. In any event, check us out on iTunes, leave a review, subscribe, and tell your friends!
“Think of all the starving children in India!” That’s what we used to hear, growing up, when we couldn’t finish our plates. And still, a lot of us were not able to join the ranks of the Clean-Plate Club. In a recent issue of the Weekly Standard, I look back on those days and how I was able to fool the nuns in school by concealing meals the way Andy Dufresne concealed rocks. Not that our playground was a prison yard. Actually, it was a parking lot. In any event, as an adult, I find the tables turned (sorry!). Call it a form of obsessive-compulsiveness but I cannot stand seeing good food go to waste. So I eat everything my own kids can’t finish. I’m surprised I haven’t gained weight in the process. Oh wait.
On August 13, the legendary French chef Michel Richard died. I first met Michel in 2007 when I was writing my celebrity chefs story for the Weekly Standard. And over the years I’d kept in touch with him for stories I’d written at the Standard and Washingtonian—over innumerable lunches and dinners we chatted about everything, quite literally from soup to nuts. And still, after publishing my reflections at the Washington Free Beacon and at the Standard, there are still things I managed to leave out. He loved women: He loved talking about them, admiring them from afar, getting hugs and kisses from them at the restaurant. He hated root beer—the first time he tried it, he was expecting the taste of beer, not cinnamon, and almost spit it out. He hated the new range of pastel colors for macaroons, which he found puzzling. And he especially hated tattoos, which are now ubiquitous in the cooking world.
I came across my notes from a 2010 lunch with Michel, Levi Mezick (now a chef at Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Table in Napa), and then-assistant manager Jennifer Lucy:
A friendly and attractive female server comes over and asks if we’d like a drink. We decline politely. Central is now closed as it prepares for dinner and the server is only wearing a sleeveless shirt with shoulder straps, exposing her right upper-arm tattoo. Body art and kitchens these days are fairly common. There may not be any open space left on Wylie Dufresne’s entire body. Most of the line cooks, Levi notes, also have some form of body art…. But Michel hates it. And he cannot help but notice the tattoo on the girl’s arm. He doesn’t say anything, but Jennifer Lucy is aware of the stare, what it means, and assures Michel she will be covered during service. But Michel still has to comment: “If someone served me and I saw these things on his arm…. Do you know where tattoos look good? On garbage cans…. If you were born with tattoos, your mother and father would spend money to remove them!”
I also stumbled across this other line of his: “Fusion creates confusion.” He was one of a kind.
When the Washington Free Beacon asked me (WFB food and beverage director) to review the new Burger King monstrosity known as the Whopperrito, I rolled my eyes. Why must they send me off to taste such awful things? But then I discovered it wasn’t a monstrosity. It was actually a delight. Will it help boosts earnings for a company that just came off a disappointing quarter? Unlikely—although BK may see its numbers improve because, following the lead of McDonald’s, it now offers breakfast 24 hours. (But then again, how often do you think of Burger King for breakfast versus McDonald’s with its iconic Egg McMuffin? Yes, it is an icon.) As others have pointed out, the Whopperrito is also banking on Chipotle fans looking for an alternative. Buena suerte, Señor Whopperrito.
Photo courtesy of Burger King
In the August 1 issue of the Weekly Standard you will find my most recent Casual column on my bachelor week—a once-a-year event, in which my wife and kids are away while I am here working. As I mention, it’s an overrated experience when I overindulge in food and drink. And frankly I don’t like being alone. There is also an anecdote about the time I came home and had to bludgeon a mouse to death using a nine-iron. Barry Jackson of Gilbert, Ariz., recently chimed in, however, with this advice:
I would have used a driver, for impact and distance. A nine-iron should only be used when elevation is crucial, like if you need to put the critter through a high window. Whatever club is used, be sure the mouse has indeed expired. He may not have been alone. His companion may come along and try to revive him with … wait for it … mouse-to-mouse resuscitation.
There’s an irony to that old bar rule of never discussing politics and religion: The earliest taverns in colonial America were hotbeds of political and religious debate. Places like The Green Dragon in Boston and Fraunces Tavern in New York were gathering spots for revolutionaries—our revolutionaries, including Sam Adams, George Washington, and John Hancock. At the Washington Free Beacon, I review Taverns of the American Revolution.
Photo of Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Va., by Dmadeo
I now have two takes on the Outback Steakhouse Loaded Bloomin Onion—the original in the Washington Free Beacon and the latest in the Weekly Standard. I asked my colleague Mike Warren, what would the third take be called? “Loaded Bloomin Onion 3: The Final Chapter”? He suggested “The Bloomining.” As it stands, the one currently up at TWS is the “Director’s Cut.” And he kindly ran my subhed, the perennial favorite: “Bloomin 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
On one of those HBO expansion channels I came across The Godfather Epic, which combines Part I and Part II in chronological order, plus deleted scenes. It’s interesting and informative (though it still does nothing to clear up the confusion over Frank Pentangeli and the attempted hit by the Rosato Brothers). It leaves out, however, the third installment from 1990—not that anyone was clamoring for it. Except, well, maybe Ted Cruz. While he was still campaigning, Cruz told CNN’s Anderson Cooper he was fond of all three Godfathers. Cooper asked if the Texas senator was sure he meant to include the last movie. Cruz stuck to his guns. Over at weeklystandard.com you can find an extended discourse on the subject of Part III, its merits and faults, and even whether it was meant to be made in the first place.
Fans of Edward Hopper, one of the 20th century’s masters of realism, will be delighted to learn nine of his works can now be accessed at artsy.net, a free and educational source for art. Conveniently, the works are divided into categories like location (by institution or gallery), medium, and era. Come check them out and the 40,000 other artists on their site.