Monday, January 03, 2011

Whodathunkit!?: The 2010 Year In Bests: Food

Why do you suppose that all year-end Best lists have to be published before the year ends? I know, I know: we're supposed to begin the new year looking ahead, a fresh start, all that. But can a whole year really be crammed into the week between Christmas and New Year's? And what if something really big happens on December 30? Should we just ignore that? I think not.

Which is why I didn't finish this up last year and am continuing my retrospective of the year we just left:

The Year In Bests;

The First-Ever TBOE
What You Were Told,
And What You Should've Been Told Instead

Best Of The Year List.

Quite a mouthful. Imagine how long it would take to tattoo that onto yourself in a drunken stupor that you're only in because your wife was silly enough to let you pick up the food from the Irish gastropub you had a gift card to because of circumstances that would take an entire other post to tell about, so let's just say "That whole story sounds made up" and move on to the Food portion of this list.

What Everyone Else Said was the Best Food Story of 2010 ranges -- as is typical with our fragmented pop culture (where the only thing we can all agree on is that it seems remarkable that we all put up with Charlie Sheen but for some reason we still do) -- from top "food story" (Food Safety, according to Bay Area Bites, which said "D.I.Y. Food" was the number two story of the year, claiming (improbably, if you ask me) that

Age-old practices such as canning, jamming, foraging, fermenting, growing and gleaning are suddenly new (and cool) again. Chickens are the au courant backyard animal of choice. And classes in the Domestic Arts all the rage.
Which made me think who? WHO is "canning, jamming, foraging, fermenting" and blah blah blah? If anyone is doing that stuff, it's hipsters who live in the Bay Area and have too much time on their hands.

Although I have to admit, everytime I read about it, I am so tempted to get a chicken coop and put chickens in our backyard, not because I would eat the eggs (gross) or the chickens (gross, and mean, too) but because I could. Isn't that reason enough?

Anyway, some snobby website announced The World's 50 Best Restaurants, and don't click that link because you're not going to eat at them, anyway, and neither am I -- we'll be seeing each other at Hardee's, won't we? -- and the number one restaurant was something called "Noma" in Denmark, but I'm guessing it got picked only because people got confused and thought it had something to do with Stieg Larsson's novels, and not because of the food. Here's a description:

Noma is a homage to soil and sea, a reminder of the source of our food. Take his starter of crunchy baby carrots from the fertile Lammefjorden region of Denmark, served with edible “soil” made from malt, hazelnuts and beer, with a cream herb emulsion beneath – you are literally eating the earth!
For way less than they'll charge you at Noma, I'll cook you a campfire turkey -- you'll still get to literally eat the earth. (Also, I will, for free, teach you the meaning of the word literally, restaurant reviewer.)

Noma also features something called "Biodynamic cereals." I bet it's just Cap'n Crunch. People in Denmark wouldn't know what Cap'n Crunch is, and the rich people who travel there from our country wouldn't want to admit they paid $175 for a bowl of breakfast cereal.

I did, in reading Noma's menu, briefly pause to consider what "Pear Tree!" was, and why the menu has the exclamation point after it. The other entries on the menu sound like fables: Oyster and the sea. The hen and the egg. If you'd like to cook your family Biodynamic cereals and meals with a moral, you can buy the Noma cookbook for just $49.95 -- but I'm telling you, it's just Cap'n Crunch.

Other articles focused on new foods, like the HuffPo article that had the Top 10 New Foods of 2010, beginning with number 10, the "Peanut Butter, Banana, and Bourbon Sandwich." Preschool has really changed since I went there. I didn't see what else was on the list because it was one of those click-on-each-photo-to-get-to-the-next-one list, and I don't have the patience to deal with that kind of emotional blackmail. Just print the *#$&# list, will you?

And then there was the blog that listed the Best New Food And Drink Blogs of 2010, including one that's called "So You Want To Be A Sommelier." Does that apply to anyone? Is there anyone who dreams of that job? And if so, have they checked out the Freakonomics podcast in which those economist guys proved that cheap wines are indistinguishable from expensive wines -- even to the experts -- and that people will rate a wine more highly if they think it's an expensive one?

And, if they did consider that podcast, did they think about this: If that's true (and it is), then you can make people enjoy wine more by telling them the wine is more expensive. So if you open a restaurant and buy Two Buck Chuck, just rebottle it and sell if for $37.50 a bottle, and people will think it's better wine, they'll enjoy it more -- and you're not ripping them off, because (as Freakonomics points out) it's not the quality of the wine that matters, it's how much people pay for it that determines how great they think the wine is. So by charging them more, you're increasing their pleasure. It's almost like you have a moral duty to rip people off, if you're a sommelier... and now I see why you might want to be one.

Why I Assume They All Said That
: What all those stories have in common is summed up by the Freakonomics podcast, and that's this: people are food snobs, or at least the people who write about food are snobs. Almost everything written, spoken, sung, whatever, about food, comes from the perspective of someone who makes over $250,000 per year, has never had a kid, has a house that's mostly furnished with metal and tile, and who really thinks that cooking in a copper pan makes a whit of a difference.

The only exception is when the Food Snobs put on a "reg'lar person" to eat "reg'lar" food -- but they make it into a freak show. They can't show a guy just going around enjoying some KFC Popcorn chicken -- they've got to send that one Man Vs. Food guy around to eat five giant milkshakes in 20 minutes... and even then he goes all Food Snobby, ordering a coffee milkshake.

I'm only going to say this once: coffee is supposed to be hot. Stop it, all of you.

So if you are serious about food, you will be a snob about food. You will talk about it in ways that ordinary people don't even talk, let alone about food. You will say incomprehensible things that people like me will read in The New Yorker and have to look up two or three of the words, and you'll eat things that people don't really like (Pear Tree!) and don't want to like (sweet potatoes) and you'll rave about them.

Well, you deserve you. All you foodies, talking to each other and about experiencing food and the meaning of trout or whatever it is you're going on and on about. Just keep it up and leave the rest of us alone, and also, will someone please shove Gordon Ramsay down a flight of stairs? Not a large one -- I don't want to kill him, I just want him to get the message. (The message is Pear Tree!)

What I Assumed They'd All Say:
The only snobby food I heard about last year -- and one of only two foods worth getting all rapturous about -- was itself featured in The New Yorker, and is the kind of dessert that was created by a chef who works in a dessert laboratory, if I understood the article -- but it's also the kind of dessert, and I say this with all seriousness, that advances the science of desserts by leap years. It's called the Messi Dessert. Here's a description from the guy who got to eat it:
the server arrives with the Messi dessert, as Jordi fusses anxiously in the background. He presents half of a soccer ball, covered with artificial grass; the smell of grass perfumes the air. On the “grass” is a kind of delicately balanced, S-shaped, transparent plastic teeter-totter—like a French curve—with three small meringues on it, and a larger white-chocolate soccer ball balancing them on a protruding platform at the very end. A white candy netting lies on the grass near the white-chocolate ball. Then, with a cat-that-swallowed-the-canary smile, the server puts a small MP3 player with a speaker on the table. He turns it on and nods. An announcer’s voice, excited and frantic, explodes. Messi is on the move. “Messi turns and spins!” the announcer cries, and the roar of the crowd at the BernabĂ©u stadium, in Madrid, fills the table.

The server nods, eyes intent. At the signal, you eat the first meringue.
“Messi is alone on goal!” the announcer cries.

Another nod, you eat the next scented meringue. “Messi shoots!”

A third nod, you eat the last meringue, and, as you do, the entire plastic S-curve, now unbalanced, flips up and over, like a spring, and the white-chocolate soccer ball at the end is released and propelled into the air, high above the white-candy netting.

The announcer’s voice reaches a hysterical peak and, as it does, the white-chocolate soccer ball drops, strikes, and breaks through the candy netting into the goal beneath it, and, as the ball hits the bottom of a little pit below, a fierce jet of passion-fruit cream and powdered mint leaves is released into your mouth, with a trail of small chocolate pop rocks rising in its wake. Then the passion-fruit cream settles, and you eat it all, with the white-chocolate ball, now broken, in bits within it.
I like soccer way better, now. And I would shove Gordon Ramsay down a flight of stairs myself to get to try that dessert. Even though I know the twist ending, it would still be great.

But nobody nominated that as the Best Food Of 2010. And I'm not, either, because I'm going to tell you that

What They All Should Have Said is simple:

The McRib.

I haven't even had one since they brought it back -- my heart may not be able to take it -- but that doesn't mean I haven't woken up in the middle of the night thinking maybe I'll just go find a 24-hour McDonald's and try one again. The McRib is as far removed as you can get from "natural" food -- which means that it's the closest thing to food perfection that our species has come up with...

... yet.

And if we don't start recognizing the McRib as the genius it is, I'm worried that McDonald's secret cabal of geniuses won't take things that next step further. And I want them to, because I dream of being alive when humanity finally breaks free of the shackles of real food and enjoys entirely artificial, entirely wonderful creations -- creations that will look back on the McRib as their Adam, the progenitor of tastes and textures and combinations of polycarbons that we, limited to our five senses and three dimensions, can only imperfectly experience -- but even that imperfection will be enough.

And now I really want a McRib. I wonder where Sweetie hid the car keys?

Previous Entries From The Year In Bests:

The Best Celebrity Story of 2010.

The Best Book I Read In 2010

The Best Short Stories Of 2010

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