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BOOK REVIEW: MEDIUM RAW

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People who Cook.

by Anthony Bourdain

HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS | June 8, 2010 | Hardcover

Us foodies have would-be foodie gods and if any of them should lead the pantheon it would be Anthony Bourdain, no contest. His TV show No Reservations’ is high art. He can put all the cynical spin on it, but what he presents is a no bullshit look at cultures and their food culture.

His latest book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People who Cook.is more of his off-the-cuff mental musings on plenty of subjects related to the food world. The book isn’t a straight narrative, it’s somewhat disjointed. You could think of it as a compilation of booklets or pamphlets. Each chapter is a self contained idea unrelated to the others.

When he meanders on his disgraceful lifestyle prior to writing Kitchen Confidential, it quickly gets long in the tooth, perhaps because junkies’ lives follow the same basic script and gives me a feeling déjà vu. But in the end you breathe a sigh of relief because, well, he’s made. He made it out and made good on his life – look at his life now, how could you doubt that?

Where he shines is when he goes full-on-evil-Bourdain and lets everyone have it.  A whole chapter to destroying the contemptible Alan Richman, a critic who gave Bourdain’s previous employer, Les Halles a really shitty review to get back at Bourdain for criticizing remarks made by Richman about post-Katrina New Orleans. The chapter’s title is Alan Richman is a Douchebag.

But he spares no one, no chef, no critic, even himself, going over his more controversial elements and deconstructing them and also gives aspiring chefs the truth about making it in the business. It ain’t pretty. The book provides the single greatest quote about restoration I’ve ever read:

“It says something about a person when you put chicken Caesar on the menu. You’ve crossed a line and you know it. It’s the chef version of sucking Ron Jeremy’s cock. If you do it late in your career, any notions of future stardom are usually pretty much out the window.”

It took me almost 10 minutes to calm down after the hysterical laughing stopped. This says so much about the status of restoration that I could expand on this quote for pages of pages.

However the publisher could have put some effort in editing of this book. It feels as if they let MS Word do the correction and didn’t bother to even review the text. There are so many mistakes it feel rushed and unbecoming of a book. There were some serious typos, missing words, incorrect words, syntax errors, grammatical errors; it was bewildering that it made it past the editors. Errors so frustrating one has to re-read the sentence over and over again in order to figure out what’s being said. Which is disheartening considering that Bourdain is one smart dude who can send you running for a dictionary with the quality of language. Bourdain is undeniably one well read fellow.

All in all, a wonderful read for any chef or foodie. Medium Raw is well done.

A REVIEW OF CHEZ L’ÉPICIER

Grain fed veal chop, all dressed fingerlink, asparagus au gratin and prosciutto chip

The food-porn is at the end

I was invited to a restaurant for the holidays, having zero knowledge of it prior to setting foot inside. I had heard some murmurs of it but nothing solid. Chez L’Épicier (The Grocery Store in French) looks like a very upscale grocery store with canned goods, oil bottles and such all set in a charming Old Montreal where the old bricks and rock walls of the historical site give it its rustic elegance. Beautifully lit in subdued light, the spacious restaurant says welcome before the greeter can.

The service staff so well coiffed, polite and elegant gave me fear for a pretentious dining experience, which I dislike. I can’t stand art-food and refuse to pay the overpriced bill that comes with it. But the prices are fair for the quality of food to be eaten and I didn’t hold back on ordering my desired plates for fear of paying too much.

Right out of the ballpark, I spot foie-gras on the menu as an appetizer. I can’t resist foie-gras, it’s the ultimate food-stuff I can think of. Life without foie-gras is pretty meaningless, that’s how much I love it. But I love it well prepared. Having eaten the best foie-gras on this planet at Le Pied de Cochon, the bar is set stratospherically high. Chez L’Épicier did not disappoint. At one point I contemplated whether Chez L’Épicier beat out Le Pied de Cochon, but the texture made it lose out to Le Pied de Cochon. But don’t get me wrong. This awesome perfectly seared foie-gras server on a croissant pastry and top with duck pâté was sublime. Serving it in a tiny cast-iron pan was a presentation coup that rendered it even more appetizing. There were expressed regrets at the table for not having chosen the foie-gras once it was presented.

Now the problem with foie-gras when well prepared is that it can easily ruin the rest of the meal. Foie-gras is like having sex with twins, pretty hard to top. I’ve come to accept defeat in these cases. With a few exceptions, the main-dish never satisfies… once again I am supremely surprised by the main dish: Grain fed veal chop, all dressed fingerling potatoes, asparagus au gratin and prosciutto chip. Now I was somewhat disappointed by the over-crunchy-not-so-al-dente asparagus (Also white asparagus is prettier, but doesn’t taste as good as the green variety) but the lardon-lace gratin was good, really good. Someone says fingerling potatoes and I say “Yes Please!”, enough on that, they were perfect. Same for the crunchy prosciutto. But the piece de resistance, the veal chop, was quite possibly the veal I’ve ever had in my life. I had never considered veal served as a 1 inch thick chop. I normally eat meat rare, but the chef suggests serving medium-rare. Good enough I can play along though there are only 3 possible cooking degrees with meat, rare, medium and the yucky well-done. Everything in between is basically a crap-shoot that depends on the cook’s feel and attention, but I digress. Well it was perfect and the taste exponentially above my expectations, if there is such a thing. Had I had more money and stomach space to spare I would have easily gone for another mind-blowing veal chop.

For desert I jumped so quickly at the thought of eating delicious soufflé (a rarity in restaurants these days) that I completely glanced over the word ICED. I was disappointed in not getting a traditional soufflé; however the taste of the homemade ice-cream and its toppings made me quickly forget. I almost didn’t eat the fennel Madeleine, but thankfully I went for a taste anyway and it was amazing. I also ordered a tiny butterscotch-banana macaroon, so sweet you’ll reach for insulin but small enough not to burn your palate.

This is my favourite way of going into a new restaurant, blind. Expectations easily lead to disappointment. Disappointed I was not, in fact it was an experience I will not soon forget and hope to relive.  Service was slow, but I’m told they were short on staff for the unexpected amount of clients on a date so soon after Christmas, which probably explains why some of the menu items were either no longer available or some ingredients were modified. This was not an issue for me, as I don’t mind long diners with friends.

Oh oh I almost forgot…The Tom Collins… quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. They added something pinkish to it and I never asked for details. Awesome.

Despite some menu and service issues and keeping in mind it was the 27th of December, I really can’t complain about anything. The food was above and beyond; the service despite latencies was great. I expected to blow a lot of money but it ended up costing me just above 100$ which is not expensive considering the quality of the food and service. A Fantastic 5 chops outta 5.

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RESTAURANT CHEZ L’ÉPICIER
311, rue Saint-Paul Est,
Montréal, Québec CanadaH2Y 1H3

Téléphone : 1 (514) 878-2232
Fax: 1 (514) 878-2239

Website: http://www.chezlepicier.com

STUMPED: A TAIL OF PROSCIUTTO

Prosciutto, we all know what it is, dry-aged ham, normally aged for 2 years while hanging in a controlled environment in order to not spoil the meat. I’ve had horrible, I mean horrible prosciutto, and I’ve had close-your-eyes-to-enjoy-the-experience-like-it’s-a-blow-job good prosciutto.  The bad were always commercial brands, while the awesome was always artisanal or homemade.

Walk into the cold room of an older generation of Italians and you’ll find the pig leg hanging from a rope, along with homemade sausage, homemade sauces & marinated veg. You will also weep with joy & sorrow. Such great food and you can’t have it all. These are dying arts. I get funny looks for making my own jam and yet in less than an hour you can make a year’s supply with little effort.

Now back to the hanging pig leg. It normally hangs from rope or some type of hook that tightly clamps down the end of the leg, this stump is often discarded in charcuteries because it can’t produce those elongated slices that we all know well and wrap other aliments with. But this is a mistake. That stump, for which I know not its name, is precious. The meat is a bit tenderer and there’s tons more flavour to it than in the rest of the leg, this I suspect is because of the knot or restraint that prevents gravity from pushing down the precious flavourful fluids into the rest of the leg. I could be terribly wrong about this but all I know is that the flavour packs a serious punch.

What is funny is that I purchased a prosciutto stump today that would have cost over 25$ but since there’s no demand for it, my cheese guy at Copette + Cie let me have it for the cheap-give-it-away-price of 12$. Eaten alone or in a plate of delicious pasta (ie alla Carbonara) it’ll be awesome. So don’t miss out, ask your butcher, your charcutier, or whoever sells quality charcuterie and you wont regret it.

DEAD TREES FOR MY SHELF

When yer’ po’ you choose your expenses wisely… unless yer me.  When Christmas comes knockin’ ‘roud I usually buy myself a gift.

Today while shopping for a last minute gift, I decided to mozy on in Indigo-Chapters, which for me is like sending a junky to a crackhouse. Books are the dragon I chase and for the past year I had given up my quest for the dragon because my PS3 distracted me with gamer-ruining games like Uncharted 2 (beaten 4 times so far), God of War III (2 rounds) and Heavy Rain (2 insane experiences). Since these games have ruined me for other games by their un-topable superiority, I find myself bored with every game I play these days, enough that today I opted not to buy Grand Turismo 5 & Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Both works of art and guaranteed fun.

Instead I went into my usual book buying frenzy which happens every time I go in there. Even today with my member’s rebate and a rebate card I had I couldn’t get under the 100 dollar mark (but it was close at 102$). I decided I needed to catch up on some books and reclaim my book-worm title.  So I got me the following titles.

The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Language

by Steven Pinker

HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS | August 23, 2007 | Trade Paperback

I’ve been obsessed for years with a single thought. When did our ancestors first get around to agreeing, as they pointed to a tree, that it was a tree and language was born? Language and Mind are my major focuses of nerdity. I fail to see how I couldn’t love this book.

The Blank Slate : The Modern Denial of Human Nature

by Steven Pinker

Penguin Usa | August 26, 2003 | Trade Paperback

More Pinker-goodness. I’ve seen him in various docs and interviews and he completly bowled me over. I admire high-level intellectuals who are able to make it all sound simple, such as Dawkins. This one was recommended to me by the lovely Chapters-Indigo book-worm who seems to have read everything in the science section. She told me this was his masterpiece. So who am I to dispute a cute book-worm? She also agreed that the New-Age section had no business being next to the Mathematics section. Not to mention that Pinker was housed in the Well-Being section (aka self-help books) which is a travesty.

 

Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life

By Paul Ekman

Henry Holt and Company | March 20, 2007 | Trade Paperback

Paul Ekman, he’s the dude that inspired the Dr. Cal Lightman character on the underrated Lie to Me television series. Again a book in the realm of the mind and behaviour. It’s the only title they had so not knowing what to expect I grabbed it.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People who Cook.

by Anthony Bourdain

HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS | June 8, 2010 | Hardcover

I’m a foodie, he’s the foodie GOD, and so this is the word of GOD. Need I say more? No I haven’t read Kitchen Confidential yet but it’s on the list.

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

by Sam Harris

Simon & Schuster | October 5, 2010 | Hardcover

I’ve read Letters to a Christian Nation and ate it up like cupcakes. I doubt this won’t be a good read as well.

Merry Christmas to me.

SURVIVAL KIT – HOW TO SURVIVE ON-CALL WORK AT HOME

I’m on my weekly on-call lockdown where I’m stuck at home working nights and sleeping all day. Pretty boring stuff sometimes. I received a care package from a good friend who had some free time on her hands I guess and made me this nifty survival kit a la Zombie Apocalypse, which is what it sometimes feels like on-call.. I wanted to borrow the Darksiders game and also get her copies of Weeds. Instead I got this unique collection box fit for the uber-geek that is me from my creative friend. I’m soooooooooooooo keeping that box.

SURVIVAL KIT

Awesome artwork and Just look at the goodies inside:

 

SURVIVAL KIT OPENED

  • A: Kit Kat bar to prevent malnutrition.
  • B: The Weeds DVDs to prevent aneurysms caused by overload from clients or co-workers.
  • C: Darksiders game to relieve accumulated anger from lack of Weeds.
  • D: And just for the heck of it, a book on insults & comebacks. Sometimes it works better than an axe… aim for the head.

My on-call week will definitely be better.

MILITARY ENTITLEMENT

Here’s something that was shared with me this week:

I know this video is about 6 years old, but seeing it on a Facebook wall sorta grinded my gears a little because ya see, the divide between the military and the civilian populations is wider than ever. As many articles found on the internet will attest. What always comes out is the following:

“The general public does not truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families.”[1]

Which is likely true, especially for someone like me who has never served and has no family member who has ever served. I understand the need for the military and respect them despite some serious behavioural clusterfucks of epic & scandalous proportions, I can’t help but appreciate the work they do.

However I sometimes think the military personnel and their apologists and defenders have drunk the “A few good men” kool-aid. You remember the scene, the “You can’t handle the truth” scene where Col. Nathan R. Jessep goes of on his rant.

“The very freedom that I provide”… yeah that part. Since 9/11 the military have been deemed heroes just for showing up for work. The HP Printer/Iraq Soldier video at first also states the same arrogant swagger. “… to help do my job to protect your freedom […] and you want me to pay you to help me fix it.” While the video is mildly cute and entertaining, but will never top the Office Space Printer scene, it just stuck with me that they keep sticking our noses in the dirt for being mere civilians, which is absurd since the military are in the service of civilian interest, it’s why it’s called military service. They are not our owners, our masters, our anything, they service us. Not the other way around.

I’m always for any service, help, and assistance programs that helps make service men & women’s life better, because we all know how underpaid they are but so are teachers and I don’t see them suffering with huge entitlement issues.

When did “I protect your freedom” become a blank check? Where’s the humility while we’re at it? Well thanks for protecting my freedom but that doesn’t mean you get a free ride. Everyone sings for their supper, and that’s the damn truth. They don’t get to hold that “I protect your freedom” over anyone’s head, because that creates classes of people, which is anti-democratic. The marine is not better than me because he wears a uniform. Everyone plays their part in society, even the homeless guy who has the throw his dignity in a blender to get his lunch. Everybody pays.

No one forced the service people into service. They signed up, of their own free will and volition. They fight wars, they don’t always come back in one piece if they come back at all. Thanks for the sacrifice. But I don’t bow down in front of them and no one should. I respect the military, I don’t venerate them. Wearing a uniform does not make them heroes, heroic actions do. There are plenty of heroes and they don’t all wear uniforms. So can we please scale back the “I protect your freedom” arrogant bullshit? Every thinks of garbage men as trash themselves but where would we be if they didn’t take away our garbage? Neck deep in garbage, that’s where. They’re not heroes but they deserve respect as well. Keep up the great work; just don’t expect me to lick your ass in recompense.

Now I’ll go back to earning my salt.

MY STUDIO WAS DESTROYED.

I had just gotten back into the photography bit, made friends with a fellow Montreal photographer with a good deal of talent, we went on a short photo walkabout. I felt my inner-shutterbug being resuscitated. A few weeks went by, still working on my pictures then my computer, already shitty with Vista running on it, began to severely degrade performance wise, then one day, a lot of services failed to load, shortcuts began to disappear and it got even slower than Vista normally was. There was my WAR-HORSE dying, gasping for breath. I made emergency backups of all my files and data on my external hard drives, and just in time because as soon I unplugged my external drive, it died.

The hard disk died and the cooling system is pooched. To repair it would be to expensive and being in a financial bind these days I stuck the WAR-HORSE on a shelf and headed out to the local Future Shop and got me this tine little netbook, a HP Mini, for about 325$. So at least I have internet access and remain connected.

Sad part, is my NOVA-FIGHTER has a 10 inch monitor and is really low-profile hardware specs. It could never run the resource starved Photoshop and who can edit photos on a 10 inch monitor? Because of this I have to stick my photography bug on the back burner once again until I can go out and get me some new hardware.

The WAR-HORSE was a monster of a laptop with a 21 inch screen, HD screen, lots of computing and graphical power (and a kick ass sound system) and cost me a fortune. Now I have this tine little NOVA-FIGHTER; swift and spirited but not a power house. Hopefully I won’t be crippled for to long, I got pictures to take. Without a studio what the point of taking pictures?

 

One of my faves, taken with a point and shoot.
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