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NEW YORK CORNER: Telepan by John Mariani
Notes from the Wine Cellar: Chablis Fights for the Right to Its Good Name
by John Mariani
DO TV SHOWS TEACH US HOW TO COOK?
by John Mariani
TV cooking show I recall ever
seeing was back in the '50s, live and in fuzzy black and white. It was
“Cooking with the Bontempis,” hosted by a lovely Italian woman named
and her intrusive husband Pino, whose only role was to sing Italian
whenever the camera switched away from Feodora getting things out of
the oven. It
was primitive, primal, and wonderfully
A decade later Julia Child, for many years in black and white, brought a loopy sophistication to cooking with her show “The French Chef,” followed by the antic, wine-slurping “Galloping Gourmet,” Graham Kerr (below), who seemed to prove every cliché about men in the kitchen. Child’s importance lay in her ability to cut through the pious hauteur of classic French cooking at a time when Good Housekeeping and newspaper food sections were printing endless casserole recipes, and cookbooks had titles like The I Hate to Cook Cookbook (click) by Peg Bracken. America’s food industry was making it easier for American housewives to cook less and less by selling the idea that cooking was menial and boring. Why cook when you could thaw and heat?
Child was engaging in her high-pitched New England lilt (she was born in California), funny without meaning to be so, and wholly unintimidating, like an eccentric aunt who always served great food at dinner parties. She was lovable, completely uninterested in showiness, and extremely good at demonstrating exactly how a recipe worked. When she famously dropped some food on the floor—there were no re-takes in those days—she quickly quipped that she had a self-cleaning kitchen floor. Her only concession to show biz was when PBS started taping her show in color. I don’t recall Julia ever changing her hairstyle in the three decades she was on PBS, and as she grew older and bonier, the more charming she appeared.
My favorite cooking show was entitled "Floyd on Food," a BBC-TV series from 1984 to 2001, in which the irascible, flamboyant, and extremely knowledgeable Keith Floyd, traveled with a two-man film crew around Europe, meeting eccentrics like himself. Floyd (below) had been a restaurateur and wine merchant, but mostly he was an adventurer cook, and he taught the viewer more about the food culture of a region than anyone before or since.
Then, in the 1990s, came the Food Network, at first a conglomeration of news shows (“The FDA today announced that swordfish have high mercury levels), old TV cooking shows (including “The Galloping Gourmet”), restaurant reviews by GQ food critic Alan Richman and a NYC socialite, and cooking demos, all done on a shoestring. It was often hokey but it had some solid talent, including impressive food authorities like Barbara Kafka and David Rosengarten, who gave serious attention to cooking skills on their shows. The Network also hired a shy, hopelessly inept New England cook turned New Orleans chef, named Emeril Lagasse, who stumbled through his first season reading cue cards with all the aplomb of a man taking an eye exam.
While the Network grew, it became obvious it would never be a big success without the crucial factor that makes television television: Dazzle! Flash! and a whole lot of Bam! Emeril Lagasse was sent to TV charm school and emerged as wild-and-wacky, over-the-top showman, complete with fake Louisiana accent and a gaggle of stock phrases his idolatrous audience waited anxiously for him to shout out: “Hey, this ain’t rocket science!” “Oh, yeah, babe!” and the ridiculous, “Let’s kick it up a notch!” I’ve always had the feeling that if he added an expletive to that last phrase, he might even appeal to the MTV crowd. His audience oo-ed and ahh-ed whenever he added butter to anything, applauded whenever he adds garlic, and whooped like banshees whenever he poured wine or booze into a pan. Meanwhile he ripped through recipes—still reading cue cards—taping three to five shows a day, adding his well-marketed “Essence of Emeril” spices to dishes. The shows were mainly vehicles for self-promotion, especially the sale of his best-selling books.
As on TV news, attractiveness—and attendant hairstyling—became far more important than substance; sets became extravagant paeans to subsidizing kitchen companies and cookware; and the hosts’ mantra was usually, “Hey, if you don’t want to use this or that ingredient, do anything you want!”
With only one or two exceptions, the Network’s talent now seems chosen because they look good, not because they teach well. Kookiness counts, as with Jamie Oliver’s “The Naked Chef,” and irascibility counts, as with Anthony “I’ll eat anything that moves” Bourdain’s roving around the world. (He’s now switched over to the Travel Channel.)
The most egregious example of Food Network lunacy is the dopey “Iron Chef,” whose set has the lighting of a Wayne Newton extravaganza, the pumped-up music and cutting of “Wrestlemania,” and the culinary value of “Fear Factor.” The satin-jacketed host of the original Japanese version is named Takeshi Kaga (left), who is not a chef at all but a musical comedy actor. Chefs compete in “epic battles” as to who can come up with a better, faster way to incorporate sea urchins and cocks’ combs into beef tongue, while a panel of Japanese has its comments translated into Godzilla-movie English. There is now a popular American version on the Food Network.
Of course, all shows on the Network are amply interrupted by wads of commercials, curiously enough for prepared foods like boxed cereals and pharmaceutical ads to clear out your cholesterol.
Meanwhile, over on cable and PBS, the cooking shows have been far less sensational and have far better production values (I’m also told they pay more money to the hosts of the shows) with veteran, seasoned cooks like Jacques Pépin and Lidia Bastianich (right) taking their time (about 26 minutes, uninterrupted by commercials) showing viewers the precise and correct way to make a dish both true to form and absolutely delicious. Pépin used to have his daughter Francine on his show to act as an interested foil to his classical French demeanor. His idea of simplicity is never to skimp on the best ingredients, which, of course, are where the flavors are. Bastianich, who gregariously brings her family into the frame, is a stout woman obviously not chosen for her weather girl looks. But her instructions are clear, her careful, take-your-time advice sure, and her obvious understanding of food carries enormous authority, whether she’s making a new pasta shape or cutting calamari to the right size.
Can you really learn to cook from TV shows? I think you can if you watch Pépin or Bastianich, who are very careful, very refined, and show real respect for food. I’m not so sure about many of the performers—for that’s what they are—on the Food Network, where most of the cooking segments are about short-cut, 30-minute meals, and 40-minute meals, several hosted by the ubiquitous, newly coiffed and no-longer-chubby Rachael Ray, who seems a throwback to those “I’ll get you outta the kitchen fast” days. “Calorie Commando” with Juan-Carlo Cruz makes me gag, for the simple reason that I’ve never, ever, seen convincing evidence that food deliberately robbed of calories—except by portion control—is a legitimate way to cook. “Semi-Homemade Cooking” with Deborah Norville look-alike Sandra Lee is another throwback to the Good Housekeeping days when cut corners are considered smart and modern. “The Surreal Gourmet,” in which “food personality Bob Blumer transforms everyday ingredients into a dining adventure” (like poaching salmon in your dishwasher) on a “rock n’ roll-style culinary tour” in his Toastermobile, is just plain silly.
But, hey, that’s entertainment! There are shows on the Food Network I enjoy—“Chocolate with Jacques Torres,” Sara Moulton’s “Sara’s Secrets,” and Mario Batali’s “Molto Mario” have solid, impeccably knowledgeable hosts and no distractions from the lesson plan. It’s not that easy to make chocolate in your kitchen the way Torres does, but he is the acknowledged master and you couldn’t have a better teacher. Moulton (below, with Jacques Pepin), a longtime editor at Gourmet Magazine, is not one to screw around with the basics, which is why they’re called the basics. Her instructions are precise and you know that she’s tested out these recipes many times before attempting them on the air. She’s the anti-Emeril cook on the Network. Then there’s Mario, whose insistence that Italian cooking must be respected for its simplicity and regionality, and he’s not one to waste a calorie, and looks it.
But these considerable talents have been wedged in between shows like “Low Carb and Lovin’ It” (no one told them the low-carb things is over?), “Food Fight,” and “Date Plate” in which “two eligible bachelors or bachelorettes” are each given a $50 shopping budget, and asked to “plan and cook a romantic meal in hopes of winning over a blind date.” Yawn.
Now that I think about it, Pino Bontempi’s creaking arias were a form of show biz too. But they were only a distraction from his wife’s cooking because they had no videotape back then with which to stop the action in the kitchen. Today, because of the technical abilities of TV to make everything into a laser-lighted facsimile of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Growing Up Gotti,” sizzle has largely replaced the substance on cooking shows. The phrase “a flash in the pan” occurs to me, but I think such shows will be with us for a long time to come. I’m just waiting for an all-purpose series to be entitled “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire Chef?” or maybe “The Saucier’s Apprentice” in which Donald Trump judges contestants’ semi-homemade casserole dishes.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
72 West 69th Street
Readers of this column may note that in the past few months a number of very enticing new restaurants has turned up on the Upper West Side, above Columbus Circle. I've written enthusiastically about Jovia (click), Pair of 8's (click), and Compass (click), and now along comes another winner, Telepan, named after chef-partner Bill Telepan, whose work I so long admired when he was chef at JUdson Grill (which is now Bar Americain). Once pretty much a wasteland of gastronomic mediocrity, the Upper West Side is now booming with good places to eat, and Telepan makes the mix all the richer.
Since opening just a few weeks ago, it's already mobbed, and it's getting both a pre- and after-theater crowd that can come and eat lightly here. Telepan's menu is listed by appetizers, middle courses, main courses, cheese, and desserts, and you may order à la carte or, for a remarkable $55, have four courses; for $65, five; and with wine, $105. Starters run $9.50-$19, middle courses $16.50-$26, and main courses $23-$30.
The restaurant is cobbled together from two townhouses, so Telepan is a slender place with a hall leading to an L-shaped dining room (above), nicely lighted, with colorful big paintings of food and agriculture, well-set tables decently spaced so that the noise level never gets too high, pretty little candles, four delightful fireplaces, and a wall color some may find a warm pea-soup tone while others, including me, see it more as institutional green not always flattering to complexions. Though not in the least a formal restaurant, the main dining room contrasts with the lower-lighted smaller room to the right of the bar (below), which gives it a somewhat more casual cast.
Bill Telepan (right) apprenticed at Alain Chapel near Lyons, then under Daniel Boulud while that chef was at Le Cirque, and the late Gilbert Lecoze at Le Bernardin, then with Alfred Portale at Gotham Bar and Grill--a culinary training that would be difficult to beat--becoming exec chef at Ansonia before taking over the stoves at JUdson Grill in 1998, which he left in 2004. His cooking has been consistent all along, and Telepan the restaurant's menu is not a radical departure from the style he showed so winningly at JUdson Grill. Which is all to the good, because I very much miss JUdson Grill. He seems a bit more adventurous and global now, but the honest, wholesome goodness of his cooking is its principal virtue at a time when so many other chefs are madly trying to find a way to wake up the food media. I want to eat everything on every page and would return for almost all of them. He is ably aided by chef de cuisine Josh Lawlor, previously at BLT Steak and JUdson Grill.
I will certainly beg Bill never to remove his house-smoked brook trout (left), chopped like a tartare and served with buckwheat-potato blini and black radish sour cream--a little masterpiece. I would also plead to keep the hen-of-the-woods mushrooms with a poached quail's egg, crisp frisée greens and a lacing of sharp mustard. Pan-fried blue prawns with cranberry beans, arugula and oregano was delicious, and nice fat marinated quail came with an apple-duck sausage with chicory and walnuts drizzled with an apple-balsamic. And these were only the appetizers.
The middle courses, which are fairly generous in proportion, include a lovely lobster dish "bolognese" (below) which comes in a savory broth of garlic, tomato, herbs, and shallots over spaghetti, while tortellini are stuffed with robiola cheese and Swiss chard in a Parmigiano broth. Pork cooked for hours until soft and lush fills pacchetti pasta, served with a rich sauce of ricotta, lardo, and basil. Most surprising and awfully good was a plate of big coddled eggs with scrapple, collard greens, and a sweet pork sauce, though it might be better as a lunch or brunch dish.
We then moved on to entrees--still hungry for more--and flavors built upon one another in dishes like his seared duck breast with cauliflower, hazelnuts, and pears, along with a little bit--too little--of foie gras custard. Wild-striped bass was cooked in a manner Bill calls "lobster-braised," and the accompanying carrots are scented with vanilla, cooked in chardonnay, and sided with a well-buttered purée of potatoes. A trio of pork items on one dish--a confit, the loin, and fresh bacon--came with sausage tinged with oregano and made homey with fine, chewy texture of cassoulet beans. This dish, and more than two or three others throughout our evening, were quite salty, so you might want to tell them to ease up.
The best main course of all--typical of Telepan's prowess and imagination--was monkfish paprikas (he's got Hungarian blood in his veins), which tasted as meaty as pork or veal, served with cabbage stuffed with barley and kielbasa and accompanied by kohlrabi and paprika oil, a triumph of hearty modernized ethnic cookery.
There are "composed plates" of cheese offered, meaning they come with tidbits of currant brioche and a honey wine syrup or a cocoa tuile and candied lemon zest, wonderful to have with the selection of Ports and dessert wines here. Pastry chef Larissa Raphael, who'd been with Telepan at JUdson Grill, knows what he wants at the end of such lusty meals--some old-fashioned ideas rethought and revived with flair: a caramel brioche profiterole with rum-sautéed apples, apple cider sauce, and vanilla ice cream; a quince granita parfait with poached quince, yogurt cream, and Prosecco; a carrot cake sundae with gold old cream cheese whipped into ice cream, with sugared walnuts; and some delightful cookies and other confections.
Telepan's partner, Jimmy Nicholas, has raided his own private cellar to put interesting bottlings on the 250-label winelist here, with emphasis on organic/biodynamic wines and an infatuation with the 1997 vintage in California, Tuscany, and Piedmont. By the glass selections number 25, with four sparklers. There are scores of very good bottles under $40, even under $30, a judicious choice of California cult wines, and older vintages of Bordeaux.
The list is overseen by a curious fellow named Aaron Von Rock, who sports hair and whiskers that give him the odd look of a billy goat. He knows his stuff and doesn't linger too long telling you all he knows about every bottle, but having asked him to choose wines for our four-courses meal of different dishes, we made the mistake of not insisting he serve us just one wine with each course, instead of four, an exercise that is not only tedious but impossible to appreciate unless everyone takes one bite of a dish, a sip of wine, passes both the left, and begins again. Also, throughout the night Mr. Von Rock seemed overworked, resulting in our having to flag him or a staff member down to refill our glasses.
So the Upper West Side has yet another triumph in its midst. I'm really beginning to wonder if the Upper East Side has anything like its neighbors' culinary clout at this point. Time to up the ante across Central Park!
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Chablis Fights for the Right to Its Good Name
by John Mariani
What’s in a name? In the case of Chablis, far more than the producers of this white burgundy wine would like to hear. For “Chablis” is one of those wine names that has acquired a freewheeling, generic usage in the market. Many countries, including the U.S, appropriate the name without any relevance to the true Chablis. American wine giant Gallo even makes a Blush Chablis under its
True Chablis, which takes its name from a town of the same name, can be a superb white wine, made exclusively from chardonnay grapes, although it rarely reaches the level of more prestigious white burgundies made to the south in the Côte de Beaune. Chablis is made under strict French wine law regulations that designate the region’s vineyards. The best of these are the 7 Grand Crus and the 17 Premier Crus.
About 32 million bottles of Chablis are made each year from vineyards comprising 4,300 hectares (10,500 acres) in 20 villages. About a third of that is vinified by the co-operative La Chablisienne (below), but more and more individual proprietors are now bottling their own chablis, leading to different styles of the wine.
Two centuries ago Chablis was vastly successful as a cheap white wine easily shipped to nearby
The identifying mineral character of Chablis comes from soil rich in limestone, clay, and fossilized oyster shells. There has been a debate in recent years among producers as to whether Chablis should be aged in oak barrels. Many producers believe Chablis retains its distinctive “gunflint” (“pierre a fusil”) flavor better in the sterile atmosphere of stainless steel; others, particularly among the Grand Cru and Premier Cru producers, say a few months in oak imparts more character to Chablis.
Perhaps more important to Chablis’ character is the time in takes to mature in the bottle. Grand and Premier Crus may not reach their peak for seven to fifteen years, the same as big name burgundies like Meursault and Corton-Charlemagne. Over time Chablis’ flavors deepen, the minerals and acids come into balance, and the bouquet develops. For this reason the better Chablis are not released for two or more years. Right now wines from the highly regarded 2002 vintage are available at wine shops.
I did a tasting of several 2002s and found that most do indeed need time to reach maturity. Jean-Paul & Benôit Droin’s Premier Cru 2002 Chablis from the Montmains vineyard ($27) did not yield much beyond a high, perky acidity right now. The nose is small and tight, the minerals in modest evidence. The same producer’s 2002 Grand Cru, on the other hand, from the Vogros vineyard, was remarkably creamy, even with a touch of vanilla that suggests some time in oak. At its young age, this Chablis was an impressive enough to drink right now, and at $25 a very good buy indeed.
La Chablisienne’s Premier Cru 2002 from Vaillon ($30) is a classic effort, well made, flinty but with good fruit, ideal with chilled fresh oysters or mussels with a touch of mayonnaise.
Jean-Marie Brocard’s 2002 Premier Cru Montmains ($30) showed some real finesse and complexity, but this is one I want to hold onto because a few years from now it should really be magnificent.
The 2002 Grand Cru by Domaine Christian Moreau from Valmur ($60), however, had a big, rewarding, fruited bouquet. The wine was quite soft, round, and lemony, but again, not much mineral flavor came through. Domaine William Fevre’s 2002 from Bougros ($45) had lots of mineral notes both in the nose and the taste. First came an acidic rush, then vibrant tingles of that gunflint flavor that distinguishes chablis from the rest of
I did pop the cork on one 1999 Chablis--Domaine Laroche Grand Cru Les Blanchots $85), an excellent vintage and at nearly five years old, the wine is beginning to show its strengths—the smoothing out of the acids, the pronounced mineral levels, and a ripe lush apple quality and floral nose that puts me in mind of a Chevalier Montrachet of the same vintage that. Still, $85 is a hell of a lot of money for a Chablis.
The vineyards of Domaine Christian Moreau There is still a lot of cheap, inferior Chablis from France on the market, so if you like the taste of the wine, it’s better to buy from the Grand Cru and Premier Cru categories, even if you have to wait a while for them to reach their peak.
GOOD THING HE DOESN'T BAKE BAGUETTES
In Sibiu, Romania, bakery owner Vasilie Presecan shaved his head and asked his 60 employees to do so for hygenic and marketing reasons, explaining that the resemblance between his workers' bald heads and the bakery's bread was "very striking."
FOOD WRITING 101: LESSON 344: It is Always Advisable Actually to Sample the Food on the Menu Before Reviewing a Restaurant.
"On the starter menu, neither goat's cheese terrine nor braised pig's head appealed to me, so I was left with poached mackerel with roasted beetroot and lemon dressing. . . . Pig's head always remind me of Lord of the Flies, or my grandaunt Stasia from Kilmacow who regularly had a half-head and onions in the pot. Either way, they creep me out. . . [My friend] The Bachelor proclaimed it delicious--with a mushroomy flavor. . . . We skipped dessert and opted instead for a couple of perfectly executed coffees served with petits fours--a chocolate box of dainty treats."--Aingela Flannery in a review of Thornton's in Dublin in the Irish Independent (Feb. 10, 2006).
"THE SWEET LIFE" CRUISE
This fall, from Sept. 29-Oct. 6 John Mariani (left), publisher of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet and food & travel columnist for Esquire Magazine, will host and lead a 7-day cruise called "The Sweet Life," aboard Silverseas' Millennium Class Silver Whisper, with days visiting Barcelona, Tunis, Naples, Milazzo (Sicily), Rome, Livorno, and Villefranche. There will be a welcoming cocktail party, gourmet dinners with wines, cooking demos by John and Galina Mariani co-authors of The Italian-American Cookbook), optional shore excursions will include a tour of the Amalfi Coast, dinner at the great Don Alfonso 1890 (2 Michelin stars), a private tour of the Vatican, dinner at La Pergola (3 Michelin stars) in Rome, a Night Cruise to Hotel de Paris and dinner at Louis XV (3 Michelin stars) in Monaco, and much more. Rates (a 20% savings) range from $4,411 to $5,771. For complete information click.
To all media publicity agents: Owing to the large volume of announcements received regarding holiday events, I will only have room in this newsletter for those that have a unique distinction to them. It would be impossible to list all Passover and Easter dinners unless they are part of a larger, more extensive format.--John Mariani
* Taberna del Alabardero in
* On March 30 Chef Robert Wiedmaier and Sommelier Ramon Narvaez of Marcel's in
On March 30, Louis’ at Pawley’s in
* On April 11 Taste of the Nation in Washington DC will be held at the
* From April 26-30 Central Market in~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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