31 October 2014

RIP, Tom Menino, the Boston food nerd’s friend

Mayor Menino at a charity event
(Photo courtesy of Hubbub)
I can’t add much to the countless heartfelt remembrances of Boston’s late, beloved, longest-tenured mayor, Thomas M. Menino. Myself, I ran into him personally three times, always when browsing the way-marked-down suit racks at the original Filene’s Basement in Downtown Crossing, looking for bargains on my lunch hour. The third time, we exchanged more than pleasantries: I told him I was proud as a Bostonian that he had upped his sartorial game lately with better suits and ties and tailoring. He seemed genuinely pleased. I meant it: I thought he looked more dignified and statesmanlike with his newly-smart dress sense, bringing a much-needed, high-profile dash to our famously schlubby burg.

That’s my only anecdote, one of tens of thousands among a citizenry that, according to one famous survey, more than half of had met Menino personally, an astonishing statistic, and doubtless a big part of the reason he endured and thrived as a popular and effective change agent in Boston for so long.

My real point here is to encourage you to check out these two pieces by Corby Kummer, the longtime restaurant critic of Boston Magazine whom I’ve long admired for his food journalism and estimable books on the history of food. One is a video interview with The Mayor at Esperia Grill (one of my very favorite Greek restaurants in town, in part for its phenomenal pork gyros). It’s part of a promised series by Boston Univerity's BU Today that trailed Menino as he visited local, family-run restaurants out in the neighborhoods. I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of those.

The other is a piece Kummer wrote for The Atlantic that makes a convincing case for Menino’s stunning, positive influence on our food scene. I was a longtime Menino supporter, especially appreciated his pioneering advocacy of our food-truck movement, but I had scant idea of how broadly and pervasively he improved our access to quality food, benefiting Bostonians of every age and stripe.

Thanks, Corby, for shining some light on that. And thanks, Mr. Mayor, for being a fellow food nerd, but also one with an aggressive social conscience and political dedication to making good, healthy food available to every one of the citizens about whom you so obviously, deeply cared over a lifetime of public service. That ought to humble every one of us who merely writes about the pleasure in good eating. You left an indelible mark. We owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

22 October 2014

Vanna White Rules the Food World

Vanna White, courtesy of Flickr
Don't ask me how the Facebook comments on a photo I uploaded of my lunch at Gene's Chinese Flatbread, a terrific Boston purveyor of Shaanxi cuisine, somehow morphed into a discussion of so-called food hacks (employing simple, inventive tricks to improve your eating), then devolved into an extended "Chuck Norris Facts"-style riff centered on Vanna White, "Wheel of Fortune" star. But it happened. For my part, I blame a few Guinnesses at a failed night of pub trivia earlier in the evening. But I had enough fun with it to want to reproduce it here. I have since learned that Ms. White, like many people in the entertainment business, has had a troubled relationship with food in her day, no joking matter, so I hope readers take it purely in the affectionate spirit it was intended.


Marc Hurwitz [esteemed food writer and author of the Hidden Boston collection of blogs, which you should really read if you care about the Boston dining scene]: Vanna White is doing the garlic thing [shaking garlic cloves vigorously between two bowls to quickly peel them, a famous food hack] on Wheel of Fortune right now. I promise this will be on half a dozen food blogs tomorrow at minimum.

MC Slim JB: It's not really a thing until Vanna does it.

Marc: Who cares about Vanna White?

MC: She was way ahead on kale, on food trucks, on poutine. She's an oracle in a spangly evening gown.

Drew Starr [another well-known Boston food writer you should follow]: She taught Jean-Georges how to not finish baking a chocolate cake.

MC: She rearranged her food vertically on opening night at Gotham.

Marc: Wheel of Wow! Who knew? Consider me a convert.

MC: Vanna taught Ferran how to spherify.

MC: Sous-vide was based on Vanna's bathtub regimen.

MC: Vanna put a fried egg on everything when she was in grammar school.

Drew: And told Robuchon to add more butter to his potatoes.

MC: Vanna shames all her bartenders into measuring.

MC: Vanna gently suggested in an early Chowhound post that Danny Meyer should focus on hospitality.

Drew: But she can free pour.

MC: Vanna stabbed James Beard in the heart for being a cold, fish-eyed bastard.

MC: Vanna knows that they're called jimmies, not sprinkles.

MC: Vanna's soufflés rise on the better angels of her nature.

MC: Vanna out-eats Chuck Norris at churrascaria rodizio.

MC: Vanna once drank Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Peter O'Toole under the table.

Drew: When she was running the OSS, Vanna tasked Julia and Paul Child to France, knowing it would result in the reawakening of the American palate.

MC: When Vanna orders dancing shrimp, the shrimp aren't drowned in booze, but voluntarily dance for her before jumping into her mouth to die happy.

Marc: I heard that Vanna has never waited 15 minutes after finishing a meal before returning to the pool.

MC: Vanna eats ortolan without a linen napkin over her head. What does she have to be ashamed of?

MC: Vanna thinks ghost chilies are wimpy, but is too polite to say so.

Drew: If Vanna accidentally puts ketchup on a hot dog, it turns to mustard.

MC: Vanna White forgives Pat Sajak over 4am scrambled eggs.

MC: Vanna White saved David Chang's failing ramen shop by showing him how it's done.

MC: Vanna checked Anthony Bourdain into rehab, but has mixed feelings about it now.

MC: Vanna nearly broke up Bowie and Imam's marriage when he couldn't stop talking about her carnitas tamales.

Drew: Vanna doesn't have to hand-pull noodles; when they see her, they pull themselves

MC: Vladimir Putin fears no man and no thing, but he quakes in hope that Vanna will like his beluga and vodka service.

MC: Vanna was the only one of Keller's friends with the guts to tell him his ratatouille dish in "Ratatouille" was the least appetizing thing in the movie, and as she tartly put it, "That film has a lot of scenes of rats eating garbage."

Drew: I'm sad. Only 5 results on twitter when I searched "vanna garlic"

MC: Vanna once told a young Rene Redzepi, "You know, your food's pretty good, but you know what would make it great? Put a bunch of twigs and stuff on it."

MC: The finest Kobe beef from Hyogo Prefecture comes from Wagyu steers who get daily massages, dine on rice straw, drink sake, and watch an endless looped video of Vanna turning over the letter "K".

MC: The most prized copy of Playboy among collectors features a lingerie shoot of Vanna in which she confesses her favorite dish is "sashimi made from the flesh of my enemies."

MC: As heir to the fortune of a great-grandfather who invented the orange powder essential to Kraft Macaroni n' Cheese, Vanna was expected to go into the industrial food business. Her entertainment career was her way of breaking from the soulless path laid out for her by familial obligations. She has no regrets.

MC: If, after a night of passion with Vanna White, she serves you grilled Fluffernutters in bed the next morning, you did well. If it's Fage with fresh strawberries, don't expect her to return your subsequent calls.

MC: Vanna White gets a nickel royalty for every hamburger served in the US. Yep: everybody serving a hamburger was her idea.

MC: Vanna White likes to tilt at windmills. She's the secret mastermind behind a SuperPAC whose goal is to legislate public-school teaching of European-style dining with the fork in the left hand, knife in the right. Its secondary goal is the US adoption of the metric system.

MC: Vanna White's favorite beauty secret is a good night's sleep. She just texted me to remind me of my early alarm tomorrow.


I know. Food nerds.