Archive for August, 2010

The Best Under-the-Radar Food Show on Television…

August 20, 2010

Michelin-starred Heston Blumenthal's, the Ferran Adria of Britain, show from BBC is being shown on NBC's cable channel, Planet Green. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, awesome.

A few days ago I was changing the channel and I came across In Search of Perfection on Planet Green.  British chef extraordinare, owner and genius behind The Fat Duck in Bray, England, Heston Blumenthal was trying to come up with the perfect Fish and Chips.  This is not just a typical cooking show, with the enthusiastic cook cheerily submerging the stiff battered pollack fillets into a vat of boiling oil, and rhapsodizing, “Mmm…doesn’t that smell good?”

Blumenthal is one-of-kind and his search is about not just about developing a delicious dish, but getting to the essence of that dish–what does that dish mean to us, when we eat it, why do we crave it?  So he delves wholeheartedly into

(1) the type of fish–visiting speciality fish mongers in Cornwall, exploring the firmness and delicacy of various types of fish, which ones will hold batter well against its flesh;

(2) the chemical consistency of the batter–visiting an MRI lab in Cambridge and looking at the electrochemical composition of various types of batter (so as not to get one that’s too soggy) and

(3) exploring different varietes of potatoes–their shape, starch levels, taste–to find which one makes the perfect, hearty, but light and crunchy chip.

(4) finally, he gets to the essence of the dish by the smell he associates with the traditional English recipe–pickled onion vinegar-which he atomizes and puts in a little spritz can to spray on his dish.

Search is an amazing food odyssey for anyone who is totally passionate about food and is curious to explore that in-depth aspects of their favorite dishes.  The show gets to our love of certain dishes, and why we love them, and Blumenthal’s zany, focused genius and his desire to take something loved and familiar to the next level.

Weekdays at 6pm on Planet Green.

(Fish and Chips episode):

The Perfect Burger episode, very very intense (I wanted to eat a burger immediately after this episode)


“Le Beaufort n’est pas correct…”

August 4, 2010

James Ivory’s 2003 adaptation of the Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce is one of the best comedy-of-manners of the culture clash between the American and the French–particularly the upper-class French, who are as unfathomable to Americans as aliens from another planet.

The life in the country, the estate, the horses, the wine, and how life revolves around a meal, and an entire afternoon is ruined because of spoiled cheese.  There’s that scene during a lunch at the Persand’s country house with Roxy (Naomi Watts) and Isabel’s (Kate Hudson) parents, played by Sam Waterston and Stockard Channing–two of our poshest, cerebral actors, where a converstation by Waterston is harshly interuppted by Leslie Caron spitting out a wedge of cheese: “Le Beaufort n’est pas correct…c’est pourri!” The entire family looks disappointed and disdainful–the spoiled cheese is a mini crisis, like finding out your neighbor has been run down by a car.  The Americans look around at each other, confused and frustrated.

This a wonderful movie, about two very different cultures, one guileless, effusive and emotional–the Americans, and the other, cool, reserved, but crafty and duplicitous–the French. And the food in the movie is lovely to look at. Delicate roast lamb from Mt Saint Michel, glistening ruby red Bordeaux and claret, the restaurant lunch that Roxy and Isabel share with their parents–courses of langoustine, steak au poivre, endive salad…you get positively dizzy from the heady experience.

Isabel (Kate Hudson) and Antoine de Persand (Samuel LaBarthe) over the most decadent lunch, baby lamb raised near Mont-Saint-Michel

Food among the Persands, like the Archers or the van der Luydens in The Age of Innocence, is a highly ritualized means of reinforcing their power and wealth through veiled conversations about political scandals and money, by showing off to their guests the kind of food they can afford, and uniting as a family…”Je pense de ma famille!” Suzanne (Leslie Caron) argues with her brother Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte) when he indulges in a reckless affair with the young Isabel.

I love Le Divorce, because its one of the last movies James Ivory has made before Ismail Merchant died.  Its one of the finest movies of its kind, beautifully cast, highly literate, and visually gorgeous.