One for the Reading List

Just when you thought the World Wide Web would unravel under the weight of another food blog, along comes Tim Riley. A smart, angry recent CIA grad in his mid-’20s, Riley posted his first public kvetch last year in his blog, Out of the Frying Pan (no, not this one; Riley’s is part of the Smith Magazine Diaries Project). He’s currently helping to launch an upscale-ish Asian-fusion and sushi restaurant in a middle-class Delaware college town, and though he has written only three sporadic posts since his launch, so far this Out of the Frying Pan is one of the most enjoyable food blogs I’ve read lately.

Of course, don’t let him catch me calling it a food blog—he’s adamant that it isn’t:

When it comes to food, blogs are the domain of the fanatical restaurant groupies, the gourmet jetsetters, the gastronomic literati and the occasional Julia Child obsessed secretary. Blogs are home to boring recipes, long debates about overpriced cookware, and gossip about whether Rachael Ray looks chubby in her most recent episodes or not. Professional cooks don’t write blogs. We write powerful vignettes about the rigor and stress of our jobs. We write how-to guides so the people who write blogs can better emulate our mastery. Sometimes, if we’re feeling introspective, we even write autobiographical accounts of our outrageous personal lives.

Well, he’s kinda right—there is a lot of dross out there in blogland. So what does he do differently? Complain about his jobs, past and present, in a humorous and also somehow moving way. As he describes his first day on the job at the upstate New York hotel that he recently left:

I set to work that morning on what was perhaps the most absurd, most out of place, most poorly thought-out dish I have ever been a part of. In the middle of a cold winter in the depths of upstate New York I was putting all of the knowledge and skills that had been developed in me at the C.I.A. into making tomato tartare…. There I was—a devotee of Alice Waters, a young cook thoroughly awash in the dogma of seasonal cooking—cutting shameful January tomatoes into neat piles of brunoise (1/16 of an inch squares). My tomatoes were combined with awkwardly cut zucchini and squash, then showered with low-grade, fake balsamic vinegar (red wine vinegar colored with caramel, I presume), and cheaply plated in ring molds. The tartare was topped with some cheerless arugula and the whole plate then doused with so much second-rate truffle oil the whole kitchen was enveloped with its painfully noxious aroma. In a moment of pitiful melodrama, I began to picture myself on a World War I battlefield gasping for air amid clouds of vaguely truffle smelling mustard gas.

I’m hooked for now, and looking forward to reading more.