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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Top Schmuck

Watch out, Top Chef kvetchers: If you happen to think host Padma Lakshmi’s expanse of exposed skin in a working kitchen is a pinch inappropriate, you might be as anti-Semitic as Mel Gibson.

Well, not really, but in a claim that’s just as ridiculous, Bravo VP Andy Cohen has announced in his tiresome blog that he’s fed up with comments about Padma’s wardrobe:

Being Jewish, I was raised to believe that models who know about food should look as white-hot as possible while tasting and discussing food. Thus, I am hereby putting it out there that anyone who thinks Padma looks inappropriate just might be cloaking some form of anti-semitism in their comments and might want to look within instead of at Padma.

But how … I mean, why … ? I’m just so confused. However, Defamer hysterically attempts to clarify Cohen’s incendiary statement:

Before assuming Cohen is a) completely insane or b) making light of current heated, race-baiting Hollywood trends, it’s worth mentioning that his claims of a scantily clad model/chef tradition in the Jewish faith aren’t entirely without merit. What the persecution-complex-suffering cable executive was probably referencing was a snippet of scripture mentioning someone known only as Bath Tyra, largely thought to be the first Israelite supermodel, who wore only cleavage-enhancing tunics and clingy harem pants when she cooked what Torah scholars insist was the tastiest goat-and-date stew in all the tribe.

The blog NoControl hazards that Cohen might be kidding, adding, ‘But who knows, because layered irony is only decipherable by Hollywood insiders like himself.’

Twenty-four hours later the Bravo exec backpedaled:

Here’s the deal—I am a very sarcastic person with a sense of humor that is at times a little left of I don’t know what. People have been getting upset by a joke I made on the blog the other day making light of an issue—and it has raised the ire of some Top Chef fans … I was attempting to answer the issue while lampooning the intensely sensitive, PC world we live in today, like a very low-rent, blog version of Borat. It didn’t work and I am sorry.

Cohen also responds personally to a few angry commenters with more apologies and tail-tucking. It’s not as embarrassing as when Aaron Sorkin started a fight on the Television Without Pity forums and was subsequently given an Internet time-out by his handlers, but it certainly made me smile.

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Quick, someone call Reverend Billy! Reporter Stacy Finz of the San Francisco Chronicle needs an intervention from the self-ordained pastor of the Church of Stop Shopping before the holiday season ka-chings any closer. Without it, she just might keep loading up her garage with spectacularly useless kitchen gadgets.

Like that tackiest of all wedding-hall items, the chocolate fountain—or, in Finz’s case, a

$200 Sephra 19-inch Elite Fondue Chocolate Fountain—a device of such epic proportions that just talking about it makes me giddy. Who cares that I’ve only used it once. You never know when you might have to throw a bar mitzvah or a quinceañera for 150 guests.

Then there’s the $39.99 Cocoa Latte machine, whose sole function—the making of hot chocolate—is easily trumped by the use of a saucepan and a whisk. (How did she miss the Octodog?) Did the Chron’s food-section staff really crowd around the $130 Cuisinart Soft Ice Cream Maker (complete with sprinkler dispenser), “stuffing their faces” and crowing “I’m so getting this!”?

And let’s not forget her wholehearted embrace of silicone cooking gadgets, from collapsible colanders and measuring cups (“more room means I can get more stuff!”) to pastry brushes and baking pans. According to the FDA spokesperson quoted in the article, it’s “reasonably certain” that silicone’s safe for use in the kitchen. After all, if it’s good enough for your boobs, surely it’s just dandy wrapped around your muffins.


The funniest thing I read this week? “Ted Kaczynski Could Have Been a Food Blogger.”

Jen over at Life Begins at Thirty decided this after reading CBS 5 in San Francisco’s report about “exclusive new information” concerning the Unabomber. You might well wonder what decided Jen—well, it was this particular tidbit of written evidence:

“He wrote about everything. He wrote about what he had for lunch on May 5, 1979, where he got the food, how he prepared it and what did it taste like.”

I really hope it was a cheese sandwich.

Sundae, Bloody Expensive Sundae

Well, we live in a world that conspicuously consumes a $5,000 burger and a $10,000 martini, so why not a $1,000 ice cream sundae?

Serendipity is one of those schlocky romantic movies that I hate, yet feel inextricably drawn to whenever TBS, TNT, or one of those other Saturday afternoon movie cable channels airs it. Serendipity 3, which is heavily featured in the movie, is a historic restaurant and ice cream bar in New York that just happens to serve the world’s most expensive sundae.

A thousand bucks and a two-day advance reservation will get you the Golden Opulence Sundae, created to celebrate Serendipity 3’s 50th anniversary two years ago. What melting pile of sticky sweetness could possibly warrant such a huge price tag? According to luxury-goods newsletter Pocket Change, which also has a photo of the sundae in all its gory glory, your $1,000 buys the following:

Five scoops of rich Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream wrapped in edible 23 karat gold leaf. Fauchon pears, and exotic red figs, star fruit, angelique, and delicious pineapple combine with a 3.5 oz mixture of melted, chunked and flaked Amedei Porcelana and Chuao chocolates (made from rare cocoa beans grown only on the Venezuelan coast) to take any and everyone to ice cream nirvana. And what’s more, twelve gold dipped dragées and salt-free Grande Passion caviar infused with Armagnac and juices from blood oranges and passion fruit add sophisticated texture and a gush of bold sweetness.

The Golden Opulence Sundae is plated with four French marzipan cherries paired with four creamy white and dark chocolate truffles. To top off the hour-prep time required to serve specialty cake designer Ron Ben-Isreal’s design, eight more hours are invested in hand crafting the delicate and splendid edible gold leaf sugar flowers. And what better way to delve into a $300 Baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet than with an 18-karat gold spoon, with none other than a mother of pearl inlay. Even if you can’t polish off the Kilimanjaro of sundaes, the crystal goblet is yours to keep.

Do you get to keep the spoon, too?

So, if you have that person on your holiday gift list that has everything, including the voice-activated R2-D2 from the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog, AND the Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bra (which is $12.5 million worth of chafing), think about dropping a few large ones on this Guinness Book of World Records sundae. Just make sure they aren’t lactose intolerant.

Trash Talk

Trash Talk

Your garbage deserves a nice package. READ MORE

To Everything There Is a Season – Including Mallomars

Mallomars are a seasonal cookie made by Nabisco. The base is a graham cracker-like cookie topped with a pillow of marshmallow, and the whole thing is coated with dark chocolate. The good thing is that the chocolate doesn’t contain those nasty anti-melting preservatives, so it’s tasty. The bad thing is they can’t ship it during the warm months. They’re available from October through April. Now is the time to stock up!

Board Links
Why can’t they make Malomars year round

Black and White and Red All Over

New York magazine restaurant reviewer Adam Platt adds a few choice words to the anti–Michelin Guide backlash on the magazine’s blog, Grub Street. To wit: It’s dull, “not Gallic enough,” and badly organized. Instead of the “haughty, definitive” tone of France’s classic Red Guides, the New York City edition “reads like a mishmash of received wisdom from Fodor’s.” While Platt stops short of praising the strung-together sound bites of competitor Zagat, he does sniff that

... [Michelin’s] write-ups appear to have been composed by garden gnomes with English as a second language.

In fact, while the arrival of the little red book in San Francisco caused much outrage over the book’s outdated information and factual errors (not to mention the one-star snubbing of several of the city’s top French restaurants), the reaction in NYC has been, at most, a very Gallic shrug. As Platt writes, ”... in the end, who really cares about this stuff?”

Hack-Flack Smackdown

Self-promoters are getting a serious schooling on Chowhound and Mouthfuls, reports Gothamist. Several recent posts on the two foodie boards have been undisguised and thinly veiled attempts to push one website in particular, and some are even wholesale repostings of content from that site. The message-board users aren’t having any of it. When Shiftdrink posted a request for Gordon Ramsay’s contact info on Mouthfuls, user Nuxvomica had some choice bits of advice for the promo-happy poster:

enough with the push for the website, ok? if you want help, don’t just use this board–get to know it, contribute, ask your questions nicely and go easy on self-promotion

When the promoter decides to play dumb (“I don’t understand why is everybody so upset”), user Hollywood responds, “when you’ve been around a while longer, you will realize that you have not seen ‘upset’—yet.”

Shiftdrink’s posts led one ‘Hounder to raise the issue of self-promotion with the top dogs, who responded with this interesting take:

As long as posters are not violating copyrights by reprinting material from blogs/sites, we permit such reproduction as long as the post is adding chow information of value to chowhounds.

I agree with the spirit of the CH team’s policy—allowing republished content that’s of value to the community—but part of me worries this is the start of a slippery slope toward horrible Myspaceiness, where every third message is from some promoter trying to get “u” to go to his stupid club. Granted, more professional PR types would probably avoid these promo methods once it became clear they were pissing off the targeted online community (and Shiftdrink does seem pretty unprofessional, not to mention schizophrenic—it’s a social-networking and restaurant-reviewing site for people in food service and also a place for “artists promoting their work”). But with all the food media startups out there these days (ahem, yes, including us), wouldn’t it only take a few hacky ones to ruin things for legit message-board users?

I’ll Stop the World and Melt with Numerous Types of Cheese

Just in time for fondue season, January’s edition of Fine Cooking goes surprisingly in-depth on the topic of how to melt cheese. And this is no minor matter.

As anyone who’s tried to improvise a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, only to discover that fresh mozzarella does more of a “stretchy and stringy” thing than a “smooth and flowing” thing, knows all too well, the penalty we pay when we bungle our cheese facts is an awesome one indeed.

Fine Cooking has you covered. In this no-nonsense feature, the magazine busts out the Three Rules of Melting Cheese, the Melting Categories of Cheese (plus the Parmigiano exception!), and—in penetrating detail—the science of melting cheese.

When cheese is heated, the butterfat starts to melt at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the cheese softens. Then, as the temperature enters the 105 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit range, the cheese’s protein structure changes, and depending on what kind of cheese it is, it may begin to flow slowly like lava (think of the oozing Jack cheese in a quesadilla), or it might become stringy and elastic (think of the stretchy mozzarella on a pizza …).

Never before has so much cheese-melting knowledge been concentrated in one place with such awesome clarity. Would-be cheese masters, take note.

Overachievement, in Chocolate Form

Remember those students in school who couldn’t be content with simply completing the assignment—they had to outshine everyone else? Well, this month’s food-blogger event, Sugar High Fridays, has a crop of them.

The assignment is simple. Johanna, of The Passionate Cook, announced the theme, truffles, and suggested that everyone head down to their local chocolatier to sample a few before whipping up a batch of their favorite.

But a few bloggers couldn’t restrain themselves to one type of truffle. Some of them went all-out. Whether this is the result of a serious love of truffles or they were just angling for extra credit, I don’t know, but check out these über trufflers.

• Winning top honors in the category of booze-infused truffles is Ulrike of Küchenlatein, with rum truffles rolled in pistachio, Bailey’s truffles in coconut, and Cointreau truffles with cocoa.

• Lara of Cook & Eat did a truffle a day (keeps the doctor away?), coming up with lemon and dark chocolate, espresso and dark chocolate, hazelnut, espresso and milk chocolate, pumpkin and dark chocolate, and pomegranate, oolong and dark chocolate truffles.

• Getting creative with flavors is Hande of Food Vagabond. How would you like truffles flavored with Barbera d’Asti, Sauternes vinegar, apple balsamic vinegar, or Turkish smoky red pepper?

• Helen of Tartelette pulled out the chocolate molds—and all the stops—for six different kinds of truffles: dark chocolate, dark chocolate and candied ginger, pecan praline, pumpkin, dulce de leche, and coffee buttercream.

• Really trying to be teacher’s pet was Stephanie, of Dispensing Happiness, who showed up with eight different kinds of truffles: sweet smoked paprika, cashew-topped vanilla, orange, hazelnut, fleur de sel–topped tea, amaretto, pecan-topped, and mint.

• But perhaps the real extra credit should go to Christina of Vegan Vanguard, who not only created three varieties of truffles, but did it without cream. She offers vegan versions of hazelnut-macadamia truffles, peppermint truffles, and pomegranate truffles.

Back in school I would have called these bloggers insufferable showoffs. But since we’re talking chocolate, I’ll just say thank you.

Truffles, anyone? The full roundup is here.