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

A Tale of Two Cooks

Spanish-American chef Jose Andres, a Ferran Adrià disciple who helms DC’s Minibar, is taking reader questions in an eGullet forum through Thursday. He hasn’t started answering yet, but the conversation so far looks like it will be fairly tame. As of Tuesday evening, the 14 user posts include a query about how Andres was influenced by Mr. El Bulli, and a reader’s photo of Andres’s cookbook in a Spanish airport bookstore. Some of the more interesting ones are a politely worded but transparent request that Andres open a can of Haterade on non-Spanish tapas restaurants, and a possibly pointed question about “the unrealized potential for excellent coffee in fine restaurants” from a fan of Andres’s cooking.

If you have a couple of cents to add to the conversation, go post your own question. And while you’re there, check out the great “Why I Cook” piece by chef Joseph Carey in Daily Gullet, the site’s “literary journal” (which actually looks an awful lot like a blog). In a series of four engaging posts so far, interspersed with reader comments (the posts themselves can be viewed here, here, here, and here), Carey talks about making baby caskets, pissing off Allen Ginsberg, cleaning out an abandoned whorehouse, and his roundabout route to culinary success. Carey, the author of Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery and Chef on Fire: The Five Techniques for Using Heat Like a Pro, has a wild-and-woolly writing style that works well for the blog medium, where commentary and autobiography are often interwoven. Case in point: After describing how the manager of a local restaurant taught him how to make pizza and ride horses, Carey boasts:

I still make a mean pizza. And a couple of relatively tame ones, too. I can also deliver a mean pizza—just not as far as I used to—as that was another of my collegiate jobs. Don’t like riding mean horses. My first wife, Suzan, was quite a horsewoman, though. She actually won the Arabian costume class at the Grand Nationals at the Cow Palace one year. Today, she and her husband live near Lodi and raise and show quarter horses. More on Suzan in installment two when our antihero arrives in California.

I’m looking forward to it (even if it IS taking Carey forever to really get down to the actual food).

Honeycrisp. Ask for It by Name.

Unless you’ve been living under a pile of leaves all fall, you may have noticed that this apple has gotten a lot of media attention. It’s become the darling of the pome fruit world, an apple with its own Wikipedia page.

The fruit is a mere decade old (as opposed to the heirloom varieties that have been getting all the attention in the tomato world), but this mammoth apple has become an underground hit. It has even muscled its way into becoming the state fruit of Minnesota.

It turns out that, like California avocados and eggs, the Honeycrisp has some marketing muscle behind it. The New York Times likens it to the iPod of the food world. You can check out the official site, taste some for yourself, and then decide whether they’re the platonic ideal of an apple or just another flavor of the month.

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A Mighty Mouse Is a Healthier Mouse

According to The New York Times (requires registration), Disney characters will no longer be shilling for Pop-Tarts and Happy Meals, at least after current licensing agreements run out over the next couple of years. Reports the business section:

The food items that would be barred from Disney licensing deals are those in which total fat exceeds 30 percent of calories for main and side dishes and 35 percent for snacks, saturated fat exceeds 10 percent of calories for main dishes and snacks, and added sugar exceeds 10 percent of calories for main dishes and 25 percent for snacks.

Trans fats will also be no-nos in the theme parks’ restaurants by next year.

In addition to the licensing restrictions, Disney said its own theme park restaurants would change the default options for side orders from French fries to a more healthy choice, like carrots or applesauce.

Baby carrots aside, however, the company’s kiddie programming won’t be cutting back on the sugar-frosted advertising anytime soon. Ronald McDonald and the Keebler elves will keep their profitably high-calorie slots on its TV programs, as the Times article points out:

Still, the omission of any guidelines that address the advertising of junk food products on the company’s television networks— including ABC and Toon Disney—is an indication that a ban on the marketing of unhealthy food on Disney channels is not in the works.

Fresh Solutions for Nonexistent Tableware Problems

Gourmet’s Good Living section features “Fork Art,” a profile of an innovative new cutlery set by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli.

If the spork is a tacky but arguably more useful version of our old familiar tableware, this collection runs headlong in the opposite direction. It finds innovative and elegant new ways to flush function down the toilet in the name of form. Here’s a brief recap of four of the wackiest utensils:

1. A spoon with a clip on it for “holding fresh herbs.”

2. A knife that looks vaguely like a Maori war club.

3. A spoon that is full of holes so as to prevent its users from accidentally ingesting liquid. (Perfect application: You’re starving to death in a North Korean prison. You’re served a bowl of deadly liquid cyanide bobbing with life-sustaining and strangely nonabsorbent kobe beef chunks. Using your El Bulli Holey Spoon, you scoop out the beef, leaving the cyanide behind. ¡Bravo, Ferran! Note: This example assumes that North Korean prisons are stocked with El Bulli–inspired tableware.)

4. A fork with—wait for it—two tines.

Those in love with the “so crazy it might just work” school of cookery will likely regard these new utensils with respect and affection. They look great, and all you have to do is sacrifice utility on the altar of trendy good looks. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to plod onward with our trusty old pals: the knife, the fork, and the nonpermeable spoon.

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You May Now Eat the Bride

In Four Weddings and a Funeral, Andie MacDowell’s main worry was looking like a meringue in her wedding dress, but this bride actually allowed herself to be turned into a walking croque em bouche.

Shuna over at food blog Eggbeater tipped me off that Ukrainian chef Valentyn Shtefano buttered up his blushing bride and baked her into a 20-pound pastry dress for their recent wedding. Composed of 1,500 cream puffs, the edible couture took Shtefano two months to stick together. Not content to simply dress Viktoriya in pastries, Shtefano completed her bridal look with a crown, necklace, and bouquet of caramelized sugar.

Looking at the photo, it does seem to be holding up better than Austin Scarlett’s wilted cornhusk offering on Project Runway’s first season, but I think Shtefano’s wedding night is going to make 9 1/2 Weeks look like Lady and the Tramp.

The Yucatecan Tamal Variations

Day of the Dead is coming up, and La Flor de Yucatan is taking special orders on mucbil pollos, the traditional food of the Mayan Day of the Dead, says Dommy. These are big, flat tamal cakes filled which chicken and pork and baked pibil-style. It’s a fabulous way to have a tamal!

Flor makes the most authentic Yucatecan tamales around, including an amazing banana leaf tamal and the tamal colado, made with strained masa–it’s sort of like a cross between corn dough and jello. It’s made with a slice of tomato and a chaya leaf on top, so it has an herby, tomatoey flavor similar to brazo de reina, a Yucatecan specialty.

Chichen Itza is the only place in town that has brazo de reina (arm of the queen) on its regular menu. What is this? It’s an extra-long tamal that has chopped chaya leaf in its dough, and is stuffed with hard-boiled egg and toasted calabaza seeds.

Unfortunately, says Dommy, it’s not the greatest version–it tastes mostly of masa rather than the chaya or calabaza seeds. And Chichen’s tomato sauce, which should cover the tamal, tends to be pretty weak. Still, it’s a pretty good representation of this regional specialty.

La Flor De Yucatan Bakery [Downtown]
1800 S. Hoover St., Washington, Los Angeles

Chichen Itza [South LA]
in Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Ave. # C6, Los Angeles

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For kare_raisu: Yucatan Tamale Variations