a bird and a bottle


Is Frank Bruni Sexist?
May 9, 2007, 11:11 pm
Filed under: food, frivolity, news & views, NYC

So, A Bird and a Bottle is a feminist, progressive, foodie blog. At least nominally, though lately the food writing has been lacking. Part of that is due to the mass amounts of studying i have had to do, leaving little time for cooking or eating out (thank you, frozen lasagna). And part of that is due to the fact that there’s been so much action on the feminist and criminal justice fronts recently that the food blogging has fallen by the wayside.

But today, I get to take on food and feminism in a single post.

And here’s why: A few weeks ago, Frank Bruni, the NY Times’ chief restaurant critic, panned restauranteur Keith McNally’s new place in Manhattan, Morandi. The pan (1 star but the review sounded like no stars). McNally, who also owns Balthazar – a Spring Street haunt of the Soho elites – was understandably disappointed. His chef, rising star Jody Williams,must have shared his dismay. Though at that point, with the bad reviews piling up, they couldn’t have been surprised.

But yesterday, McNally bit back, accusing Frank Bruni not of poor taste, but of sexism. According to McNally’s research, Bruni has never given anything more than one star to a restaurant whose kitchen is headed by a woman chef, as Morandi is. In a letter planted with food blog eater, McNally wrote:

One can only wonder whether Bruni would still have his job at The Times if he himself was a woman. Based on the unremittingly sexist slant of his reviews one has to say no. The surprise is that The New York Times continues to condone it. But until it refuses to, its message, through Frank Bruni, is loud and clear: If you’re a woman and talented, the one place you’d better get out of – and fast – is the kitchen.

Ouch. And way to turn that old stereotype on its head, Keith.

NY Mag’s food blog, Grub Street, fought back, defending King Bruni:

The complaint goes on for a long time and seems unlike McNally, who has almost always stayed above the fray. What’s especially unseemly is the way the letter dwells on Bruni’s attitude toward gender (“…when the chef is a man Bruni often makes quite a song and dance about it.”). Given the amount of food-world speculation about Bruni’s sexual orientation, this seems like a low blow, especially since the Times’ review echoed a near-universal critical consensus about Morandi

I have to say, I’m not surprised at McNally’s complaint. This is not the first time Bruni has exhibited a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge boys club kind of attitude. What I am surprised about is NY Mag’s retort: He may be gay so he can’t be sexist?

I have no idea if Morandi deserves more than one star (though in fairness, McNally does not assert that it does). But I do have to say that it’d be interesting if McNally’s research is proven true. I’m willing to wager that it’s not that there aren’t any two or three or even four star female chefs in our fair city. Lord knows, it wouldn’t be the first time the NY Times’s sexist underbelly were exposed.



Socialism. It’s What’s for Dinner, but Not What’s in Russia
March 16, 2007, 9:59 am
Filed under: food, frivolity, wider world

Earlier this week, I promised a review of Berlin’s Weinerei, the establishment where you get a several course meal and all the wine you can drink, then pay what you want at the end of the meal.

weinerei

The wine was plentiful (Italian Prosecco, German and French Riesling, Spanish red), and the food was delicious. I had a salad with mixed wild greens, seeds, fresh pear, and a French blue (bleu) cheese and a vinaigrette. The image color is a little off — dark restaurant.

salad

I moved on to a risotto with fresh peas, feta, and pecorino (pictured). SF had fish — also delicious and beautifully presented.

risotto

After a satisfying meal served by friendly if not super attentive waiters, we dropped our Euros in the door and headed home, enjoying this little taste of bohemia. Pun intended.

Food in Russia, on the other hand, requires that you don’t pay what you want. You pay what they want. Which is usually more than you’d think. One of the most surprising things about Moscow and St. Petersburg these last few days has been how expensive it is to live at all well. In Berlin, you can dine out, with wine, for 15 Euros easy. We’ve found that the only thing you can get in Moscow for 15 euros is a bliny (a crepe-like pancake) with some mushrooms inside. Tasty, but not luxurious.

I’ve also been surprised — and intrigued by — how widespread the corruption is here. In Russia, money has become king. Communism really is dead. In its place, there are billionaires running the country. Sounds familiar, huh? Only in Russia, they take it further. Every cabinet post is held by a head of a national, monopolistic corporation (gas companies, oil companies) who are each billionaires and who each have a very obvious — and unavoidable — stake in the country’s policies. The police are bought and sold by the bribes they seek openly every day. The government still wants to know where people are all of the time — hence the registration requirements I mentioned earlier. And journalists keep turning up dead.

Russia also still seems like a Third World country in many ways. You can’t drink the water because of lead from the pipes and Giardia from the local rivers. Instead of taking expensive and regulated taxis, most people just step into the street and raise their arm, hitching a ride with the first car that stops for some agreed-upon price. The majority of people make salaries in the range of $400/month (while the oligarchs continue to become billionaires). The rich-poor divide is astonishingly vast. The government denies that HIV is a problem and continues to label the deaths of incarcerated men from antibiotic-resistant TB as HIV even when evidence points to the contrary. Racism is rampant, and is particularly brutal against people from the Caucasus region, who are different in appearance from those who consider themselves “Russian” (which made me wonder why in the U.S. we use the term Caucasian as a PC term for “white”).

Despite all this, president Vladimir Putin has an 80% approval rating and will anoint a successor (who will easily win the election) before his term expires in 2008. Many people still talk nostalgically about Stalin and Lenin, and justify the 20 million lives lost under those dictators as necessary for the advancement of the country. And I thought the U.S. was bad….



Socialism for Bobos (Bean in Berlin)
March 11, 2007, 2:23 pm
Filed under: food, guests, wider world

(Regulars might know me as SF, but today I am a guest-poster. Bean has blitzkrieged the German capital, where I am living for the year, and we are eating our way across the city. As German prison reform is decades ahead of America, it’s time to put the focus back on the food…)

The Wall has fallen, but socialism lives on. At least gastronomically.

Weinerei

Berlin has a great socio-economic-cum-culinary institution: the Weinerei. Literally translated as “winery,” these restaurants – which now number at least five in the Prenzlauerberg-Mitte area of the former East – offer a little taste of the Marxist paradise the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) was never able to realize. They are all guided by a basic principle: you pay a nominal fee (maybe one euro) to become a member and receive a glass, after which you can eat as much food and drink as much wine as you want. At the end of the evening, you pay what you think the evening was worth, often into an oversized wine glass or a hollow glass fish or something else absurd. (Their menus could be emblazoned with the motto: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”) The food is sometimes simple (pasta, bread, salad) sometimes impressively complex (pumpkin soup garnished with pumpkin seeds and oil, homemade ravioli, etc.) and the wine gets better with each glass after the third. The atmosphere is usually hipster homey (old furniture, flea market wine glasses, super-kitsch interior decorating: cheap prints of 19th century genre paintings or religious themes – jesus and mary being favorites).

But at the end of the day, what makes the arugula taste that much crisper and the last drops of wine that much richer is the feeling that a better life, unencumbered by monetary values, may still be possible.

(Nothing makes me wax poetic about socialism like a few bottles of Weinerei wine.)

We have a reservation for Monday night at the flagship enterprise. Stay tuned for Bean’s full review and photos…



Summers (as in Larry) and Science in the Kitchen
March 6, 2007, 10:33 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, food, news

herve this

Molecular gastronomy has become a big business. Begun as a science experiment with edible results and popularized by Spain’s Ferran Adria (whose restaurant, El Bulli (official site), is situated two hours outside Barcelona), molecular gastronomy has officially arrived in the U.S. Between WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne, Room 4 Dessert’s Will Goldfarb, and Chicago’s Grant Achatz, the boys of food’s avant garde have arrived.

And therein lies the problem. It’s only boys. The NY Times reported on this trend last week.

Gender differences in professional cooking probably go back to the hunters and gatherers — more precisely, to the day it first occurred to the hunters to award four stars to themselves and none to the gatherers. But rarely have the differences seemed as stark as they do now, when the chefs winning some of the most bedazzled press coverage in memory belong to a breed of culinary artists who are overwhelmingly male.

Why is this? Is it because, as Larry Summer infamously posited, men are just better at science? In the case of top chefs, it’s not only that — women have long been underrepresented in hierarchical, personality-dominated professional kitchens. One food historian says that foods made of gums and foams are just not comforting and so don’t satisfy female chefs:

“It’s not very nourishing emotionally,” said Ann Cooper, author of “ ‘A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen,’ ” a history of female chefs in America. “This is a huge generalization, but women’s cooking has always been based on nurturing. Tall food was a male invention; women weren’t doing much of it. Basically, women feed people.”

However this stereotypical view of kitchens and chefs doesn’t seem to be holding up.

But [Rosio Sanchez, 24, who works at WD-50] credited Mr. Stupak and Wylie Dufresne, the founder of WD-50, with running a nonhierarchical kitchen where beginners, including women, can thrive. “It’s a great place to get trained,” she said. “We’ve got total access to all the ingredients, and anyone with free time will grab stuff and try things. If you mess up, nobody yells at you, because we’re all trying to learn.”

Whatever the reason, it’ll be interesting to see what the fallout is, now that molecular gastronomy is becoming more mainstream and women are jioning the ranks of leading new food chefs.

If women do start showing up in the new technocooking in significant numbers, Gabrielle Hamilton, who provides unpretentious but flavor-packed food at her restaurant, Prune, in the East Village, will be watching with interest.

“Historically, when women move into men’s work it loses value,” she said. “Maybe we’ll see the pay drop, and the science suddenly getting called ‘soft.’ I’ll say this: If you see me doing foams at Prune, you’ll know the whole thing has gone down the tube.”

Hamilton is right about one thing — when women take over a traditionally male profession, that profession tends to decline in stature. Take secretarial work, for example. Men used to make up the vast majority of the secretarial pool, and it was a respected and aspired to job. But today, people would be surprised to walk into a white shoe law firm or even a doctor’s office to find a male administrative assistant, and the position has correlatively declined in stature. The job is not any less important (perhaps with today’s technology, it’s even more important), btu it is less respected at least in part because it has become women’s work.

Will the same happen to brash, bull chefs with big personalities who create even bigger food? I’m hoping not — if for no other reason than that chefs often work behind the scenes. But I’m hoping that in the 21st century, one place for women will be in the commercial kitchen, calling all the shots.

Hat tip: Y&M



Oh Frank Bruni, You’re So Witty
February 28, 2007, 7:27 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, food, frivolity, media, news, NYC

Every Wednesday, Frank Bruni, the NY Times’ chief food critic, publishes his review. Usually it’s of one of the most eagerly awaited or most-talked about new restaurants in the city. Usually foodies are salivating to hear what he has to say. And then there are days like today, when Bruni reviews….Robert’s Steakhouse at the Penthouse Executive Club. I’m not so much bothered by the fact of the review itself — or that he likes their steaks (1 star) — but the double entendres throughout the review about cow flesh and women’s flesh are unappetizing.

Exhibit A, this photo:

bruni meat

The caption?

PROPERLY HOT The meat at Robert’s Steakhouse at the Penthouse Executive Club on the Far West Side is aged and carefully broiled.

Another caption, to a photo featuring the same headless woman, reads: “The portions at Robert’s are pretty generous — as they need to be, given how topless some of the prices seem.” Yuck yuck. Your wit slays me, NYT editors.

Not sure in either caption whether they’re talking about the filet mignon or the beheaded half naked woman? Yeah. me neither.

The times “balances” out its food coverage with a nod to the only current female 3-star Michelin chef.



Another Pregnancy Myth Busted
February 13, 2007, 3:43 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, food, news, reproductive justice

Add this one to the list of myths about pregnancy that have been debunked in recent months.

coffee

The NY Times reports today that a Danish study shows no negative effects from moderate caffeine intake during pregnancy (1-2 cups per day).

Though the researchers are quick to point out that their study does not show caffeine use to be harmless, but rather that there does not seem to be a difference with regard to birth weight between babies born to women who drink some coffee and those who drink none.

Studies like this are important, I think, in that they show how overwrought the dialog about pregnancy can be in this country. We often assume – particularly when pregnancy is involved – that causation is the same as correlation. We hold pregnant women to an unreachable standard of perfection, requiring them to be above the human vices with which many of us struggle (whether it be caffeine or cocaine).

This study, though not earth shattering, might just help us keep our feet better grounded in reason and our heads clearer next time we hear about some pregnancy prohibition that is said to be in the name of fetal health.

(image source)



A Ray of Breakfast Sunshine
February 6, 2007, 6:32 pm
Filed under: food, frivolity

This blog is supposed to be both feminist & foodie, but for the last while it’s been long on feminism and short on food. That, my friends, changes now.

When Shopsin‘s, my favorite quirky brunch spot with over 1,000 delicious choices on the menu, closed a couple of months ago, I was crushed.

But Kenny Shopsin, the foul-mouthed savior of breakfast, has resurrected himself in the form of a stand at the Essex St. Market, which was created by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to get the street vendors, seen as a nuisance, centralized and indoors.

Shopsin’s stall (No. 16) isn’t officially open yet. But he is already collaborating with Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheese Mongers (his new Essex St. Market Neighbor) to cook up one of the most delicious-looking breakfast sandwiches I have ever seen. Behold:

Free range eggs, aged Grafton Cheddar, clarified butter, and a fresh Portugese Roll.

And Shopsin created breakfast. And it was good.

Photo credit: NY Mag.