Posts filed under ‘From My Other Blogs’

Restaurants Can Not Charge Servers For Dine And Dash

The article I am about to share with you is not about TV chefs or food writers.  It does, however address, a situation that has been on the rise for some time now.  Dine and Dash or dine and ditch or chew and screw or running the check means ducking out without paying for the bill and it is at epodemic levels right now.  The people that do this know that it is theft.  They do not care; they are at peace with being a thief.  However, to combat this many restaurants are charging the server for the price of the meal.  Doesn’t sound fair does it?  Well, as you will soon learn it not only isn’t fair, it isn’t legal.  So all of you servers and bartenders, pay attention.

This is from Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz and author of Life Happens: And Other Unavoidable Truths. It was published December 15, 2009.  Read and learn.

    The costs of getting stiffed shouldn’t be the server’s to pay.
    The first time I heard a waitress was forced to foot the bill when a customer skipped out, I thought surely this was the policy of a rogue manager.
    That was in early August. After four months of interviews with servers and managers at dozens of restaurants here and around the country, I now know otherwise.
    A growing number of restaurant patrons are eating meals and ducking out before paying.
    That’s illegal.
    Waiters and waitresses assigned to their tables are getting stuck with the tab. That’s illegal, too.
    As a U.S. Labor Department spokesperson put it in an e-mail response to my questions: “It is a violation for employers to improperly require tipped employees to pay for customers who walk out without paying their bills or for incorrectly totaled bills.”
    I will not name any particular restaurant because my research indicates so many are violating federal law by requiring their servers to cover customers’ unpaid bills. It strikes me as unfair to single out one. I will, however, give my list to the Labor Department.
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December 21, 2009 at 3:59 pm 2 comments

Review: The Everything Pressure Cooker Cookbook

Originally posted at Well Fed on December 2, 2009.

1682, 12th April: I went this afternoon with several of the Royal Society to a supper which was all dressed, both fish and flesh, in Monsieur Papin’s digesters, by which the hardest bones of beef itself, and mutton, were made as soft as cheese, without water or other liquor, and with less than eight ounces of coals, producing an incredible quantity of gravy; and for close of all, a jelly made of the bones of beef, the best for clearness and good relish, and the most delicious that I had ever seen, or tasted. We eat pike and other fish bones, and all without impediment; but nothing exceeded the pigeons, which tasted just as if bak’d in a pie, all these being stewed in their own juice without any addition of water save what swam about in the Digester. . .

Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn, F.R.S.

The meal to which Evelyn is referring was cooked by Denis Papin.  Papin prepared it for England’s King Charles II and members of the Royal Society, the British national academy of science, to demonstrate his new cooking apparatus the Digester.  And thus began the nefarious history of the Pressure Cooker.

Fast forward two and a half centuries, America has just emerged from the First Great Depression and the Second World War.  It is the era of the working mother which means there is a need for dinner to hit the table faster but the microwave oven is still more than a decade away.  What’s the modern mom to do?  Enter Monsieur Papin’s Pressure Cooker.  The problem is that those early cookers were a bit on the dangerous side.

Today the same cannot be said.  The Pressure Cooker is superior to the microwave oven for speedy cooking because it does not adversely effect the quality of food.  But just how does one use the Digester?  Enter Pamela Rice Hahn.

Hahn, the author of more than 20 books, has just released The Everything Pressure Cookbook (Adams Media) and it is your entrance to the world of pressure cookery.  The author takes you on a quick trip through the history of the device as well as tips and safety measures.  Oh yeah, and 300 recipes for everything from jams and preserves to entrées and even desserts.

So just how fast is pressure cooking?  Remember grandma cooking her pot roast for hours?  Hahn’s takes 45 minutes.  Fall-off-the-bones pork ribs – 55 minutes.  Cheesecake cooks in just eight.  And the quality is just as good if not better than traditional methods.  Professionals have rediscovered this cooking method to handle the extreme time constraints of cooking contests like Iron Chef and Top Chef, too.  If it’s good enough for an Iron Chef then it’s good enough for you.

December 4, 2009 at 7:16 pm

FDA Retreats: Oysters Spared

Originally posted on Third Coast Cuisine on 11-14-9.

In a startling admission the FDA acknowledged that it did not thoroughly examine the issue of Vibrio vulnificus contamination from the consumption of raw oysters. In a November 13th press release by Meghan Scott, the FDA announced that it was rescinding its planned 2011 ban on raw Gulf oysters citing that, “It is clear to the FDA from our discussions to date that there is a need to further examine both the process and timing for large and small oyster harvesters to gain access to processing facilities or equivalent controls…” This reversal comes as Democrat and Republican politicians bombarded the FDA and President Obama’s office with complaints and evidence provided by experts on food safety like chefs, restaurateurs, fishermen and food writers.

The FDA had sought to ban raw oysters from the Third Coast (but not oysters from the East or West Coasts) because of 15 deaths annually attributed to Vibrio vulnificus infection. As it turns out the number of deaths was slightly lower than 15 a year and nearly all cases involved people with disease-weakened immune systems who had consumed raw oysters against doctor’s advice. According to U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, (D) of Bay St. Louis, MS the infection rate of Vibrio vulnificus is a paltry .00005%. Hardly the daunting threat the FDA had led people to believe.

Representative Taylor said in a strongly worded letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, “It does not make sense for the FDA to take on this new commitment.” And he was not the lone dissenting voice on Capitol Hill. Joining Representative Taylor in his contempt for the FDA’s policy was Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) who suggested that he might be inclined to cut future funding to the FDA if the issue were not rationally addressed.

Conspicuously absent from the FDA press release was the name Michael Taylor. Taylor is President Obama’s controversial appointment as an FDA consultant on food safety. It was he who first announced the ban on raw oysters from the Gulf region in a speech given last month in Manchester, N.H. The controversy over Mr. Taylor’s appointment arises from the fact that he has spent most of his professional career in the employment of agribusiness giant Monsanto, a corporation with a history in food safety that is dubious at best. Adding to the controversy is the fact that Mr. Taylor has no background in medicine or science but rather is a lawyer and career lobbyist.
Now that the imminent danger to jobs and livelihoods has been delayed the looming issue is why the FDA chose this crusade in the first place. The death of 15 people is nothing to take nonchalantly but in light of the other dangers under the FDA’s charge it seems peculiar. Approximately 873 children choke to death each year the majority on hot dogs, popcorn and candy but the FDA is not banning any of these items. 200 Americans die each year of e coli infections but the FDA has yet to address Monsanto’s genetically modified corn which has been proven as the source of every e coli incident on record.
The entire fiasco has left many wondering whether this was a “wag the dog” scenario crafted to distract the public’s attention from more pressing issues. Or could it be that the leadership of the FDA is really this incompetent?
Here is a list of other coverage of this story:
AP
LA Times
WAPT Jackson, MS

November 17, 2009 at 8:20 am

As if Katrina Wasn’t Bad Enough Now the FDA is Targeting the Gulf Coast

Originally posted at Third Coast Cuisine.

Just as Third Coast communities are beginning to recover from a series of storms that decimated towns from Corpus Christie to Tampa the FDA is now imposing policy that will potentially insure the demise of the Gulf Coast oyster industry. The industry has been a part of the region longer than there has been a United States of America. In an ethically questionable and scientifically unfounded decision the FDA is banning the sale of raw Gulf oysters effective 2011. The new law does not apply to oysters harvested on the East or West Coasts.

As nutritionists, food scientists and culinary writers have repeatedly pointed out the FDA (and their bungling partners the USDA and Department of Agriculture) rarely make public policy based on fact.  Michael Taylor, the President’s hand-picked senior adviser at the Food and Drug Administration, is at the point of this latest attack on the Gulf Region.  Taylor has spent most of the last 20 years going back and forth between the FDA and agribusiness giant Monsanto.  This is a gross conflict of interest but one that has existed now through four administrations.  Both Presidents Bush, President Clinton and now President Obama have appointed multiple Monsanto executives to policy making positions in all three government agencies responsible for regulating food safety.  The situation is referred to as the Monsanto/Government Revolving Door and it has been placing the public at risk since the 1970’s. 

The chief method for the post-harvest processing treatment of oysters is irradiation – exposure to low-dose gamma radiation. In 1993 the FDA approved food irradiation despite major health concerns. They ignored the fact that lab animals consuming irradiated foods experienced premature death, mutation, reproductive problems, tumors and suppressed immune function and that irradiation creates unique radiolytic products that cause cancer and birth defects in humans. There is also irrefutable evidence that irradiation destroys the nutritional benefits of the food exposed to it. Since the process was patented by Monsanto the company stands to reap a windfall from the new policy while the potential impact on the Gulf States’ economy is $500 million annually.

FDA/Monsanto spokesman Michael Taylor feels that the new regulations on raw Gulf oysters are necessary because nearly 15 people a year die from ingesting oysters contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus.  All victims have suffered from weak immune systems caused by various diseases like AIDS and diabetes.  According to Taylor these high-risk groups are just not heeding the warnings about raw oysters which contribute to the dozen or so annual deaths.  Consequently, Monsanto’s genetically modified corn process has been identified as the primary cause of every e coli outbreak on record, an average of 200 deaths a year just in the US.  Additionally, obesity kills 400,000 Americans each year and the chief culprit, high-fructose corn syrup, is another Monsanto invention. 

For more on the FDA’s ban on raw Gulf oysters you can read the AP article written by Cain Burdeau and Phillip Rawls by clicking HERE.

Photo courtesy of Wintzell’s Oyster House, Mobile, AL.

October 28, 2009 at 9:30 am

My Summer Reading List: The Making of a Chef

Originally posted at Well Fed On the Net on October 7, 2009.

Ok, so astrologically Summer ended two weeks ago but I had a busy September.  Besides, we’re still knocking out 90 degree days here in L.A. (Lower Alabama).  The final book on my list is Michael Ruhlman’s landmark work The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America.  Rulhman’s mission?  Infiltrate the CIA.

The award-winning food writer went about documenting life as a student at the most prestigious culinary school in the world through first-hand experience.  Ruhlman attended classes, took exams, cooked in campus restaurants and even braved blizzards, and he translates it all beautifully to the written word.

Deftly the author guides the reader through Chef Pardus’ Skills class, echoes Chef Coppedge’s mastery of the baking arts and vividly describes the Odin-like majesty of President Ferdinand Metz.  Most importantly the prose gives one an accurate feel for the sacrifice and stress associated with studying at the Culinary.

A reoccurring theme throughout each kitchen is a dependency not on recipes but rather on ratios.  Each new chef/instructor hammers home the importance of ratios.  So much so that now I am ready to order Ruhlman’s latest best seller named, coincidentally, Ratio.

My journey through some of the great food tomes this summer was done because I felt I was lacking a theoretical and academic foundation to go with my 23 years of practical experience.  After reading these books, especially The Making of a Chef I am reminded of a great line from the movie Good Will Hunting, “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”

Next I will be reviewing six cookbooks sent to me from Adams Media so check back in a couple of days for the first of those reviews, The Everything Soup, Stew, & Chili Cookbook.  Just in time for winter.

October 8, 2009 at 7:28 am

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef Part 11

Originally posted at Edible TV on September 30, 2009.

This is the latest installment in a continuing series that documents my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career,” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, the two most important elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

It’s Always Darkest Right Before It Goes Pitch Black

Wow!  Life is great.  I am actually making money writing about food and travel.  Notoriety?  Yep, I’ve got some of that, too.  I’ve just published an interview with Food Network star Bobby Flay and my series on tailgating (Saturdays in the South) has created a bit of a buzz here in college football obsessed Alabama.

After a night out on the town with a co-worker I pop into a 24-hour eatery to scarf down some horribly un-healthy food.  Nachos at 2AM anyone?  I pass a table of drunken foodies who are discussing the upcoming visit of Bobby Flay to the Port City.  I’m not sure exactly how but I got pulled into the conversation but one point someone asks me if I have read the interview with Flay in ‘Zalea magazine?

I wake up one day to find a voice message from my editor that asks me to call the magazine when I get a chance.  I’m pumped because the last time I had a message like that it was to tell me that I was interviewing an Iron Chef.  We have been efforting the great Emeril Legasse who had just opened a restaurant in nearby Gulfport, Mississippi.  Could it be?  Or maybe Alton Brown perhaps?  His show Feasting on Asphalt 2 was taped right here in the heart of Katrina Country.

The recession really hadn’t been recognized as such yet but it was about to hinder my goals for the second time in less than a year.  The newspaper that was the parent company of the two periodicals I wrote for was shutting down production on the weekly rag and cutting out freelance on the remaining monthly magazine.  Once again, I was out of a job.

To make matters worse, the part-time gig I had waiting tables at a cheesy Italian chain restaurant was now my lone source of income.  Big national chains are the scourge of the restaurant industry.  They are a menace to locally owned restaurants, shamelessly enslave their employees and quite literally poison their customers all in the pursuit of the almighty buck.  And now, through no fault of my own I was forced to prostitute myself at one of these denizens of culinary corruption.

At least I have a potential cooking show in the works. . . right?

October 1, 2009 at 7:29 am

My Summer Reading List: The Man Who Ate Everything

Originally posted on The Well Fed Network on September 3, 2009.

The unifying theme of the books on my reading list has been the narrative – my life in food. Ruth Reichl’s journey from awkward youth to renowned food critic (Tender at the Bone), Anthony Bourdain’s autobiographical “adventures in the culinary underbelly” (Kitchen Confidential) and the article that turned into a career change and then a best selling book (Heat) for former New Yorker editor Bill Buford. This cannot be said of Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything.

In 1989, Steingarten was just your run-of-the-mill Harvard power-lawyer working for an average, everyday Manhattan mega firm when he was offered the position of food critic for Vogue magazine. I knew this from watching Iron Chef: America, where he is the curmudgeonly judge with an opinion about everything. I also knew that The Man Who Ate Everything was both a James Beard Book Award Finalist and a Julia Child Book Award Winner. But before he could assume his new post, he had to agree to eat everything. No small task for a self-proclaimed finicky eater.

The Man Who Ate Everything, unlike the other books on my list, is a collection of essays about food. Some are related to one another and even in chronological order; most are neither. When reading, one is left with two impressions about Steingarten’s skill as a essayist: he is a brilliant investigative writer and he is damned funny. He takes little information at face value, preferring to research all information on any given subject. He was one of the first to observe the contradiction between the French fat-laden diet and France’s astonishingly low occurrence of heart disease, now known as the French Paradox. 

Steingarten does not hesitate to punch holes in long accepted beliefs on diet and nutrition, after all he does far more research than many of the so-called experts. Often he takes the USDA to task for their lack of knowledge on health issues. More importantly, he underscores that though they have not done their homework, they still issue doctrine about what homosapiens should and should not consume. Among the myths he debunks are the unfounded beliefs that salt, alcohol or cholesterol cause heart disease. For instance: The French Paradox cannot be dismissed. It should have been noticed decades ago. And its contribution is to encourage researchers to discover the many other common causes of heart disease besides the saturated fat in our diets. The French Paradox is an embarrassment only to those nutritionists and physicians who had refused to recognize the obvious. We have known for some time that half of all heart attacks occur in people with average or low cholesterol, and that half of all people with high cholesterol never have heart attacks.

In addition to providing much fact-based insight, the author also does a wonderful job of painting pictures with words. His journeys to Italy, France, Asia and Tunisia leap off the page with metered narrative, but he is also very proficient (as Iron Chef: America fans can attest) at dry wit and one liners:

Miguel de Cervantes once wrote, “La major salsa del mundo es la hambre,” the best sauce in the world is the hunger. Cervantes had obviously never tasted ketchup.

I have little doubt that I will read this book again and again as it is packed with knowledge and wisdom. I am grateful that Steingarten traded jurisprudence for food writing. The world is lousy with lawyers and has precious few gastronomic writers.

The unifying theme of the books on my reading list has been the narrative – my life in food. Ruth Reichl’s journey from awkward youth to renowned food critic (Tender at the Bone), Anthony Bourdain’s autobiographical “adventures in the culinary underbelly” (Kitchen Confidential) and the article that turned into a career change and then a best selling book (Heat) for former New Yorker editor Bill Buford. This cannot be said of Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything.

In 1989, Steingarten was just your run-of-the-mill Harvard power-lawyer working for an average, everyday Manhattan mega firm when he was offered the position of food critic for Vogue magazine. I knew this from watching Iron Chef: America, where he is the curmudgeonly judge with an opinion about everything. I also knew that The Man Who Ate Everything was both a James Beard Book Award Finalist and a Julia Child Book Award Winner. But before he could assume his new post, he had to agree to eat everything. No small task for a self-proclaimed finicky eater.

The Man Who Ate Everything, unlike the other books on my list, is a collection of essays about food. Some are related to one another and even in chronological order; most are neither. When reading, one is left with two impressions about Steingarten’s skill as a essayist: he is a brilliant investigative writer and he is damned funny. He takes little information at face value, preferring to research all information on any given subject. He was one of the first to observe the contradiction between the French fat-laden diet and France’s astonishingly low occurrence of heart disease, now known as the French Paradox. 

Steingarten does not hesitate to punch holes in long accepted beliefs on diet and nutrition, after all he does far more research than many of the so-called experts. Often he takes the USDA to task for their lack of knowledge on health issues. More importantly, he underscores that though they have not done their homework, they still issue doctrine about what homosapiens should and should not consume. Among the myths he debunks are the unfounded beliefs that salt, alcohol or cholesterol cause heart disease. For instance:

The French Paradox cannot be dismissed. It should have been noticed decades ago. And its contribution is to encourage researchers to discover the many other common causes of heart disease besides the saturated fat in our diets. The French Paradox is an embarrassment only to those nutritionists and physicians who had refused to recognize the obvious. We have known for some time that half of all heart attacks occur in people with average or low cholesterol, and that half of all people with high cholesterol never have heart attacks.

In addition to providing much fact-based insight, the author also does a wonderful job of painting pictures with words. His journeys to Italy, France, Asia and Tunisia leap off the page with metered narrative, but he is also very proficient (as Iron Chef: America fans can attest) at dry wit and one liners, “Miguel de Cervantes once wrote, ‘La major salsa del mundo es la hambre,’ the best sauce in the world is the hunger. Cervantes had obviously never tasted ketchup.”

I have little doubt that I will read this book again and again as it is packed with knowledge and wisdom. I am grateful that Steingarten traded jurisprudence for food writing. The world is lousy with lawyers and has precious few gastronomic writers.

Next I will conclude my summer reading listwith Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef.

September 5, 2009 at 8:38 am 1 comment

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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