Pig

Illustration by Yevgeniy Solovyev from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing

1. Harold McGee waxed particularly eloquently in yesterday's NYTimes on the improving nature of American dry-cured ham and what makes it taste good.

The pig "should be mature, well fed and free to run around. Muscles of such
an animal are packed with the raw materials for creating flavor,
enzymes that will catalyze the first stage of that creation, and fat to
lend tenderness and moistness.

"Then there’s time. It takes many
months for muscle enzymes to break down flavorless proteins into savory
amino acids, odorless fats into aromatic fragments, and for all these
chemical bits and pieces to interact and generate new layers of flavor.
And it takes months for meat to lose moisture and develop a density of
flavor and texture."

Being able to do this is important because the hams of a mature pig are enormous and figuring out what to do with all that meat would be difficult without the ability to dry-cure them. That a preservation technique results in something so exquisite is what craft of charcuterie is all about.

McGee's site also links to the excellent Food Arts article on the same subject.

2. In the LATimes, Russ Parsons reviews a spate of new chef memoirs and finds them lacking. What has Bourdain wrought? he asks, referring of course to Kitchen Confidential.  (He might have mentioned that The Making of a Chef preceded KC by three years, though that was written by someone who was not then and is not now a chef; it was the first, I think in the sub-genre, culinary school memoir, which includes the recent Under the Table.)  The best of the chef memoirs Parsons, says is Spiced, by Dahlia Jurgensen, but what they all ultimately do, he concludes, is to make it clear just how easy Bourdain made the writing of a chef memoir seem.

3.  Is it really possible to write a pompous cookbook?!  According to Jennifer Reese in Slate, I have. Ratio is "his fascinating and pompous new book," she writes.  Of all that's been written about the book, this is by far, by far, the most interesting, well-written and gratifying review—because it's more than a review, it's the author's experience of using my book and it's nearly ecstatic. Why do I love it?  Because it shows a cook thinking about cooking in a new way, about baking intuitively, something we're taught to believe is impossible.  Or maybe it's just me who's ecstatic over her review—because it's one thing to give people some recipes, another thing to change the way they think. And I don't think that's pompous.  (What's pompous is posting about it! OK, so I'm a little guilty.)

Now, off to deep fry some turkey.  Ratio: 1 turkey to 1 pot of hot fat to 1 hungry fatso.

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37 Wonderful responses to “Food Notes: Prosciutto, Chef Memoir, and Pomposity”

  • luis

    elitist, pompous… recurring themes..face it Ruhlman doesn’t work too hard at avoiding this sort of criticism. big deal.

    Ratio is wonderful and I am happy it doesn’t go unnoticed by folks.

    Me, I love it, just wish there were more and more and more ratios and chapters to the book.

    Some ideas?.. sure, a:b:c and d…. creates this flavor? hu! this rub or that.. this ratio a:b…and so on. But lets face it Ratio is a pretty darn good book and a great desk/kitchen reference book. And perhaps even a new genre type book? why not? Once folks try cooking with this approach… they may wish for more .

  • Natalie Sztern

    Confused-cious Natalie think when a writer spends his life writing and researching a topic to write that book and that it is then considered by those that buy it and even those that just read it, as “a reference book” he should be mighty proud – to me that would certainly be considered, for a writer, as a life achievement.

    and not necessarily his only one for such a young writer.

  • Ted

    Maybe she meant “pompatus” as in “the pompatus of food” a la Stevie “Guitar” Miller…

    T

  • Bob delGrosso

    The hypothesis that drives Ratio isn’t pompous -it’s very rational and well reasoned. But some of the rhetoric used to convince the reader is pretty over the top. However, that is about as it should be given the intended audience.

  • derek

    I think that “pomposity” is a stupid word. It should be “pompousness”. For example, there is no “obliviosity”, just “obliviousness”. If forced to choose, I think that it’s best to pick the spelling that is closest to the root word. What is most aggravating is that both “pompous” and “pomposity” exist.

    For some reason, however, I very much like that it is “pegasi” but “octopuses”. Maybe because they are cool. My new position is that turning “pompous” into a noun renders an ugly, unwieldy word no matter what, so this should not be done regardless of what form you choose.

  • Tim

    I loved Kitchen Confedential because Tony has a wonderful “voice” when he writes. Much better than many of the recent ones (yeah, many people have said that before).
    With that being said, I HAVE enjoyed reading many of the memoirs out there. (Making of the Chef, Spiced, The Apprentice (Pepin’s), Dirty Dishes, and Devil in the Kichen being my favorites) Because alot of the time its just as fun reading about how they got there as it is reading about them while they’re there (I think I’m making sense).

    I enjoy reading about the passion behind the chefs/cooks as much as I do about how good they are.

    With that in mind, I have yet to read Ratio, but I’m starting to get to that point (through culinary school and all the cookbooks I have) where I’m geting more of an intuitive feel for what goes together and how do do things, so anycook book that helps with that is an A in my book

  • Steve

    Michael,

    Is there some way to get the illustrations in charcuterie? I love the black and white drawings and along with the ratio charts, I think it would look great in my kitchen. Thanks.

    Steve

  • Ben M

    Michael,

    I own Charcuterie, The Elements of Cooking and Ratio. I’ve learned a lot from all the books and had my very first good pasta making experience last week thanks to Ratio.

    All that said, I do think you’re pompous (or elitist, whichever). I always hear your voice chastizing me on the rare occasions I use boxed stock. But I’ll keep using your books and look forward to learning more from them.

  • Non Dire Gol

    I did exchange some e-mails with RP about the post Bourdain era. And Russ is a great guy writing for a declining newspaper. And I’m on his side of the issue of chef memoirs as he wrote it.

    Some of the books are incredibly self-indulgent. Marco Pierre White might have set the bar for that. “Oh and then I nutted a Michelin inspector.” Please…

  • bakingepiphanies

    About chef memoirs, yeah, I was surprised how many of them there were during my recent trip to B&N. Any time the market gets oversaturated with a particular genre, I lose interest. But I find that this also makes the “classics”, or the “originals” of the genre stand out more – KC and Making of a Chef are what I consider originals. Not the “jump on the bandwagon” books.

    I also loved Reese’s review of your pompous book ;) – it really drove in the point that anyone CAN use that book and get creative, you don’t have to be professionally trained.

  • Tags

    “Pompous” is an inexact synonym for “elitist,” and elitist is an inexact way of saying elite.

    You and Bourdain are the diametric opposition to Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in “Dumb and Dumber.”

    So, while everybody laughs at Carrey and Daniels, they’re jealous of Bourdain and Ruhlman.

    Jennifer seems to come around once she uses your book, though. So there’s hope for us among the rank and file.

  • Mori

    I’d been thinking about it before, but reading the Slate article about her experience of Ratio decided me on getting a copy for my mom’s birthday (and another one for myself!). I expect to have great fun with it!

  • Natalie Sztern

    Ratios is definitely NOT the book I am giving my 27 yr old who is saying ‘ma i want to learn how to cook so I can make dinner and invite friends’ but once she will know the basics of cooking and have the knowledge that bread contains a,b,c; and a vinaigrette has an oil and vinegar base usually etc..then Ratios will become a tremendous value.

    In fact Ratio has become a go-to book for my husband who is not a cook but a numbers man and therefore I find him flipping the pages of Ratio while waiting for his coffee to pour…Ratio has become a quiz book for us, bored as we are. And I tell you that because of that I have learned the actual ratios….

  • shannon

    I went on a somewhat less extensive cooking binge when I first got Ratios. But I was not as successful as this reviewer was. I think my problem was that I substituted whole wheat flour for white flour in the bread recipe for example. And semolina for regular flour in the pasta recipe.

    I’ll try the cookie recipe though and this time I’ll use white flour.

    The point is, you can improvise only up to a point. Some improvisations work (using palm sugar instead of white sugar in the cookie recipe) and some don’t (using whole wheat flour instead of all purpose in the bread recipe). That loaf was very heavy and dense, and not fun to knead.

    I ate it anyway.

  • vincent

    I remember when KC came out and reading it in a bookstore in Miami because I couldn’t afford to buy it – a few of yours as well. Two things about KC – it gave us that had lived that life a voice, which was cool. Second is that it is a great book because AB is a tremendous writer. That’s what is lacking in the ones recently released, IMO.

  • Kevin Shinn

    Kudos to you on the review, Michael, Ratios is our main go-to reference when solving kitchen spats on amounts to use. You’ve put the cookies on the bottom shelf for a lot of people.

  • Rob Barmore

    It’s a thought provoking review. It is a bit inspiring too. Jennifer Reese’s comments about it being pompous, I think, relate to your seemingly absolute position on the value of recipes. She is clearly shades of grey and you come across as black and white.

  • Lorrie

    I agree with Natalie above: Reading Bourdain’s KC absolutely shattered my perceptions, all for the better.

    As for Ratio, my friends who are bakers/pastry chefs by trade all swear by it. The book has become a bible of sorts. It does give one the confidence to freestyle in the kitchen, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Ratio was geared toward those with previous kitchen experience, who wanted to hone their skills further. Perhaps this is the point that Ms. Reese overlooked in her review. I agree with her assertion that recipes have their place in helping one learn how to pair flavors, ingredients, etc., but again, Ratio is a book for those who are ready to take the next step. If that makes you or your readers pompous, well, I’ve been called so much worse–in the kitchen,no less!

    Lorrie
    http://read-n-eat.com/

  • Lon

    Anyone writing as an expert likely will come across as pompous if the reader wants to feel that way.

    A true searcher will take truths any way they can find them.

    If you want pompous, read any book by a business “genius” whose principles work only for him or her.

  • Mgmax

    Speaking of La Quercia… they are the subject of my new Sky Full of Bacon video podcast. You get a full tour of their prosciuttificio’s Italian-seasons-simulating design, as well as some thoughtful conversation about using humanely raised pigs:

    http://www.vimeo.com/4763466

  • Salty

    I think the reviewer is letting their preconceived notions get in the way. She may think you come across as pompous but that isn’t necessarily they way you write.

  • Dean Estes

    It’s beyond me to understand how anyone might read Ratio as being pompous. Although your writing style is elegant, it is also very down-to-earth, at times almost conversational in its casual affability. Moreover I regard Ratio as being anti-pompous, as it is efficiently logical and removes much mystery from the enigma of scalable proportion in cooking. Pomposity is bloat, pretense, self-aggrandizement, all of which seem to me the opposite of Ratio’s practical tone and intent. I think that the misuse of words like “pretentious” and “pompous” reveals more about the mindset of the critic than the subject, sometimes embarrassingly so.

  • corey

    Ratio rules. Plain and simple. It’s like it’s the “cookbook” I’ve been looking for all this time and didn’t know. Always felt something lacking in recipes – sure you pick up a few tips and tricks here and there, but I’d felt there were some underlying principles that could explain more than a book of recipes.

    I’ll add to the pompousness: I intentionally put Ratio next to McGee (and Elements of Cooking) on my kitchen bookshelf – what else do I need?

  • Kate in the NW

    Where does pompous intersect with connoisseur? When you demand the best from yourself and others?

    Tomato, tomahto. Mission accomplished, I say. Good job.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I am reading the United States of Arugula and at Chapter One, Kemp highlights the prepping instructions for curing bacon; that was written up in “The Virginia House-wife” by Mary Randolph in 1824:

    “Hogs are in the highest perfection, from two and a half to four years old, and make the best bacon, when they do not weigh more than one hundred and fifty or sixty at farthest: They should be fed with corn, six weeks, at least before they are killed…: “

    And as a personal reference to chef memoirs, I remember reading Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential on an airplane bound for Europe and it shattered me. To this day I hate that book, BUT it forced me into a reality I never imagined existed in that world – the world of celebrity chef and the Master Chefs that Julia Child invited to her home as we watched and Ming Tsai, Monsieur Jacques Pepins and even Dean Fearing at the Mansion, who at the time I watched religiously on PBS. It forever changed my views of restaurant dining; and I guess brought me into reality of that life; if in fact it is the reality cause I still find it hard to believe. Each TV segment of On The Road Again I watch, I wonder if Batali is drunk or how drunk he got the night before…now, each time I get to meet the chef in a great restaurant, I wonder if he is a sex-starved, drug taking maniac… and I am 52 years old – the same age as Tony so I totally know the era which makes it even worse, cause I remember being that ‘bad girl’ …I admit I have two friends I can’t look at the same way since that book, and believe me I have queried them time and again – I feel like I know a secret their wives don’t.

  • Victoria

    I read The Tipsy Baker’s “ecstatic” Slate article about Ratio this morning.

    Then I got my copy of the book and headed to the Subway, where I started at the beginning to read it through again!

    I think I might download it to my Kindle too. That way I’ll always have it with me.

  • Chris DeNoia

    The Jennifer Reese article was fantastic. You should feel proud of that article, it was difficult to tell if she liked it or hated it, but it clearly made her think! A rare accomplishment for a book in any genre these days.

  • Rhonda

    Michael,

    My cousin taught me a trick from his drunken University of Texas days. The “boys” used to drop in biscuit dough right after the turkey is removed.

    That alone, was worth his tuition!

    They fried a lot of other things as well. None edible.

  • Natalie Sztern

    First you described me to a tee: 1 turkey to 1 pot of hot fat to 1 hungry fatso…thought only my husband could be this descriptive when it came to me….

    Read McGee’s article and it made me salivate. How is one to know they are buying the true deal when in a boucherie or specialty store?

  • milo

    La Quercia has been making an excellent prosciutto out in Iowa for a couple years now, runs about $25 per pound here…but those articles seem to be more about regular hams instead of prosciutto.

  • milo

    My bad, the prosciutto stuff is just further down. Thanks for the links.

  • Steve

    I have an “Italian” grandmother, so I agree with your preface.

    Or, I cook, I love it, and I enjoy deviating based on my own learning while cooking, so I agree with your preface.

    I think her review is a bit pompous in assuming anyone who “cooks” has enough love of it to want to be better at it and become more of a chef than a (fry-)cook.

    Fine, I’ll go buy your book tonight after work!

  • brandon_w

    Fried turkey sounds great, try not to burn the garage down.

    I’m still dropping jaws with the butterscotch sauce recipe from ratio. I need to start doing more of the baking though.

  • as

    Your early publication, wouldn’t have been the reference point in Parsons’ review anyway since it’s not (in your own words) written by someone who was not then and is not now a chef. It might have been the first of its genre, but I would argue that Bourdain’s put the genre to the fore. Yours is more of a journalistic approach… kind of like Bruce Weber’s book “As They See ‘Em.”