Monday, May 9, 2011


Sunday’s New York Post did a “Proustian Questionnaire” (their words) with five New York chefs who are in the running for a James Beard Award, the “Oscars of The Food World.”  And oh, what a mixed bag of answers it produced and oh how the chefs dispensed a staggering mélange of commonsense and the worst kind of disingenuous posing.

It’s good to know for instance that Michael White, of Marea et al, (above) thinks food trucks are the most overrated food trend, and that Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern (below) feels the same way about veganism.  I mean it’s good in the sense that I share their prejudices.

But there were a couple of questions that really undid the chefs.  The first was, if they could only eat one thing for the rest of their life what would it be? Michael Anthony came up with soft-shelled crabs: right, how could that ever get old?  And April Bloomfield (below) of The Spotted Pig said (wait for it) vegetables, which strikes me as about as smart as saying “groceries.”  “Vegetables” is really not one food, is it now?

But the part of the questionnaire that produced the most absurdity was, “My guiltiest food pleasure is ...”  Michael Anthony feels guilty about ice cream, Bloomfield guilty about Twix.  Oh gimme a break.  And White said (I’m not making this up) roast goose.  Oh hell yes, Michael, we’ve all been down that slippery road of self-reproach.

At least Wylie Dufresne (above) had the good sense to be guilty about something worth being guilty about: American cheese, though since he said cheese was the one food he’d want to eat for the rest of his life this wasn’t a complete surprise.  Actually his answers were pretty good, including his opinion that ramps were the most overrated food trend “at least for this month.”

 But it was left to Gabrielle Hamilton (above) of Prune to say “Never ever associate the word ‘guilt’ with ‘food’ or ‘pleasure’.”  Good for her.  What a great attitude.  What a good woman.  I’m even tempted to go to her restaurant, though since it only seats 30 crammed diners at a time this won’t be easy.

Actually I thought somebody’s guiltiest food pleasure might be charging $98 for a vegetable tasting menu (that’s the Gramercy Tavern), or $140 for a serving of Chinese caviar (that’s at Marea), but this seems to be an entirely guilt-free area.

But I’m not bringing this up simply to mock my betters.  And these chefs are by no means the worst.  I know people who feel guilty if they eat a slice of bread, and as for smearing it with butter … But it intrigues me that guilt seems to be such an important part of the human psyche when it comes to pleasure.

A lot of people have shed their guilt about sex.  What you do with you sex organs is now widely regarded as a matter of preference rather than morality.  So the morality gets displaced.  Now food is the arena where morality gets played out.  It’s wrong to eat food that isn’t organic, wrong to eat food that isn’t locally sourced, wrong to eat anything that isn’t free range or low fat or without antibiotics.

The real problem is that food manufacturers exploit that guilt.  It’s virtually impossible to enter a supermarket and but something that isn’t announcing how natural and healthy it is.  I just went into my own kitchen to look for evidence:  it’s all too easy to come by. 
The raisins announce themselves as “a fat free food,” which is so good to know.  A pack of tortillas can’t be fat free but it declares “no lard.”  The mayonnaise tells me it “supports a heart healthy diet.” Wow – that’s so great, absolutely nothing to feel guilty about there.  Maybe I’ll have to hunt down a goose, just for the sheer illicit pleasure of it

And here, in the picture below, are Wylie and Gabrielle, looking deliciously guilt-free.  Maybe it's something they ate.


  1. A woman who would say that is a woman you want to bring to bed.

  2. I take it that Anonymous above is referring to Gabrielle Hamilton.

    I do see Mr or Ms Anonymous's point. And I'm really not sure whether the headline on, which describes her as "The lesbian chef who is married to a man" supports or undermines this thought.