Tuesday, July 26, 2011


These are strange, virtual days indeed.  There was a time, not so long ago, when if you wanted to see any of the early Andy Warhol movies you had to go to the ends of the earth, to some dank “art space” or “film co-op” in a bad part of town.  I went eagerly to such places, and of course I admit that the difficulty, the seeking out, was part of the attraction, but I never managed to see Nude Restaurant.  That’s it above and below.

         But now, as I have just discovered, you can go on Youtube and, at the click of a cursor, watch Taylor Mead and Viva in Warhol’s Nude Restaurant, and I have to say I’m rather charmed by the pair of them.   I suppose Viva and Taylor were never exactly going to be Hepburn and Tracy but at least in Nude Restaurant Viva seems to be trying vaguely to stick to the subject.

         She talks about going to a restaurant on a date, “this horrible, horrible expensive rotten ... something like the Delmonico Grill” where she “isn’t aware of the procedures” and she orders clams on the half shell which come with lemon slices wrapped in gauze, and because she’s stoned the lemons look “like a little baby bunting ... like Christ in his swaddling clothes.”  Then she goes off on a tangent about who was the real author of The Story of O.

         Stephen Koch, author of Stargazer, the first book length study of Warhol’s movies, absolutely despises Nude Restaurant, writing, “I cannot think of a single inch of footage ... that is worth looking at.”  The movie was shot at the Mad Hatter restaurant in Manhattan, in October 1967.  Apparently there was another version shot the same day - all nude, all male – and this was only ever shown in a porn theater, to what response, I don't know.

         A quick cruise around the Internet reveals that there are quite a few “nude restaurants” in the world.  The one above is, or was, in New York, but they seem to me everywhere.  I have only ever been to one nude restaurant, at a clothing-optional swinger’s resort in Florida.  It was literary research, OK?  The people there seemed content enough, and in fact after I’d been there about ten minutes I felt pretty much the way I would feel in any in any not so good restaurant anywhere in America.  Which makes me wonder why make a big deal of it?  But chacun a son gout, as they say.

         Personally I think the kitchen is a far more erotic place than a restaurant.  It’s a little more private for one thing, though I know that not everybody demands privacy.  Also, if you insist on cooking naked, it’s more potentially dangerous, with the flames, the boiling water, the spitting fat and so on, and again that may add to the thrill.

         Once in a while I see the (ahem) sex educator Nina Hartley (that's her above) in my local supermarket.  I suppose as a true psychogourmet I should have peered into her basket by now, to see exactly what she buys, but maybe that would be a little too creepy.

         However, as you see above, there are some extant images of Ms, Hartley in her own kitchen, making a salad.  Far and away the most fascinating thing in that kitchen is the essoreuse - I’m not sure there’s a good English word for it – it’s the white cylindrical thing on the corner of the counter, a thing that spins round and you use it to dry salad leaves.  Looking at this picture I realized I hadn’t seen an essoreuse for years.  Maybe nobody washes their salad leaves any more.  Or maybe they just don’t dry them.

         But if you’re really looking for cheap, zesty sexual thrills in the kitchen, a salad really doesn’t cut it.  You need a sausage.  Now a sausage is a vaguely lewd and phallic thing in the first place, but if you cook it in the nude you’re guaranteed to get some big, cheap, slapstick laughs.  Only one each, girls!!!

         Incidentally, Warhol also made a movie called Kitchen.  I confess I haven’t seen that one either, neither in a dank art space nor on Youtube, but as far as I tell from the descriptions, it contains neither nudity nor sausages.  Shame.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The most intriguing article in that first issue of Lucky Peach was about Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips, which the author Mark Ibold, says are the best in the world.  That’s a mighty claim, and obviously a provocative one, and I’m always a bit dubious about any claims for the best of anything.  So much depends on who you are and what you’re used to, what condition your taste buds are in and what mood you’re in at the time.  Still, you’ve got to admire the guy’s enthusiasm.

Ibold describes those children on the pack as “Darger-esque” (as in the ludicrous old primitive artist and pervo, Henry Darger) though in fact the kids are Kay and Ray Heckendorm whose dad ran the company in the mid-fifties.  Actually, there aren’t a whole lot of little boys to be found in the Darger oeuvre.

Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips are made in Pennsylvania, a state where the Loved One lived for a while, and she swears they have a special way with potato chips in those parts.  But the real reason Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips absolutely needed to be sought out and eaten is quite simply because they’re cooked in lard.  Lard!  Oh joy.

Acquiring them was a little more tricky than anticipated.  Online ordering didn’t seem to work, but a phone call to the factory got the job done.  We went for the three pound box.  In for a penny, in for three pounds. And the box duly arrived.

We imagined it would contain quite a few small packets of potato chips.  But no.  The box contained one gigantic plastic bag of potato chips.  Thus:

I was sorry not to have the Darger-esque illustration but there’s always something appealing and formidable about having anything in bulk. 

Are these the world’s best potato chips?  Well, I wouldn’t get into a fist fight about it (for the reasons discussed above), but they’re definitely very damn good.  And I have to say, the more I eat, the more I edge toward the Mark Ibold position.

Of course, in a photograph they look pretty much like any other potato chip, though in fact they’re smaller, thinner, crisper, more translucent that most.  Can I taste the lard?  Well not exactly.  The flavor is much lighter and more delicate than you might expect, but it’s very good to know the lard’s there, and it leaves a satisfying oily sheen on the fingertips after you’ve touched them.

And I have, once again, been thinking about the connection between pigs and peasantry, and now potatoes. There is some crucial link between pork and potatoes, isn’t there?  Vegetable oil was pretty much unknown in my family as I was growing up: we had a tiny bottle of olive oil in the house, that my mother swore was a cure for earache. The chip pan was filled with lard; and lard was used to roast potatoes.  Using fancy oils for cooking would have seemed downright pretentious.  And now lard itself has become a sort of delicacy, or at least a specialist item.  Supermarket potato chips are now all sunflower and safflower oil.  I wonder how long it will be before we need to order another three pounds of Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Back in the days when I had a New York publisher who thought I was going to be the next big thing, I was invited to the Big Apple and feted.  Dinners were given, parties were thrown, drinks were had.  I was delighted, and truly grateful for all this, and when my editor suggested I might like to go to a fancy, old school cocktail bar it was a choice between the Rainbow Room at the Rockefeller Center, and Windows on the World, in the World Trade Center.

For no particular reason, I chose the Rainbow Room.  It was just great, up on the 65th floor with a cinematic view of Manhattan, and as I recall, helicopters kept buzzing past the windows like giant insects.  I believe I may have ordered a Manhattan cocktail just to feel part of it all.

As we sauntered out, with a happy buzz on, we said, “That was great.  Next time we’ll go to Windows on the World.”  And then I started living in New York, and I still had every intention of going to Windows on the World, but there didn’t seem to be any rush.  I figured it would always be there.  And then there was no Windows on the World anymore, a very tiny part of a much bigger tragedy.

In fact I just discovered (though it happened a while ago) that there’s no Rainbow Room anymore either.  They closed it in 2009 in a welter of scandal about unreasonable rent increases, unpaid bills and tax evasion.  I suppose if I’d really been a regular there, I’d have been aware before now, but it was enough to know, or at least believe, the place was there.  I miss it, even though I only went once.

And frankly that’s how I feel about a lot of bars and restaurants.  We know that all is flux, and that the catering trade is more fluxable than most things.  But I remember feeling a terrible pang a few years back when I heard there was no longer an Eros restaurant in Cambridge.  It was a pretty rough Greek restaurant, mostly for students, but it was the first even vaguely grown up restaurant I ever went to without my parents.  I felt quite the sophisticate, though since I usually ordered moussaka and rhubarb crumble, this was obviously a delusion.

Likewise I thought there’d always be a Manzi’s fish restaurant in London.   That’s now been taken over by Fergus Henderson, though there are worse things that could have happened.  The image above shows one of Manzi's mirrors now on sale at an architectural salvage yard.

Marian’s in the East Village (above), which used to win all kinds of awards for best martini in New York, has gone.  The Sonoran CafĂ©, where novelist Steve Erickson took me to lunch on my first week in LA,  closed a couple of years back and the building’s just sitting there empty.  I regard both these closures as personal disappointments.  Meanwhile tons of the world’s mediocre restaurants, you can name them as well as I can, stay in business.

And last week I was walking down Vine Street in Hollywood, a street which is certainly undergoing many spasms of redevelopment and property speculation, and I saw that Molly’s Charbroiled Burger House had closed down.

Now this is a place I’d walked by maybe hundreds of times.  It looked a bit down at heel, just a shack really, but there was something appealing about it.  There were always people sitting on the stools outside and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.   I always thought it would be a great place to go if you wanted a greasy sandwich in the middle of the afternoon, and maybe it was, but I never went there and so I’ll never know.

Now, if I’m reading correctly Robert Lowell’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” he’s saying that you end up in pretty much the same place regardless of the route you take to get there, which I think is essentially true, but I’m willing to consider alternatives.  If the universe can be changed by the flapping of a butterfly’s wing, it can surely be changed by eating a good grilled cheese sandwich.

And just a final strange footnote to the Windows on the World saga.  Improbably, despite the destruction of the Twin Towers, a partial place setting of Windows on the World china survived: it had been taken to the restaurant owner's home for a private event.  I find the salad plate just heartbreakingly beautiful.  It looks like this:

Friday, July 8, 2011


I have no idea what’s going on here, but the image and text have been haunting me for days.   The photograph is from a series titled Mixed Emotions and it comes from the website Tokyo Undressed, by the photographer and artist Rikki Kasso, and I assume he took the picture from his own TV.  I can’t imagine what language the subtitle is from, some European language translated into Japanese and then into English?  Who knows?  It would obviously help if I recognized the actress but I don’t, and I would be happy to be enlightened.  As for what the subtitle means, well that remains even more inscrutable, but I feel fairly certain that the actress is saying something about food, sex, obsession and the madness of the mouth.  I could, of course, be wrong.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Ever since I wrote about Ricky Jay, Herman Boaz, and Charles Dickens and his trick of cooking hot pudding in a hat, I’ve been thinking about magic and cookery.  They both involve some of the same things: transformation, surprise, delight, the question “How the heck did they do that?” 

Of course this doesn’t fit with “the freshest ingredients simply cooked” trope as popularized by Alice Waters et al.  Many of us like to think that given a great piece of sea bass we too could cook it simply.  We want our chefs to have skills and dexterities that we don’t. 

As it happens Wylie Dufresne, in conversation with Anthony Bourdain and David Chang in the launch issue of Lucky Peach magazine, seems to agree with me.  “Ingredient-driven food.  What the fuck does that mean?  … Get good ingredients and cook it.  It’s called cooking.  Are you crazy?  Who’s like 'I’ve got some shitty stuff let’s cook it?’ … Ingredient-driven doesn’t mean anything.  That’s what good cooking is  ... Come on, do something to it!  Cooking is a skill.  It’s a craft.  It involves a lot of steps.  At restaurants of a certain caliber, all the ingredients are going to be good.  So why don’t we talk about what people are doing with those ingredients?”  

Well in fact I think I have been in some restaurants where they said I think 'I’ve got some shitty stuff let’s cook it?’  But his point is sound.  I think he’s saying we should talk about the magic, not about the hat.

I’ve also been thinking about Arthur C. Clarke’s line, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” which for some reason is described as his “third law.”  It strikes me as a remark rather than a law, and in any case I think it not exactly true. Technology’s resemblance to magic isn’t based on how advanced it is, but rather on how ignorant the perceiver is.   If you know about light and lenses and exposure and pixels, then a camera isn’t a magical instrument.  If you don’t, then maybe it is.  If you absolutely don’t know how to boil an egg, then a boiled egg is going to seem astounding.  And I admit that the very idea that beating eggs and oil together will eventually give you mayonnaise still strikes me as just amazing.  The fact that even I can do it seems more amazing still.  Though admittedly I use a food processor which Julia Child sneers at, and says requires no culinary skill whatsoever.  But somehow for me that doesn’t make it any less magical.  Of course the best-known food processor in Europe is the Magimix.

I can only imagine what Julia Child would have thought about cooking with a sous vide machine.  I imagine she’d be against it.  But here’s David Chang celebrating the joys of sous vide in his cookbook Momofuku, “If you know what temperature you want the thing to be, just cook it at that temperature for long enough to bring the whole thing up to that temperature and presto! It’s like magic: you’re not sitting there poking or prodding the meat or worrying that it’s rare or raw or overcooked.”

Of course you might argue that the poking and the prodding is where some of the magic lies.  In this case the magic may be in knowing what temperature you want the thing to be.  Certainly sous vide machines doesn’t seem very magical in themselves, just a hot water bath with a damn good thermostat.  The vide (vacuum) part simply involves sealing the ingredients in an airtight bag.  Or maybe the magic is in thinking to do it in the first place.

I see that earlier this year, for Pancake Day, my boys Bompas and Parr, the Jellymongers, launched a magic kit (described as “a box of food and magic”), in collaboration with Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup: exploding and levitating cans, glowing and gilded pancakes, that kind of thing.  And they did a performance at the Magic Circle HQ, which seems a bit surprising.  I thought the Magic Circle were a bit sniffy about outsiders encroaching on their patch.  But apparently not.

Not having access to the magic set, and frankly not being that big a fan of Golden Syrup, I searched for some magical food I could make for myself.  The easiest seemed to be to make food glow, not least because all it requires is a black light and a bottle of tonic water. Tonic water contains quinine, though not nearly as much as it used to (fear of hairlessness, I guess, and a very reasonable fear given my own experience with anti-malarial tablets), but that’s the magic ingredient, and it does indeed glow under ultraviolet light without you having to do anything to it whatsoever.

But in fact what you're actually looking at above is jellied tonic water. With Bompas and Parr in mind I made some jelly, using tonic water and Rose’s lime juice, and once it was set I sprinkled a few blueberries on top.  I may be easy impressed but I thought this looked pretty cool.  You could of course argue that you’d have much the same visual effect with a gin and tonic and a black light, which was precisely why I added the blueberries.

Flush with this success I boiled some potatoes, imagining I might end up with a plateful of glowing spuds, and to me they did look pretty amazing while they were boiling.

         But once they were cooked they looked pretty much like any other potato, even under a black light.  I did wonder if they’d taste incredibly bitter because of the quinine but in fact they tasted rather sweeter than usual, and were perfectly edible.

         Next I tried boiling rice in tonic water.  Disappointment ensued.  It looked like nothing while cooking, didn’t glow when cooked, and tasted pretty much like vomit, so much worse than you’d imagine a mouthful or rice and tonic water would taste. 

         One could spoil a lot of food this way, but I’m thinking a bit more experimentation with absorbent vegetables mightn’t come amiss, something that really soaks up water; mushrooms, courgette, boiled onions.  The possibilities aren’t quite endless but I haven’t given up yet.

Finally something else from David Chang.  The first issue of Lucky Peach is the ramen issue, a subject that evidently fascinates him a lot more than it does me, though his fascination is in itself fascinating, and I’m certainly a good deal wiser having read the issue. The magazine contains recipes, and in some ways reading a chef’s recipe is a bit like discovering how a magician does a trick.  Chang gives his own recipe for salt cod omlet, as cooked in Roxario’s, a restaurant in San Sebastian.  He has to guess how it’s done because the eponymous Roxario wouldn’t let him into the kitchen to see exactly how she did it.  She evidently wanted to keep a few tricks up her sleeve.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Well I know I do - want sandwiches - and in space - and I suspect you do too - but why look further than the godlike Michael Kupperman?