Monday, April 29, 2013


At the weekend I had a Slammin’ Slider – that was the name on the side of the food truck anyway.  My sliders contained pulled pork and were scattered with crispy fried onions – and they were just fine if you like sliders, though I'm never sure I really do.  The Loved One would have had the Philly Cheese Steak but the truck had run out of mayonnaise, which seems a slam of a different sort: she had the potato croquettes instead with a dip that may or may not have been mayo-based.  These were fine too.  I'm pretty sure I like potato croquettes better than sliders.  So why did I order sliders?  Just one more imponderable.

We were at Paris Photo L.A.; a photography fair on the Paramount Studio lot, a place I’d never set foot before, though I’d driven and walked past often enough. I was there, among other things, to gawk at William Eggleston, who was doing a signing at the Gagosian stand.  Mr. E is a famous southern dandy and drinker.  I can’t say that he looked exactly stewed at the signing but he did look pleasantly marinated.

It would be pretty darn idle and reductive to think of Eggleston as a “food photographer,” but even so, he’s taken two of the greatest pictures of food and drink I’ve ever seen  This is the first:

I’m reminded of it every time I get on a plane.  I always get a window seat if I can, and I always try to arrange my glass so that the sun might shine through it in precisely this way.  But it never quite does.  And the image seems so still, so calm, so isolated, so untroubled and unhassled, so optimistic; not the way I ever feel when I’m on a plane, but the way I always want to feel. 

The second great photograph is this one, rather more complicated in some ways, I think: 

I've seen it captioned "Sumner, Mississippi," and we know that's where Eggleston was raised on a “plantation," and I’d guess this photograph was taken there.   My first superficial impression was that here was a grand spread of southern food laid out for a feast, maybe Thanksgiving; but of course when you look even slightly more closely you see it’s a meal for one.  My friends from the South also tell me this is pretty much everyday fare down there.  I've also seen the photograph captioned "Dinner."

Even so this seems lot of trouble to go to for just one person, and it’s not just the food but the silverware and the flower arrangement.  And perhaps there’s something sad and lonely about going to all this effort when you're by yourself, something a bit Miss Haversham.   But then, maybe that’s the whole point.  Just because you’re eating along doesn’t mean you have to slouch on the couch and eat a slab of pizza. Southerners are great believers in keeping up standards.  And maybe there’s something rather noble in going to precisely this amount of trouble, in taking pleasure and delight in small things even when there’s nobody there to share them with you.  This to a large extent is what Eggleston’s work is about; and, of course, the camera is there to help in the sharing, to be an observer, and perhaps to be an honored guest at the table. 

I’m not sure that Eggleston is a big eater, and according to an interview he did with the New Yorker in 2008, he had a troubled relationship with at least one eating establishment: the Lamplighter Lounge in Memphis, from which he was banned for at least a decade.  There he is above at the Lamplighter, in a photo by Stanley Booth.  

The celebrated Miss Shirley was a bartender at the Lamplighter Lounge for the best part of four decades: she died in 2010.  The cause of Eggleston’s ban, according to that New Yorker interview: “I got really drunk one time, and I threw a hamburger at Shirley, who had just made it.”  The ban sounds fair enough to me.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Here in the Chateau Psycho-Gourmet we’ve been eating a lot of lard-cooked potato chips lately.  Some of this has been done in the name of serious research,  including a genuine blind tasting, but some of it  has simply involving offering a load chips to anybody who came to the house and saying, “Hey, what do you think of this?”


We assembled a reasonable though not exhaustive collection of chips: Dieffenbach’s, Zerbe’s, Grandma Utz’s, Good’s Home Style and Good’s Original.  The picture also shows some Better Made Rainbow Dark chips – which aren’t made using lard – but I was seduced by the name – it sounds like a prog rock band: Geoff Nicholson’s Dark Rainbow.  Yeah, we aren’t always especially rigorous at the Chateau Psycho-Gourmet.  

Below are Good's Home Style:

And the basic news about lard-cooked potato chips is that they’re ALL GOOD.  The flavor of the potato really comes through, and also – and I know not everyone is going to buy this idea - the taste of the lard comes through too and it tastes good, and the end result is a strangely, unexpectedly light and delicate flavor.  Would I lie to you?

These are Zerbe's:

I keep changing my mind about which brand is my favorite.  I began by thinking it was Good’s Original, then I went to Zerbe’s, but I think I’ve ended up as a fan of Good’s Home Style (that’s 2 out of 3 for Good’s – not bad, eh?).  It was simply a matter of flavor but looking at the nutritional information I see that the Original has more salt and more fat than any of the others – which I suppose may have a lot to do with it.

The taste, as I say, is strangely subtle, and I admit there are times when I think maybe what I really want is the tang of salt and vinegar or sour cream or even Lay’s “Limon,” but somehow these now seem a little crude, and let’s face it, nothing says sophistication like lard.

And – and this is significant I think - the only misfire in the lard-cooked selection as far as I was concerned, were the Utz’s BBQ flavored.  The regular were terrific, but these combined the lard with a ton of ingredients, including sugar, tomato powders, onion, citric acid and (I kid you not) “extraction of paprika.”   All these flavors seem to be warring against each other and it seems to be a war nobody can win.  Keep it simple grandma.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


The past, we know, is another country, and they do things differently there; not least the eating.  Obviously there are all sorts of food-related reasons why you might want to travel back in time, but I found a brand new one, here:

Who wouldn’t want to run an exceptional business from home, requiring no complicated work or experience, and that didn’t demand super salesmanship?  And best of all when people asked you what you did for a living, you could say, “Oh, I’m in business with the Fluff-O Manufacturing Company.”  Could it get any better?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Life being as it is, and having recently blogged about the French Laundry, on Saturday night I found myself in a restaurant talking to someone who’d just been there.  The someone was top novelist Mark Z. Danielewski, and we were in a Texas barbeque joint called Bludso’s, in Los Angeles, celebrating the birthday of fellow litterateur Anthony Miller.  Mark said the French Laundry experience had been just wonderful, especially the service, though he reckoned it would probably be a once in a lifetime thing.  He said he lost count of how many courses there were, but he thought it was probably about twelve.

Mark was, and in my limited experience usually is, good company in a restaurant, but his novel House of Leaves contains this passage (I have edited it just a little – but I think he’ll forgive me)
“Then … in a crowded restaurant … you'll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You'll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. And then for better or worse you'll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you've got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name.
And then the nightmares will begin.”

Well, as far as I can tell this didn’t happen to anybody in Bludso’s on Saturday night, but forewarned is forearmed.

Bludso’s has a legendary apple pie, which has to be ordered in advance, and this had been done, and so one duly arrived at the table.  It was terrific, really up there with some of the best ever, though I held back because it so happened that I had baked an apple pie of my own that very afternoon.  Making apple pies is one of those things that makes me think (erroneously in many cases), “Hey, I can actually cook.”

Anyway, in the restaurant, I said as I often do, “An apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.”  And Mark Z said he’d been hearing this all his life but had never, ever been served a piece of cheese with an apple pie.  This got me thinking. I’ve certainly been served plenty of apple pie with cheese in people’s homes in England, including my own, but in a restaurant?  I think I must have, but I couldn’t actually tell you where.  Fergus Henderson’s St John in London seems a good bet, but I wouldn’t swear to it.  More research needed there.

So anyway, next day I had a slice of my own apple pie along with a piece of cheese – that’s it above.  The cheese is “Skellig sweet Cheddar” only very recently introduced to the USA by the Irish Dairy Board, “made from the milk of grass fed cows, 100 per cent natural,” as it says on the pack, though I’m not sure that “100 per cent natural” is actually a meaningful term when it comes to cheese.

I admit that my pie wasn’t the best I’d ever made, and it certainly wasn’t a patch on the Bludso pie, and frankly the cheese was a bit rubbery, I’d have preferred something more crumbly, some Cheshire or Lancashire, but you know, I am a long way from those places.  I’ll take my squeezes where and when I can find them.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Say what you like about most modern Christians (and I realize there are exceptions, and I know it wasn’t always thus) but they know how to take a joke. Make a chocolate Jesus or put his face on a piece of toast and they don’t crusade against you because they’ve been “offended.”

This is a Good Thing, whereas, if you suggest to certain Jews that the food rules in Leviticus are a bunch of absurd, grumpy old man ramblings then you’re suddenly an anti-Semite.  Sculpt a bust of Mohammed out of butter and ... don’t even go there.

And the Buddhists?  Well, one of the Five Precepts of Buddhism warns against intoxicants cause they cause “heedlessness,” but these are precepts, not commandments.  If you’re a Buddhist and you want a beer with those potato chips, you go right ahead.  You have to make your own your way to Enlightenment.

Which I suppose is why nobody has said they’re offended by Lucky Buddha beer, which comes in a bottle shaped like the Buddha.  They were selling it at a discount in my local supermarket, so I guess it hasn’t been a great success, and the beer is made in China, which of course makes you wonder if there’s melamine or something in there, but I can’t say this stopped me drinking it.   It tastes fine.  It isn’t the greatest beer in the world, but I wasn't offended by it, and you know, even if I had been, I could probably somehow have lived with that.