By Mary Blume
International Herald Tribune
PARIS: The C.I., or Calamari Index, was invented by Jeffrey Steingarten,
American Vogue's esteemed food critic since 1989, to gauge acceptance of
tentacles and suckers in the land of sliced white bread.
It didn't take long. "For a while every single restaurant started having
fried calamari as a first course," Steingarten said from New York. "Now
it's such a cliché you don't see it anymore."
It was not ever so, as Sylvia Lovegren's "Fashionable Food: Seven
Decades of Food Fads" makes clear. Back in the 1920s, where the book
begins, a favorite dish in the United States was Ginger Ale Salad.
Spurred by new home refrigerators and by a wish to dilute ethnic foods
into a notional Wasp cuisine, at least one-third of the popular salad
recipes of the time were gelatine based, though there were exceptions
such as banana and popcorn salad relieved by a lettuce leaf and a dab of
mayonnaise. The still small voice of the then president of the Food and
Wine Society inveighed against "messing up otherwise palatable dishes
with marshmallows," but food tended to be white, bland and, still an
American trait in the recipes of, say, Martha Stewart, irrevocably
Finger food such as crustless little sandwiches favored by the women's
clubs swept the country as did desserts so sweet The New Yorker
predicted that maple-nut martinis might soon become the rage.
In view of the disgusting taste of bathtub gin, this idea was perhaps
not all bad. The booze was harsh, but speakeasy food, owners being
mostly Italian, had at least color and taste if little authenticity.
Spaghetti and meatballs, a non-Italian "Italian" dish was one of the
favorites and so later was chop suey, unknown in China.
Other foreign foods were adapted in the United States between the wars:
Welsh rarebit made with the inevitable ginger ale instead of beer or
real ale, for example, or "Spanish" rice browned under a layer of bread
crumbs, or Good Housekeeping's "Arabian Stew" made with, of all things,
pork chops. There was also a "Japanese" dish: bean sprouts with
Two still-dominant American traits were soon evident: gadgetry (a food
columnist in the '30s admitted she had blown out all her fuses by
attempting to use her toaster, waffle iron and percolator all at once)
and the obsession with eating that has so invigorated the publishing
industry. By 1961 the epicure Joseph Wechsberg was complaining that
"people who wouldn't dream of attempting a Chopin concerto after five
piano lessons are confident to turn out 'gourmet food' after reading
Gourmet, as opposed to home, cooking came with the 1940s, presumably
spurred by wartime refugee chefs, and in 1941 a new magazine, Gourmet,
appeared with contributions by M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard. Desserts
were flamed and quiche arrived, known then as Swiss tart.
No one these days is likely to make Lady Baltimore cake or beef
Wellington, although in the 1960s a recipe proposed the latter with
frozen pie dough and liverwurst instead of foie gras. The '60s were the
heyday of instant foods: even the French chef at the Kennedy White House
made his beef stroganoff with canned cream soup.
Now that coulis is a cliché, convenience food is back in the highest of
haute cuisines, according to The Wall Street Journal. The worshipful
Daniel Bouley in New York uses Heinz ketchup and the secret of
Jean-Georges Vongerichten's sauce for fried shrimp is Hellmann's
mayonnaise and condensed milk. Another chef uses Gravy Master in his $75
Kobe beef special and, pace Jeffrey Steingarten, Jay Murray of Boston
crusts his native calamari with dehydrated potato.
In 1977 pasta primavera, another non-Italian "Italian" recipe, was the
most talked-about dish in Manhattan, according to Craig Claiborne, while
in Berkeley, California, six years earlier Alice Waters had begun a real
revolution at her Chez Panisse, a strictly American revolution featuring
natural native products including forgotten, or heirloom, tomatoes.
With so much on his plate, the American foodie had been born, moving
easily from Velveeta to parmesan (which foodies pronounce parmezhan).
Green peppercorns, balsamic vinegar, kiwis were in every supermarket and
fusion cooking got a label although American cooking had always been a
meld of many cuisines.
Julia Child, who in 1961 made French cuisine accessible to Americans,
had proclaimed that every kitchen should have a blowtorch to crust a
crème brûlée. These days the gadgets are more likely to be test tubes
and retorts. Spain's Ferran Adrià is the household god, molecular
cuisine is the thing, and a whiff of a flavor is as good as a mouthful.
If the Americans and British have proved willing to take an interest in
lecithin and alginate, the French have proved more resistant to the
pleasures of molecular gastronomy. "I find Paris rather provincial,"
In the United States, plastic- sealed, or sous-vide, cooking, which used
to be confined to storing foods, is the new way of preparing them, so
slowly that the New York Health Department intervened on the grounds
that they weren't cooked at all, Steingarten says.
Quinces, heirloom pork and brining are à la mode, and as for vegetables,
Steingarten notes in a somewhat inscrutable e-mail: "Ramps, in season;
crosnes; microgreens, including amazing little things such as hop
sprouts or sprouts from the pop-corn plant; second tier root vegetables
for purees or boil- in-butter, such as parsnips and parsley root;
carrots, peppers and tomatoes in flamboyant colors and patterns, mainly
Popcorn plant cannot be found in Paris, even for ready money, but like
New York, Paris is having a mild nostalgia wave. The chocolate- covered
tiny marshmallow bears from French childhood are again available -- at
the fashion store Colette -- and in New York Steingarten has wolfed down
miniature versions of Nabisco's Oreos and Mallomars baked by the city's
best pastry chef.
If provincial Paris lags behind avid Manhattan, there is hope from
Hélène Darroze, who has two Michelin stars. She has just brought to
Paris a brand-new and dainty thing: le finger food.
Do you suppose "people who fuck with their faces", as PJ O'Rourke once
so eloquently put it, can manage to eat with their fingers?
"Or did they invent that, too?"
> PARIS: The C.I., or Calamari Index, was invented by Jeffrey
> Steingarten, American Vogue's esteemed food critic since 1989, to
> gauge acceptance of tentacles and suckers in the land of sliced white
> It didn't take long. "For a while every single restaurant started
> having fried calamari as a first course," Steingarten said from New
> York. "Now it's such a cliché you don't see it anymore."
I've read that in the 1950s, bratwurst turned out to be too exotic for
the Twin Cities.
At a German festival.
Things have changed.
However: I don't consider a food fully accepted till it gets outside
the gourmet category. Espresso reached that point when it became
common for gas stations (at least in the Twin Cities) to offer "Coffee
and Espresso." The University of Minnesota campus now has at least one
vending machine with Seattle-style coffees. Bagels have gone from being
an exotic food in much of the US to being a different form of sliced
I've not yet seen calimari in, for example, Burger King.
All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.
John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), Scottish writer, physician.
> I've read that in the 1950s, bratwurst turned out to be too exotic for
> the Twin Cities.
> At a German festival.
> Things have changed.
_Some_ things have changed. If I had a quarter for every time I
heard someone refer to "Eye-talian" food (which, generally, isn't
Italian at all), I could move to Italy and live there. It kills me a
little that chains like Lee Ann Chin (generic Chinese-American
steam-table food) and Olive Garden still top "reader's choice"
The Twin Cities are growing up, gastronomically, but there still are
plenty of people here who have led _very_ sheltered lives with food.
I'm hoping our new Latino, African, and Hmong residents will change
> "Dan Goodman" <dsg...@iphouse.com> wrote:
> > I've read that in the 1950s, bratwurst turned out to be too exotic
> > for the Twin Cities.
> > At a German festival.
> > Things have changed.
> Some things have changed. If I had a quarter for every time I
> heard someone refer to "Eye-talian" food (which, generally, isn't
> Italian at all), I could move to Italy and live there. It kills me a
> little that chains like Lee Ann Chin (generic Chinese-American
> steam-table food) and Olive Garden still top "reader's choice"
> The Twin Cities are growing up, gastronomically, but there still are
> plenty of people here who have led very sheltered lives with food.
> I'm hoping our new Latino, African, and Hmong residents will change
I'm not the most adventurous person around, actually. I've never tried
lutefisk, and don't intend to. Or the Ethiopian bread which looks like
gray sponge (available in the Cub near Lake and Minnehaha).
> > The Twin Cities are growing up, gastronomically, but there still are
> > plenty of people here who have led very sheltered lives with food.
> > I'm hoping our new Latino, African, and Hmong residents will change
> > that.
> I'm not the most adventurous person around, actually. I've never tried
> lutefisk, and don't intend to. Or the Ethiopian bread which looks like
> gray sponge (available in the Cub near Lake and Minnehaha).
Understood. I tried lutefisk once. It was OK -- I could swallow it
:-) But I now see why people drown it in butter or white sauce: it
gives it a nicer flavor and makes it swallow easier :-) I've
checked "Try lutefisk" off my life's to-do list.
The bread you speak of is injera, and I've grown to love it. It _is_
an acquired taste (my ex said it always reminded her of cold
pancakes). I prefer it warm to cold, but it works. Reminds me of a
sourdough -- a bit tangy. It is surprisingly low in carbs (one big
sheet is about 10 effective carbs), so it's become a much bigger
player in my diet.