Thoughts On At The Table

Last night I watched Bourdain's At The Table, which, according to comments on his blog, didn't go over well with his fanbase. The format of the show is simple enough. Take five food and journalist industry veterans, plop them down at wd~50, and ask them a bunch of questions, round-table style. It could work. It really really could. It is like John Favreau's Dinner For Five, only with debaucherous restauranteurs, authors and tv stars. I truly believe there is value in this show. But first:

Why it didn't work

  1. Bourdain is not a natural facilitator. This is a surprisingly difficult task, and not everyone is suited for it. Let's face it, he is typically in a role where he is central to his books or tv shows. The hardest part about this job is stepping out of the way. In his defense, he may not have been able to do this because:

  2. Most of the guests didn't do their job. Guests on this type of show are obligated to be interesting. It was pretty obvious that most of the guests were unable to really open up. I am sure it was in part a combination of the questions asked, being in front of a bunch of cameras and self-censoring so as to maintain their reputations, but ultimately, you need to find a way to be interesting. Even if they were able to be more candid, the combined lives of all of these guests are going to be less interesting than:

  3. The Fucking Food. You had five unbelievable palates dining on some of the most interesting food in New York. I know this isn't actually a food show in the traditional sense, but this is one place where we actually needed more lip service. And while we are at it, why didn't you:

  4. Include More Wylie. This is a guy who actually has something very important to say about food. And we got half an answer out of him. Also, like it or not, the average viewer would want to hear more from the chef than from:

  5. Too Many New Yorkers. Don't get me wrong. 212 in the house. But I think the average viewer can nt even relate to some of the subjects. Especially around the difficulties of getting tables, or whether there are guilty pleasures in being a VIP in a restaurant.

Why We Need It

Ok, that is a lot of complaints. You probably think I hated the show. I didn't. In fact, I think this has the ability to be an Important television show for the culinary world. That's right, capital-I motherfuckers. It is incredibly difficult to find an intelligent conversation about food. Sustenance is Important. Cuisine as Art is Important. The Economics of Food is Important. There is a lot to say, and there are smart people who are saying it. A forum where I can listen, learn, and find inspiration would kick ass.

Good luck finding all that on the Internet (Sorry Internet, but you suck for intelligent conversation). It certainly isn t going to be on the Food Network (The demographic excludes it). PBS could do it (but no one would watch it).

This could work. Bourdain could do it. If he chooses not to, I hope someone else does.
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Old and Busted v. New Hotness: Sous Vide Cookery

Old Me** Old-Me has joined the chat room "SousVide:TheNewNotTooHotness"
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpg** Future-Me has joined the chat room "SousVide:TheNewNotTooHotness"
Old MeHey... look who it is... Me... again. So glad that in the future the only person I talk to is myself. What the heck is Sous Vide?
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgNo time for shenanigans. You need to know this. Sous-vide, French for totally delicious, or possibly under vacuum. It is a cooking technique where food is vacuum sealed in plastic bags and "poached" in a temperature controlled water bath. Originally developed in the 70s as a way of reducing the loss of weight in foie gras during traditional cooking techniques, sous-vide has had widespread applications ranging from industrial food preparation to use in some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the world.There are several benefits for cooking with sous-vide: 

1. Consistency. Sous-vide takes a lot of the guesswork out of knowing when a food is done cooking. Imagine a world where everytime you cook a steak it comes out exactly the way you want it, with zero chance of overcooking it. That world you are imagining... it's where I live.

2. Control. An egg is not made out of egg molecules. It is made up of a number of different compounds, including more than one protein. Since different proteins will denature at different temperatures, a chef can use sous-vide to prepare an egg with a unique texture. And a small change in cooking temperature, say a degree or two, can produce drastically different results. Sound delicious?
Old MeNo... it sounds like future-me doesn't have a girlfriend either... How does it work?
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgBy placing vacuum sealed food into temperature controlled water, one can bring up the internal temperature of food to the exact temperature of the water. The result will be an evenly cooked piece of whatever-it-is. By perfect, I mean, the edge of the product will be the exact same consistency as the center of it.
Old MeReally? Vaccuum sealing? You actually own a vaccuum sealer? What on Earth for?
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgMainly, the absence of air speeds up heat transfer. Also, it prevents the bag from floating. Finally, I think it decreases the amount of moisture loss in the final product.
Old MeWell, wait, if the food is cooked when the internal temperature of the food reaches the temperature of the water bath, why do some recipes require 36+ hours?
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgGood catch! Glad you are paying attention. So, the concept of doneness is about raising the internal temperature to a given temperature. However, there is more to cooking than temperature. There are temperatures, that when maintained for an extended period of time, will break down certain fats. For example, collagen, which is found in less desirable cuts such as brisket or short rib, will dissolve into gelatin when it is heated to 55-60F for an extended period of time. In general, collagen is tough and bad, and gelatin is unctuous and delicious.Just be careful about what you put in the bag. It is going to be tempting to use wine to add some extra yumminess.
Old MeWhy can't I put wine or other alcohols into the SV bag?
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgThe reason you don't want to pour alcohol directly into a SV bag is that you will marinate your food in alcohol. The temperature isn't high enough to cook off the alcohol, and even if it could, there is no where for it to go. You can use alcohol marinades by cooking off the alcohol on the range and then cooling it down.
Old MeWait a second! Anaerobic environments at temperatures in the danger zone... this sounds like salmon in botulism sauce. How on earth is this safe?
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgIt isn't. Thomas Keller has secretly been attempting to kill his patrons for years using this technique. The truth is, there have been close to zero cases of botulism or food poisoning due to sous vide. That being said, there are definitely precautions you should take. For home chefs, you should really just cook and serve. There are also charts available that help you determine how long you should leave a given protein in the water bath to make sure it is cooked to the appropriate temperature. Generally speaking, you use the type of protein combined with its thickness to determine how long you would cook something for.For cook and hold situations, you will have to do a lot more research.
Old MeHrm, what about recipes that say to cook something for X period of time at Y temperature. For example, Wylie DuFresne has a 15 minute egg @ 70-C.
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgYah, so that is sorta cheating. What he is really doing is more like a traditional poach where the temperature of the water is higher than you ever expect the internal temperature of the egg will be. However, since the variables (the egg and the temperature of the water) are generally pretty consistent, the results will also be consistent.Finally, don't trust Wylie. When your back is turned, he will turn you into a powder and sprinkle you on top of a cube of molten lava tempura, which is neither molten, lava, tempura nor a cube.
Old MeSo, I've been googling while you have been answering these questions, and I found an article that contradicts you. Future-Me, explain yourself!
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpgI really hate that you use google to fact check yourself. But did these writer use the information superhighway to collect their information? Did they use the same bits of technology that brought you 2girls1cup to source their information? Of course, a lot of my information also comes from people who actively research this and also have a vested interest in NOT KILLING THEIR CUSTOMERS.
Old MeWhat's 2girls1cup?
mario_galaxy_reduced.jpg** Future-ME signed off.
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Miracle (Dis)Connect

**UPDATE:** They refunded my money and sent me tablets. While a frustrating experience, they did ultimately make me whole.

On June 3rd, Grub Street published a blog post entitled “Miracle Fruit Dealers Will Take You ‘Flavor Tripping’”. In it, they talk about the Miracle Fruit, a berry of West African origin that will temporarily invert your taste of sour for somewhere between 30 minutes - two hours. Obviously, that makes people like me excited.

They also mention a New York based company, Miracle Connect, that would deliver the berries to you within a week. That makes people like me incredibly excited. Buying temperature sufficiently raised, I purchased the berries through the website.

On June 20th, I still did not have my berries. I sent in a status request. Here was the reply:

Hey,

We’re getting more berries in two weeks! Sorry for the delay, we sold out after the Times and NY Mag stories.

Best,

NS

> Dear Miracle Connect:
>
> Can I get a quick status on my order? My receipt number is:
>
> ZZZZ-AAAA-YYYY-XXXX



I am a really patient man. Also a busy one. So I promptly forgot about it. Then today, on August 8th, I received the following e-mail:


Hi Miracle Connect Customer,
First and foremost, we’d like to apologize for the delay. The deluge of orders we received after Miracle Berries were written up in the New York Times far outstripped our capacity to provide them. (Our growers in Florida literally sold out of berries and now have waiting lists in excess of three months; buying more trees became impossible since they take years to mature.)

Rather than drag this out any longer, we’ve come up with a solution: we will send you (via mail) 10 Miracle Berry tablets for every 6 Miracle Fruits you ordered. The tablets work the same way, and last the same amount of time, with the added bonus that they don’t need to be preserved in the fridge. (They’re good for up to a month.) Each tablet is made from three actual Miracle Berries and, of course, makes things taste sweet.

If you’d like the tablets, just email MiracleConnect@gmail.com with your current address. (You may have changed your address, so this makes things easier.) If instead you’d like a refund, simply email us with REFUND in the
subject line. To those of you who have already gotten your berries, or gotten a refund, sorry for the email.

Again, sorry for the long delay and the inconvenience. But we’re excited to have a great solution.

Best,

MC


The offer of tablets in exchange for the fruit is really over-priced compared to what other internet-based miracle fruit. For example, my 6 berries (and now 10 tablets) cost 24$. A quick Internet search shows I can get the same delivered to me for 17$. Of course, it’s not about 7$. It’s about the principle… and… my berries. Taste-bud altering, magnificent berries.

Also, this e-mail was cc:d (not bcc:d) to about 216 other people. So, of course, an e-mail storm immediately erupted. Gems like:


You should have sent this email over a month ago. You might be backed up for 3 months, but it wouldn’t have taken you more than 20 minutes to tell us this. This was horrible customer service! I ordered my berries on June 6th, and out of 5 emails, this is the first reply Ive ever heard from you. I was actually able to pick up my berries from the Garden of Eden a week ago! And after the horrendous service and communication Ive received from your company, I refuse to patronize your company anymore. I definitely want my money back!


Or how about this:


For those that remain, I contacted Neel Shah of Miracle Connect a few days ago and informed him that I had contacted my Attorney General, and was preparing to call the NYPD. Despite having sent multiple emails over the last few months, I very suddenly received a refund via PayPal, and an email from Shah alluding to some unfortunate personal circumstances. Ok, shit happens. But still.

Anyway. If you do not receive a refund promptly, let me know and I’ll be able to provide all contact information for the gentlemen involved in Miracle Connect. Don’t bother with the Better Business Bureau or PayPal. Call your state Attorney General, and the NYPD. Both have divisions specifically designed to handle this.


More confirmation that they are over-charging:

I wasn’t going to reply to the whole list. But I let them know I wasn’t happy with their offer. I ordered 6 fruits and paid $45 dollars or so with shipping. They are offering me 10 tablets in return. I can buy 10 tablets for $11.99 + $3.00 shipping on a ton of websites.


And let’s not forget about:

I felt the same frustration and after e-mailing Neel multiple times and finally threatening to take legal action he told me his mother had passed away and I had the tablets hand-delivered to my apartment the next day. I haven’t tried them yet though, so who knows…


Which got this response:


His mother died?!? Oh please! Even if she did,then that is something that needed to be conveyed. When you run a business, you dont allow your personal matters to get in the way of serving the hundreds of customers that are waiting for your product. He was certainly not too busy with his “mother’s death” to cease granting interviews. I read so many new articles of people interviewing him about the berries and who he gets his berries from, etc. etc. When I had a family member die, I was out of work for 3 days. I even understand as much as a week. But you dont roll into a ball and then just dismiss your entire business. None of us take off two months from work when we have a tradgedy in the family!!! And in his delayed response, I lost any ability to recoupe my money through PayPal at all.(They only have a 45 day complaint window.) Thankfully I used my AmEx card and was able to file a dispute through them. Personally I dont believe his mother passed away at all… at least not over the last two months. My now very cynical belief is that that is just an excuse to cover for his delayed response.

And I apologize to those that are now receiving all these extra emails, but I agree with Andrew. Everyone should know that they were not the only ones who experienced such bad customer service.

People are obviously angry and rightfully so. I’d still like to believe this is incompetence and not malice. If he lied about his mother dying that’s pretty terrible too.


Either way:

REFUND.
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Miracle (Dis)Connect

**UPDATE:** They refunded my money and sent me tablets. While a frustrating experience, they did ultimately make me whole.

On June 3rd, Grub Street published a blog post entitled “Miracle Fruit Dealers Will Take You ‘Flavor Tripping’”. In it, they talk about the Miracle Fruit, a berry of West African origin that will temporarily invert your taste of sour for somewhere between 30 minutes - two hours. Obviously, that makes people like me excited.

They also mention a New York based company, Miracle Connect, that would deliver the berries to you within a week. That makes people like me incredibly excited. Buying temperature sufficiently raised, I purchased the berries through the website.

On June 20th, I still did not have my berries. I sent in a status request. Here was the reply:

Hey,

We’re getting more berries in two weeks! Sorry for the delay, we sold out after the Times and NY Mag stories.

Best,

NS

> Dear Miracle Connect:
>
> Can I get a quick status on my order? My receipt number is:
>
> ZZZZ-AAAA-YYYY-XXXX

I am a really patient man. Also a busy one. So I promptly forgot about it. Then today, on August 8th, I received the following e-mail:

Hi Miracle Connect Customer,
First and foremost, we’d like to apologize for the delay. The deluge of orders we received after Miracle Berries were written up in the New York Times far outstripped our capacity to provide them. (Our growers in Florida literally sold out of berries and now have waiting lists in excess of three months; buying more trees became impossible since they take years to mature.)

Rather than drag this out any longer, we’ve come up with a solution: we will send you (via mail) 10 Miracle Berry tablets for every 6 Miracle Fruits you ordered. The tablets work the same way, and last the same amount of time, with the added bonus that they don’t need to be preserved in the fridge. (They’re good for up to a month.) Each tablet is made from three actual Miracle Berries and, of course, makes things taste sweet.

If you’d like the tablets, just email MiracleConnect@gmail.com with your current address. (You may have changed your address, so this makes things easier.) If instead you’d like a refund, simply email us with REFUND in the
subject line. To those of you who have already gotten your berries, or gotten a refund, sorry for the email.

Again, sorry for the long delay and the inconvenience. But we’re excited to have a great solution.

Best,

MC


The offer of tablets in exchange for the fruit is really over-priced compared to what other internet-based miracle fruit. For example, my 6 berries (and now 10 tablets) cost 24$. A quick Internet search shows I can get the same delivered to me for 17$. Of course, it’s not about 7$. It’s about the principle… and… my berries. Taste-bud altering, magnificent berries.

Also, this e-mail was cc:d (not bcc:d) to about 216 other people. So, of course, an e-mail storm immediately erupted. Gems like:

You should have sent this email over a month ago. You might be backed up for 3 months, but it wouldn’t have taken you more than 20 minutes to tell us this. This was horrible customer service! I ordered my berries on June 6th, and out of 5 emails, this is the first reply Ive ever heard from you. I was actually able to pick up my berries from the Garden of Eden a week ago! And after the horrendous service and communication Ive received from your company, I refuse to patronize your company anymore. I definitely want my money back!
Or how about this:

For those that remain, I contacted Neel Shah of Miracle Connect a few days ago and informed him that I had contacted my Attorney General, and was preparing to call the NYPD. Despite having sent multiple emails over the last few months, I very suddenly received a refund via PayPal, and an email from Shah alluding to some unfortunate personal circumstances. Ok, shit happens. But still.

Anyway. If you do not receive a refund promptly, let me know and I’ll be able to provide all contact information for the gentlemen involved in Miracle Connect. Don’t bother with the Better Business Bureau or PayPal. Call your state Attorney General, and the NYPD. Both have divisions specifically designed to handle this.
More confirmation that they are over-charging:

I wasn’t going to reply to the whole list. But I let them know I wasn’t happy with their offer. I ordered 6 fruits and paid $45 dollars or so with shipping. They are offering me 10 tablets in return. I can buy 10 tablets for $11.99 + $3.00 shipping on a ton of websites.
And let’s not forget about:
I felt the same frustration and after e-mailing Neel multiple times and finally threatening to take legal action he told me his mother had passed away and I had the tablets hand-delivered to my apartment the next day. I haven’t tried them yet though, so who knows…
Which got this response:
His mother died?!? Oh please! Even if she did,then that is something that needed to be conveyed. When you run a business, you dont allow your personal matters to get in the way of serving the hundreds of customers that are waiting for your product. He was certainly not too busy with his “mother’s death” to cease granting interviews. I read so many new articles of people interviewing him about the berries and who he gets his berries from, etc. etc. When I had a family member die, I was out of work for 3 days. I even understand as much as a week. But you dont roll into a ball and then just dismiss your entire business. None of us take off two months from work when we have a tradgedy in the family!!! And in his delayed response, I lost any ability to recoupe my money through PayPal at all.(They only have a 45 day complaint window.) Thankfully I used my AmEx card and was able to file a dispute through them. Personally I dont believe his mother passed away at all… at least not over the last two months. My now very cynical belief is that that is just an excuse to cover for his delayed response.

And I apologize to those that are now receiving all these extra emails, but I agree with Andrew. Everyone should know that they were not the only ones who experienced such bad customer service.

People are obviously angry and rightfully so. I’d still like to believe this is incompetence and not malice. If he lied about his mother dying that’s pretty terrible too.

Either way:

REFUND.
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