Foreign-Food Letdowns, Food-Channel Finds

By Corby Kummer
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WordRidden/flickr


We try to be the voices of enthusiasm and realism here at the Food Channel, and I was very pleased to see Sarah Elton's dose of travel reality this week: that the local food we not just dream of finding but assume we'll be served is often far from local—it's absent. This, of course, happens in restaurants all over Italy, a country I know much better than France (French connoisseurs, soyez franches?). Olive oil, yes, that tends to be from close to home, whatever the (Tunisian) provenance of the "bottled in Tuscany" oil you buy. But fish along the Adriatic coast in my favorite regions of Puglia and le Marche? If it's from the Adriatic at all, it probably wasn't caught off Italy, and came to the restaurant via the central wholesale seafood market in Milan. Produce? Same thing, and the provenance is as likely to be the hothouses of Holland as the field next door—unless, of course, you're at Faith's Neapolitan reverie, the paradisal Don Alfonso, near Sorrento, with its own organic garden meeting all its needs.

Look for the first post next week from Belinda Chang, wine director of The Modern, about bargain-hunting on wine lists.

Sarah went to Barcelona for the first time since she was 12, this time with her own family, and assumed that the insider's guides to tapas bars and restaurants would lead her to places that strictly respect local fish and vegetables. Nothing of the kind. Asparagus from South America and shrimp from Indonesia, with shrugs from chefs and vendors telling her that seasons mean nothing anymore with year-round availability of anything they want, and fish dealers saying that what little Mediterranean fish there is often goes to places willing to pay the high price—including Sarah's home of Canada. Depressing! But true, and not just in Barcelona, and worth pointing out. And there's always Gaudi.

In the continuing cornucopia that is TheAtlantic.com, we have of course had terrific posts all week, but as an interested party, I was especially glad to see pendant posts on the history of tea in America and the origin of coffee. James Norwood Pratt has been one of my dream contributors since the launch of the Channel, as he's my man on tea; if you don't have his new Tea Dictionary, you need it. And Giorgio Milos entertainingly and somewhat whimsically breezes through the story of coffee's origins, which all of us who write through coffee read about, read some more, and hope will be added to with the kind of scholarly assiduousness that lately has seemed reserved for chocolate.

And we had the long-awaited debut of another dream-from-the-start contributor: Danny Meyer and his All-Stars, as I've named the rotating group of three of the key people who have made his restaurants a New York category of their own (Danny will check in periodically; it's their voices you will be coming to know). Look for the first post next week from Belinda Chang, wine director of The Modern, about bargain-hunting on wine lists. Preview tip: "Avoid Fifth-Avenue properties." Even if she works a few steps away! It's an example of the kind of common sense that has guided Danny's restaurants, and his team, since the day he opened the first one—and a sample of the kind of frank common sense I'm looking forward to reading in coming months.

That continuing cornucopia is more than even we who toil on TheAtlantic.com can keep track of—unless they're named James Fallows. I begin and end every day with my mantra, "I'm no Jim Fallows." But I can at least echo him in his praise of The New York Review of Books, whose new issue has the usual list of I-need-to-read-this pieces (along with the decades of the magazine editor's reaction, Why-didn't-we-have-this pieces) by Frank Rich on President Obama; Justice Breyer on handguns; and Diane Johnson on the book resulting from Lori Gottlieb's Atlantic cover story, "Marry Him!" Envy-making material—but of course, as Jim points out, "The Atlantic is the best magazine of all."

And he also compliments a post by our stellar new tech writer (yes, he's a blogger, but he's a writer, and a reporter—another set of attributes that makes TheAtlantic.com, I humbly add, the best site of all). Here's Alexis Madrigal on robot traders that can wreak havoc in the market:

No matter why the bots end up executing these behaviors, the Nanex charts offer a window onto a kind of market behavior that's fascinating and oddly beautiful. And we may never have seen them, if not for the mildly obsessive behavior of one dedicated nerd.

Don't miss him—and the mesmerizing graphs that illustrate what he means by "oddly beautiful." I add my welcome of Alexis to Jim's—more richness to keep up with, and enjoy.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/08/foreign-food-letdowns-food-channel-finds/61040/