REVIEWS

My reviews of books, food programming (TV shows and movies) and restaurants.

Review: Dirt Candy: A Cookbook

Amanda Cohen Dirt CandyAmanda Cohen is the chef-owner of Dirt Candy, an all-vegetable restaurant located in New York City’s East Village that is recommended by the Michelin guide. Cohen, who has written about food for Saveur, Eater, Salon, and Esquire, was the first vegetarian chef invited to compete on Food Network’s Iron Chef America.  That’s where our paths first crossed.

Amanda’s approach to her all-vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy is based on her motto, “Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to professionals.”  In case you haven’t figured it out yet Cohen is an individual.  She doesn’t fit into most people’s molds.  She’s an original.

Take for instance her first cookbook.  Dirt Candy: A Cookbook is more than just a cookbook.  It is also a Amanda Cohen Dirt Candygraphic novel (smart people talk for comic book) about how she built her groundbreaking New York City eatery into one of the toughest reservations in the Big Apple.

The overall feel of Cohen’s opus is cool and fun.  Telling her story in the form of a graphic novel (with the help of artist Ryan Dunlavey and her husband Grady Hendrix) is very interesting.  This would be a wonderful book to share with a child but don’t kid yourself, Cohen’s recipes are far from childish.  They are innovative and whimsical recipes like her Smoked Cauliflower and Waffles with Horseradish Cream Sauce or the Zucchini Ginger Cake with Zucchini Cream and Zucchini Candy.

Review: Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde

With Hurricane Isaac giving the Big Easy a thorough washing it seemed like a great time to talk about a new book that takes its name and its inspiration from this beautiful Southern city.

The South was settled by cultures who value their oral traditions, the Scots, the Irish, the vagabond French Creoles to name a few.  Because of this Southerners have always been good story tellers.  That has been demonstrated by the literary works of William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Harper Lee and others.  It can also be seen in the story telling song lyrics by artists such as Hank Williams, Tom T. Hall and the like.  Southerners can tell you what happened and do it in a way that keeps you enthralled.

Meanwhile, Back at Café Du MondeIf there is anything Southerners love more than spinning a good yarn it’s eating.  In Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde our oral and culinary traditions walk hand-in-hand.  It is a Sunday potluck supper in book form.

The beauty of Meanwhile, Back At Café DuMonde is that it captures that magic.  Created and edited by Peggy Sweeney-McDonald with photography by Troy Kleinpeter, the book is a written record of several conversations (for lack of a better word).  Based on the 2010 and 2011 live events also entitled “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde”, which consisted of 67 foodie monologues that invoked people’s favorite comfort foods, recalled tasty memories of life, love, family and friends.  It features fifty original essays by chefs, restaurant owners, business owners, waiters, and more and is accompanied by Kleinpeter’s fun photographs of monologue subjects, such as beloved restaurants, memorable pies, and food-loving family members. It all started with Café Du Monde, the place you always go for comfort food.

Each show featured a cast of chefs, food writers and foodies from all walks of life.  The shows were held across the country in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Natchez and of course New Orleans.  And check out this sampling of guest/story tellers: Chef Hoss Zare (Zare’s Flytrap Restaurant in San Francisco), Chef/blogger Jay Ducote , Lynn The cast from the show at Boutin's in Baton Rouge.Boutin (owner of Boutins in Baton Rouge), Chef Alex Marsh (The Jetset Chef), John Gray (jazz artist), Kevin Cline (owner of the The Front Porch in San Francisco), Chef Susan Irby (host of Bikini Lifestyles), Chef Andrea Froncillo (Boboquivari’s The Steak in San Francisco), Zuzy Martin Lynch (Executive Producer and Co-Founder of Cooking for the Clueless), Lance Spellerberg (actor), Carrie McCully (host of Food Network’s Chef Hunter), Savannah Wise (Broadway star), Lisa Annitti (actress) and Lynne Curtin (star of Real Housewives of Orange County) to name a few.

Meanwhile, Back At Café DuMonde is a delightful romp through the memories and flavors of food lovers nationwide.  You’ll laugh a little and maybe even tear up a time or two but one thing is for sure, you’ll get hungry.  It is the perfect read to help pass the time while you’re waiting for the power to come back on after a tropical storm, too.

I’m not alone in my praise either.  Check out this list of endorsements:

  • “Good people, good food, good stories. This book is Louisiana!” -Jeffrey Marx, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Season of Life
  • “Tasty and amazing stories about our favorite subject, FOOD!” – Emeril & Alden Lagasse
  • “What a charming book of food stories and history! I’m inspired to get in the kitchen or at least head to Café du Monde for a cup of coffee and plate of beignets.” – Erin Z. Bass, Owner/Publisher Deep South Magazine
  • “…Page after page of so many wonderful experiences and recipes…I’m already salivating! “ – Doreen Fang, Chef/Host, Dining with Doreen and Resident Chef of the Vegas Morning Blend and Food Network Star finalist

Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde . . .: Life Stories about Food is published by Pelican Publishing Company and will be released on September 15, 2012 but you can pre-order now HERE.

Review: The Braiser

Thus far, Dan Abrams’ “The Braiser” is an utter failure.

Dan Abrams, the mastermind behind such popular sites as MEDIAite, GossipCop and The Jane Dough, recently ventured into the realm of celebrity chefs when he launched “The Braiser.”  According to their web site, “The Braiser is here to bring the personalities behind the food you eat and love (or hate!) to the forefront. What we eat, where we eat, and how we eat it is a focal point of how we define community, family, and culture in this country and around the world. And the people who help us do that are going to get our attention — though some, obviously, much more than others.”

Verena von PfettenThe first problem with The Braiser is the staff.  Editor-in-chief Verena von Pfetten was a blogger and associate editor for Huffinton Post.  She was also Sr. Editor, Lifestyle and Entertainment at Air America media.  Before coming over to The Braiser she held the same position at Styleite.com, another Abrams concept.  Do you know what’s missing from her resume?  Anything to do with food.  But that’s OK, she doesn’t need to know anything about the culinary world as long as her writers do.  Right?

There are but two writers, I’m sorry “associate editors” for The Braiser, Mariella Mosthof and Tina Nguyen.  Mosthof was a gossip columnist for a site called WetPaint.com (I know, I’ve never heard of it either).  From what I can tell that is her only Mariella Mosthof previous job.  What is obvious by some of the statements Mariella has written for The Braiser is that she tends to be a bigot.

In a recent piece about a beer vendor at the Iowa State Fair who lost $25,000 in sales because an impromptu visit from President Obama shut his tent down for two hours Mosthof justified the lost revenue by saying, “You know who would have been bad for beer sales? Mormons.”  Abrams should fire her on the spot for that one comment.  Additionally, what has this got to do with celebrity chefs?  More on that later.

Tina NguyenThe other writer.  Opps, I did it again.  The other “associate editor” is Tina Nguyen.  Nguyen actually has a good deal of experience compared to Mosthof.  Not real world experience mind you but more than her counterpart.  Tina has been a technology reporter at The Daily Caller, student phone room manager at Claremont McKenna College and a summer intern at Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates.  Again, not a hint of culinary background.

So here’s the staff of The Braiser in a nut shell – a fashion blogger, a gossip columnist and a student phone room manager.  No media or culinary credibility among them.  Is it any wonder that no one is reading this site?  There isn’t an ounce of credibility to its staff.

That’s why when I ask a celebrity chef if they saw the article about them on The Braiser they always say, “What’s The Braiser?”  That’s a huge clue to the success of the site, the people it’s about don’t read it.

The stats on their Facebook page tell the story.  The Braiser launched with a lot of fanfare.  That yielded them better than 50 new Likes a week.  The past few months they’ve been lucky to pick up 25.  The “People Talking About This” stats reflect that drop as it has gone from over 200 a week to half that now.

One reason for the waning interest may be that there seem to be a lot of misleading or grossly exaggerated headlines to some of the video clips they take from around the web.  Like “Mario Batali Recounts His Revenge On ‘Heinous D*ckhead’ Marco Pierre White.”  The headline makes it sound like Batali schemed for weeks or enlisted ninjas in order to give White his comeuppance.   But when you watch the clip the gist is Marco threw hot beans on Mario so Mario ruined White’s pan of sauce with two handfuls of salt.  Meh.

Or “Daniel Boulud Snaps At Savannah Guthrie Over Gravy Insult On Today.”  If you watch the video you’ll see that when Guthrie calls the sauce “gravy” Boulud merely offers, “But not really a gravy.”  Perhaps the headlines are intended to be snarky.  Well, to qualify as snarky they have to be funny.

The Braiser LogoYet another reason that no one is reading The Braiser is the content itself.  It does not “bring the personalities behind the food you eat and love (or hate!) to the forefront” as the web site states.  There are hardly any celebrity chef interviews, no insider information and very little original content.  Most of their copy is just rehashed articles from Eater, Serious Eats or Chow or are merely press releases.  Clearly there is nothing wrong with getting some of your content that way but all of it?

Furthermore, nearly a third of the content has little to do with the world of celebrity chefs at all but is spent trying to re-elect President Obama.  If the President has Bobby Flay cook dinner at the White House then that belongs on the site.  But pieces like the previously mentioned article about the President’s visit to a beer tent in Iowa simply constitute campaigning, that’s an ethical issue.

And that’s why it all comes back to the staff.  The Braiser is yet another site with a staff that wishes they wrote for Politico or Drudge Report.  But here’s the deal with Politico and Drudge – though they both have clear political leanings they are usually honest with their reporting.  You don’t see nearly as many agenda-driven articles from them as you do say NBC, CNN or Huffington Post. . . or The Braiser.  They save their opinions for columns, like they are supposed to do.

Though they may be talented this staff does not know their subject matter nearly as well as their target audience.  That’s a recipe for failure.  The potential of The Braiser is substantial but currently it is not living up to that potential.  Though they may not need to replace the entire team they definitely need to bring in someone with some experience and credibility in the culinary world.  Perhaps someone celebrity chefs have actually heard of.

I’m available.  Just sayin’.

Review: Around the World in 80 Plates

Though I do greatly enjoy Top Chef Masters I don’t care for its predecessor Top Chef.  It is not a show about food or cooking; it’s a show about yelling and backstabbing.  Granted yelling and backstabbing between some very talented chefs but yelling and backstabbing just the same.  It’s the same reason I don’t watch Hell’s Kitchen.

Around the World in 80 PlatesRecently I made sure to record a few episodes of Bravo’s new reality cooking competition Around the World in 80 Plates.  The show is hosted by veteran TV chefs Curtis Stone and Cat Cora.  Here’s the official Bravo description:

Around the World in 80 Plates takes culinary competition to the next level as 12 chefs travel across the globe testing their skills and determination. In each episode, the contestants will travel to a different international city where they will learn the local customs, cultures, and cuisines as they participate in a gauntlet of culinary challenges. Ultimately, they will face-off in a kitchen takeover where they will not only recreate, but reinvent the menus for world-renowned restaurants and their demanding owners.

After watching a few episodes I can’t say it’s appointment TV for me.  Cat and Curtis, as expected, are great and the exotic locations are terrific.  But basically it’s Top Chef on vacation.  It’s not a cooking show it’s just another yelling and backstabbing show.  If you enjoy Hell’s Kitchen or Top Chef or Big Bother or Survivor then you’ll probably dig it.  I’d rather watch paint dry.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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