Jeffrey Steingarten in Vogue: The Fat Duck
- applehome Jul 8, 2006 03:47 AM
This month's Vogue has Steingarten reviewing Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck, his Michelin 3-star restaurant in England. It's a terrific article - Steingarten is at his best here. He's really enthusiastic about Heston. Heston is much like Ferran Adria, in that he experiments, scientifically, with food. Steingarten says he's seen several labels for this type of food, including - science food, space food, future food, molecular gastronomy, and hypermodern cooking (his preference).
Interestingly, Heston never went to Culinary school, and did not come up through the kitchen system, snapping beans and cooking on the line. In fact he repo'd copying machines for his father, and didn't work in food service until he bought a bar that he turned into The Fat Duck. He is self-taught, having been introduced to haute cuisine when young, and learning from books, including Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. Jeffrey mentions a biennial conference on molecular gastronomy, where notables such as Heston, Adria, and McGee attend.
I was re-reading some articles from Calvin Trillin's works when the magazine came in the mail. Reading Steingarten right next to Trillin left some impressions. Trillin can be downright boring, in comparison. You definitely learn great new things from both - whether food, travel, or some insight into life. But Trillin is just not as excitable nor as exciting - not that I'll ever stop reading either. I was re-reading Trillin's articles because I had just received his new book of verse, A Heckuva Job, which is hilarious, (not about food, although it is about a mess...), and it just got me in the mind to re-read some of his prose.
I only wish that Jeffrey would start carrying around a small digital camera and taking some shots - if not of the food, then of the outside of the restaurant, the areas he visits, etc. They have one stupid picture for this article - takes up a whole page, and is basically a nice head and shoulders portrait of the Aflac duck. The photographer is given a large byline. Maybe Vogue could save a few bucks by having Jeffrey snap some relevant local color and pay him a couple of extra bucks - save the duck portrait artist and his byline for the perfume ads.
Applehome, I absolutely love Steingarten's writing and the article on the Fat Duck is excellent. For the life of me, what I cannot understand is why his articles are in Vogue magazine.
It is the wrong venue for his work and I am confident, very confident, their average reader has no interest in The Fat Duck and no idea what he's talking about. In addition, Irving Penn's is one of the world's greatest living photographers and his efforts are wasted in the article as well. The whole thing is a publishing anomaly.
Don't let Anna Wintour hear you say that! :)
I have been addicted to JS's writings for a while, and see them only because my wife periodically buys the magazine. I loved HB's story, from the initiation at one of my lifetime favorite restaurants (Oustau de Baumanière), to the exploding stove, and the third Michelin star on a day when no one had come to lunch, and only two had reserved for dinner, and payroll couldn't be made.
I think the explanation might be that Anna Wintour hired Steingarten shortly after she moved to the U.S. to take over the American edition, at a time when she was hoping to turn it into more of a real magazine like British Vogue.
A couple of years ago the brilliant Jonah Lehrer wrote a wonderful piece about The Fat Duck for Seed Magazine, which unfortunately allowed him to bury one of the greatest ledes of all time: "Heston Blumenthal has a problem: his dessert tastes like horseshit."
Am I the only person who thought the article didn't have the usual Steingarten punch to it? Here's a man who goes into great detail about, well, just about everything he ever puts into his mouth, yet when he talks about what he ate at the Fat Duck he says, "I won't list the many dishes I was seved, only describe some of the highlights." List the many dishes, gosh darn it! I want to know!
Do you know if this article is available on-line? I didn't see it on the Vogue site (but then again, this site was WAY too much for me).
Folks, if you read Vogue for no other reason - What, you don't care to peruse beautiful pix of beautiful women in beautiful/sexy clothes? - then pick it up to check out Jeff Steingarten, one of the most absolutely-way-out-there food writers of them all! This guy is a TOTAL FANATIC! and spares not a little of Anna Wintour's money, and his wife's patience, in learning about wonderful foods. The pizza bianca story comes to mind...if memory serves, he flew to Italy to learn how to do it right, got up at 2 or 3am with the bakers etc., when he could have just gone downtown to the Sullivan Street Bakery! Deconstruction at its finest!
This month's article (August) is a major dissapointment, though. It was very short, and all written about a specific Brazilian drink (caipirinha, made from cachaça, a rum-like liquor distilled from sugarcane). I thought that this was an article that belonged in Vogue - whereas the great majority of his work is more like the Fat Duck article, and intended for a foodie audience. That's not to say I didn't learn anything - but it was pretty lightweight - could've been a chapter (a small one) in a much more engrossing text about the food in Brazil.
As others have posted, Jeffrey has put out 2 collections of his Vogue essays - The Man Who Ate Everything, and It Must Have Been Something I Ate. They are the most foodie of his writings, (not including what he's written since) - if you haven't read Steingarten, I would start with those. Watching him as a regular judge on Iron Chef America allows small but delightful demonstrations of his wit and humor, as well as his taste and knowledge of food.