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Mar 23, 2008 01:45 PM

If there were Nobel Prizes for Cooking, who would you nominate?

I could think of sooo many people who deserve it: Alice Waters, Julia Child, James Beard, Fanny Farmer, Betsy Crocker. Mario, Lydia, Irma Rombauer--- or my grandmother (an emotional choice, I admit) many names for so many different reasons. Not to mention the nameless folks who invented classics. Who would be your candidate, and why?

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  1. Maybe premature ... but ... Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu restaurant in Napa. I believe he will change the way we think of vegetables the same way that Alice Waters changed the way we dined in American.

    Fox's food just doesn't use meat or fish. But you also don't see those dreaded words like tofu, brown rice, etc on the menu. The NY Times summed it up best ...

    "It’s also proof that you can do away with all flesh and hold onto hedonism, at least if you keep enough butter, cream, cheese and wine at hand. Ubuntu is where virtue meets naughty sensuality. It’s the Angelina Jolie of restaurants."

    Even Debrah Madson doesn't have this take on vegetables. No where else I've eaten ... no other vegetarian dish I've seen in a cookbook ... made me literally forget I was eating vegetarian food ... or food without flesh. Delicious as these dishes might have been, I was always acutely aware they were vegetarian and sometihing was ... lacking. Not at Ubuntu. I'd pick this over any meat-serving restaurant anywhere.

    I think your first three definately because they shaped the way we aite and shifted the paradigm.

    Mario Batali and the rest ... why? Outside of NY I don't see Batali's influence. Good food, yes. Impact on a greater area ... don't think so.

    Adrian Ferrar of El Buli definately. He also has a new way of thinking about food and has (for good or bad) influenced a huge section of the restaurant industry.

    8 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I don't see the point of vegetarian food that uses lots of butter, cream, and cheese. It might taste great, but it's no healthier than a meat-based diet, and still sadly exploits farm animals.

      1. re: pikawicca

        Enough ... not lots ... enough.

        No dishes drowned in butter and cream sauces. The vegetables are the focus and the rest is used in small quantities to enhance them.

        It is not a vegan restaurant, so that is not the issue. They will make any dish vegan though.

        Suppliers are local and the cheese is from organic farms that I've passed by where you can see the animals in the fields.

        Some of the produce is from their own biodynamic garden.

        The site says "Ubuntu, briefly stated, is "humanity toward others", which is the basis of this community-focused restaurant"

        That includes humanity to the source of the food ... be it from the earth or animals.

        You can even do yoga in their studio ... to work off that dab of cheese.

        Remember the word 'virtue' in that quote.

        And all of this sounds like a big eye-rolling yawn ... but it is not. I repeat ... it is some of the best food I have eaten ... ever.

        I went there very skeptical and left amazed.

        This is a different concept in the way of looking at food. Here is the link to the Place record which has their website that discusses what tis is about.

        As I said, it is different from anything I've tried before. If you haven't been there, it is impossible to make assumptions ... and it would be very unfair to a restaurant that is trying to do the right thing ... and do it deliciously.

      2. re: rworange

        I think Batali's influence has been enormous on two fronts: 1) "variety" cuts and 2) house-cured salumi. Five years ago, Babbo was the only restaurant I knew of that regularly served beef cheek and lamb tongue, and Otto and Lupa were the only restaurants I knew of that served lardo. In the past year, I've seen all three in multiple restaurants in the Bay Area and LA. I find it really interesting that of all the unusual cuts of all the animals available, the ones that seem to be especially popular are the two that have been on the Babbo menu every day forever. It is harder to definitively attribute the use of a cut of meat to a single chef than it is to trace a signature dish (e.g. Nobu's miso-marinated cod, or Bocuse's potato-encrusted fish), but I find the chronology convincing enough to credit Batali with the popularization of these cuts (and of offal in general). Lupa was the first restaurant I ever went to that had house-cured salumi (in 1999), and definitely the first place I ever saw lardo. In fact, up until last year, the only restaurants I'd been to that featured lardo were all Batali restaurants. Other people were probably doing salumi at the same time, but Batali is such a public figure, I'd have a hard time believing that he wasn't a major influence in the popularization of house-curing.

        1. re: daveena

          I would have to concur 100%.

          Batali made offal eating sexy and mainstream. The tripe dish at Babbo and oxtail salad at Lupa became instant classics. I'll also credit him with the lambs tongue salad with poached egg adding as much emphasis to that poached egg, the aforementioned beef cheek craze, and calves brain ravioli. He preached al dente pasta recommending that you undercook the pasta and finish in the sauce. He also preached lightly saucing/dressing the pasta and started the movement away from pasta drenching.

          I also concur that the house cured salumi at Lupa came years before the current west coast house cured salumi craze. I'll also add olive oil gelato to the "first in a Batali restaurant".

          His bold move to make Del Posto into the first 4* NYT restaurant seems to be his only relative "failure". But you still have to admire the effort and his love for Italian cuisine.

          It'll be interesting to watch how the house cured salumi trend evolves in LA now that the Mozzas are in town.

          1. re: Porthos

            These are great points, daveena and porthos. I'd also like to add the fact that Batali's early shows on FN were really among the first on US television to teach the public on what "Italian food" really is. The history, cultural significance, and goal of a specific dish all played a part in how he presented it. He taught much of the public on what "authenticity" meant when it came to the seasonality and locality of Italian ingredients.

            1. re: Porthos

              "I'll also credit him with the lambs tongue salad with poached egg adding as much emphasis to that poached egg," Porthos

              In context, you seem to imply that the above mentioned salad is made with the tongue of a lamb, but "lambs tongue" is a type of lettuce. Am I totally misreading you? If so, my apologies!

              As a sidebar, the interesting thing about offal is that up through about the 1960s, it was the food of the very poor and the very rich. Primarily served in the home, and that raises a question of whether it appeared at hunt breakfasts and such as a result of the kitchen staff being familiar with it. Nevertheless, sweetbreads, brain croquets, kidneys, and tripe were all familiar to the very poor, the very rich, and appeared regularly on luxe restaurant menus.

              I think Batalli is a great chef, but I also think he was very smart in staging something of an American comeback for these foods.

              1. re: Caroline1

                Caroline - it's a dish with the tongues of actual lambs! Not mache ;-).

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Thanks, Ruth. You can tell I don't live where it's possible to frequent Batalli restaurants!

            1. re: Ellen

              I think it was a question in reference to the OP, admittedly I have the same one.

              1. re: Ellen

                betty crocker was not a real person.

            2. Jiulia Child, Paul Bocuse, Jacques Pepin, Two Fat Ladies, Jamie Oliver.

              13 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Jamie Oliver, really? He's fine but nothing special, IMO. Why would you nominate JO, Sam?

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  Because any Nobel nomination within the few categories considers impacts on society as a whole. The committee is not bound to the criteria held dear within any particular group

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    sam, what is jamie olivers' impact on society as a whole?

                    1. re: alkapal

                      He's gotten more people interested and taking pride in home cooking good food in the UK--a place where people think that their food is great--even though he is not a chef of the Julia Child or Paul Bocuse level.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        He's also having a huge impact on school lunches in Great Britain. Lots of children are receiving more nutritious meals and are becoming more informed about proper food choices as a direct result of his committment to this project.

                        And he's kinda cute. JK!

                        1. re: Catskillgirl

                          Yes, I mentioned his work with school lunches in another reply below.

                          And doesn't have a posh accent!!

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            yeah, but his working class accent is fake. he's solid middle class. for some reason, that seems to be the latest craze, whether you're a singer (amy winehouse) or anyone else in the limelight... pretending to be lower class than you are.

                  1. re: monalisawoman

                    the two fat ladies were entertaining, but did they really have a profound change on cooking or food? same goes for jaime oliver.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      I find this to be a very interesting topic, but I suspect that there will be little to no consensus, as there were no specific criteria set out by the OP. Maybe that was howboy's point? I'm not sure.
                      FWIW, though, I did list the criteria that I used below, in my response to ML8000. What do you think?

                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Two fat ladies and Jamie Oliver in the same sentence as Julia Child? What's this world coming to? FoodTV has poisoned our minds.

                    1. re: PeterL

                      We don't get FN here.

                      Again, the Nobel committee often weighs factors having to do with social goods and do not necessarily follow only the insiders' disciplinary criteria.

                  3. I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record but I nominate Ms. Edna Lewis, author of "The Taste of County Cooking" et al and the "original" Alice Waters. Also Elizabeth David who almost single handedly elevated English cooking after WW ll. MFK Fisher as well.

                    1. For me you'd have to discuss criteria to get an answer. This wouldn't just mean quality and great food because there's lots of that (which is a good thing).

                      Instead it would have to go to someone who changed things for the better and in the long run. Julia, Alice and Jacques all seem like naturals...but I'm sure there's more. I'd also have to say there some be some longevity factor. Cooking can be trendy and with the boom in media and cooking, it's a little more difficult to distill down to greatness.

                      Any way, doesn't the James Beard Foundation already give out a lifetime achievement award? That seems like it would be pretty close to a Nobel...although only a US version. Imagine all the countries and cuisines...for a real international Nobel-like award, you'd have a lot to filter through.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ML8000

                        Right. Without knowing what the specific criteria used for each Nobel is, or how they weigh each criteria, I imagined that a prize in "cooking" (as per the OP) would depend not only upon raw talent, but also dedication to their craft, innovation, sphere and longevity of influence, and the measurable improvement of some major aspect of cooking, whether it be scientific, artistic, or philosophical.
                        Of course, no chef can or will be equally strong in all categories, but I felt that each of these categories was valuable enough to be included, and that together they painted the full picture of what it means to be a great cook on the international Nobel level.
                        Of course, the OP may have had something entirely different in mind, but since the criteria were not specifically defined, I took the liberty of deciding my own :)
                        This was a lot of fun, actually. The hard part was narrowing the list to a few of the most "deserving". I probably could have come up with 20 of them.