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Critical Mission

September 3, 2009

I don’t necessarily agree with a lot that the Times Union writes about food.  Sure, there are occasions we find some common ground.  But really I could likely have another blog entirely focused on nit-picking the TU to death.

Mrs. Fussy thinks that would be a terrible idea.

She says there is nothing to be gained.  That it does not get me closer to my goal of improving the food around Albany.  And that it will only piss people off, even though it may feel good.

Mrs. Fussy is one smart lady.  So today I will attempt to bring Ruth Fantasia over to my side of the fence.

You see, recently we exchanged comments on her Recipe Box blog.  And in Ruth’s response, I believe that she reveals what she sees as her role within the community.  Mrs. Fussy thinks I may be reading too much into this.

For those of you who did not click on the link, here is what Ruth said:

“Daniel, you’re right, curries vary widely across Asia as do molés in Mexico. However, the purpose of this blog is to share recipes made with ingredients most of us have in the house. And although YOU may not think the regular-run-of-the-spice-mill curry powder worthy of space in your pantry, others do… But remember it’s not those of us here are the newspaper who make it Recipe Box useful. It’s the people who submit recipes.”

Really, I should have just stopped at “Daniel, you’re right.”

My reading of Ruth’s response, and she can correct me if I’m wrong, is that when she writes, “ingredients most of us have in the house,” she establishes herself as the voice of the community.  Almost as if Ruth is the community’s representative.  And that she needs to give the people what they want.

And certainly that is one way of framing the role of food editor for the major daily paper in the capital of one of the greatest states in the union.  Although let me try and make the case for an alternative role.  The principle critic for a market has the opportunity to not just reflect the taste of a region, but to shape it.

Let’s take the current example of curry powder for starters.  Albanians may keep “curry powder” in the house because they have not been made aware of the great variety of masala spice blends available at several local Indian and Pakistani markets.  Perhaps nobody has explained how easy it is to make delicious chana masala at home to a wider Albany audience.  It’s not as if I am suggesting that people have to blend their own spices.  Buying a jarred spice blend is fine.  Plus at the Indian and Pakistani grocers, it’s cheap and easy.

This does not have to be a dictatorial process.  I don’t think jarred curry powder is bad, per se.  But perhaps there are greater benefits of taking one’s readers a bit beyond their comfort zone.

My favorite example of this is when I started doing wine tastings with my mother-in-law.

At the time, her favorite varietal was Catawba Pink.  And I suppose if I were trying to reflect her taste, I could have started with a broader selection of those wines.  Especially since she was convinced she couldn’t tell good wine from plonk.  But instead, we went a little beyond her comfort zone and tried four different Pinot Noirs.

Not only was it a successful tasting, where she could absolutely spot differences between all four wines, but she also had a distinct preference for two of them, and one of those rose to the top as her clear favorite.

More importantly, being nudged beyond her comfort zone gave my mother-in-law the initial momentum to begin her own wine journey.

Tastemakers have an impact.  Tastemakers can change people’s opinions and open people’s minds to new experiences.  Tastemakers can raise the standards of a community.

Can I get another, “Daniel, you’re right”?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2009 11:19 am

    You know, you mentioning curry powder reminds me that I have to do a post on a cookbook I picked up a while ago. It is the “Albany Collection”, and contains some of the weirdest recipes I have ever seen. Many of them include curry powder where curry powder should never dare to tread. Also, there is a recipe for Chicken Provencale which involves putting raw chicken breasts in the microwave for like 30 minutes. This must be shared.

  2. September 3, 2009 12:19 pm

    ruth was bitch to you.

  3. Raf permalink
    September 3, 2009 3:28 pm

    Dude, you’re wrong, or at least being kind of a fussy bitch on this one. Curry powder is a legit ingredient. Granted, there are many types of curry throughout Asia, but the yellow type in supermarkets (turmeric, cumin, coriander, etc) is a real thing. There are Escoffier recipes that call for the stuff.

    The article was looking for recipes that use standard yellow curry powder as an ingredient.

    That said, curries are awesome in their variety and the yellow powder based ones aren’t my favorite. As an obsessive, I’ve been willing to make the investment into all of the individual components to make indian curries, thai curry pastes, etc. But that just isn’t practical for most people for money, space, and time reasons.

    Also, masala means spice blend, so “masala spice blend” is redundant. So there.

    Finally, here’s my recipe submission – a knock off version of Chicken Kitchen’s mustard curry sauce

    1/4 cup mayo
    1 tsp mustard
    3/4 tsp curry
    a couple tsp of water to thin it out

    Grill chicken, chop it up into little pieces, put on top of yellow rice, and eat with the sauce.

  4. brownie permalink
    September 3, 2009 4:34 pm

    “Albanian” is the demonym? Really?

    Daniel, you’re right . But so is she, it looks like her core audience is interested in what they can do with something they already have, or could find on a supermarket shelf between the saltines and cupcake wrappers.

    I say you go guerilla. A few blog posts here and there about making entire meals out of condiment packs (I recally reading something like this already) to draw in the plebes, then hit ’em with the Grey Poupon. You could do this in real life too: Fussy Little Grocery, where you excise the substandard ingredients in value-branded packages and put something delicious in its place. “We’ve substituted Jane’s frozen fish sticks with seared ahi tuna. Let’s see if she notices!”

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