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Ask the Profussor – Answers and Rebuttals

March 3, 2010

My name is Daniel B. and it’s been three weeks since the last Ask the Profussor.  So much for trying to keep up with questions as they arise. As usual a lot has happened in that time.  Although I feel as though there have been more direct challenges (and even some open hostility) in the comments than in the past.

Perhaps I’m just imagining it.

Regardless, I have a really thick skin, and this is as good an outlet as any for people to blow off some steam.  Still, without being defensive I would like to address some of my critics and try to clear up a few perceived inconsistencies before getting on with the much more fun task of answering questions.

Ready.  Set.  Go.

Let’s start with Dan’s rant.The Fountain has the best pizza around. They’ve worked at crafting their pies for years, and for you to put them down with your snobby-ass comments is wrong. Just because you have your nose in the air and expect perfection everywhere you dine doesn’t mean you have to demean an establishment because it isn’t up to your snobby ass standards. Go back to California if you can’t find food good enough for you here, and do us all a favor.

I sat in a room with three other people. We were served two slices of pizza on unmarked paper plates.  One turned out to be from The Fountain.  And everyone unanimously agreed it was an inferior product to what turned out to be Pasquale’s.  What I’m trying to say is that it’s not just MY opinion, man.

Perfection is an admirable goal, and I appreciate it when I find it, but it is hardly an expectation.  But Dan is correct that when something is not up to my standards, which admittedly are high, I will let people know about it

There is a lot of food in the region that I do indeed love. So I’ll be sticking around for the next few years.  Although it may be a while before I make it back to The Fountain.

Bill Toscano had a strong reaction to my post on the impact of food critics.
I am over from Table Hopping, largely because I found you supposition to be so incredible. Do you actually think people who run restaurants plan their menus around critics? Do you have the kind of experience that would lead you to believe that? I think you vastly overrate the power of the T-U. Many, many chefs in the area would not know Ruth or Steve (or Celina) if they got bitten by them. I think it’s fabulous that we have so many sushi choices, but Steve has nothing to do with it.

Smart restaurateurs will observe their prominent local critics and adjust their menus accordingly.  It is one reason why critics are sometimes referred to as tastemakers.  Honestly, I cannot say how many local chefs would recognize Ruth or Celina, but Dale Miller put Ruth’s NAME on his menu.  Do you think that was coincidence?

Steve on the other hand is very friendly with many of the top chefs in the area.  And I cannot imagine a chef worth their salt that wouldn’t recognize Mr. Barnes across a crowded room.  While Ruth generally writes the starred reviews for the Times Union, Steve occasionally fills in.  In the last 18 months he has given two restaurants 3.5 stars on the strength of their sushi.  During that same period he gave an ostensibly Chinese restaurant 1.5 stars in large part due to the weakness of its sushi offering.

You think these kinds of reviews have no impact?

Mr. Sunshine very fairly called me out on a question of food and shame:
In an earlier post you mentioned feeling guilty about having some frozen veg in your freezer because they weren’t local. Now you buy apples out of season from, where, Chile? I’m not criticizing, I’m just saying.

That’s because the guilt and shame comes in two phases.  As I said in the last installment of AskTP, “If I’m going to be buying something that isn’t local or seasonal (and that is mass-produced), I might as well be buying it fresh.”

In the case of the apples, they were indeed fresh.  And they were from Washington, not Chile.  Plus, it’s Mrs. Fussy who demands the apples – I am the one who tries to buy the best ones for our family.

Mr. Dave was among several people who questioned my decision to shop at Walmart:
Why, I ask, is Walmart able to offer those foods at such good prices? Do you really thing that those prices will continue to be so low once all competition has been eliminated? Are you imagining that Walmart has a shred of altruistic virtue that is causing them to offer low prices?

I have no illusions that Walmart is doing good things just to be good.  They are doing good things because it is profitable.  And I’m okay with that.  I do not need the motives to be pure if it brings positive change to the food industry.

For me this isn’t just about low prices.  It’s about a company that has the size and the clout to effect significant systemic change.  When Walmart starts selling organic foods, and bringing them to areas of the country that have no other access to them, it indirectly reduces pesticide use on a large scale.  They have made significant progress with rBGH.  And the mass merchandiser has pushed manufacturers to reduce packaging.

A debate about the issue of labor is probably best suited for some blog that isn’t about food.  The truth is that the problem extends well beyond Walmart.  Labor is abused practically everywhere.  If you eat food that was at one point picked from a field, drink coffee, or wear clothes, you are likely contributing to the continued exploitation of labor at the hands of capital.  We all have to choose our issues.  Mine is food.  As for labor, I don’t honestly know what is truly ethical to eat.  And don’t say fair trade coffee, because it’s not.  Even Dean of Dean’s Beans says, “fairer trade is closer to the truth.”

We take small steps forward in the overwhelming task of healing the world. And it is important to recognize progress, even if it is imperfect.

Now onto the regularly scheduled questions.

Sarah M. wondered, “Can one purchase paneer at India Bazaar? Could I get it at the Hford or PChops, and if so, would it be good?”

Nothing compares to homemade.  After all, that’s what they do in India.  And it is easier than you might think.  Here is just one technique plucked from the internets.  Let me know how it goes.

TN waxed philosophic about the complementary roles of farmed and wild salmon:
Wild fisheries need farmed because they are seasonal and any breakdown in the supply chain of Salmon is undesired by supermarket chains. And Salmon farmers need wild Salmon for broodstock. If they actually worked together we could have year round fresh Salmon, that is the desired end goal right?

Not exactly. I am perfectly fine with Salmon being a seasonal treat.  As they say, there are plenty of other fish in the sea (but maybe not for long).

But I would also be fine with farmed salmon if they made major changes to its production, including but not limited to moving the pens inland to create self-contained closed-systems.

Jennifer went booze shopping and wrote the following, “I did see that they also have the Core apple and pear brandies which I am curious about but did not have the funds to purchase at the time. Have you tried them?”

I have and you can too.  Their tasting room at the distillery is free and open to the public.  Plus they don’t give you the hard-sell after your tasting.  If you go please tell Collin I said “Hi.”

Jon in Albany seems to have been easily convinced by Mr. Sunshine and declared:
The next time I’ve got some change burning a hole in my pocket, I look for a bottle of Laphroiag. Haven’t had that either. So much to try….

Mr. Sunshine and I have a lot of tastes in common.  I was introduced to Laphroiag in college and have been a fan ever since.  But be forewarned, it is not for everyone.  Except for the few people who love it, everyone hates it.

Mr. Sunshine was curious about Cuban sandwiches and wondered, “You can’t get an authentic one here, but are there substitutes?”

Not really.  If you start mucking around with the sandwich it turns into a different sandwich.

Elyse begged, “Daniel, Why must you taunt us so?”

There may be some people who read these posts that will walk away with the impression that I don’t like anything.  And it’s just not true.  There is a lot to love.  And sometimes I just need to gush about something from my past.

Jon in Albany in response to Lou Quillio said,I didn’t mean to break protocol (if I did – sorry Profussor) or tear Ruth Fantasia down too hard. But you are right, I did tear her down a little.”

There is no reason to apologize here.  You are among friends.  And I do not offend easily.  I’m sure Ruth can take the criticism too.

Mr. Sunshine wanted to know:
How do you stand on the wet vs. drier polenta issue? Mario Batali always insists it should be almost soupy, but I prefer Lydia Bastianich’s tighter version. I like to pour it out on a wooden board and slice big pieces. You? And how about grits? Now those I like soupy, preferably with cheese or shrimp. You?

I agree with AddiesDad, in that it depends upon what it is being served to accompany the polenta.  Soupy seems too wet.  But I do enjoy a nice stiff polenta that has been sliced and pan fried.  Grits I take a bit looser, and would enjoy with butter and sugar if I were throwing caution to the wind.

Jon in Albany made it under the wire, asking just last night, “When cooking with a dry white wine, what do you reach for?”

I actually did a post on this a while back.  The short answer is a wine from the dish’s country of origin that contains a blend of grape varietals and is unoaked.  If I cannot make a trip to the wine store I may look to some decent bottle of unoaked or lightly oaked wine I have on hand.  If I am in a real jam I may consider substituting dry vermouth, stock, or a combination of the two.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    March 3, 2010 12:12 pm

    I only live a few miles for Golden Harvest and have never been to the tasting room – I’m a fiend about trying to buy as much as possible local so I really have no excuse. Thanks for the reminder – I’ll probably stop the next time I hit Hannaford – it will definitely make grocery shopping more pleasant.

  2. brownie permalink
    March 3, 2010 4:44 pm

    OH my, I step out for a few weeks and it’s a food fight! I’ll have to bring my food ignorance to the table more often so the experts have something else to kvetch about. :)

  3. March 3, 2010 7:37 pm

    For the record, I was going to try out White Horse and Ballantine’s before getting some Laphroiag. I used to go out and try the higher end stuff before buying a bottle. Lately, I’ve been letting it ride as the price of a serving in a bar/restaurant approaches 25% of the cost of a bottle. If you are going to try it a few times to get a feel for it, you might as well get the bottle.

    And thanks for the wine link. I haven’t had a chance to browse through the archives yet.

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