MAD DOG: Food Fights

Some people take their food way too seriously. Hey, I like eating as much as the next guy (okay, I may not like eating as much as the next guy -- look at the size of him! -- but I do enjoy it the same amount) but that doesn't mean I get bent out of shape when my radiccio touches my fennel root. Well, not unless it touches it like that, in which case I demand to see its driver's license to make sure it's of legal age.The way people talk about chefs you'd think these cooks are spending their lives trying to cure cancer or promoting world peace rather than putting excess pounds on our bodies while separating us from as much money as possible while giving us as little food as they can get away with.Don't get me wrong, I love good food. Mouth orgasms are wonderful things. But the truth is a killer bowl of gumbo can be every bit as incredible as pecan encrusted salmon with roasted mango chili butter served over a bed of wilted coffee grounds and chocolate mashed potatoes. Okay, it can be a lot better.That right there was an example of what is perhaps the worst trend in food these days: overkill. The goal is to put as many incongruous flavors together as possible, preferably using ingredients no one has ever heard of. Well, outside a small tribe in a country you can't spell or pronounce, anyway.Try to find a simple meal these days. The "More is Easier" school of cooking firmly believes that they've never met eight flavors they couldn't mix or a non-poisonous plant they won't throw in. If this trend continues it will reach its ultimate form in a food style that will be known as Compost.Closely related to this trend is that of cultural cross-pollination. What they affectionately call wraps are actually burritos filled with the most non-Mexican stuffing they can think of. I'm sorry, but pork satay, Caesar salad, and chicken soup with matzo balls were never intended to be stuffed in a tortilla.If you think I'm being a food purist, you should check out the Italians. Everyone thinks the French are snobbish about their food (be thankful, if it wasn't for them we wouldn't have anything to accompany our hamburgers at McDonald's) but lately it's the Italians who are getting their pepperonis in a knot about food, and it's all about pasta.First, let's establish that Italians like their pasta. I know this is stating the obvious -- like saying President Clinton likes women -- but it's important. Hell, they serve it with every meal, sometimes having two pasta courses if they're feeling particularly carbo depleted.Some more background: Here in the United States if you want to be trendy you look at your waiter and ask, "Is that a head of arugula in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" Just kidding. Actually you ask for your pasta cooked "al dente", which is Italian for "you won't be able to dent it." In Italy they always cook their pasta al dente. There if you want to be trendy you ask for it "molto al dente", which means don't even bother cooking it.Recently, in the spirit of free trade and general troublemaking, the European Union (motto: "Better living through meddling") passed a ruling saying Italy has to let companies import pasta that's made with soft wheat rather than the preferred hard wheat. Until now this has always been illegal.To the Italians this is equivalent to requiring 7-11's to stock vegetarian Slim Jims. They -- the Italians, not the Slim Jims -- claim that pasta made with soft wheat cooks up gluey. You have to keep in mind that these are the same people who have standards to define what a genuine pizza is. Really.The Italian Standards Institute (motto: "If we had standards the trains wouldn't have run on time during World War II") has not only issued a series of genuine pizza-making guidelines, it also hands out a certificate to restaurants if they do it right. To qualify, a restaurant has to use only plum tomatoes, mozzarella made from buffalo milk, extra virgin olive oil, toss the pastry (no rolling allowed), cook it in a wood-fired oven between 420 and 480 degrees, and put it in a square cardboard box that has a red picture of Father Guido Sarducci posing as a chef on the lid so the crust will get soggy within minutes. If they put barbecued chicken, potatoes, or anything even resembling sprouts on it they're executed without a trial. This is a good thing. After all, if they didn't watch these things closely life would become a free-for-all. The next thing you know they'd have restaurants without red and white checked tablecloths, Chianti bottles without melted candle wax all over them, and waiters who didn't try to pick up your girlfriend or wife. What next, anarchy?Maybe the Italians should take a tip from the English, who think food is something you eat to soak up the beer. Glencoe Food, an English company that's getting ready to sell their soup in the United States under the name New Covent Garden, is adapting their line to suit American tastes. While we'll get soups like Spinach with Nutmeg, Carrot and Coriander, and Black Bean with Green Chile, they'll be keeping their popular British flavors over there. What makes them think Fresh Haddock or Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts won't sell here is beyond me.But at least they aren't going to import a dish that was recently featured on the BBC television show "TV Dinners." This particular episode showed a new mother preparing and eating her fresh placenta, which she sauted with shallots and garlic, flambeed, pureed, and then spread on focaccia.It kind of makes you appreciate a sweet and sour pork burrito wrap, doesn't it?


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