Posted: June 24, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

We lovers of food and drink have endured a lot. From hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation smashing up saloons in the 1800s, to attacks on red meat, butter, fast food, and in Minneapolis public schools a recent ban on chocolate milk. How about the Little Village Academy in Chicago, which this spring banned students bringing lunches from home. Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school, the principal told the Chicago Tribune.

But what really got me thinking about this topic was a recent article in the New York Times by Gary Taubes, discussing the crusading lectures by anti-sugar crusader Robert Lustig, an expert in childhood obesity. Lustig doesnt just go around saying too much sugar is bad for you. Oh, no. Lustig tells us that sugar is evil, toxic, and just to make sure you dont miss the point a poison.

What a freakin killjoy.

It seems like every time parents turn around these days, someones trying to make them feel guilty. Give your child a cookie? No, sorry; youre poisoning her. And dont bother packing a lunch, either, you insidious purveyor of high fructose corn syrup!

Look, Im happy with food education. I am delighted that todays generation seems very food-savvy. (My daughters friend was over for a sleepover and when I served them dinner, she said Yum! I love kale chips!)

But I also believe in being open minded. My idea of a healthy diet may be different from yours. I eat prudently, but enjoy the occasional taste of barbeque, jalapeno potato chips, or dark chocolate. Dont put down my food choices, and I wont put down yours. But that tolerance seems to be losing favor with the food police.

As in: Dont you dare enjoy that cookie, you immoral libertine. Watch out or the new Carrie Nation will bust up your bakery with her hatchet.

I call this attitude one of New Puritanism. The original Puritan colonists were famous for their prudish intolerance. They were famous for banning recreation, most notably outlawing Christmas celebrations for many decades in the 1600s. Famous wag H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism as The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. But New Puritanism goes far beyond food. There is a pervasive attitude of zero tolerance that infects education, employment, culture, and now, food.

Intolerance used to be a bad word. Restricting choices in literature, art, music, and culture has often been the bellwether of an authoritarian regime, and the opposite of freedom. Intolerants will focus on potentially bad consequences, just as Lustig and Taubes do in speaking about sugar, often in the guise of its for your own good.

But nobody wants childhood obesity, either. Somewhere between the two extremes must be a happy balance, between healthy eating and the occasional treat. So Im going to close with a peace offering. One that will please the food police and the kid in all of us. Its from Alicia Silverstone, the actress you will remember from Clueless. Shes also a vegan food activist, and her book The Kind Diet has inspired many, including my vegan daughter. Silverstones recipe for chocolate peanut butter cups, slightly adapted, follows.

1/2 cup Earth Balance vegan butter
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup POISON - er, sugar
1 cup nondairy chocolate chips
1/4 cup soy, rice, or nut milk
1/4 cup chopped nuts
Servings: 12

1. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
3. Stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, and sugar and mix well.
4. Remove the mixture from the heat. Evenly divide the mixture, approximately 2 tablespoons per cup, among the muffin cups.
5. Combine the chocolate and milk in another pan. Stir over medium heat until the chocolate has melted.
6. Spoon the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture.
7. Top with chopped nuts.
8. Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours before serving.
Its so easy, its my daughters go-to potluck recipe. And healthy enough that you can give one to a child, without feeling guilty. Just dont pack it in her lunch.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.

Posted: June 17, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

My predecessor in this space, the Hon. John Kirkendall, was a classically trained chef at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, among others. My experience is a little more circuitous. 

My first restaurant job was as a 17-year old college freshman, working at Food, the diner on South State Street in Ann Arbor with no other name. I washed dishes, scrubbed potatoes, and bussed tables; I even waited on a table once and earned a 15 cent tip! For my duty meal, the Greek owner would let me have a feta cheese omelet or a tin roof sundae (still two of my favorites). Unfortunately, I didnt last long. I only worked there long enough to earn money (all paid under the table) for my girlfriends pending visit from Pittsburgh. That relationship, by the way, was even shorter than my dishwashing gig at Food.

I went upscale in later years, working at the Campus Inn (that is Victors with no apostrophe, as in Hail to the --). At that time, it was a plush, red-velour setting with candles, harp music, and tuxedoed waitstaff, cooking French service tableside. I began as a member of the highly over-educated busboy staff, where we perfected the art of synchronized bussing (answering the question, How would the June Taylor Dancers have bussed tables?). I eventually graduated to waiter, where I learned that food is served from the left except for soup which is considered a beverage and served from the right with other beverages, unless someone is sitting in a booth in which case you just hand the stuff over, hopefully without spilling. I also learned the intricacies of French wine, and wore a silver tastevin on a chain around my neck, in order to steal a sip from each patron under the guise of testing for suitability.

Unfortunately, I was fired from Victors, shortly after I helpfully provided to the general manager a long list of employee grievances, presented after I tried to organize the restaurant staff. (And so began my lifelong interest in plaintiffs employment law.)

I went from Victors to a recently closed restaurant that shall remain nameless, where the uneaten vegetables and potatoes were recycled into the common serving trays, and the unused drawn butter was re-strained into the melting pot. From there I migrated to another unnamed restaurant, long-standing and still-thriving, where the general manager (since fired) asked waitress applicants to lift their skirts so he could see their legs.

Ive tended bar for many years, at the now-closed and long lamented Maudes, where the late and beloved co-owner Leo Angelos was also a licensed attorney, and he sponsored my bar admission. I also served drinks at the Earle, helping to pay the bills during my early years as a Legal Services attorney.

Now cooking is another matter entirely. I once tried out to be a cook at Moveable Feast, but was bumped down to waiter after flunking my knife test. They gave me a newly sharpened chefs knife to show my skills, and urged me to keep chopping even after I bled all over the parsley. Probably so they could point and laugh. I did own a short-lived catering business that did a wedding and a few dinner parties, where I planned the menus and cooked, mostly classic French. And finally I taught a few classes in Greek cuisine for Ann Arbor Recreation and Education.

Teaching a cooking class seems so easy on TV. It is harrowing in real life, even worse than when youre trying a case and your key witness turns against you, your client stops payment on his retainer check, and then files a grievance. Consider the following.

First, a cooking class has a deadline, no more than 2 or 2-1/2 hours. This is a foreign concept to me. As my family knows, I usually take my sweet time when I prepare a meal. Well eat when its ready! Shaddup and drink some more wine!

Second, in class, you cant prepare anything in advance, because they want you to demonstrate every step. Dice the onion. Chop the parsley. Dont bleed. It gets very complicated.

Third, you have to talk while youre doing it, preferably without swear words. Now Im dicing the onion. Notice my suave knife skills. You should only do it so well. I try to tell stories, too,  usually involving my YiaYias lamb.

Fourth, youre supposed to let the class be hands on. Here, now you try buttering and layering the phyllo dough. Thats right. Youre doing great. Keep going while I go get myself a

Whoa! Whats that? I cant enjoy a glass of wine while Im cooking? What kind of cooking class is this?!

Anyway, after overcoming all these challenges, there is one final hurdle. Unlike a TV audience, the cooking class expects to be fed. And it better taste good, cause they think the teachers an expert.

And heres the big secret: you dont have to be an expert to make something that people will enjoy. Cooking is like everything else do it enough times, and youll start to find a rhythm. Make one item five or ten times, and yes you will learn to do it without a recipe and even vary it a little.

Oh, and one last tip: make sure your ingredients havent been recycled from someone elses plate.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.