September 24, 2005
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Food Engineering

A bunch of the WebZine crowd blogs about food. (A bunch blog about sex, too -- this is San Francisco. It does seem that the sex bloggers are orthogonal to the food bloggers.)

Particularly striking was Heidi Swanson, who was part of a panel on building and managing community. (What? No Derek?) She runs 101 Cookbooks, which today is featuring a recipe for salt crusted potatoes that I really want to try.

I tried to draw her out after the talk about my perception that food writing is changing, undergoing the sort of revolution that Julia Child ushered in, or Rombauer, or Mrs. Beeton for that matter. I think her own recipe captures one of the essential parts of the new style: instead of telling you what to do, her little essay on baby potatoes begins by telling you what she wanted, and the proceeds to explain what she tried and finally why the right answer works.

Ironically, her final answer is just about identical to a recipe I was staring at a few weeks ago, for potatoes in croûte sel, in Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. I didn't make the recipe, though, because I didn't know what was intended -- is the crust meant to be eaten, or is it just a means to the end? Though Swanson takes a longer path, at its end we know that she wants to do, and we can see in her photographs that the crust is a scaffold and that the three cups (cups!) of kosher salt are for process, not for dinner.

There's an interesting revolution brewing in food writing. Look for the same revolution to overtake technical writing in a few years.

Dinner tonight at Pazzia, recommended by Pat Delaney for last year's Tinderbox dinner. They couldn't fit us into their plans last year, but tonight they had a little table free. The bruschetta was everything you'd want, with really nice tomatoes and good, fragrant basil. The seafood risotto was good, too, with subtle fire and very fine shrimp that almost made up for rice that might have had just a trace of chalkiness. But perhaps I was being fussy....

Update: Martin Spernau says the change is already afoot.