Sunday, January 14, 2001


Man does not live by chicken cutlet, tuna casserole and spaghetti and meatballs alone. And that's why no matter how much you like your mom's meatloaf recipe or your famous steak with teriyaki sauce on the grill with a side of mashed potatoes, there comes a time when you walk into the kitchen to make dinner and tire of the old standbys. That's not to say that there's not a place for pork chops and grilled cheese in every cook's lexicon. But it's also true that if you know the night of the week by the cut of the meat, it's time to broaden your horizons.

Fortunately, there are plenty of places to turn for the cook looking to expand his or her repertoire. A score of magazines showcase recipes that are variations on the typical baked chicken dinners, made with such pantry staples as mustard, garlic and ketchup. And encyclopedic tomes like "The Joy of Cooking" and "How to Cook Everything" can help you if you open up the cupboard and find nothing but an egg, three stalks of celery, some pepper and a jar of relish. But if you're willing to spend some time trying to tame far wilder beasts, there are plenty of guides that will take you where no man's stomach has gone before.

Take, for instance, the book which won the Julia Child Cookbook Award from the National Association of Culinary Professionals. "The Story of Corn" gives you umpteen ways to make that maize into something nutritious and delicious, all the while enlightening you on the cultural and culinary history of this most basic of starches. From basic corn soup to corn stuffed spatchcock (don't's a cousin of the chicken), there is no corn recipe left unhusked.

Or perhaps, like many of us, you're watching what you eat, endeavoring to be a bit more healthy with what you stuff your face. In that case, you need look no further than "The Art of Tofu" (the title also neatly satisfies your curiosity as to whether tofu was actually art or science). Belying the notion that bean curd is just... well... bean curd, it features such taste treats as Southern Tofu Fricassee', or Tofu Piccate with Mushroom Caper sauce. Makes you wonder why you struggled to reach the top of the food chain, doesn't it?

If you have an international bent, it's easy to let your stomach take a tour of the world while the rest of you stays in the kitchen. There are books detailing native foods and dishes from Thai to Jewish to Mexican to Ukranian to Slovenian to Russian. And that doesn't count such titles as "The Foods and Wine of Spain," "Café Vietnam," "The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking," "The French Farmhouse Cookbook," "The Food of Indonesia," and two words I never thought I'd see together: "Bombay Café."

No to be outdone, it's worth remembering that in spite of our relative youth, we have a strong culinary heritage in this country as well. That prompts such outings as "The Art of the Grill," "Cookin' Louisiana, The Country Cookbook," "Crème de Colorado," and "A Fresh Taste of Hickory." And true to form, a quick perusal of a baker's dozen of these guides reveals a large helping of recipes concentrating on native American food groups: fat, sugar and meat, prepared by frying and searing. So while they may use more elegant descriptions, the bottom line is that they lend legitimacy to the Quarter Pounder with cheese, a side of fries and a chocolate shake.

The latest source for gustabatory guidance comes courtesy of cable TV. Who would have thought that when Graham Kerr rolled out "The Galloping Gourmet" in 1969 as a more everyman's version of Julia Childs' "The French Chef," he would plant the seeds of an industry? The Food Network features chefs who dish up tempting entrees with personality... both the food and the cooks. Not content to merely chop a little garlic and onion while extolling the virtues of a good whisk, these celebrities with cleavers have enthusiastic studio audiences that rival Leno, house bands that compare to Letterman, and cheers and catch phrases that emulate Arsenio.

The self-proclaimed king of the condiments today is Emeril Lagasse, a Portuguese man-of-war if ever there was one. From his native Fall River, Massachusetts, Lagasse, worked his way up the culinary ladder with stints in Paris and Lyon, before eventually landing at Commander's Palace in New Orleans. From there, he opened his own franchise in 1990, and started to build the "Emeril" franchise, which now includes 6 restaurants, 5 cookbooks and 2 TV shows, not to mention cooking spices, utensils and special ingredients.

His recipes, which he "takes up a notch" with a little additional spice by throwing in a pinch of pepper or garlic and going "Bam!" melds a dozen different cuisines, as befits a foodie from The Big Easy. Some of his favorites are Pimento and Bacon Clams, Vietnamese Style Poor Boys, Tasso-cured Salmon Canapés and Lobster Ravioli in a Fennel and Chervil-infused Nage. And you're having macaroni and cheese tonight for dinner? My sympathies.

Speaking for myself, as a confirmed addict, I can find something to love at Wild Ginger in Seattle and Union Square Café in New York, at Goode & Company in Houston and Soho Spice in London. But I'm also content at McDonald's and Dairy Queen. The bottom line is that as long as it's different, I'm a happy camper. I'm not a religious man, but just this once, I'll quote scripture. To paraphrase Matthew IV, man does not... in fact, can not... live by bread alone.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has a reverse food allergy. If he sees it, he must eat it. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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