Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Food Controversies

'Food and Food Systems in the 21st Century' at UCLA's Fowler Museum

Food collage NEW

On Aug. 11, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., TedxLA Miracle Mile presents "Food and Food Systems in the 21st Century" at UCLA's Fowler Museum.

Spawned from the nonprofit organization TED, TEDx is a program of independently organized events that bring together people from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design (hence the name TED) to engage in the sharing and spreading of ideas. Next month's TEDx gathering at the Fowler will examine food and food production on a local and globalized scale. Speakers will address what is obsolete and what is up to par -- politically, socially, economically and culturally -- in the context of today's rapidly growing human population.

The event will be a merging of minds with guest speakers such as Jason Kelly Johnson and Nataly Gattegno of Future Cities Lab and Jonathan Todd of John Todd Ecological Design. Also joining in on the discussion of food will be Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms, Ken and Kathy Lindner of Lindner Bison, Laura Avery of Santa Monica Farmers Market and "Righteous Porkchop" author Nicolette Hahn Niman, among others.

The daylong event includes a pre-event mixer with access to the museum, a catered box lunch by Auntie Em's Kitchen and a post-event wine and cheese reception. Tickets are $60 for general admission or $48 for students, seniors and Fowler Museum members.

308 Charles E. Young Drive North, L.A., (310) 825-4361, fowler.ucla.edu.

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Photos: From left, Tara Kolla, Ken and Kathy Lindner, Laura Avery.

Credit: Tedxaltavistala.com

Restaurant nudity in San Francisco on its way out

San Francisco

Public nudity is legal in San Francisco, but restaurants are looking to alter the dress code, or lack thereof, by requiring the unattired to cover up before sitting down to eat, reports Abby Sewell for The Times' L.A. Now blog.

The Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee on Thursday approved a proposed ordinance on new public nudity etiquette rules, introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. It next will be considered by the full board. 

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Photo: Naturist George Davis in the Castro district of San Francisco, where he resides. San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener recently introduced a city ordinance that would regulate nudity. Credit: Kimihiro Hoshino / AFP / Getty Images

Speculoos slowly spreading through L.A.

Speculoos NEW Some say Speculoos is the new Nutella. It looks like peanut butter but tastes like the gingerbread, cinnamon-flavored cookie it's made from, known as biscoff. (You may know the flavor from those cookies handed out on Delta airlines.) The popular Belgian cookie via paste is making its way over the Atlantic and now it's coming to food trucks, slowly but surely.

If you've been fortunate enough to have stumbled upon the spread while abroad, chances are you've returned home with a new sugary obsession to share. Lotus Bakeries introduced Speculoos to the U.S. market this year; but even so, most Americans don't know about it yet. A gradually increasing number of food trucks are looking to change this. Wafels & Dinges in New York sells its own version (called Spekuloos) and offers the spread as one of many waffle toppings, as does L.A.'s Waffles de Liege.

In the height of the food truck boom, will Speculoos ever really catch on, on the street food scene? George Wu of Waffles de Liege believes it will. "If the popularity of Liege waffles grows," says Wu, "more people will get a chance to try Speculoos, and as a result, more people will talk about it and experiment with it on different food; and before long, it'll be a kitchen staple like Nutella."

Fingers crossed, Waffles de Liege's use of the cookie-made-spread will cause a domino effect of sorts among other Southern California food trucks and thus the spread of scrumptious Speculoos.

Waffles 600

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Photo credit: Elsie Fang Photography

Times Food editor Russ Parsons asks: Are the new meat temperature recommendations really on target?

Pork

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has finally recognized what a lot of cooks and food scientists have been arguing for some time –- that previously recommended doneness temperatures for meat were wrong. But before you leap to your feet to applaud let's think for a minute about those revised recommendations.

Essentially, the USDA is now calling for three doneness temperatures. The old recommendations of 160 degrees for ground meat and 165 for poultry remain (the poultry was revised down from 180 several years ago), while calling for 145 degrees for "whole cuts of meat," including roasts, chops and steaks, whether they are from pork, beef or lamb. Previously, they recommended 145 for beef and lamb and 160 for pork.

The department is also recognizing the benefit of a "rest" period, though their recommended three minutes is not enough to make much of a difference culinarily (admittedly, their purview is guaranteeing food safety, not deliciousness).

But here's the rub, albeit from the standpoint of flavor: Though some really good cooks do recommend cooking pork to less than 160 degrees, I think there is a good reason not to, and it has nothing to do with food safety — it just doesn't taste as good. Granted, the meat will be moister (particularly if you're talking about lean cuts from the loin and tenderloin). But as repeated taste tests have shown, pork cooked to lower temperatures has what is generally called a "serumy" or "metallic" flavor. Probably better to brine the meat for moisture, then cook it to at least 155 for flavor.

The recommendations err in the other direction when it comes to cooking other whole cuts to 145 degrees. That's not a bad recommendation for something like a leg of lamb, which has a lot of sinew and connective tissue that needs to be softened. But cooking lamb chops, racks or an expensive cut of beef to 145 degrees puts it squarely in the "medium" doneness range -- a culinary crime against good meat.

Of course, the sheer willingness to reconsider previous positions is something to be praised. I remember years ago trying to track down the source of the recommendation of 180 degrees for poultry (which has probably resulted in more bad Thanksgiving turkeys than any other single factor). I worked my way up the phone chain at the USDA until finally somebody admitted that they had, essentially, plucked the number from thin air, but that they were going to stick with it because, essentially, most home cooks didn't know how to use a meat thermometer correctly anyway.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Despite a new, lower USDA standard, boneless pork chops may taste better when cooked to 155 degrees. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

Lawmakers unhappy over 'Happy Meal' lobbying

Happy_meal 
The restaurant industry is quietly — and successfully — fighting back against the enactment of so-called Happy Meal bans, which forbid restaurants like McDonald's to hand out toys with children's meals that are high in calories.

Moving under the radar so stealthily that in some cases local politicians and anti-obesity activists missed it entirely, lobbyists in Florida and Arizona backed successful efforts to take away the power to enact such bans from cities and counties. In Nebraska, a proposed statewide Happy Meal ban died in February, even before its first legislative committee hearing. Read more in today's Business section:

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File photo: A Happy Meal box and toy. (Jeff Chiu / AP Photo / October 2, 2010)

 

Grocery workers going on strike again? [Updated]

Strike2

Remember the grocery strike and lockout of 2003-04? Are you ready for the sequel? The 62,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union has voted on whether to authorize a strike against the companies that own stores such as Ralphs, Vons, Pavillions and Albertsons. The previous action, which lasted 141 days cost the stores roughly $2 billion. Read all about it in the Times Business section.

[Corrected at 3:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the strike and lockout were in 2007.]

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Ralphs worker Jenny Perez casts her ballot. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten was unaware of request, but will now host her young fan

Garten The Barefoot Contessa is no Heartless Contessa, and has been "devastated" by criticism leveled against her.

It was only this weekend that Food Network star Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa, learned that a young boy named Enzo had a long-standing request to meet her through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, according to a spokesman. Garten gets about 100 requests per month, and wasn't aware that the request had been made or rejected. Touched by the young fan's desire to meet her, Garten is calling Enzo today to speak with him and invite him to join her at the Food Network studios, according to a statement released on Garten's behalf.

The statement also underscored the demands that are placed on public figures such as Garten, and the difficult choices that must be made:

"She contributes both personally and financially on a regular basis to numerous causes, including to Make-A-Wish Foundation. Sadly, it’s of course not possible to do them all. Throughout her life, Ina has contributed generously to all kinds of important efforts and she will continue to do so."

Garten was completely blindsided by the media firestorm this weekend over her reported refusals to meet with the young boy suffering from cancer. The boy would watch Garten from his sick bed, and twice requested a meeting with her through Make-A-Wish. The second time the request was made, Garten's representatives -- unbeknown to her -- gave the family a "definite no." Disappointed, the boy's family wrote about the rejection on its blog. From there, it was picked up by TMZ and exploded online, with criticism raining down on Garten's head. (We wrote about the controversy here.)

A source close to Garten said that the Barefoot Contessa believes charity and public works are part of duty as a public figure and that she works extensively for a variety of causes, including  battered women,  cancer patients, AIDS awareness and animal rights. "She was personally devastated" by all the criticism, the source said.

Even the little boy's family came to Garten's defense, with a blog post entitled: "Please Stop the Madness," which said the story was being blown out of proportion. The family said it did not hold any ill will toward Garten when Garten's representatives repeatedly told them that the Barefoot Contessa was unavailable to meet with little Enzo. While disappointed, they said they understood that, sometimes, things do not work out:

"I had written about our disappointment when we originally found out, but asked everyone in the spirit of Enzo to please just 'let it go' and move forward... I want to make it VERY CLEAR we have NO ANGER OR ILL WILL toward Ina Garten... Enzo found great comfort in watching her cook when he was going through his toughest times and for that we are so grateful."

No doubt, the family will be happy to get that phone call from Garten.

What do you think about this latest turn of events?

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo courtesy Ina Garten representatives

'Barefoot Contessa' taking heat for repeatedly rejecting 'Make-A-Wish' cancer patient

Garten300 Someone might be in the market for a new PR team.

"Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten has a new nickname -- "Heartless Contessa" -- in the wake of news that she repeatedly refused to meet with a 6-year-old boy named Enzo who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

According to the reports:

The boy, who would watch Garten from his sick bed, told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that he wanted to meet the Food Network celebrity. When told that her schedule was too busy, Enzo opted to wait. When the request was made once more, Garten's representatives replied with a "definite no," according to the online blog that the family kept about the boy's illness.

Cue the controversy.

"She is a pretty famous cook, but I doubt she is so busy that she can't cook one meal with this kid" read just one of the many comments posted on the story over on CafeMom, and The Stir launched a letter-writing campaign"Ina Garten -- Heartless Contessa" screamed one headline. "The Barefoot Contessa shatters a little boy's dreams," read another.

But perhaps the most biting comment came from Business Insider: "We're sure that she truly is pretty busy. But if she had time to throw a charity lunch for six Hamptonites -- who paid $100,000 to be there -- she can make time to whip up some meringues with a six-year-old."

(In Garten's defense, that was a charity luncheon.)

In response to the controversy, Make-A-Wish stressed to TMZ that Garten is a "good friend" of the foundation. A representative for Garten told the site: "Despite her demanding schedule, [Ina] participates and helps as many organizations as she can throughout the year, helping children and adults like Enzo with life threatening and compromising illnesses. ... Unfortunately, as much as she would like to, it's absolutely impossible for her to grant every request she receives."

We contacted Food Network in an attempt to reach Garten for her side of the story -- and we'll bet there is most certainly another side to this one. We'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, two other Food Network celebrity chefs -- Iron Chef Michael Symon and Beau MacMillan -- have reportedly offered to cook with Enzo.

What do you think about this cooking controversy? Is Garten being unfairly vilified? Are the media rushing to judgment? And do Garten and others have an obligation to do whatever they can to make room in their schedules for young fans like Enzo?

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Ina Garten. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

A field guide to Yelp reviewers

Yelp
OK, treading lightly onto very dangerous ground here. There's an essay on Atlantic's Life website that I find hilarious. It's about Yelp reviewers and it's by Derek Brown, a Washington, D.C. mixologist. As you can guess, he's not terribly complimentary. There are a few scattered obligatory caveats ("Before one gets the wrong idea, I like Yelp and appreciate the concept"), but for the most part it's pretty scathing.

The problem, he says, is that the good content is pushed out by the bad and he breaks the unhelpful reviewers down into a few categories: The Ubermensch who condemns the herd mentality; the Blood Feud, who reviews a meal he had several years ago; the Cheapskate who ... well, you can probably guess; and my personal favorite, the Know-Nothing, who posts comments such as: "The pickled vegetables were too sour; they reminded me of vegetables + vinegar."

What do you think? How reliable do you find Yelp reviews? Incidentally, if you haven't already, be sure to bookmark the page, which is home to consistently interesting, well-written pieces on food and, now, style.

--Russ Parsons

Photo: Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman

Photo credit: Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

Poll: Would you eat 'breast milk' ice cream?

Breast_milk_ice_cream 
This just in: Under the category of “taking pop culture just a bit too far,” government officials earlier this week reportedly seized samples of a “Baby Gaga” ice cream –- made with human breast milk -– from a shop called Icecreamists in London and sent it to a lab to be tested for possible hepatitis contamination.

To which I say: GROSS!

You can read the rest of this story over on our Business blog. But before you go, tell me what you think about "breast milk" ice cream. Would you have a problem diving on in? Vote!

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: A notice in late February at Icecreamists in London announced that "Baby Gaga breast milk ice cream" had sold out. Credit: Ben Stansall / AFP/Getty Images

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.