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‘Made for Love’ on HBO Max Explores Why Tech Bros Are Always Looking to Make Food More Efficient


When Hazel Green (played by Cristin Milioti) escapes from the Hub in Season 1 of HBO’s Made for Love, the first thing she wants is a beer. It’s been a decade since she’s left the Hub, the complex her tech billionaire husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), built to secure his company and keep him from ever having to interact with the real world. He’s baffled as to why she’s escaped. The Hub, to him, is a paradise, where every interaction is planned and measured, and food is a tool for energy and efficiency. Which is why there’s no beer, no pizza, no corn chips, and why Hazel is so desperate to leave.

So far in human existence, no one has figured out how to recreate the pleasures of eating food in the ways that we know it to be. Protein shakes and Soylent and food cubes may provide all the nutrients the body needs, but they’re no stand-in for the experience of biting into a good sandwich, for toasting a friend across the dinner table in a buzzing restaurant, or shoving through a rowdy bar to scream-order your drink. These are the things of life, and the things so many in the tech world seem to be hell-bent on “optimizing” beyond recognition. Why eat when you could intermittently fast? Or unless you know the exact protein content of everything on your plate? Why waste time with food when you could be doing anything else?

In the second season of Made for Love, Hazel has returned to the Hub, though she’s trying to exist there on her own terms — much of which involves eating whatever she wants, to Byron’s horror. Food creeps in in different ways, from the Flavor Balls Byron feeds everyone in the Hub, to staff sneaking off and brewing their own beer. We spoke with Alissa Nutting, creator of Made for Love, about the metaphor of food, and why pizza is a threat to the tech-bro mentality.

Eater: It seems so clear that there’s a very stark divide between how food is presented in the outside world versus inside the Hub. Is that something that you explicitly defined when you were writing this season?

Alissa Nutting: In researching the character of Byron and looking at this tech-bro culture, one thing that was always really interesting was to see how the different CEOs approached food — like, the Twitter CEO had this strange salt water diet that involves a lot of fasting and calorie restriction — and just looking at how “efficiency” really trumped all of the other factors about eating. I mean, when I think about food, I think about taste and pleasure and satisfaction. But I was looking at it through this tech lens where food is something that will “biohack” my body and give me the greatest performance, regardless of things like taste or preference. All of that was stuff we really thought about in terms of Byron.

When I see Byron or any of these real-life tech bros, I realize that the reason that I’m not them is that if I had billions of dollars, I’d be flying around the world to eat things. And it still baffles me sometimes. I’m like, “Why is this not your instinct?”

It’s this whole culture of inventing an economy and inventing wealth and playing with these concepts like abundance and scarcity. You have extreme inflation, extreme overvaluation, extreme wealth compared to the labor that’s being put in, and these are people who are amassing more money than any one person should ever have in several lifetimes. It almost seems like this badge of distinction to be intentionally restrictive or withholding. It feels like some bizarre form of psychological justification or compromise.

Capitalism is absolutely a pyramid scheme. There’s this lie that if you have enough discipline, you can be as successful as any one of them. So there’s this constant fascination with the habits of the wealthiest CEOs and all of their bizarre rituals, as if any one of them have more grit and tenacity than an average minimum-wage worker. It’s really part of the fairy-tale narrative that each exceptionally wealthy person is asked to invent this lore around their habits that really distinguishes them from their fellow man, because their wealth certainly does.

You have a version of Soylent in the Hub, Flavor Balls, that are these spheres that give you an entire meal and all your nutrients in one bite. And it’s not just Byron eating them, it’s everyone who works there buying into it.

They all buy into this cult of Gogol and doing everything in the Gogol way. I remember watching a documentary about this Silicon Valley supplement company that was about biohacking, and watching all of the workers sit down at this table — they all do intermittent fasting, and they were all there to break their fast together. It was really a part of the corporate culture.

In Season 2, we were thinking, if you are in this regimented, very, very controlled food-and-drink environment, you have all of these scientists — wouldn’t some of them probably try to sneak off and brew alcohol? We wanted to include that element of humanity for realism. But in [Season 2’s fifth episode] we filmed this scene where someone who’s close to Byron bullies him into eating real food. It actually felt in the landscape of this character in the world, but we created a lot more violence than we intended, so we cut it. It was interesting going against the character’s wishes that way, with some chicken turned into this super dark, nightmarish thing.

I feel like there are other parts in the show that get at that. I was thinking of the scene in the beginning when Hazel is making it clear that she doesn’t want to be there. She takes a slice of pizza and wipes it on this glass wall. And Byron looks at it like this is a threat to everything that he’s built.

In a way it really is! For this character, it is just all about viewing what’s optimally best for yourself nutritionally, and maximizing the output of your body and having zero germs. He’s a character that really shuts himself off from the rest of the world. And I think pizza’s one of the most democratic foods; there’s something so deeply communal about it. It’s made for more than one person by design; that, along with the grease and the high calorie value, makes everything about pizza really antithetical to who Byron is and really representative of the life that Hazel had before she entered the hub.

There’s also a scene from the last season where Hazel is talking to a divorce lawyer and detailing how bad her life in the Hub was. She wasn’t allowed to eat “unhealthy” food, and everything she put in her body was really regimented. And the lawyer jokes, “That doesn’t sound like abuse, that sounds like a spa.” Can you talk a little more about this reaction to not being allowed to drink beer or eat chips or pizza — that it’s seen as a good thing by so many people?

In this show and with these characters, we’re navigating this language of privilege, and how anything can be a tool for abuse. But I think that food is one of the most common. Most recently in the media, the whole Nxivm story really stuck with me, this profound calorie restriction and normalization of disordered eating and expectation of thinness under the guise of discipline and health.

I think, especially in Season 1, we were looking at issues of total control, and Hazel feeling like all of the decisions in her life are being made for her, even down to the food she eats. And yes, there are layers to that. There are people in the world who don’t have access to organic vegetables and would love to have the diet that Hazel was put on, and people who are checking into spas for thousands of dollars a week to have such a diet served to them. But again, coming back to feeling trapped and feeling like a prisoner in your own home — even these spaces of privilege can be turned against you.

Right, if you can’t drink beer or eat pizza whenever you want, what’s the point of the power? I feel like this whole season really speaks to the themes of artificiality versus reality, and how you really can’t get rid of someone’s drive to want to experience something real — even if you make a perfect artificial world for them. How does food play into that?

Whether it’s a literal gut level or a cellular level, we can tell when there is a difference — like a dish that you have homemade by a family member versus a version you get at a restaurant, and tasting that near miss. I think that’s a really good metaphor for the Hub. As exact of a replica as they can make things, there is intrinsically within us this truth-detecting software.

Food is absolutely a part of that. I will never forget moving to LA and going to the farmers market for the first time, and tasting a tomato and just having this epiphany. That was really a radical, paradigm-shifting moment for me. And I have pretty staunch lowbrow food tastes: Taco Bell is truly my favorite restaurant. I really would rather go there than a Michelin-starred restaurant. But so much of that is it having been so long since you’ve had the real version that you adopt the fake version as your standard, until you have an experience that makes you remember everything it could be. For Hazel, that really is what those 10 years in the Hub were like. In this season, it’s going both ways, where she’s having these experiences in the real world and realizing everything that the real world can hold. But she’s also back in the Hub and beginning to reconsider the power and the technology that the Hub can bring, that maybe she hadn’t appreciated the first time she was inside.

If there’s a third season, is there anything else that you hope to do with what these characters eat and how that affects them?

Absolutely. We’re now so on the cusp with the metaverse, and I’m really wondering how food and eating, and the experiential things like dining and restaurants, are going to translate. That’s something that I would say I’m pretty curious about.



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How Slab Barbecue Is Defining LA’s Barbecue Scene


Chef and owner of Los Angeles restaurant Slab Barbecue, Burt Bakman, is trying to catch the city’s reputation for barbecue up to the likes of southern states like Texas. “The LA barbecue scene is really at its infancy,” he says. “The type of barbecue culture that they have in Texas, they don’t have here. There’s no reason why California cannot become its own barbecue region.”

Slab serves all the barbecue classics: spare ribs, smoked chicken, brisket, brisket burgers, and sides like mac and cheese. But Bakman embraces experimentation. “Around Texas, you go around different places, you see a lot of people are really doing things the same,” says Bakman. “We change it up, we find some kind of a spice, we’ll introduce it, we’ll try something here that we like. We’re not married to one thing.”

Slab also deviates from tradition by operating as a steakhouse in the evenings, where a standout dish is a steak au poivre with a pepper sauce. Bakman covers a piece of Australian wagyu with the same rub that goes on the brisket and puts it in the smoker, until it’s around 115 degrees, letting it rest before he puts it on the grill. He then puts the steak on the grill above some hot charcoal, cooking it to around 125 degrees, until it’s soft. To serve it, he puts down a layer of a pepper sauce he made and puts cut up slices of the steak on top of the sauce with french fries around it.

“This dish is where we want to see our place go moving forward, playing with more fire, playing with more meat,” says Bakman.

The next step is to create a unique seasoning for the restaurant’s steaks. “We have so many different ideas for different things that we want to do,” says Bakman. “Something different that will excite our usual guests, our neighbors, our friends, for them to come and have a different experience.”

Barbecue in LA is not without its challenges, though. For instance, the municipality does not allow Slab to have more than one small smoker, which means the restaurant’s chefs are on a tight rotation of putting ribs in the smoker, then chicken, and then the brisket, all back to back; they get started around 7 a.m. to be ready for the 11:30 a.m. service. “We have to go in shifts. We only have one small smoker, that’s all we can work with,” says Bakman. “So, it’s either this or no barbecue.”



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A Recipe for Pistachio Olive Oil Cake With Lemony Whipped Cream


In my opinion, olive oil cake is a dessert that’s surprisingly tricky to get just right. The poster child of bowl-and-whisk cakes is an easy one to whip up, but my Google search history (“can cake be too moist?” “olive oil cake too oily!!!”) reveals how things don’t always turn out as well as expected. That’s why up to this point, I’ve been content getting my fix at local places like Abraco that do get it right, but I knew I couldn’t avoid homemade olive oil cake forever. Maybe it’s the spring cleaning energy in the air, but I decided that it was time to finally check it off on my (long, unending) to-do list.

There are tons of olive oil cake recipes online (this side-by-side comparison is a great cheat sheet, if you’re curious), but I knew I wanted to create something that was more “cake” than “olive oil” — scented with good quality extra-virgin olive oil, yes, but neither overwhelmingly aromatic nor obviously a textbook olive oil cake upon first bite. I envisioned a crumb that was soft but structured, and an overall simple and homey dessert that had enough going on to prompt people to ask what exactly they were eating. If this sounds vague, that’s because it was — but it was the blueprint I needed to get myself off the couch and into the kitchen.

After a few rounds of testing, I’m happy to have landed on this pistachio olive oil cake. It may not be the most “classic” version, but I personally like it better that way. Finely ground raw pistachios are whisked into the dry ingredients for an edge of nutty flavor, and though olive oil adds moisture and flavor to each slice, it’s not pulling all the weight when it comes to the texture (cue sour cream, an extra yolk, and a spoonful of honey). Unlike a lot of other olive oil cakes, there’s actually no citrus zest or juice in the batter itself, but a dollop of lemony whipped cream on top is just the subtle touch of brightness that’s needed to pull everything together. The flavors aren’t loud or overly pronounced, but they don’t have to be to make the cake memorable, enjoyable, and worthy of a second serving.

As the weather finally warms up, this cake is a fun (and easy!) recipe to add to your spring baking repertoire. Neither wholly a pistachio cake nor an olive oil cake, it’s a balanced hybrid that reminds me of sunshine, civilized mornings, and dinner parties where no one is in a hurry to leave — a cake, in other words, that I’d consider it a success.

Pistachio Olive Oil Cake with Lemony Whipped Cream Recipe

Makes one 8-inch round cake

Ingredients:

For the pistachio olive oil cake:

1 cup (120 grams) cake flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (60 grams) raw shelled pistachios, plus more for garnish
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
½ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup whole milk, at room temperature
⅓ cup (75 grams) full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
1 large egg plus 1 yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the lemony whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream, cold
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt

Instructions:

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with a parchment circle and grease the parchment.

Step 2: Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until ground to a fine powder, then whisk the nut powder into the dry ingredients.

Step 3: In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, milk, sour cream, egg and yolk, honey, and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth and fully combined. Gradually add in the dry ingredients while whisking and mix just until no flour streaks remain and the batter is smooth (take care not to over-mix).

Step 4: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan against the counter a few times to release any air bubbles on the surface. Bake the cake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Step 5: Let the cake cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then gently run a small offset spatula around the edge of the cake to loosen. Invert the cake and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Step 6: While the cake cools, make the lemony whipped cream: Using an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt just until medium peaks form (try not to over-whip it).

Step 7: When ready to serve, cut the cake into slices and top with a generous dollop of lemony whipped cream. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped pistachios, if desired.

Joy Cho is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and pastry chef based in New York City.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning



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Ian Stroud Joins Eater as Development Producer


Eater has named Ian Stroud as its new Development Producer, where he will report to Executive Producer Stephen Pelletteri and oversee a team of producers. Stroud will take the lead on video development, enhancing Eater’s Emmy award-winning digital series and developing and executing new series concepts. “It’s great to see Eater’s incredible video work continue to be recognized,” says Pelletteri. “I’m excited for our growth and am looking forward to Ian’s fresh perspective on development.”

Stroud returns to Eater after a stint at Munchies, a Vice Media property, where he was a Supervising Producer. He was previously a shooter and director at Eater.

In addition to Stroud, the video department has recently expanded with two new video editors, Howie Burbridge and Christian Moreno, both of whom bring with them deep experience in the food space. Lucy Morales, who joined the team in May 2021, was recently promoted to senior video editor.

Eater video currently reaches a monthly audience of more than 20 million across a variety of digital platforms. Most recently, the team was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Media Award for a short-form video on salt harvesting in Senegal’s Lake Retba. Follow Eater’s video work on YouTube.



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Anna Wintour’s ‘Go-to’ Lunch Is Very Unique


Hold the tomatoes, please.
Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

Anna, the new Anna Wintour biography, is 430 pages long. Author Amy Odell spent four years working on it, interviewing more than 250 sources. It is the most definitive text on the Vogue editor-in-chief’s life to date, and it’s filled with fascinating details, like the time Wintour’s colleagues allegedly saw her throwing out pennies while she was working as an editor here at New York. But it was another sentence of Odell’s that stopped me cold when I first read it, and it’s haunted me ever since: “In fact, Wintour’s go-to lunch, after Condé Nast moved offices to 1 World Trade Center, was a steak and caprese salad without the tomatoes from the nearby Palm restaurant.”

You could argue that Wintour became the most powerful magazine editor in the world specifically because of her taste. She is famously meticulous about every single detail of her life, even going so far as to ban chives from the Met Gala’s menu because they might make guests’ breath smell bad. It does not seem like an accident that she would ask to have the tomatoes removed from her caprese salad. Odell’s book places this order as something Wintour would have eaten five or six years ago — but still, it remains deeply confusing.

What even is a caprese salad without tomatoes? The entire dish consists of only three ingredients: tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. (Delicious together, and also a nod to the colors of the Italian flag.) To lose the tomatoes is like ordering fish and chips without the fish, or macaroni and cheese, hold the macaroni. As an Italian, I’m offended. As a journalist, I’m captivated.

I understand that, as an editor, it is Wintour’s job to make cuts, to highlight the best qualities of any given thing, and to trim away the distractions. But I worry her subjective preferences in this case have gotten in the way of Objective Truth: that tomatoes always belong in this salad. In Anna, the sentence preceding the shocking caprese line offers some possible insight into Wintour’s thinking: Miranda Brooks, Wintour’s landscape designer for her house in Mastic, Long Island, told Odell that she tried to convince Wintour to plant a vegetable garden on her property, but she wouldn’t because “she doesn’t like vegetables.”

Of course, tomatoes are a fruit, but it’s possible Wintour’s aversion extends to eating food that might be considered vegetable-adjacent. (She likes potatoes, reportedly.) People should eat whatever they want, but I still had questions. Isn’t this order just going to be cheese? And if so, why not ask for that? Wintour declined multiple requests to be interviewed for the biography. Sources at Condé wouldn’t offer much insight, and neither would reps from the Palm. So I emailed Odell — who notes in the back of her book that two different people told her about this lunch order — and she got back to me right away with more information.

“The lunch would have been picked up typically by the second assistant,” Odell explained, adding that Wintour’s order would arrive with a proper plate from the restaurant so that she didn’t have to eat off of paper or plastic. “You know how in The Devil Wears Prada we see the assistants throwing the plate in an office sink?” Odell elaborated. “In more recent years, the plate was packed up and sent back to the Palm, which then cleaned it.”

Equipped with a full understanding of the situation, I knew what needed to happen next: I would have to order this lunch for myself.

Conveniently, New York’s office is next to 1 World Trade Center and also located within walking distance of the Palm in question, so on a recent weekday afternoon, I called them. “I’d like to order a steak to go,” I said. When the host asked me what kind, I realized this detail had been neglected, so I went with a medium-rare filet mignon because, well, I figured it sounded like the fanciest option. (Also, I don’t think Wintour is eating a rib eye for lunch.)

“Anything else?” the host asked. I took a deep breath. “Yes,” I replied. “I’d like to order a caprese salad, but hold the tomatoes.”

There was a beefsteak-size pause on the other end of the line. “So,” the host began, “you just want the mozzarella … with the lettuce leaves …?” He sounded confused and mildly distressed.

“Yes,” I replied. “Mozzarella and basil, but no tomatoes.”

“Okay then,” he said.

Okay then. My order would be ready in 20 minutes. After tax and tip, lunch cost me $77.33.

The final order.
Photo: Emilia Petrarca

At this point, PTSD from my days of being a fashion assistant kicked in and I suddenly became very nervous. I did not want to mess this up. My instinct was to leave immediately, even though the restaurant was only about five minutes away. But my real concern was making sure I got back to the office before my food turned cold. As soon as I picked up my brown paper bag with “!! NO TOMATO !!” printed on the receipt, I booked it back across the street, even running a red light in the name of medium-rare. If I were headed to Condé Nast, I would have been there in three minutes and 15 seconds flat. (I timed it.)

When I got back to my desk, I ripped open the bag to find two small plastic containers that were “sealed for my safety.” I don’t know what I was expecting — certainly not a ceramic Palm plate — but at best, my haul looked like an organ donation, and at worst, airplane food. This is why Wintour’s assistants went to such great lengths to make it look appetizing, I assumed, and no doubt why the restaurant would agree to send and retrieve a plate, as well. Presentation is everything.

Because I don’t have an assistant (or a second assistant), I was forced to make do for myself. I got a recycled paper plate and some plastic silverware from our office kitchen and found an empty conference room where I could sit, partly to spare my colleagues from any wafting meat aromas, and also because I wanted to pretend that, like Wintour herself, I had a huge office with a view.

I then plated the food as neatly as I could, drizzling the provided olive-oil dressing over the mozzarella like it was a blank canvas. Compositionally, though, something was still missing: the color red.

The complete lunch.
Photo: Emilia Petrarca

I cut into my filet and winced. It was not medium-rare, as requested, but instead rare. Had I gotten back to the office too quickly? If I were my own assistant, would I fire myself for such a grave oversight? How dare I serve this undercooked meat to myself. I decided to go ahead and eat it anyway.

Chewing a bloody hunk of meat alone in a conference room, I felt powerful and vaguely medieval. For a split second, I thought, Maybe I understand Anna Wintour. But then I remembered the tomato-less caprese on my plate and quickly snapped out of it. The two slices of cheese the Palm gave me were thick and pillowy, as mozzarella should be, and the basil was visibly fresh. I enjoyed a few oil-and-juice-soaked bites and could maybe — maybe — understand why someone would order it this way instead of just asking for some plain mozzarella, since the dressing did add a little bit of excitement. But it wasn’t long before I missed the brightness that tomatoes would have added. Without them, the experience felt a little like stuffing cotton balls in my mouth. I was overwhelmed. There was more cheese on my plate than steak, and I just couldn’t finish it. Even if it had been on a Palm-branded dish, this particular desk “salad” would still feel sad.

Thankfully, Vox Media, New York’s parent company, is a pro-vegetable organization and provides cute little baggies of baby carrots in the office fridge, which I immediately grabbed to supplement my luxury lunch. They weren’t red, but they would have to do.



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Danny Meyer and More Are Embracing Retro-Inspired Illustrated Menus


Menu design isn’t something that typically claims a lot of space in diners’ minds, so long as the information on them is presented clearly and they’re taken away quickly to be replaced by the meals they describe. But a handful of restaurants are changing that by presenting customers with visually thoughtful illustrated menus that are more than worthy of their place on the dining room table.

Whether evoking old-school diner placemats with illustrations of food and drinks, or celebrating the restaurant’s home city with a custom map, these illustrations add personality and whimsy to what could otherwise be an unremarkable part of the dining experience. Cocktail bars like Death & Co., Canon and Shelby feature drawings of the cocktails next to their descriptions, so you know what kind of glasses they come in. Which actually can be a huge deciding factor for prospective drinkers.

“I thought that was a brilliant idea because I hate when I get a coupe,” said designer Amy Morris of the Morris Project, who recently created the illustrated menus and more for Danny Meyer’s revamped bistro Manhatta. According to Morris, Meyer was inspired by New York Magazine’s 2019 photo collection of eccentric New Yorkers. Character illustrations —that include some famous New Yorkers — adorn the menus, coasters, and matchbooks. In addition to illustrations of the drinkware, the NYC neighborhood-inspired cocktail menu also includes a hand-drawn map to shows diners where they are in comparison to popular landmarks. “When you look at the map you can start to orient yourself,” says Morris. “It just brings the location to life.”

Bart Sasso, founder of creative agency Sasso & Co. designed the menus for Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta, where he’s also a partner. “Vibe is so important and I think the menu goes a long way in helping that,” he says. While illustrated menus might seem like a newer trend, Sasso actually looked to the past while creating his, finding inspiration in New England’s colonial taverns, particularly Union Oyster House in Boston. “When you go back and look at older menus from restaurants or cruise ships, or even banquets, they’re just so much more interesting than where menus ended up when I got into this business,” Sasso explains. His design for Ticonderoga Club’s menu opens with an illustration of the space, and uses delicate linework to highlight items like a sherry flight and a 48-ounce steak.

Milton Carter, who designed the two-color illustrated cocktail menu at the Commodore in Brooklyn, was also inspired by older menus, specifically those from yacht clubs. Featured on a placemat, the cocktail list is illustrated by Nathan Gelgud and features beachy classics like pina coladas and sloe gin fizzes. Gelgud’s partner Mike Reddy illustrated the bar itself on the food menu’s cover. For the Commodore, which celebrates its 12th anniversary this year, the cheeky illustrated menu was a reaction to — and a rebellion against — the restaurant trends of 2010s. Carter says, “The idea of printing the descriptions on 40,000 place mats was kind of a swing in the opposite direction of the bespoke cocktail culture that was happening,” especially in the neighborhood of Williamsburg. You cannot change these menus on a nightly basis depending on which seasonal ingredients come in. “It was like, nope, here’s the drinks,” says Carter, and that set the Commodore apart.

A color pencil illustration of a miniature boy standing on a full-size cutting board and slicing into a prosciutto leg with a knife. Light blue tile covers the background and the restaurant’s name, “Che Fico,” with the “I” upside-down, is drawn in red pencil inside a white bubble.

The menu at Che Fico in San Francisco
Laura Cruz

Some restaurants are turning to illustrated menus not as retro references, but to make the in-person dining experience feel even more exciting after years of COVID-19 lockdowns and regulations. “As we come out of QR code land, it’s nice to have something that’s palpable, and feels unique, and feels special, and integral to the space,” says Bryn Barone, partner at Che Fico in San Francisco. Che Fico’s menu is illustrated by Laura Cruz, a former hostess at the restaurant, and rather than showcasing cocktail glasses or menu items, it features a small boy cutting prosciutto. According to Barone, it speaks to the feel of the restaurant, and having Cruz as the illustrator makes it feel extra personal. But more than anything, it’s having a physical piece of art to change what it feels like to be in the restaurant. “When we reopened, we wanted to add an element that felt homey and welcoming, and made the experience of coming in and dining and picking up that piece of paper feel different.”

The current dining space is also just ripe for experimentation: “I think people are more playful now,” says Carter. “People are more open to an expensive thing that has a wink or a sort of humorous element, and maybe that’s hand in hand with what you’re seeing with the resurgence of illustration.” It’s as simple as people seeking experiences, wanting to relish in a space that has been meticulously designed and is also not their house. Just being in a restaurant may scratch that itch, but seeing illustrations on the menus, on the check holders, even on the walls, creates a more immersive experience.

The yellow pages of the menu of the Ticonderoga Club, stylishly cramped with menu items and illustrations of food, and inspired by the menus of old taverns in New England.

The menu pages at Ticonderoga Club
Sasso & Co.

“There’s so many people doing cool stuff in restaurants now, so many great artists and agencies that have aligned with restaurants all over the country, so we’re seeing more and more of it.” says Sasso. Menus become not just a way to enjoy the experience, but also a token to remember it; proprietors are saying these illustrated pages are turning into collectors items, or at least things diners like capturing on social media. It’s a thing to get obsessed with, to cheer you up and just make the whole experience more interesting. “There’s one customer who has the illustration of the [Commodore] tattooed on his leg,” says Carter.

Who’d do that with a menu that’s just a list?



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Old Bay Goldfish Took an Already Perfect Snack and Made It Better


Goldfish are, objectively, a perfect food. Tiny little cheesy crackers shaped like adorable fish? What’s not to love? When I was a nanny in my early 20s, I ate handfuls of the crackers pilfered from my charges and developed a deep nostalgic love for the snack that sustained me while I took care of other people’s kids. But the brand’s newest innovation, Goldfish crackers sprinkled with beloved East Coast seasoning blend Old Bay, are a revelation.

Unlike the Goldfish cracker that most of us recognize, these Goldfish aren’t cheesy. The crackers begin as the brand’s “original” flavor, then are seasoned heavily with the familiar, celery-y, slightly spicy flavors of Old Bay. When I cracked open the packaging, which looks a whole lot like a yellow tin of Old Bay, I was instantly transported back to the last time I sat on the shores of the Atlantic, scarfing steamed crab.

They’re certainly better than the classic “original” Goldfish, in which the main flavor note is mostly just salt, and arguably better than the beloved cheddar flavor, at least for adults, thanks to the light spiciness that lingers in the background after you shovel a handful into your face. The crackers are also supremely versatile, both an excellent drinking snack, pairing perfectly with a light beer, and a killer substitute for oyster crackers on top of a bowl of clam chowder.

Even though these crackers don’t exactly recall the oceanic salinity of shrimp or crab boiled in tons of Old Bay, they’re like a snack-sized reminder of your favorite low-country boil, and that’s perfect for those times when you’ve got neither the time or inclination to boil up a mess of seafood. They’re also orders of magnitude cheaper than a platter of crab legs, and that’s essential in this era of outrageous inflation.

Old Bay Goldfish sold out almost immediately after they were introduced this week, but parent company McCormick says that it is currently in the process of shipping bags of the perfectly spiced crackers to grocery stores across the country. Sadly, they’re still billed as a limited-time offering, which means that I’ll probably be spending some time cruising around local grocery stores to build up a stash big enough to last at least a few months.



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Julia Child’s Coq au Vin Recipe Stands the Test of Time


Coq au vin is a traditional French dish, but Julia Child put her own memorable stamp on it with her 1960s cooking show, The French Chef. Child and her storied foray into television were most recently portrayed on the HBO Max series Julia, which HBO just announced will return for a second season next year. Child makes coq au vin in one of the episodes, so to mark the passing of Season 1 and the (hopefully) imminent passage of the cold weather that has lingered throughout much of the country, we are reprinting the timelessly comforting (and slightly adapted) recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the 1961 magnum opus she wrote with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. As Child observes in her original head notes, the dish “is made with either white or red wine, but red is more characteristic.” Traditionally accompanied by parsley potatoes, it is here served with potatoes and peas, the latter of which lend a pop of color to the dish’s rather earth-toned palette. Child advised “a young, full-bodied red Burgundy, Beaujolais, or Cotes du Rhone” to accompany the dish and, well, who are we to disagree?


Julia Child’s Coq au Vin Recipe (Chicken in Red Wine With Onions, Mushrooms, and Bacon)

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of lean bacon
2 tablespoons butter
2½ to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, or Chianti
1-2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock, or canned beef bouillon
½ tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
¼ teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12 to 24 pearl onions
½ pound mushrooms
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter

Instructions:

Step 1: Remove the bacon rind and cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles ¼ inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarters of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.

Step 2: Saute the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.

Step 3: Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole.

Step 4: Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Step 5: Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Step 6: Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

Step 7: While the chicken is cooking, boil the pearl onions until tender and saute the mushrooms.

Step 8: Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off fat. Then raise heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2¼ cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, and discard bay leaf.

Step 9: Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manie). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Step 10: Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it, and baste with the sauce. If the dish is not to be served immediately, film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered. It can now wait indefinitely.

Step 11: Shortly before serving, bring to the simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is hot through.

Step 12: Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.

Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe prepared by Ivy Manning.



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Why Mario Batali’s Acquittal Feels Hollow


Following a two-day trial that’s been delayed since 2019, a Boston judge found Mario Batali not guilty of indecent assault and battery on Tuesday. The charges stemmed from a 2017 incident in which Batali was accused of forcibly kissing and grabbing the genitals of a woman he met at a now-shuttered Boston bar, one of a series of allegations from employees and fans that suggested a pattern of inappropriate behavior stemming back two decades.

When news first broke of Batali’s behavior in 2017, he admitted that “much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted.” Thereafter, he issued a lackluster apology and “got canceled.” Batali lost his job as host of the popular talk show The Chew, and eventually divested from the restaurants that he co-owned with Lidia and Joe Bastianich, including much-lauded New York eateries Babbo and the now-shuttered Del Posto. Batali and Bastianich’s former restaurant group, B&B Hospitality, reached a $600,000 settlement with the New York attorney general in 2021 affirming that, for many years, Batali and Bastianich fostered a work environment “that permitted a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment.”

Batali’s was the first restaurant industry #MeToo case to make its way into a criminal courtroom, presenting a rare opportunity for one of the countless victims of harassment in the broader restaurant industry to find justice with meaningful consequences for the alleged perpetrator — if found guilty, Batali would’ve faced jail time and been required to register as a sex offender. And still, despite the gravity of these allegations, almost no one was surprised when Batali was acquitted. That’s because yesterday’s verdict starkly reveals the extent to which the court system has produced a lot of truly unsatisfying outcomes in adjudicating cases involving long-term patterns of sexually inappropriate behavior. (Batali still faces a civil lawsuit stemming from the same incident.) So where do we — and Mario Batali — go from here?

With his acquittal, it’s likely that Batali will, at least in some sense, get the redemption that he seemed to be courting in 2018 and 2019 when he began exploring new business ventures. Because he has been found “not guilty” of the charges surrounding this single incident, some have already popped up in Twitter mentions to argue that Batali was a victim of an “overzealous” #MeToo movement, and that kind of public support could pave the way for a return that would allow Batali to profit from the reputation he built as a chef. Even if he may not have the same opportunities to open top-tier restaurants in New York City, there’s nothing stopping him from launching his own line of frozen lasagnas or jarred pasta sauces at supermarkets much less fancy than the first U.S. location of Eataly, which he once co-owned. Or maybe he’ll go the route of John Besh — who stepped away from his New Orleans restaurant empire after a litany of harassment allegations but did not sell off his ownership stake — by quietly investing in restaurants helmed by other chefs who haven’t been “canceled.”

There is at least some precedent for this kind of return to favor. In the food world, there’s the case of Paul Qui, who in March 2016, was arrested after an incident in Austin where he was accused of beating and bloodying his girlfriend in front of her child. The charges were dropped two years later, with prosecutors citing a lack of cooperation from the complaining witness, and Qui said that he hoped to “move forward” from his alleged bad behavior by opening an exciting new restaurant, which spurred an instant backlash. Despite all that controversy, Qui is still running and opening new restaurants in multiple cities across the country.

But here’s what I hope happens: Mario Batali goes quietly into that good night. We never have to see his big red beard or his stupid Crocs, which he wore to court by the way, on TV or on a package of pasta ever again. He’s a 61-year-old man with a net worth estimated at more than $25 million, which has surely dwindled during these past few years but should still be plenty of money for him to fuck off to the Amalfi Coast to live a life of quiet reflection instead of continuing to operate restaurants.

To be clear, Mario Batali has admitted, in response to allegations of sexual misconduct in a 2017 Eater report, that he went “too far in my own behavior,” and the judge in this case acknowledged that the chef “did not cover himself in glory on the night in question.” And because the courts have proven woefully inadequate when it comes to adjudicating cases of sexual misconduct, especially sexual harassment, those of us who are disgusted by the allegations against these powerful men have to find recourse wherever it exists. We can withhold our dollars, we can protest restaurants and investors that do business with Batali, and we can make abundantly clear that this type of alleged behavior is unacceptable from others who seek the same level of fame and admiration.

Batali has demonstrated that he can’t be trusted to honor the boundaries of the people who work for him or consider themselves fans. Whether or not the reprehensible behavior alleged by his workers rises to the level of criminality required to find him guilty in a courtroom, it should certainly disqualify him from even more time in the limelight as one of the country’s most beloved food personalities.



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Kitchen Restock Videos Are the Latest TikTok Self-Soothing Obsession


Few platforms are currently driving trends in the same way as TikTok, where everything from dances to pasta dishes have the potential for incredible viral success. But perhaps the most curious of these successes is the rise of restocking videos, in which millions of TikTokers tune in regularly to watch creators fill their pantries with snacks, decant their condiments into chic containers, and morph even the messiest of junk drawers into an aesthetically pleasing scene.

The restocking videos largely follow a similar format: a disembodied hand filling clear acrylic organizing containers with packs of healthy snacks and pouring orange juice from its paper carton into a sleek carafe. Sometimes the videos focus elsewhere in the home, like the bathroom, but the bulk seem to be focused on kitchens, perhaps because there’s no space in the home more prone to disorganization thanks to the slew of sauces, spices, grains, and other home staples that are sold in all sorts of different types of packages. And for some of these creators, like Kaeli McEwen, our collective obsession with aesthetic organization has created an entirely new career path.

Back in March of 2020, McEwen was a Starbucks barista who’d just started posting videos to TikTok. At the time, the COVID-19 pandemic was just kicking off in earnest, and McEwen became obsessed with the organization videos she’d seen on the platform. With all this newfound time on her hands, she decided to try her hand at making her own restocking videos. The first, which features McEwen stocking a mini-fridge in her home with snacks and tiny bottles of water, instantly started racking up views. “I had this mini-fridge in my bedroom, and I’d seen other fridge restock videos at the time, so I just bought a bunch of snacks and recorded myself filling it up,” McEwen says. “The first one did go viral, so from then on, I started to really focus on that niche.” As her account started to take off, she quit her job at Starbucks. Now, McEwen has more than 8 million followers on the platform, and is a full-time TikToker, complete with major brand sponsorships.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of videos like McEwen’s is the decanting. Almost all kitchen restock videos feature a creator pouring something from its original packaging into a new container that fits the creator’s aesthetic. Everything from water to coffee creamer to dried spices can be an optimal candidate for decanting, and there is no shortage of specialized containers to meet these needs. If you’re looking for the perfect size carafe for storing a quart of milk or a bin that neatly organizes dishwasher detergent pods into a stackable cube, that product can be easily purchased on Amazon or any random Target.

“It’s easier to keep clean and organized,” McEwen says. “Not necessarily every container I use makes everything easier, but it just looks nicer when everything matches and fits together.” And because TikTok is like any other digital platform, videos like McEwen’s are often met with a flood of oppositional comments, especially after they go viral. Some complain that McEwan’s enthusiasm for plastic organizers is killing the planet, while others are simply taken aback at the amount of effort she’s willing to go to in order to have a “pretty” fridge interior.

Outside of the aesthetic, though, decanting and hyper-organizing your kitchen can have some serious practical benefits. As Kandice Breinholt, a Utah stay-at-home mom and full-time content creator notes, decanting can actually make a lot of sense for people who struggle with limited pantry (or fridge) space. “My pantry is small, but it has a ton of vertical space,” she says. “When you use uniform containers, you can fit so much more into your pantry and see it very clearly rather than wondering how much you have left, or digging through everything to find the ingredient you need.”

Breinholt also notes that she regularly receives comments from her followers who deal with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and struggle with object permanence or remembering what they have in the pantry when it’s tucked away out of sight. “It’s super helpful for people with ADHD to see what they have. That’s always been a recurring comment over and over on my account,” Breinholt says. “People really love that this is a way that you can make your pantry and your groceries more accessible.”

Another, less tangible appeal of restocking videos is that many of them are recorded with autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, in mind. Using certain soft sounds, ASMR videos are intended to provoke a response that feels like “tickling” or “tingling” in the brain. According to creator Ashley Guzman, that ASMR effect can come from the strangest places. “I get so many comments from people telling me that they love the sound of me refilling salt,” she says. “Someone even said it felt like the sound ‘scratched their brain.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the growing obsession with organizing and decanting everything has also corresponded with increased sales of the products you’ll need to make your pantry fit the popular aesthetic. The Container Store has been around for decades, but it’s more likely that this rise can be explained in part by the explosive popularity of The Home Edit, an organizing company and subject of a Netflix series with the same name, in which co-owners Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin use all manner of clear acrylic containers to organize someone’s living space.

In January, Shearer and Teplin launched their first-ever line of organizing containers like the Pantry Edit, a $25 assemblage of containers intended to corral all the errant canned goods and droopy bags of rice that are inevitably strewn around the bottom of your pantry at this very moment. McEwen hopes to follow in the path of Shearer and Teplin, and says that launching her own line of home organizing tools would be “the ultimate dream.”

Perhaps it’s because most (read: my) kitchens are a messy nightmare that we’re so interested in aspirational organization. It’s highly unlikely that I’m ever going to corral my own pantry into anything approaching organized, but I can still appreciate the calm, clean order that McEwen and Breinholt produce. That most of us will never in a million years be as organized as any of these TikTok creators, with their perfectly decanted sugar and flour, doesn’t make these videos any less soothing.



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