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December 2001

A Dog-Eat-Dog World
The first thing Jim Leff did on September 11, after he woke up and heard what had happened in lower Manhattan, was ask his regulars to check in. Leff runs Chowhound.com, a Web site dedicated to the quest for what he calls "hyperdelicious" food, and he wanted to make sure that the obsessed eaters who post frequently--the hounds--were unscathed.

If Leff's roll call brought his online community together, his next move would nearly drive it apart. In an impassioned response to the acts of violence against Arab-Americans being reported around the United States, Leff dispatched what came to be known as the Chowhound Call to Eat: "If I had a minute of spare time," he wrote, "I'd try to set up teams of hounds to hang around our favorite Arabic spots and help defend them against senseless bigots. But maybe everyone could just agree to try to eat exclusively Middle Eastern for a few weeks (or months) and be ready to defend." Contributors began posting accounts of trips to cherished Egyptian cafés, Lebanese grocers and Afghan kabob stands around the country. But others dissented.

"I completely disagree with Jim Leff and this crusade," someone named Walter wrote. "I intend to boycott all Afghan and Middle East restaurants...I hope they all go out of business." Under the alias Voice of Caution, someone else noted that some Afghans living in the United States support Osama bin Laden and suggested that "those of us rushing to spend money in Afghan establishments might want to try first to determine which faction a particular purchase will benefit." In Boston, Patriot Paul wrote, less articulately, "I rather support an American cuisine restaurant."

The hounds howled. A whole thread sprang up under the heading "Dumb thing to say, Patriot." Leff excoriated the idea of a litmus test that would make Arab-Americans prove their loyalty. The discussion mushroomed, with people trying to stake out positions that made sense in a political landscape that had changed shape in a single day. The legitimacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization was debated, as was the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Inevitably, the debate took on an ad hominem tone—and its connection to the quest for hyperdeliciousness became hard to discern.

Two days after posting his Call to Eat, Leff banned all further political talk on the site. But the hounds wouldn't go back in their kennels so easily. Two of them signed off in protest to what they saw as Leff's censorship, setting off another round of fighting. Within a week, though, Chowhound was back to its routine discussions of congee recipes and drive-in burger shacks. The site's foray into politics may not have been pleasant to witness, but while it lasted, it offered a fascinating glimpse at what happens when people with a common interest suddenly have to confront things they don't have in common.

- Pete Wells

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Editors' Pick
Long before chefs began updating English cuisine, the nation had already perfected two meals: breakfast and tea. The cornerstones of both are marmalades and jams, and these are among the foods British expats miss the most.

For Judith Gifford, and her husband Nick, former filmmakers who moved to a small French village, the craving grew so intense that they turned to a very personal solution. The couple began buying local organic fruits and herbs at the peak of their season and making them into preserves, sold under the Tea Together label. Marmalades range from plain old orange and lemon to more esoteric blends like orange with lavender leaf and lemon with Earl Grey tea. Two of the more interesting jams are rhubarb with lemon and angelica, and Provençal fig with rum. Now expats and marooned Anglophiles who share the Giffords' craving can get the preserves without the trouble of founding their own company ($8 to $12 for an 11-ounce jar; 212-677-6512).

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Bookmark: New From the F&W Family
The Paris Cookbook is the eighth book by Patricia Wells, this one full of recipes she's collected during the two decades she's spent exploring the restaurants, markets and bakeries of her adopted city. While she focused on simple regional cooking in her classic Bistro Cooking, here she takes inspiration from three-star chefs such as Joël Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire as well as from her local butchers and bakers. Despite the more sophisticated material, Wells again accomplishes what she does best: make French food accessible to the home cook ($30).

Jacques Pépin Celebrates is a companion volume to the third PBS series that the affable master of technique has made with Claudine, his culinarily impaired daughter. Because we often turn to tradition when we're celebrating (and because this is Pépin), the recipes tend toward the classical: chateaubriands with Madeira sauce, potatoes dauphine, tarte Tatin. Pépin's emphasis in these relatively elaborate recipes is once again on proper technique, illustrated by a helpful series of how-to photos. There are also plenty of instructive sidebars on such topics as making croutons from baguette slices and grinding meat in a food processor ($35).

Finally, the Best Food Writing 2001 is an anthology of memorable essays drawn from books, newspapers and magazines. Readers of F&W will recognize many pieces, including Melanie Thernstrom's determined attempts to bake a wedding cake and Jeffrey Eugenides's night crawl in search of Berlin's best döner sandwich, the Turkish version of the Greek gyro ($15).

- Lily Barberio

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Equipment: Roll With It
At last, a rolling pin that won't drag your knuckles on the counter. The ergonomics-savvy people at Oxo designed the tool with curved handles, so fingers stay slightly farther from the countertop than usual. The handles are also weighted so that they automatically spin to the proper position. In fact, the whole device is heavier than standard wooden rollers, so less force is needed to roll out dough. Best of all, the surface is nonstick, so there's no need to keep dusting on the flour ($25; 800-545-4411).

- Monica F. Forrestall

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Calendar: A Year in Food
Did you know that, in the ancient world, garlic was worshiped by the Egyptians and chewed by Greek Olympic athletes? Neither did we, until we started flipping through the Food 2002 calendar from Cummings & Good. Intrigued by the design of a 1970s Spanish calendar, artists Jan Cummings and Peter Good adapted the style for their version, which is nearly three feet long with boldly graphic illustrations, striking photographs, quirky trivia and great quotations. September features a romantic photo of Billie Holiday crooning and author Wally Lamb's advice: "Accept what people offer. Drink their milk shakes..." And December closes with a sober reminder from poet Adrienne Rich: "The decision to feed the world / is the real decision" ($25; 866-749-4444 or www.cummings-good.com).

- Jessica Blatt

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Ingredient: A Royal Oil
Countess Francesca de Bardin was working in Manhattan as a headhunter when she first tasted some French olive oils and decided to hunt for them instead. Now, under the label Les Moulins Dorés, she sells seven extra-virgin oils that are grown, hand-harvested, pressed and bottled in Provence. Each one is made from a different mix of olives: Some are nutty and sweet, others fruity and smooth. All but one carry the designation A.O.C., a sign that they have met the French government's exacting standards for regional artisanal products. This is the first time A.O.C. olive oils have been exported to the United States, and chefs like Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Charlie Trotter and Guenther Seeger have been won over by their exceptionally low acidity and their soft, delicate feel and taste. ($11 to $26; available at shops like Zabar's, 800-697-6301 or 212-787-2000, and from zShops in Amazon.com).

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Taste Test: Soups
The proliferation of canned soups on store shelves is dizzying; even chefs have jumped into the game. The question is, how to choose? The editors recently held a blind taste test of 18 brands, and the competition was remarkably strong. These four emerged as our favorites.

ProductStaff CommentInteresting Bite

Sclafani Minestrone"Homemade tomato taste."In this 90-year-old Connecticut-based family business, the recipes come from grandmother Eleanor Sclafani.
Pritikin Hearty Vegetable"Vegetables are quite crisp."A surprising taste-test winner, since it's specially made for people on reduced-sodium, low-fat diets.
Dean Fearing's Tortilla Soup"Zippy, tangy broth."The same recipe has been served at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas for 21 years. But this chef's soup comes with a restaurant price: it's $20 for a 32-ounce jar.
Coco Pazzo's Tuscan Lentil Soup"Broth is deliciously thick."Pino Luongo required that the recipe not include the usual fillers and stabilizers found in canned soups before he would put his flagship restaurant's name on it.

- M.F.F.

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Remembering Heather
I last talked with Heather Ho on Monday, September 10. I was supposed to come to New York the following week and wanted to plan the time I would spend with my best friend.

"Where do you wanna eat?" she asked.

"Heather," I said, "you know I'm meeting you after dinner."

"Yeah, I know. But we've got to eat together, too. Where do you want to go?"

Around 8:30 the next morning, Heather rode the elevator to the 107th floor of One World Trade Center, as she had ever since starting as executive pastry chef at Windows on the World in June. I never heard from her again.

All my best memories of Heather involve food: as high school girls in Hawaii swooning over Thai tapioca and apple bananas (a moment we relived in a story for FOOD & WINE last year); as college students deveining shrimp in the kitchen of our great friend Malia Mattoch; as grown-ups devouring the pencil-thin sauteed asparagus with capers and anchovies Heather cooked for our first meal of the new millennium. Heather's love for food and her finely calibrated palate led her to cook in some of the country's best kitchens—among them, Bouley, Jo Jo and Gramercy Tavern in New York, and Aqua and Boulevard in San Francisco.

Her loss has left a hole in my heart that is devastatingly wide and deep. But in my stronger moments, I try to fill it with pictures of Heather at her happiest. My favorite? She is on the veranda at Da Delfina, her jet black hair gleaming in the fading Tuscan sun, the remnants of a six-course, three-hour lunch littering the table. She sits back, lights a cigarette, orders another Prosecco and flashes her Coco-red smile at me.

"What should we eat for dinner?" she asks.

- Malia Boyd

Published December 2001
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