27 May 2011

Me celebrity, me can cook

There is a rash of celebrity sightings in the kitchen these days: it seems that, like environmental do-goodness and politics, celebrities' tastes in food are automatically authoritative and worth sharing.  Of course, this makes sense--why wouldn't I consult a near-anorexic actress about her food choices?   It's like asking for advice on purchasing hair care products from a bald man--it just seems right.

Gwyneth Paltrow just came out with a new cookbook, launched Hollywood-style with a huge celebrity-ridden cocktail party.  It's called My Father's Daughter, and she wore a little apron with the logo on it while she cooked for Tom Hanks and some other oldish famous people.  Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria apparently likes food, so now she's a cookbook author.  Both of these A-list actresses evoke thoughts of love and family togetherness in their titles, offering down-home recipes like fried zucchini with spaghetti (Paltrow) and--I'm not joking--"Ants on  a Log"*recipe to follow from Longoria.  (Really?  I made that when I was five and my friends came over to play Barbies.)  Both books have really nice photos, some of the food, many of the actresses looking very happy to be cooking for their blurred-out friends and family.

In a playful riff on a song I always hated, Sheryl Crowe knew enough to bring in a real chef to co-author If It Makes you Healthy: More than 100 Delicious Recipes Inspired by the Seasons.  (Could we get a firm number here, Sheryl?  Have you read your own book?)    And because Alicia Silverstone is vegetarian, this also makes her qualified to counsel us on our nutritional choices in A Kind Diet, blah blah blah (the title was so preachy I got bored before I finished it).

Now, we know that classically trained chefs do not hold a monopoly on the food market: Mark Bittman is the self-taught author of the massive volumes How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, among many others; host of several PBS cooking shows (including one in which Gwyneth made a guest appearance); and long-standing regular contributor and food critic to the New York Times.  But let's face it, the guy is smart, and he's a total food nerd.  He trained as a journalist, got into food, and sought out the best chefs he could find to informally teach him how to do things.  He clearly chose to dedicate his life to studying the art of food.

I have not spent nearly the time and energy someone like Bittman has at learning the craft of cooking, and I don't claim to be an expert (this blog is for entertainment purposes only--I know where I stand in the spectrum), but I can generally keep a table of guests happy in my dining room.  I have several musician friends who can, too.  And there is a place for us to share recipes, ideas, and just talk about food--thanks to the popularity the subject now enjoys, there are more venues than ever before for laymen to geek out on cheeses and artisan oils.  I do not mean to imply that only professionals are allowed to even look at a food processor.  But, let's call a spade a spade--if Gwenyth gives you fried zucchini discs with pasta and a pile of shredded cheese on top, must we call it genius?  And Food + Wine magazine, shame on you for pretending she belongs in the same pages with Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard. And can we please admit that Eva's Kitchen: Cooking with Love for Family and Friends will be given as gifts to people the gift-givers don't know very well and end up being donated to the nearest library six months later?  You don't have to buy a Prius just because Leonardo wants you to, you don't have to let Harrison Ford pressure you into recycling (but you should do that), and for christ sakes, don't let Alicia Silverstone counsel you on your iron intake sans meat.  She is not a doctor!  

*Ants on a Log: cut up some celery sticks, smear some peanut butter in the cavity, and sprinkle some raisins on that shit.  And here's something I learned that Eva won't tell you: don't feed this to Stacy Wojak's dog.  He is too stupid to handle the celery strings.  Now pay me $30.