Let's get the sad news out of the way: Mimi Sheraton, the groundbreaking food writer, died last month at age 97. Over her six-decade career, she became the first restaurant critic to wear a disguise and ate more than 21,000 restaurant meals in 49 countries. Also last month, legendary chef Emily Meggett passed away at the age of 90. Meggett authored 2022's acclaimed Gullah Geechee Home Cooking and was famed as the matriarch of South Carolina's Edisto Island. Both amazing women. RIP. In better news, New York City food scraps have been converted into biogas and are now heating New Yorkers' homes for the first time. Here's to effective recycling. And the James Beard Foundation has released its full slate of 2023 Media Award Nominees. Congrats all! (Winners announced June 3.) Elsewhere in the fine dining world, you can now buy and sell restaurant reservations for hard-to-get tables, just like concert tickets. Many of those restaurants are also opting for service fees in lieu of traditional tips. When you dine out, check the bill's fine print to help calculate your tip. It may already be baked in. Finally, are you easily grossed out by food? You can now put a number to your level of food disgust thanks to this simple test devised by Swiss food researchers. FTR, my food disgust is pretty low at 20%.
March is a tumultuous month. There's madness on basketball courts. Green beer in bars. Whiskey fungus on wedding venues. And storms rage across America. Some storms even jeopardize summer crops such as strawberries. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Swiss chocolate Toblerone can no longer display its symbols of "Swissness.". Amid this madness, some harbingers of spring appear: a fresh crop of cookbooks, the James Beard Award finalists, and the promise that chemists will finally answer the age-old question that's plagued beer lovers for decades: Bottles or Cans? Yes, poultry and egg prices remain high due to the ongoing bird flu, but the USDA is testing a poultry vaccine that may ultimately stabilize those prices. And restaurant recommendations are now better than ever, since ChatGPT partnered with Open Table. Plus, the USDA is finally revising its country of original labeling laws so that "Product of USA" on meat labels will mean that the animals were actually raised in the US and not raised elsewhere but only the meat processed here. These are positive developments, no? Welcome to the season of hope. —Dave Joachim
2022 was a big year for booze. After playing second fiddle to suds for decades, spirits have now outsold beer for the first time with 42.1% of the alcohol market share. Premium tequila and American whiskey are the top sellers. One of those whiskeys, Proof And Wood's The Representative, just won "World's Best Bourbon" in the 2023 World Whiskies Awards. After reading that news, I immediately ordered a bottle: only $56.99! In other beverage news, the US Food and Drug Administration has decided that soy milk can legally be called "milk," despite complaints from the dairy industry. Elsewhere in government oversight, the US Labor Department has fined a meatpacking sanitation company $1.5 million for hiring children as young as age 13 to clean meat saws, among other hazardous jobs. And the State Department has renewed its Diplomatic Culinary Partnership with the James Beard Foundation. The two organizations hand-picked an American Culinary Corps of more than 80 top chefs to act as cultural ambassadors during diplomatic programs both at home and abroad. Let's hope they serve the World's Best Bourbon at their next event! —Dave Joachim
You've probably heard that "World's Best Restaurant" Noma is closing permanently, that celebrated Chinese chef and cookbook author Eileen Yin-Fei Lo has died, and that Ronzoni is discontinuing its pastina shape pasta. Ronzoni fans are devastated. Really? Just use the Barilla version. I am saddened by the former news: my uncle lived in the same town as Eileen and I learned a great deal from her teachings. As for Noma, chef-owner Rene Redzepi said it best: "It's unsustainable...we have to work in a different way." Fortunately, fine dining is alive and well at other restaurants, including the long list (450 strong!) of this year's James Beard Award semifinalists. The finalists will be announced in March and winners anointed in June. In other news, the FDA has finally gotten around to adding sesame to its list of major food allergens, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission is considering regulating gas stoves. Don't worry: your kitchen stove isn't going anywhere. But you may want to open a window or turn on your range hood. Meanwhile, Edinburgh scientists are restoring the flavors of 19th century scotch with forgotten barley varieties (looking forward to those bottlings!), and US researchers have engineered a spoon that enhances our perception of sweetness in the absence of sugar. Maybe in the near future, a spoonful of sugar that's completely empty will taste just as sweet. Until then, can we at least get some clear labeling on store-bought chicken stock?
Predictably, the year-end food news is full of best-of roundups from cookbooks to restaurants. Google also showed us what recipes we searched for most in 2022. You'll never guess which was #1 (hint: it's a sauce). Of course, the year's end also brings a bevy of predictions for foods, flavors and beverages we'll crave next year. Will any of these forecasts come to pass? That's as debatable as whether the FDA will separate its food safety program from its drug safety program. Inside tip: an expert panel highly recommends it. Here's one sure thing: McDonald's has opened is first automated location, where you can grab a Big Mac and fries off a conveyor belt without any human interaction. Here's another: the EU has blocked imported coffee, beef, and soy that's linked to deforestation. One more: Yale scientists have identified a single neuromarker for both food and drug cravings. Maybe that discovery sheds light on the FDA's reluctance to separate food from drugs. It seems our brains don't make a big distinction between the two, so why should our government? Stay tuned in 2023, when these and many more food mysteries will continue to be unraveled. Happy New Year! -Dave Joachim
Food media was full of Thanksgiving turkeys this month. Still, a few choice news morsels rose above the pablum. The venerable Michelin Guide has bestowed its first set of stars on restaurants in Vancouver, BC, and updated its Spain and Portugal lists with two new 3-star restaurants. Elsewhere in the restaurant world, the final $83 million from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will now be disbursed to 169 lucky US establishments. Let's hope they've already purchased sugar in bulk. Just in time for the holiday rush, the US has blocked imports of Domino sugar from the Dominican Republic. Why? Decades of alleged forced labor. On the other side of the globe, another labor-beleaguered country is in trouble with beer giant Budweiser. In a bungled beverage bargain, World Cup organizers banned alcohol sales just two days before the opening games in Qatar. "Well, this is awkward," tweeted Budweiser. The $75 million sponsor played along then requested a $47 million coupon toward sponsoring the next World Cup. And finally, in food science news, researchers have made a breakthrough discovery about aquatic mammal taste preferences: Dolphins don't give a shit if you put hot sauce on their food. At least, it won't stop them from chewing through nets to steal fish. Hunger is a powerful motivator. You want more proof of that? As you hunker down and get hygge for the holidays, have a look at two new food films: The Menu is a dark comedy about a celebrity chef who serves "foodies" their just desserts, and Love, Charlie is a long-overdue biopic of groundbreaking chef Charlie Trotter, who put Chicago fine dining on the map and inspired a generation of decorated chefs. Happy Holidays!
PS. Correction: In Issue 49, I misspelled ringer (s/b wringer). Thank you Ken Johnson for the callout! See another mistake? Reach out to me at [email protected].
Restaurants have been through the wringer in the past 2 years. Some 90,000 closed permanently. A few other upshots: Restaurant critics have, by and large, abandoned numerical star ratings; you can now join a paywalled restaurant's membership and pony up for reservations with NFTs; and the James Beard Awards created a category for restaurants with strong cocktail programs. Guess the pandemic drove us to drink even more creatively! In other food news, the largest US grocery chains, Kroger and Albertsons, have agreed to merge. They're trying to take on grocery leaders Walmart and Amazon but face an uphill regulatory battle. Good luck Krogertsons. Meanwhile, I'll continue shopping online, not for store brand canned beans, but for a sweet deal on bourbon. It's rare whiskey season, just in time for holiday sipping. Michter's 20-year-old bourbon and Van Winkle's brand new 6-bottle collection just dropped in October. If you prefer Scotch, Balvenie just released a $145,000 whisky from a single 1962 barrel. Hoo-boy. That's way above my pay grade. But maybe I'll get lucky? Maybe Santa will see that I've been really good this year.
If you like cooking, you'll love this Fall's bumper crop of new cookbooks. Critic Paula Forbes guides you through the good stuff. Or maybe you're getting back into restaurants these days? If so, check out Food & Wine's 34th class of Best New Chefs in America. Oh, you're in Canada, eh? Then have a look at the country's first ever Michelin Guide and its 13 newly starred restaurants, mostly in Toronto. Just think twice about ordering Maine lobster, now on the "avoid" list of the Seafood Watch program. Maybe get the halibut instead. And when you get home, consider watching Batali: The Fall Of A Superstar Chef. This cautionary tale helps explain why restaurants everywhere are reinventing themselves these days. In policy news, last month's White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health had two important outcomes: 1) an $8 billion (billion!) allocation toward ending hunger in America by 2030, and 2) a proposal by the FDA to quantify the "healthy" claim on food products. Ambitious moves, both worth making. In other good news, French Bordeaux grapes may be better than ever this year due to climate change. Whoulda thunk it? And ICYMI, Lay's potato chips now makes more than 200 different flavors like Mexican Chicken Tomato and Pickled Fish. Food pro Carolyn Phillips profiles nearly a dozen offbeat flavors here. Now I know what to munch on during tonight's video viewing! -Dave Joachim
It's been a rollercoaster summer in the food world. Supply chain issues persist, a strange pink sauce went viral on TikTok then got nearly canceled by its own fans, and a disturbing video of chopping onions brought the internet to its knees. A strange and scary place is the World Wide Web. If you sift through the online garbage, you'll also find out that the California Senate passed a landmark bill to regulate the fast food industry. Demand for grocery delivery is down 26% since 2020. And world food prices have actually been falling after reaching an all-time high last March. There's fun stuff too: A German chemist figured out how to make cold brew coffee in 3 minutes using laser beams. Pew-pew-pew! American single malt whiskey got a legal definition. I'll drink to that. And a Michigan materials scientist developed a way to recycle wind turbine blades into perfectly edible gummy bears. Say what?? Extra, extra...read all about it below.
July was a slow food news month until Klondike ice cream discontinued the Choco Taco. That was a punch in the tongue. Then Mexican cooking guru Diana Kennedy died. Oof. And the French ran out of mustard. Bistro steaks and salads were never the same. Plus, a US lawsuit claimed that Skittles candies are toxic. Finally, by the end of the month, a few organizations announced some good news. The US Small Business Administration opted to disburse the remaining $180 million in the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Hallelujah. The Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, in their 16th running, named London's Lyaness the World's Best Bar. And the World's 50 Best organization named Copenhagen's Geranium the World's Best Restaurant. Sure, these awards are fraught with issues, but who doesn't want to be tipped off to an eye-opening cocktail or amazing meal in a major city? Another tip: if you've never charred a vanilla bean, high thee to a hot cast-iron pan. Your vanilla ice cream will never be the same. Yes, the food world is often full of same-old same-old stories and bullshit marketing puff pieces. But sometimes the cream rises to the top and you find out why butter temperature matters so much in baking, and why hot chile peppers make you sweat. Happy summer.