Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Crumbs

Bruni the blogger reports that after dining at Del Posto, the fanciest Italian restaurant in the history of the world, you are given a complimentary bag of breadcrumbs, "to be used, presumably, in some future cooking endeavor." They come with a handout from Mario Batali, the chef-owner-superhero, on how to cook with them.

There are too many ways to read this.

1. They're using up leftover bread rather than throwing it away. Admirable.

2. They're insulting you by making a gift of something of practically no value. Especially insulting coming from the fanciest Italian restaurant in the history of the world.

3. They really are encouraging you to cook. Admirable.

4. They're mocking your inability to cook; seriously, how many of these bags of breadcrumbs will really be put to good use? Don't people who cook already have stale bread to turn into breadcrumbs? Is the Del Posto clientele going to be convinced to cook by being given Mario's leftovers?

5. They are an excuse to tout the chef's celebrity (this is Bruni's reading). Problem: any product accompanied by a handout from the chef would accomplish this as well; why breadcrumbs?

6. They are souvenirs of the meal. You enjoyed your week on the beach? Take home a vial of sand! That kind of thing. You get to keep some of the food that made your dinner so memorable. Breadcrumbs are not very perishable, which explains why they don't send you home with a bag of the arugula which, per Bruni, makes all other arugula look like "lettuce in drag." This strikes me as arrogant.

7. They are an emblem of the Mario culinary aesthetic, making the statement that good food requires good basic ingredients right down to the breadcrumbs. In this way they are a manifesto for his kitchen creed. Good breadcrumbs are no less important than good olive oil, good cured meats, etc. I like this reading but it seems a bit too hopeful.

8. The instructions for use are a ruse and the breadcrumbs are really intended to be fed to the waterfowl nearby the restaurant's meatpacking location.

What do you think?

***

Tomorrow E and I are shlepping to Vancouver to attend an academic conference. As usual I will try not to let work interfere too much with my hobbies: my sources tell me that there's a place in Vancouver that stocks 198 flavors of gelato! Anyhow, you might not hear from me again until next week. In the meantime, there's a blogroll on the right.

8 Comments:

Blogger zp said...

somewhere (i think in this vintage maria lo pinto italian cookbook) i read that breadcrumbs are used as a topping, a poor man's parmesean cheese. this opens up a lot of possibilities . . . perhaps a kind of suggestion that as much as one might enjoy super-fancy italian there is something to be said for the improvisations of an impoverished pantry. which you can do at home.

i'd find the quote about using breadcrumbs on top of dishes, but you can't search the cookbooks index using the word breadcrumbs. of course.

9:01 AM  
Blogger zp said...

did i leave a comment once about the vanity fair food writer and parmigiano reggiano and msg? i meant to. in any case, if the restaurant sprinkles msg in its breadcrumbs, then you are totally good to go.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Luisa said...

Interesting. I can't really tell how I'd feel if I had actually spent the money to eat there and then been given the bag of crumbs, but from an outside perspective, I think it's kind of nice. Many restaurants don't give you anything at all, and while breadcrumbs certainly sound like slim pickins in the giveaway department, I think it's not as condescending as some people might take it to be. I consider myself a pretty serious homecook, and I don't have my own breadcrumbs... I have a plastic jar of panko. So I'd welcome the baggie, I think.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous lindy said...

Perhaps you are meant to leave a trail so that you can find your way back to the restaurant?

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

I'm with Lindy--I like the Grimm's Brothers fairy tale explanation.

I read that today, too and thought it was odd. Kind of neat, yet still odd. It is something to ponder over and wonder about until Batalli explains himself further.

12:36 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

In Bruni's review of Del Posto he mentions dishes topped with toasted breadcrumbs. In many instances I'm sure it is exactly a poor man's parm, but in some it's the preferred condiment, especially in dishes with delicate flavor that might be overwhelmed by cheese.

I'm not sure about the VF article but there is a chapter in one of Jeffrey Steingarten's books called "why doesn't everyone in China have a headache?" that might be what you're thinking of. (JS writes for Vogue which isn't the same thing as VF but perhaps close enough.) Your point is excellent, though, zp: bread lacks the savory punch of parm, so if you are substituting it for cheese because you're poor or even just all out of it, a pinch of MSG might be a good idea. I will try it when I get back to my kitchen.

Luisa: panko are so delicious!

Lindy and Barbara: I like the trail of crumbs too.

8:16 AM  
Blogger zp said...

"Why doesn't everyone in China have a headache?" was the premise of the article I read, which I read in a glossy magazine, which probably was Vogue and not Vanity Fair. I really liked the article because of the whole arbitrary food snobs love parm but hate MSG thing . . .

12:49 PM  
Blogger BNA said...

Your analysis really made me giggle. I too like the trail of breadcrumbs idea.

I think, were I fortunate enough to be able to secure a reservation at Del Posto, that I get quite a kick out of the breadcrumbs. But I'm perhaps overly fond of Batali.

9:15 AM  

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