Food fights to foie gras, a de­li­cious year

Culi­nary celebs talked too much, or too lit­tle, and chic tastes shifted.

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & LIFE - By J.M. Hirsch The As­so­ci­ated Press

Most Amer­i­cans never will sip the wa­ter­melon mar­garita at Guy Fieri’s be­he­moth Times Square restau­rant, nor sa­vor the chicken Al­fredo at the Olive Garden in Grand Forks, N.D.

Yet both eater­ies some­how shot to the top of the na­tion’s culi­nary zeit­geist in 2012, for this was the year of the vi­ral restau­rant re­view, when the rants and raves of sea­soned pros and naive oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans alike got su­per­star treat­ment on the world wide smor­gas­bord.

It was a year when drought crip­pled farm­ers, while Cal­i­for­ni­ans clam­ored for foie gras. Twinkies died and Paula Deen en­dorsed a di­a­betes drug. Which is to say, it was a year when the un­likely was the norm.

While restau­ra­teurs be­moaned the in­flu­ence of Yelp and other so­cial me­dia re­view sites, 85-year-old Grand Forks Her­ald restau­rant colum­nist Mar­i­lyn Hagerty cut through the noise, heap­ing near rhap­sodic praise on the fine din­ing at her com­mu­nity’s lat­est chain restau­rant.

All she wanted to do was get to her bridge game, but her re­view be­came a must-read sen­sa­tion.

And lest they be con­sid­ered elite for diss­ing her de­vo­tion to this fine fare, the na­tion’s culi­nary up­per crust rushed to praise her.

It was an amus­ing — and em­bar­rass­ing — dis­play of the food world’s split per­son­al­ity, an ever grow­ing chasm be­tween how real Amer­i­cans eat, and how real foodies want real Amer­i­cans to eat.

Ei­ther way, Hagerty did OK for her­self, land­ing a book deal with An­thony Bour­dain. (And a guest spot on this sea­son of “Top Chef.”)

Mean­while, New York Times re­viewer Pete Wells scored a celeb smack­down when he slammed Fieri’s New York restau­rant, Guy’s

Amer­i­can Kitchen & Bar, in a scathing 1,000-word re­view writ­ten al­most en­tirely in ques­tions.

Wells took heat for beat­ing on Food Net­work’s bad boy, but the re­view — which tore across Twit­ter the in­stant it was posted — cer­tainly drove hordes to Fieri’s ta­bles, even if only to rub­ber­neck the culi­nary ac­ci­dent.

Speak­ing of restau­rants tak­ing a beat­ing, the Chick-fil-A chain earned plenty of scorn — and some sup­port — this sum­mer when com­pany pres­i­dent Dan Cathy came out about his op­po­si­tion to same sex mar­riage.

The dustup spawned on­line “Chick-fil-Gay” mock­ery, but ended with the com­pany say­ing it would stop fund­ing anti­gay mar­riage groups.

An­other rev­e­la­tion — Twinkies may not last for­ever.

Blam­ing a la­bor dis­pute for on­go­ing fi­nan­cial woes, Host­ess Brands de­cided to close shop this year, tak­ing with it lunch-box sta­ples such as Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Won­der bread.

The com­pany said it would try to sell off its many sto­ried brands, so maybe there is hope for the mys­te­ri­ously en­dur­ing snack cakes.

Cal­i­for­nia’s foie gras fans may not get a sim­i­lar sec­ond chance. De­spite op­po­si­tion by the state’s restau­rant in­dus­try, as of July it be­came il­le­gal to sell foie gras — which is made from goose or duck liv­ers en­larged by force- feed­ing through fun­nel­like tubes.

Back in New York, the too-cool-for-you folks spent the sum­mer angst­ing about whether Brook­lyn really did have a hip din­ing scene.

Not that any­one out­side New York gives a fly­ing (ar­ti­sanal ba­con­wrapped) fig. But silly one-up­man­ship gave way to le­git worry — and unity — when Su­per­storm Sandy dealt a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the city’s restau­rant scene.

For this year’s truly hot food scene, you needed to head south. Be­cause THE South is where it’s hap­pen­ing. Hugh Ach­e­son, Tim Love, John Besh and a gag­gle of oth­ers are putting a fresh face on what it means to eat well when you’re be­low the Ma­sonDixon Line, and the rest of the coun­try started to wake up to this.

And then there’s Paula Deen, the doyenne of but­ter, deep-fry­ing and — at least this year — pub­lic re­la­tions trav­es­ties.

Though di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes sev­eral years ago, she waited un­til Jan­uary — co­in­ci­den­tally, when she also had lined up a lu­cra­tive drug en­dorse­ment deal — to go pub­lic with it.

She came off look­ing money-grub­bing, and an op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate Amer­i­cans about a dev­as­tat­ing disease was mostly lost.

But Amer­i­cans did learn plenty about their ham­burg­ers. In March, the In­ter­net ex­ploded with worry over so-called pink slime, or what the meat in­dus­try prefers to call lean, finely tex­tured beef.

Though it had been part of the food chain for years, by the end of the ker­fuf­fle, the prod­uct had all but dis­ap­peared.

Fill­ing your gro­cery cart was — and will con­tinue to be — costly. This sum­mer’s mas­sive drought in the U.S. dev­as­tated famers and drove up global food prices.

And the hard­ship isn’t over. An­a­lysts say we can ex­pect food prices here to go up by as much as 4 per­cent in 2013.

Food safety also was a head­line grab­ber. For the first time ever, the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion used newly granted author­ity to shut­ter a com­pany with­out a court hear­ing. In Novem­ber, the government shut down Sun­land Inc., the coun­try’s largest or­ganic peanut but­ter pro­ces­sor, af­ter re­peated food safety vi­o­la­tions.

Mean­while, the na­tion’s kids seem to be sick of be­ing told to eat health­ier. Nutri­tion­ists praised the most sig­nif­i­cant over­haul of fed­eral school lunch stan­dards in years, but the kids in the lunch lines were less im­pressed; schools re­ported more

Nutri­tion­ists loved the most sig­nif­i­cant over­haul of fed­eral school lunch stan­dards in years, but schools re­ported that more of that fine food was end­ing up in the trash. AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS


Chef John Besh holds the “French Craw­fish Boil,” which in­cludes Span­ish tar­ragon and Ten­nessee truf­fles in his restau­rant, “Au­gust,” in New Or­leans. For the truly hot food scene in 2012, the South is where it’s hap­pen­ing. Besh, Hugh Ach­e­son, Tim Love and a gag­gle of oth­ers are putting a fresh face on what it means to eat well when you’re be­low the Ma­son-Dixon Line, and the rest of the coun­try started to wake up to this.

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