Book Review: “Ekiben: The Art of the Japanese Box Lunch,” 1989


“Ekiben: The Art of the Japanese Box Lunch,” Chronicle Books, 1989.

I’m convinced that used bookstores offer much more than any big box book retailer (what’s left of them, anyway). The problem with Barnes & Noble, or Borders when it existed, is that these stores don’t offer any old out-of-print books in their inventory. The large book retailers deal exclusively with new books, or new versions of old books, whatever the case may be. But as time goes by, there are so many interesting books that go out of print, our only chance of discovering them (if we missed them the first time around) is when they cycle back through a used bookstore.

I suppose that I’m the ideal used bookstore patron. First of all, I’m an old English major (not the normal prerequisite for becoming a chef, I admit). Second of all, I was born [… read more …]

Vintage Kitchen: Carnation’s Noodle Ring with Creamed Chicken, 1935.

Why, yes, these are noodles. Thanks for noticing.

I turned up a copy of the “Carnation Cook Book” at a used-book shop in Santa Rosa the other day, and for a measly $2, I had to rescue it. Written by Mary Blake in 1935, this promo pamphlet is chock full of product placement, bound with staples, and just under 100 pages long. I believe this little cookbook was probably a giveaway, or perhaps cheap mail-order fodder, but I’m not totally certain about how it was originally distributed. As the author, Blake is credited as being Carnation’s “Director, Home Economics Department,” which fascinates me as a chef. Corporate recipe testing, and in that era — I wonder what the kitchen looked like, and how Mary Blake had become accomplished as a cook. Or did she cook anything, and only supervise a staff?

The photograph above is what sold me. [… read more …]

Vintage Kitchen: Antiques from Heritage Culinary Artifacts, Napa Valley


Hand-painted citrus juicer, Japan, 1930s-1940s.

Heritage Culinary Artifacts has been a staple at Oxbow Market ever since the venue opened in 2008, but the shop will close at the end of January after a five-year run. I definitely enjoyed browsing the ever-evolving display of antique cookware, which is already available for purchase online. Owner-curator Lisa Minucci has a great eye for original pieces, and she has traveled the world to procure a truly unique collection. I always felt that Heritage had a museum aura about it. It’s only by sheer coincidence that I finally got around to pitching this feature to Lisa a couple weeks ago; that’s when I first discovered that she was set to close her brick-and-mortar shop.

I’m a born collector, beginning with baseball memorabilia at an early age, followed by vinyl records, cookbooks, pulp crime paperbacks, and of course, wine. I also collect a [… read more …]

KitchenAid Ads: Food & Art via Brazil

In the style of Gustave Klimt.

KitchenAid: In the style of Gustave Klimt.

The KitchenAid stand mixer is an icon in its own right, but these advertising posters put this American classic into an interesting new context. I stumbled across these images from Brazil’s DDB advertising agency, which launched this campaign in the Summer of 2011. Each of these ad is quite remarkable, but I really think that the Klimt-inspired poster, pictured above, is by far the best of the series. The lethargy that I usually associate with many of Klimt’s subjects is cleverly transformed into pensive adoration in the KitchenAid ad (how does that sound for some quickly conceived art-school pseudo-lingo).

I’ve ranked the other five posters according to personal preference, based mostly upon how well that I think each homage “rings true” to its original inspiration. Just my opinion as an art-book junkie (and sucker for the discount section). Click any image [… read more …]

Daytripping Mendocino County: Heirloom Apples and Warm-Weather Wines

Philo's Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

Philo’s Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

The end of Labor Day Weekend is a milestone that I anticipate every year. For one thing, it’s the last three-day weekend of the season, which is fine by me, since I don’t have normal weekends off anyway. Unlike most people in America, I derive zero joy from the almighty three-day weekend. Monday holidays make restaurant work extra difficult, as Saturday and Sunday essentially become back-to-back Saturdays (already the most difficult day of the week), and an otherwise benign Monday is subsequently transformed into a Sunday (the second-most difficult day of the week). But that’s just the perspective of a line cook, although I do admit, there’s an inherent satisfaction in pushing out an insane amount of covers over a three-day span, at least every once in a while.

Beyond my own professional gripes, the end of Labor Day also means something more important: [… read more …]

“Hot Dog” by Roy Lichtenstein, 1963-1964

Hot Dog with Mustard, 1963. Oil on canvas

I’ve always admired the famous “Hot Dog” enamel by Roy Lichtenstein, pictured just below. Even though the hot dog itself resembles a logo more than anything edible, I can appreciate the way that Lichtenstein makes the hot dog appear to glisten and shine. In that sense, the painting is very appealing from its “theoretical taste” standpoint, as if the hot dog was freshly prepared and incredibly succulent. As cartoonish as it looks, it does seem delicious. The colors of the 194 enamel are also striking: ketchup red and mustard yellow. I wonder if this was largely a coincidence, or if Lichtenstein was really that in tune to food.

Roy Lichtenstein, Hot Dog, 1964 (enamel on plate).

Either way, Lichtenstein’s “Hot Dog” enamel remains extremely vivid in its execution. As an artist, Lichtenstein often borrowed his color palate from consumer packaging, incorporating schemes that featured powerful and [… read more …]

Food & Art: Meet the Coolest Wine Map Ever

Designed by architectural historian Dr. David Gissen, this wine map of France is reconfigured to resemble a modern subway map. Pure genius, if you ask me. Gissen really captures the public-transportation aesthetic perfectly, presenting French wine in a uniquely urban context. Bravo. Wine geeks can purchase a high-quality printing of this map online at De Long Wine, creators and purveyors of the equally cool Wine Grape Varietal Table.

Photo Purge: Scenes from the California Bay Area and Beyond

Gateway Market, Emeryville: Adorned with a fantastic mural alongside its parking lot, the Gateway Market is tough to miss on San Pablo Blvd. The artwork has a definite graffiti vibe, but the details are fantastic. Luckily, it hasn't been tagged over. The "W" in Gateway is pictured above (each letter has its own theme). Click on the photo to reveal all of the great flourishes.

Most of these pictures have never appeared on this site, although a couple did appear a few years ago, long before I sharpened my photo-editing skills. Many readers have emailed me about my approach to photography, and I must confess, my only real secret is to simply seek the best lighting possible. Truthfully, I’ve never had any formal photography training, but I did develop an eye for proper lighting while I was working (briefly, almost 15 years ago) as a grip in Los [… read more …]

Book Review: “Everyday French Cooking” by Henri-Paul Pellaprat

Lobster Russian Style: Garnished with hard-boiled eggs and black truffles, though the book allows black olives as a substitute for the latter.

I meant to snap some food pics from Berkeley and the East Bay this week, but my camera battery was drained. Among the missed opportunities: a grilled bockwurst from Top Dog, a falafel pita from Fa-La-La, and a plate of yellow curried rice from Bua Luang. On the upside, I did find several great used cookbooks at Pegasus Books, including “Everyday French Cooking” by Henri-Paul Pellaprat. Originally published in America in 1966, Pellaprat’s book is an obvious response to Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which was first published in 1961. Much like Child’s seminal work, “Everyday French Cooking” aims to assist the American housewife, as the book states in its introduction (the book’s original French title is “Le Nouveau Guide Culinaire,” published in [… read more …]

Food and Art: “Cochon Prodigue”

"Garçon" means boy; "cochon" means pig.

Question: How have I not already stumbled across this jaw-dropping, early-20th-century French advertisement? Wow, the ticklish glee of the pig’s smile really says it all: Fresh, delicious sausage, happily sliced to order. When you’ve got it, flaunt it. There’s certainly no shame in acknowledging the source of your food, and besides, what a splendid way to ward off vegans and vegetarians. Bon appetit!