On July 12, 2010 we launched our boat into a sea of cooking, chef and recipe sites. Toque’s slightly different angle on food writing–the culture and history and eccentricity that lurk behind a seemingly mainstream topic–is refreshing (we hope) and provocative (we really hope).
In this new age of open journalism, tightly curated publications are fast becoming the exception rather than the rule. In our list of the top ten best food stories for our first year, the majority of the ideas came from “the outside.” Smart, thoughtful, creative people–some acquaintances, some complete strangers–pitched us or simply gave us suggestions, and we took them.
Without further ado, we’d like to highlight the ten articles that made food journalism history this year–or at least, they should have.
Top 10 Toque Stories
1. Newsflash for Restaurants: Forget the Flash. Terence Carter’s warning to restaurateurs and web designers about abusing Flash on their sites was an eye-opener. This revelation was not exactly new–in fact Jakob Nielsen’s seminal post titled Flash: 99% Bad, appeared in October 2000. “About 99 percent of the time, the usage of Flash on a site constitutes a usability disease,” he declared. Ten years later, Carter concurs and goes further to point out how poorly Flash behaves in the mobile environment–if it bothers showing up at all.
2. Portrait of a Moonshiner. A glimpse into the life–and ultimate suicide–of Popcorn Sutton reveals an unvarnished portrait of an unapologetic backwoods whiskey maker. Through the eyes of those he left behind–sons, daughter Sky, wives–Arianna Armstrong helps us understand why such a life would be chosen, let alone clung to until death. “You can say it was illegal and we don’t like to break the law, but when it comes down to breaking the law and feeding the family, or not feeding the family, we feed the family.”
3. Whittling Away at Food Waste. The food cycle doesn’t end in our mouths–in fact it doesn’t end at all. Laurie Wiegler’s brilliant dumpster diving illustrates the challenge restaurants face in reducing their waste, particularly cooking oil. “Each year, about 2.6 billion gallons of used cooking oil is generated in the U.S. It is reused and disposed of in various ways, most promisingly as an additive to make biofuels.”
4. Rise of the Fast Casual Salad. Not too hard to understand–more and more people ordering salads as their main course, and restaurateurs are paying attention. For anyone with painful flashbacks to the early days of
salmonella salad bars, Elina Shatkin’s report on high-end greens at fast-food prices will be good news. “In the last few years, several fast-casual chains have set out to make salads accessible and affordable by merging fast-food efficiency with slow-food ideals. Forget about salads as a side-dish. These days, they’re the main course.”
5. Lüchow’s: America’s Most Famous German Restaurant. Whew–people are still interested in history. Or maybe it’s just a fascination with restaurant obits. For 100 years, Lüchow’s ruled the fine dining scene from its throne at 14th and Broadway. How a restaurant like Lüchow’s could ever dwindle away to a distant memory is a mystery. But Satenig St. Marie brings this extraordinary restaurant alive again with her vivid description of August Guido Lüchow, the food, the patrons and the downright gemütlichkeit-ness of it all.
6. Serving Up Creativity in a Down Economy. We’re still waiting for that down economy to start pointing upwards again. Steve Cooper unearthed a couple of entrepreneurs in the food business who decided not to wait and instead tailored their business model to thrive on the downside. Like a donut shop owner who caters weddings between the breakfast rush times. Or a wine shop owner leasing space in a low-rent office park. If that doesn’t sound very smart, you’re wrong. Click through and see for yourself.
7. First, You Make a Roux. Whether you are a gumbo gu-roux or have never come within 10 feet of making sauce from scratch, you’ll still love Clay Curtis’ hilarious description of how to make a good roux. After filing his story, Clay dropped off a nice-sized portion of the resulting gumbo at our house. Thanks, Clay, but it was nowhere near big enough.
8. Cuckoo for Loco Moco. One of our first features and still getting major click-through action, Cuckoo for Loco Moco follows Elina Shatkin with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (of Animal and Son of a Gun fame) as they eat their way through gorgeous mounds of….well, Shatkin describes it best. “A mountain of white rice covered with hamburger patties, grilled onions, eggs and brown gravy – lots of brown gravy – loco moco is a starchy, meaty, hearty mess, not for the faint of heart.”
9. A Proust Moment. Permeating so many of our senses (sight, smell, taste), food is hands-down the ultimate time machine. In this V-Day story we asked a bunch of chefs and food lovers to describe what it is that triggers their Proust moment. The weird thing is, we never got the same answer twice.
10. Marijuana as Food Flavoring. This inside look at how marijuana has moved beyond its brownie-ingredient beginnings to become a promising additive in “food that medicates” is fascinating and educational. My expectations about it being the piquant replacement for parsley were unfounded. Pot pretty much tanks as flavoring, as Katherine Spiers found out in her interviews. But in some kitchens it definitely has a place.