Food (Section) Fight! is my weekly look at The Washington Post's Food section and The New York Times' Dining section with my verdict on which section had the better content for the week.
I wrote this final competitive installment of Food (Section) Fight! appropriately on a train from Washington, D.C. bound for New York City. Putting a laser focus on the food coverage of these two cornerstones of American journalism has been a fun, rewarding and even moving experience.
While presented as a contest, my goal in writing this feature was really not to declare a one "winner" (although, for the sake of it, I will do so today). My real purpose was to highlight quality food journalism as a key component of my blog.
My husband is a former journalist, and we have lots of friends in the industry. I'm concerned over the notion that people are reading fewer newspapers as they get their "news" from their Facebook feed, Twitter and blogs.
I love writing about restaurants, but I'm not Tom Sietsema or Pete Wells. I also love creating new recipes, but I'm no Mark Bittman or David Hagedorn. I have my angle for sure, but what I and other food bloggers do should not come at the expense of journalists who can draw on their expertise and resources to dig deeper and report wider. It doesn't have to be one or the other--we can inspire and learn from each other.
When the Post started scaling back its sections during the recession, I was scared the Food section would be a casualty, but thankfully it's been retained and appears to be flourishing. The Post, in particular, does not seem to be defensive about the world of food bloggers. In fact, they have prominently featured them, such as the recent story about the D.C. couple whose cooking blog, The Bitten Word, has become one of my favorites. And I'm very appreciative of the attention the Post Food staff--Bonnie Benwick in particular--has shown Food (Section) Fight! on Twitter.
To find the real winner of Food (Section) Fight!, don't look at the score at the bottom of this post. We--the devoted readers--are the true champions of this enterprise. And now, on with the contest.
New York Times
1) "12 Triumphs of 2012," Restaurants by Pete Wells. Capping what must be a banner year for new restaurants in New York, Wells writes about his 12 favorites, a remarkable and varied list that includes the avante garde modernism of Atera, creative Asian cooking of Mission Chinese and Pok Pok Ny and Eleven Madison Park's casual younger sister, The Nomad.
2) "Buried Treasure That Is Filled With Mystery," by Eugenia Bone. This isn't the first article I've read this year about truffles, the mysteriously pungent tuber-like mushrooms that grow underground, are hunted by pigs and demand prices that rank them among the most exclusive of culinary ingredients. But it is the best. Bone does an excellent job discussing their background, varieties and uses, as well as revealing what "truffle" oil really is.
3) "Champagne's Fancy Tricks," by Robert Simonson. Cocktails made with sparkling wine rarely appeal to me. Of the dozens of cocktails I've featured this year, you won't find a single one among them. But that will change this week with the traditional summer drink I'm proposing could double for a New Year's toast. It opened my eyes to how delicious and refreshing these cocktails can be. So Simonson's piece that includes three Champagne cocktail recipes and descriptions of many others is perfectly timed with my new thirst for these fizzy drinks.
4) "Sense of Restraint About Zinfandels," Wines of the Times by Eric Asimov. My interest in zinfandel has been on the rise lately. As a big fan of the big reds (cab, merlot, syrah, etc.), I find it an interesting alternative that pairs well with my love of meaty pastas. Asimov argues in favor of subtler styles of zin with less alcohol and more restraint, finding quite a few California wines to like among those he and his panel sampled.
5) "Before the Clock Strikes 12, a Time to Indulge," City Kitchen by David Tanis. Although Tanis's recipe for Buckwheat Blinis sounds tasty, I found this article most interesting for its discussion on the current state of caviar. I'm not a big fan, not because I don't like it, but because it is very expensive. So I didn't realize that the sturgeon fish from which it is harvested has become endangered globally, to the point that some popular varieties, like beluga, are currently prohibited from being sold in the United States.
1) "Three moments mattered more than any of it," Pig to Table Project part 3 of 3 by Tamar Haspel. The only time I usually shed tears over food is when chopping onions. But I became rather misty-eyed reading this moving final installment of Haspel's series about humanely raising a trio of pigs for slaughter. I've written before about why I found this series to be incredibly important for eaters whose terminus on the food chain is now so far from its beginning that many of us have no real notion of the origins of what we eat. Reading this series has not made me want to be vegetarian--nor Haspel it seems, despite the strong emotions the experience produced--but it will make me think twice about why the cost of an unused pork chop or pound of ground beef left too long in the fridge is different than a head of wilted kale that gets tossed.
2) "Reformers, gather 'round the remedy," Smarter Food by Jane Black. I don't know if the Post planned this, but Black's story dovetails nicely with Haspel's. She identifies food experts' one wish for 2013 to be the reduction of antibiotics in meat production. These are two parts of the same puzzle: how can our society raise and consume meat humanely, safely and economically? It's a difficult challenge for sure, but one that desperately needs tackling.
3) "Melty onions and gooey cheese: what could go wrong?," The Process by David Hagedorn. For those opposed to the smell of onions, I imagine being around Hagedorn while he was reporting this story was...pungent. I think it sounds heavenly though, for I've never met a roasted, caramelized or sauteed onion I didn't like. His recipe for French Onion Soup is particularly appealing.
4) "For a celebratory spread, try a vegetable pate," by Emily Horton. While the Times basks this week in the luxury of truffles and caviar, the Post satisfies its luxury food craving with pate. But not the sometimes ethically compromised meat variety, but creative vegetarian options. With recipes featuring mushrooms and lentils or roasted sweet potatoes, they sound perfect for a New Year's Eve party.
5) "Kasha Pilaf With Chicken, Mushrooms and Onions," Nourish by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick. Sedgwick describes kasha as "buckwheat groats." Hmmm...still not quite sure what that means. But I'll take her word for it that they're good. She adapts a favorite dish from her childhood by substituting chicken cutlets for pasta, creating what sounds like an ideal winter pilaf.
The Washington Post. While the fitting conclusion of the Pig to Table Project alone would have clenched this victory, the Post truly shined this week with other great stories looking ahead to food policy changes needed in 2013 and delectable ways that onions and cheese can meld together to warm your winter heart.
And the winner of Food (Section) Fight! 2012 is...
The Washington Post, with 27 points to The New York Times' 23. Congratulations!