Well, this is it. I’ve taken the leap. Hello blogosphere. Are you hungry? I am. And I’m here to help you cook and eat better, hence the name. My name is Mitchell Davis and I think good food is a right, not a luxury. It’s not about class or education or secrets. The better we eat, the better we are. And I want to steer people to better food, whether by sharing a kitchen tip or pointing out a fab sandwich shop. I write cookbooks, teach cooking classes, review restaurants, develop recipes, speak on panels, lecture to college students, help run a food organization, encourage people to pay attention to and think about food, and now blog all to do my part to improve the quality of food we consume. It doesn’t take a lot of effort or a lot of money to eat better. And there’s nothing more satisfying, more uplifting, more fun than putting something delicious in your mouth.
I think taste is often conspicuously absent from the conversation about food and if I can accomplish only one thing with this blog it will be to reestablish the link between taste and good food. I don’t care how organic or hormone free your chicken is, if it doesn’t taste good, you’ve done something wrong. Start from the perspective of pursuing the best tasting food and I believe our society will make decisions that are not only good to eat, but good for us and the planet. That’s where I’m coming from. Where I’m going, I’m not quite sure. But come with me for the journey and I’m sure we’ll eat well.
For background, know that I’ve literally been cooking since I was a toddler, when I used to sneak into the kitchen in the early hours of the morning to mix concoctions I would bake and then hide in the drawers of my captain’s bed. When I was 11 my siblings gave me a copy of Julia Child & Co. for Hannukah and by the time I was 12 I had cooked through most of the menus inside it, including an elegant “Dinner for the Boss” and a lavish “Buffet for 19.” In 10th grade I worked in a kosher-style butcher shop in north Toronto —Wycliffe Meats if any of you remember Moey Rotstein’s carnivore carnival. One day my mother, who shopped there, asked Moey if there might be a job for me. “Can he cut up a chicken?” Moey asked. “Sure,” I boasted. He asked me to step behind the counter and handed me the largest, sharpest knife I’d ever been seen and a chicken. I cut it into eighths on the warn butcher block. “Pretty good,” he complimented me. I was hired. Eventually, I also cooked and bottled the chicken soup the shop sold as their own, delivering upwards of 40 quarts a week on my way to school. Our apartment always smelled like chicken soup. By 11th grade I started catering with my sister: small, but elegant functions for up to 40 or 50 people, usually parents of friends or their friends.
Though I had wanted to be a chef, and there were several chefs and restaurateurs in the extended family, I was steered instead to the Hotel School at Cornell, where my love of food grew and I began to understand the business better. A study abroad year in Paris fueled my passion. I ran around with friends eating and drinking and discovering just how good food (particularly puff pastry!) can be. Bored in class at Paris IV, we memorized the lists of grand crus Chablis and Beaujolais.
I did a month-long stage at La Tour d’Argent, already on its decline, supposdly, but still an incredible experience. Where else can you see hundreds of strangled ducks lined up in reach-in refrigerators (strangulation keeps the blood intact to make for a better sauce when pressed) or asparagus the size of your arm?
A celebratory luncheon at the restaurant overlooking Notre Dame de Paris couldn’t have been more lovely or delicious. I came back from France and my travels around Europe loving blue cheese, especially Roquefort but also Fourme d’Ambert, eating raw oysters, sucking marrow out of bones, and all kinds of things I wouldn’t have dreamed of eating or doing before I left.
After college I was selected to go to be a guinea pig on an Italian program to teach Americans what real Italian food was all about, i.e., not just spaghetti and pizza. There’s much to say about that experience living and cooking in Piemonte—look for future posts—but it started a lifelong love of Italy and Italian food.
Back to the US to a job as executive editor of Art Culinaire, a hard-cover, quarterly magazine of gastro-porn for chefs, where I spent 2 years traveling around the world, meeting chefs, adapting recipes, and writing, writing, writing about food. While working at the magazine, I regularly volunteered in the kitchen at the James Beard Foundation. It was a great place to meet up with the chefs we were writing or had written about. When, at the end of 1993, Dorie Greenspan—a great cookbook author, baker, writer, and friend of the late Peter Kump who founded the Beard Foundation, as well as the cooking school that became I.C.E.—decided she no longer wanted to write the Foundation’s newsletter, I was hired as Director of Publications. I’ve been at the Beard Foundation ever since.
In the last 16 years I’ve been fortunate to work with most of the great food people, chefs, writers, journalists, in the country, and many from around the world. I’ve written cookbooks, articles, reviews, guidebooks, feature stories, travel articles, encyclopedia entries, essays, you name it. I directed the restaurant inspection program for the Mobil Travel Guides for five years. I’ve sat on advisory panels and boards and done all kinds of things. After contributing to an advisory board that helped shape the Food Studies department at NYU, I took the GMAT and enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Without a test to take or a paper to write I thought I just never would read the shelves and shelves of food books I had collected over the years. I need a deadline to do anything.
My plan worked and a mere 11 1/2 years after I enrolled in what is now the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, I graduated with my Ph.D. The topic of my research? Restaurant reviews and their influence on taste. There will be more on that subject as the posts flow from me.
The thread that has tied all of my projects together, this blog included, is my desire to understand food and to foster respect for it in the hopes of making the food we consume better. That’s an inclusive “we.” Unlike some of the bloggers and food writers I read, I’m not in this for myself. I am very fortunate and very well fed. I eat as well as any body could—even if I eat too much sometimes. But I want to be able to share my knowledge, my discoveries, my revelations with people because I think everyone can eat well, everyone ought to eat well. We will all be so much better for it. By sharing a good recipe or pointing out someone with integrity and good taste who is producing a great tomato or making a delicious sauce, I’ll be doing my part. We live in exciting and delicious times. And like your cooking and eating, they are about to get better!