Appetites: A Memoir and the State of French Cuisine

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Marie LeNôtre signs a copy of her new book, Appetites: A Memoir.

Last week, Kris Bistro and French cooking school Culinary Institute LeNôtre celebrated two events in one evening. The first was the signing and party for Marie LeNôtre's new book, Appetites: A Memoir. We received an advance review copy and have already finished it, which was no chore. The book is a page-turner, with some breathtaking revelations about how the respected French culinary school came into existence.

In the book, LeNôtre covers not only her own history but her husband Alain's as well, including the portions of his life leading up to when he met her. The fact that they were both already single parents with two children each by the time they met is one of the lesser dramas of their combined story. LeNôtre's early life as a young actress and model is fraught with its own perils. The rocky relationship in later years between the couple and the LeNôtre culinary empire is shocking. In time, tragedy gives way to forgiveness.

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Italian Oil Exec Brings Food Makers to Houston

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
From left, Giulia Silva, a representative of the Italian industrial association Confindustria, with Alessia Paolicchi, executive director of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas, and Daniele Ghezzi, director of the Piacenza Food Producers Association.
Representatives from six commercial food producers from the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna are visiting Houston this week on a trip organized by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas.

Their tour of the city included a walk-around tasting with Houston food buyers and restaurateurs yesterday at the Hilton Houston Post Oak, followed by a happy hour at Mascalzone on Westheimer. Tonight the group will dine with their Houston-based guests at Carmelo's on Memorial.

None of the Italian companies, which include a large-scale winemaker and a frozen pizza producer, have a market presence in Texas. But the three-day visit is intended to foster new business ties, said Daniele Ghezzi (above, right), who serves as director of the Piacenza Food Producers Association.

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Reasons We Should Eliminate Tipping at Restaurants

Photo by Torbakhopper
That's great advice sidewalk sign.

I'm always a little shocked and disgusted when I discover that someone I'm friends with is a lousy tipper, or expects some ridiculous level of service in order to extract a meager dollar bill from their miserly pocketbook. It's not usually a case of that person simply being an insensitive or cheap individual, although there probably are lots of diners that fit that description out there.

I've never been a waiter or depended on tips to make money, but lots of people in my life have been in that position, and I feel like the time has come to do away with tipping at restaurants. I have several reasons for feeling this way, so bear with me, before the cries of "That's crazy talk! Kill him!"

In Texas, it's legal to pay waitstaff as little as $2.13 an hour, with the rationale that they will make up the difference in tips. Yes, there are people that make great money relying on this system of tipping, but there are also many more that get shafted at the end of their shift.

Interestingly, while the idea of tipping food workers is a very American concept today, it was originally a custom brought over from Europe when wealthy Americans visiting there decided it was a cool way to show off their elevated social status when they returned to the States. In the early 20th century there was actually an anti-tipping movement in America, because many people thought that the entire idea ran against the ideals that this country was founded on. They felt that it imposed a system of inequality that was Un-American by its very nature. Sadly, that movement didn't catch on, and the haven't been major drives to abolish the system of tipping in this country since.

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Minimum-Wage Increase Could Mean Higher Restaurant Prices

Photo by Andinarvaez
Fast-food workers could soon be making more money.
Last Tuesday during President Obama's State of the Union address, fast-food workers and their fellow minimum-wage workers were an important topic. Obama called for the minimum wage for federal workers to be raised from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. He also called for an increase in the minimum wage across the country, a move that would help people in the restaurant, construction and retail industries (among others) to make a "living wage."

But while many see a pay increase as a positive step toward reducing income inequality, the restaurant industry worries that operators will have to raise food prices to respond to the higher labor costs. The National Restaurant Association reports that a higher minimum wage could lead to more expensive food, fewer employees, a drop in the quality of food that is served and fewer franchises.

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Your Anonymous Reviews and Comments May Not Be Anonymous Much Longer

Screenshot by Kaitlin Steinberg
A Virginia court set a new free speech precedent, and Yelp ain't happy about it.
So much for free speech.

Last week, a Virginia court ruled that Yelp must turn over the identities of seven anonymous reviewers of a carpet store because the commenters may not have been actual customers. According to Yelp's terms of service:

"You may expose yourself to liability if, for example, Your Content contains material that is false, intentionally misleading, or defamatory; violates any third-party right, including any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret, moral right, privacy right, right of publicity, or any other intellectual property or proprietary right; contains material that is unlawful, including illegal hate speech or pornography; exploits or otherwise harms minors; or violates or advocates the violation of any law or regulation.

The part that stood out to the court in Virginia is the bit about "material that is false." According to the court, these statements aren't protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. By that logic, neither are your restaurant reviews on Yelp or your anonymous comments on blogs unless they're clearly non-libelous opinions or verifiable statements of fact ... Right?

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10 Signs You Grew Up Eating Food in Southeast Texas

Photo by Texas State Library and Archives Commission via flickr
Enough said.
Do your non-Texan friends wonder why you call every soda a Coke, even if it's a Dr Pepper? Do they ask you why you only suggest restaurants that serve barbecue, Tex-Mex or comfort food? Or do they have no clue what you're talking about when you say the word "kolache"? These things don't make you weird, they make you awesome, because they make you a Texan.

Embrace these regional foodie characteristics about yourself and take a look at ten more signs that you grew up eating food in Southeast Texas.

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Tipping in Restaurants Reaches a Tipping Point...Will 2014 Be the Year It's Abolished?

Photo by Marya
Tipping after meals is no longer as universally accepted as it once was.
Next time you hear a waiter or waitress complain about his or her tips, remember that the United States and Canada have the biggest tippers in the world (but maybe don't tell them that fact, 'cause it probably won't help). In many other countries, service is included in the bill, and tipping is reserved for truly exceptional service. People in the service industry also make higher wages than waiters in the United States, who rely on tips to bring their salaries up to minimum wage.

Lately, though, there's been a lot of talk about abolishing tipping in America altogether. A Slate article from last July called tipping an "abomination." The author, Brian Palmer, wrote, "Tipping is a repugnant custom. It's bad for consumers and terrible for workers. It perpetuates racism. Tipping isn't even good for restaurants, because the legal morass surrounding gratuities results in scores of expensive lawsuits."

He brings up some good points about the practice. So good, in fact, that others are starting to echo his concerns. In September, Pete Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times, highlighted a number of restaurants that are moving away from tipping and toward surcharges or higher-priced menu items. The money made from these practices would then go toward paying servers a fair wage -- as in, more than $2.13 an hour, the amount many servers make before their "tip credit."

But what about our right as consumers to let service staff know we're pissed by leaving a small tip? How are we supposed to express gratitude if not monetarily? And how are misguided teenagers going to elicit donations after they're stiffed for being gay (but not really)?

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Vapor Conflict: E-Cigarettes Ignite Debate About Smoking in Bars and Restaurants

Photo by Michael Dorausch
Should Houston ban e-cigarettes in restaurants and bars?
I couldn't get anyone I know to speak on the record for this story.

The only regular smokers I know are in the restaurant industry, and in spite of the fact that anyone can see them smoking outside between shifts, no one wanted to admit to smoking e-cigarettes.

"Is it because e-cigarettes look kind of silly?" I asked. "Or is it because you don't want to give the impression that you're harming your palates with nicotine?"

No, and no, everyone said. They just didn't want to talk about it. Then they would turn away and continue puffing on a device that resembles a shiny ballpoint pen.

People are starting to talk more about e-cigarettes, though, as the once-oddball implements are becoming more common everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom and many restaurants in between. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the New York City Council announced that it would add e-cigarettes to the 2002 Smoke-Free Air Act, effectively banning them from all public places. Though the ban will ultimately come down to a vote, it's raising a question that many have so far neglected to answer: Should e-cigarettes be allowed everywhere regular cigarettes are not?

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FDA, Calling Them Detrimental to Human Health, Moves to Ban Trans Fats in Food

Photo courtesy the FDA
All of these foods currently contain trans fats, but if the FDA has its way, they won't for much longer.
On November 7, the Food and Drug Adminstration proposed that partially hydrogenated oils no longer be "generally recognized as safe" -- a ruling that, if made final, would effectively mean companies could no longer use anything containing trans fats in their products.

I asked Houstonians what they thought about this ruling, and it turns out many people don't know exactly what trans fats are, and many are not even aware that they were consuming them.

Because I'm not a scientist, I turned to the American Heart Association to put the definition of trans fats into layman's terms. According to the organization's Web site, "Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Companies like using trans fats in their foods because they're easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time. Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture."

Basically, trans fats make food taste "better" and last longer for less money. But at what cost to our health?

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Houston Mayoral Candidates Talk Food Trucks, Their Go-To Lunch Spots and Cooking at Home

Photo by
No, no, don't worry. Rick Perry isn't running for mayor. He obviously appreciates good food, though.
In one of the great election movies of our time, Wag the Dog, CIA agent Mr. Young gives some helpful advice about food: "There are two things I know to be true. There's no difference between good flan and bad flan, and there is no war."

Okay, maybe it was more about war than food. And there's definitely such a thing as inferior flan. Whatever. We all know what's important around here, and it's not global warming or war or the economy. It's food!

Clearly I'm joking. Here at Eating Our Words, we understand that not everything is about food. We just kind of wish it was. Talking about food all the time would make things less complicated, and everyone would be fat and happy.

Tuesday, November 5 is election day, and in Houston, the most exciting race is the mayoral battle. While we've been following the debates closely to learn about the candidates' platforms, we haven't heard much talk about the Houston dining scene. So we called the mayoral candidates to discuss their thoughts and feelings about local food.

We were able to get in touch with three of the nine candidates by our deadline, but these three candidates represent the Democratic Party (incumbent Annise Parker), the Republican Party (Eric Dick) and the Green Party (Don Cook). They provide a great political cross-section, and their thoughts on food happen to differ almost as much as their politics.

Note: Before you vote, please take a moment to consider each candidate's goals for the city, and not just his or her favorite restaurant. Though you are more than welcome to consider that as well.

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