Virtual Gourmet

  October 18,  2020                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


John Belushi in "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978)


By John Mariani

Chapter Thirty

By John Mariani

By Geoff and Susan Kalish



By John Mariani

"American Gothic" by Grant Wood

         I love locavores.  I loved them when they were Neanderthals and nomads and gatherers eating off the land.  I loved them when everybody for the past twenty thousand years ate food grown within a mile of their hut. I loved them when the Israelites ate manna while wandering in the desert for 40 years. I loved them when they grew Victory Gardens during World War II.  I loved them when Alice Waters four decades ago insisted food grown locally is usually better than shipped in from China. And I loved Michelle Obama for puttering around in the White House vegetable garden.
         What I don’t love is how self-described locavores believe they are a new breed of cult-like idealists who have adapted the word coined by Jessica Prentice at the 2005 World Environment Day in—where else?—San Francisco and now make themselves out to be missionaries for a concept with a large “Duh?” factor.
         According to Jennifer Maiser, editor of the Eat Local Challenge website, ways to become a locavore include: Visit a farmers' market; Lobby your supermarket; Choose five foods in your house that you can buy locally; Preserve a local food for the winter; Find out what restaurants in your area support local farmers; Buy from local vendors; Visit a farm and “Be sure to take the kids along on this journey! Children need to know where their food is coming from in order to feel a sense of connection to their dinner.” (And you know how kids love meeting a lamb that will be their dinner later in the week.)
         These are all fine enough ideas, but we’ve been hearing them for centuries. My shelves are crammed with books on the subject that date back to the days of the counterculture movement, including classics like Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog (begun in 1968), Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet (1971), David Stienman’s Diet for a Poisoned Planet (1990), and Nancy Harmon Jenkins’s The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook (1994).
         Re-iteration, even hitting people over the head with the same common sensical advice, is worthwhile in teaching a religion but hardly revolutionary.  Locavorism has, however, gone beyond its Kumbaya moment and become a media tool, a way to hype a young chef or new restaurant, just as were labels like “la nouvelle cuisine,” “New American cuisine,” “molecular cuisine,” and the less Latinate “farm-to-table cuisine.”  Not a press release about a new chef or restaurant comes across my desk that does not use the locavore or farm-to-table boast, even when largely specious. Take just about any menu from any restaurant in the U.S. and within five seconds you’ll find ingredients that, by necessity, had to be flown in from somewhere else, especially seasonal ones like softshell crabs, crayfish, and white asparagus.
         I don’t think any tomato from anywhere is worth eating before late August, yet every restaurant has them year-round. The same with crappy out-of-season vegetables.  And if a chef doesn’t have a chicken farm or a hog farm within 50 miles of his kitchen, does he not serve those items?
         One who tried very hard to be very strict about locavorism was Sean Brock, formerly chef-owner of Husk restaurant in Charleston, S.C., whose mission was to interpret “the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston.”  Brock crafted menus throughout the day, responding to what local purveyors were supplying the kitchen at any given moment, insisting, “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.” He disdained using olive oil and he even made his own salt on the roof of the restaurant.
       Locavorism also begs the question, well, what if the locally grown food isn’t nearly as good as the stuff brought in from California or Wisconsin or the Mediterranean?  Is there a real rationale for a wildly popular place like Torrisi Italian Specialties in New York City selling American prosciutto and parmesan cheese rather than the best imported Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano?  And if you don’t happen to live in a state that makes wine, are you going to eschew bottlings from the Napa Valley or Washington state?
       Of course, the rest of the world finds locavorism nothing more than the first precept of good cooking: Buy the best ingredients you can from the region you are in. But, if other, better ingredients have to be brought in by modern transport, including FedEx and DHL, then you do so. The great master chefs of France do not grow their own foie gras, and the great master chefs of Italy do not grow their own white truffles. Chinese chefs pay top dollar for luxuries like bird’s nest and shark’s fin, while the finest tuna in the best sushi bars in Tokyo might have been shipped in from American waters and Kobe beef comes only from Kobe.
       And for anyone crazy enough to try to live exclusively off food produced on one’s own land, I highly recommend the hilarious but heartbreaking book My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm, A Cautionary Tale by Manny Howard, who spent a year learning very hard, expensive lessons in order to raise a few shriveled potatoes and some ornery rabbits, almost destroying his marriage and losing his sanity along the way.  “I still don’t know if I believe urban agricultural sustainability is the right course,” he wrote after a backbreaking year in his Brooklyn backyard, “not in any productive way, and not at half the price I paid both in life and treasure. My interest in ‘greening’ the urban landscape was still minimal.  Community gardens still smacked of the grimmest joinerism.”
         So, when I hear an individual is a locavore, I have nothing to say in either assent or dissent.  Locavores have good ideas, relevant ideas, but they are no more new ideas than exhortations to get a good night’s sleep and try to exercise.  But from the mouths of most chefs, those ideas are either mere hype or a weird notion that they were the first to cook food from the nearby garden, which will come as a big surprise to cooks in Provence, Sicily, and Shanghai.
        Let’s remember that Christopher Columbus didn’t sail west to a New World to discover gold; he did so to bring back spices from the Orient, but instead launched the so-called Columbian Exchange, by which the entire world was changed utterly by the transport of foods that for hundreds of thousands of years had stayed put in the Americas and Europe.  Before Columbus, no Thai cook ever used a chile pepper, no Italian a tomato, and no Irishman ever roasted a potato.  I’m glad Columbus sailed west. The world is a lot better fed for it and a much more savory place to live.


By John Mariani


    Since, for the time being, I am unable to write about or review New York City restaurants, I have decided instead to print a serialized version of my (unpublished) novel Love and Pizza, which takes place in New York and Italy and  involves a young, beautiful Bronx woman named Nicola Santini from an Italian family impassioned about food.  As the story goes on, Nicola, who is a student at Columbia University, struggles to maintain her roots while seeing a future that could lead her far from them—a future that involves a career and a love affair that would change her life forever. So, while New York’s restaurants remain closed, I will run a chapter of the Love and Pizza each week until the crisis is over. Afterwards I shall be offering the entire book digitally.    I hope you like the idea and even more that you will love Nicola, her family and her friends. I’d love to know what you think. Contact me at
—John Mariani

To read previous chapters go to archive (beginning with March 29, 2020, issue.


By John Mariani


Cover Art By Galina Dargery


         Two days after she’d returned from New York, an envelope arrived at Nicola’s dorm.  It was of very fine paper, obviously handmade, cream colored and closed with a red wax stamp with the crossed letters LFC.  The writing on the front was a baroque flourish of script.
         She opened the envelope, in which she found another.  She opened that, and read the folded note inside, which said, in Italian, “You are cordially invited to a reception in honor of the birthday of  Il Marchese Dorando Cavallacci on Saturday April 25.” 
         Then, almost as if planned down to the second, the phone rang. 
         “Nicolina! Ciao, it’s Giancarlo.”
          “Giancarlo!  Come stai?”
         Benissimo,” then, “Nicolina, I have missed you very much.”
         “I’ve missed you too.  Very, very much.”
         “I’m so sorry I have not called you, but it has been crazy here.  I think I told you that my father has not been well, so I’ve had to attend to the business here in Turin, then had to fly to Palermo, and now I’m back.”
         Giancarlo proceeded to ask how everything in New York had gone and Nicola said it was more fun than she had  imagined it would be, then softened the excitement with a few sober words about her family and the recent passing away of her grandmother.
         “So, Nicolina, did you get my invitation?”
         “I just opened it this minute.”
         “So, you will come?  I would really love to have you here and to meet my parents. Plus, if you don’t, I won't be able to see you again until the middle of May.”
         Nicolina’s momentary glee suddenly slipped into glumness.
         “Well, of course, I want to come, Giancarlo.  But why won’t I see you again till May?”
         “Ah, the same old bullshit.  The business is in flux right now, lots of big decisions have to be made, and it’s all on my shoulders for the time being.  I’ll be traveling a lot in the next three weeks.”
         Nicola thought that by the time Giancarlo finished his traveling, she would be finished her semester and flying back to the U.S.  and then who knew how long it would be before Giancarlo could visit her?
         “Oh, Giancarlo, that is so upsetting, but of course I’ll come to the party.”
         Bravissima, Nicolina! And listen, cara, after I get through this tough period, I’m sure I will be more free in the summer when industries in Europe slow down or shut down.  I’ll be able to visit you in New York or maybe you can come back to Italy and we go on a little vacation.”
        Nicola knew she had six weeks of summer school ahead of her, starting in June, but promised herself she would work it out to be with Giancarlo as soon as possible after that.
         “Well,” she told him, “we’ll have the weekend in ... where is the party? Torino?”
         “No, it’s at our villa. That’s really why I want you to come. I want you to see how beautiful it is in springtime.”
         “And what kind of clothes should I bring?”
         “For the reception, bring something dressy for the daytime.  Otherwise, I want you be very comfortable.  Maybe we will go into Torino for a night.  You’ve never been, correct?”
         “No, never,” she replied. “That would be wonderful,” thinking they would have a night wholly to themselves.
         Va bene. I will send a car to pick you up the day before the reception, okay?  I would come myself but I will be flying back from Palermo that day. We’ll have a nice dinner with my family.”
         The two of them talked for a while longer, then Giancarlo said he had to go.  “I can’t wait to see you, Nicolina,” then the phone clicked off and to Nicola he seemed very, very far away. 

                                                                      *                         *                         *
         By the time April 24 arrived, Nicola had gone over her weekend wardrobe with Catherine half dozen times, and, of course, Catherine suggested her friend treat herself to a new dress for the event. The idea of a double date with Catherine and her new boyfriend was now moot.
         “Do they wear white in springtime over here?” asked Nicola?
         “I don’t know,” answered Catherine, stumped by a rare question of style she could not answer.  “Why don’t you ask Signora Palma?”
         “Great idea!  Maybe she even has some fabulous dress I can buy or borrow.”
         And, of course, Signora Palma did.  She told Nicola that white might be too obvious:  “Some people will wear white, but not the younger girls,” she advised. “You come over to the studio, I give you something perfetto for you, bella.”
         The perfect outfit turned out to be a gorgeous spring dress in a very light peach color with small white polka dots, with a wide dark blue leather belt and matching shoes.
         Nicola looked at the garment’s superb tailoring, the careful hand sewing of the sleeves and cuffs, the graceful, soft way two pleats centered the back.  “How much is it?” asked Nicola, thinking Signora Palma might give her a discount.
         Niente! I show this dress last fall for this spring.  So, I have no more use for it.  It’s a gift, bella.  You my best advertising!”
         “Oh, Signora Palma, that is so sweet of you.  How can I ever thank you?”
         “You come back in Settembre for the shows again.  You be my girl, capisce?” Then the two women hugged and Signora Palma wrapped up the dress in tissue paper and placed it in a box with her logo on it. 
         The girls back at the dorm adored the dress, and told Nicola the marchese’s family would be impressed by this Italian-American girl with such good taste and expensive clothes.
         “It’s not his family I want to impress,” she said.
         Catherine took her by the shoulders and said, as if Nicola understood nothing, “Oh, yes you do, Nicky.  I know this kind of family and they can be very critical.  Giancarlo’s already nuts about you.  It’s the family, especially his mother, you’re going to have to impress.  Trust me on this, Nick.”
         Catherine let go of her friend and said, “Okay, let’s go for pizza. My treat.”
         The other girls in the room quickly assented but Nicola was oddly silent.
         “You coming, Nick?” asked Mercédes?
         “Huh?” said Nicola, breaking free from thinking about what Catherine had just said.  “Oh, sorry. Yes, of course.”

© John Mariani, 2020




By Geoff and Susan Kalish

Ernest Hemingway at The Ritz, Paris

        Like many others during these past seven months, we have been eating primarily at home, providing us the opportunity to match more than one wine with our nightly fare and do a bit of experimenting with wine and food matches. And what we’ve found is that while many red wines can mate quite well with fish (especially swordfish, salmon and tuna), and some whites (like Grüner Veltliners, viogniers and especially full-bodied Champagne) can make harmonious matches with beef and lamb, there are just some combinations of wine and food that do not work. So, from a series of nightly wine and food tastings, the following are some of the lessons learned.
        While most dry reds, especially those made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, make ideal accompaniment to beef and lamb, they mated particularly poorly with any dishes containing more than a bit of sweetness, like baked squash with apples, fresh corn and even beets. And it didn’t matter if the wine was a recent vintage or a well-aged bottle. In fact, the older the wine the worse the match.
        Some of the wines (mainly personal favorites) we tried were Jordan and Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignons from California, Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux, Château Prieuré Lichine and Guigal Gigondas from France, Romeo de Castello Etna Rosso Allegrecore, Volpaia and Castlegreve Chianti Classicos from Italy and Periquita Reserva from Portugal.
          On the other hand, wines made from the Pinot Noir grape, especially those with low amounts of harsh tannin in their finish, mated quite well with these same dishes as well as with the beef and lamb. Some of the wines sampled were Primarius and The Withers English Hill Pinot Noirs from California, Ponzi and La Crema Pinot Noirs from Oregon and Domaine Shanzy Santenay and Frederick Esmonin Gevry-Chambertin Burgundies from France. Other notable exceptions were light Zinfandels like Turley Juvenile and Valpolicella Ripassos from Italy, such as those from Zenato and Farina that had a bouquet and taste of plums and ripe cherries and again low tannin in their finish.
        Moreover, most dry whites tried—ranging from Chardonnay-based wines from France, Italy and California to dry Chenin Blancs to Sauvignon Blancs from California and New Zealand, and even Gavis and Pinot Grigios from Italy—mated poorly with the dishes with a modicum of sweetness. The acidity in the wine clashed with the sweetness of the fare.
        Whites that mated best were Rieslings, even dry Rieslings from Ravines and Forge in New York state and Gewürztraminers from Alsace, like Zind-Hunbrecht and Trimbach. Yet, these same wines were only barely acceptable with mild fish like branzino and halibut, with wines showing a citrusy finish like many Chardonnay-based whites, crisp Sauvignon Blancs and Assyritko from Greece mating best. Also, Pinot Noir-based reds mated better than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot-based wine with mild seafare.
        As to full-flavored fish, like swordfish, tuna, and salmon, we found that reds made equally harmonious accompaniment as whites. In fact, these denizens of the deep often overwhelmed mildly flavored whites like most Pinot Grigio.
        As for some specific preferences, we found surprisingly that shrimp (grilled, boiled plain, and scampi) all mated well with almost all wines sampled (reds and whites), as did these same wines with chicken made in a variety of ways. Equally surprisingly, many of the same reds mated poorly with scallops, which are better with whites with vibrant acidity in their finish. On the other hand, ribs and pork chops mated far better with any of the reds than the whites, with Gewürztraminer and  Rieslings the only exceptions. In fact, even sweet Chenin Blancs and full-bodied Prémier Cru Chablis (such as Fourchaume) seemed overwhelmed by the fare.

So, our bottom-line takeaways:

                 While many red wines go with fish, not all make the grade, with reds  based on Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot grapes mating poorly with milder seafare. On the other hand, full-flavored seafare mated equally well with reds as full-bodied whites.

                 Not all meals with beef or lamb as a main course mated well with all reds. Again, Cabernet Sauvignon- or Merlot-based reds, especially those with more than a touch of tannin in their finish, made poor accompaniment to these meals if a dish showing sweetness was included.

                 Pork, chicken and surprisingly shrimp are the “universal recipients” of wine, mating equally with all whites and dry reds sampled.

                 The type of wine  is far more important than the particular brand served.


"Now, it should be mentioned that Emily’s paramour, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), is a chef. . . . He is incredibly handsome. So handsome. Like if Armie Hammer procreated with one of the sturdier barricades in 
Les Mis — Gabriel would be the gorgeous offspring. I mean, even though I’m quite upset about this true excrescence while contemplating his torso and face, I’m filled with jouissance, with all its Barthesian overtones of orgasmic joy. And I guess the contemplation of his beauty has put me in a good mood too, because honestly the acting throughout the series is really strong and Paris’s beauty does emerge from the shitshow unscathed and even if the boulangerie are nothing but blank parodies of themselves and the scenes within them are riddled with continuity errors, to see such vast array of batards, baguettes, pains au chocolat, croissants, and brioche is enormously pleasurable. But anyway, as angelic as he is, Gabriel can’t save this carnival of fart smell."—Joshua David Stein, "The Lack of Flavor in ‘Emily in Paris’ Is Only Emphasized by Its Meals," (Oct. 11, 2020)



"The Gin Rickey is similar to the G&T in that it has gin and lime and a mixer. But instead of tonic, you use club soda, and instead of some gracefully adorned lime wedges, you throw in whole, hulking lime half. For your willingness to swap soda for tonic, you get a drink that's as refreshing as a dash through an oscillating sprinkler fanning cold water over green grass on a 100-degrees-at-least day."—Sarah Rense,


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 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  THIS WEEK:

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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