August 31, 2009

Food Processing Prometheus

Filed under: Not Tech — Chris @ 9:53 pm

To: All my food processing comrades at the Park Slope Food Co-op

I had a cheese wrapping epiphany during my shift today. You know how it’s really annoying to pull out and tear off the Cling Wrap while you have the plastic gloves on? Here’s what I want you to do: grab a knife and cut the Cling Wrap. You can just keep the roll next to the cutting board, pull the wrap across the board, then slice the wrap with the tip of the knife. Your life will improve, at least for two hours and forty-five minutes.

BONUS TIP: To listen to a personal music player on the stereo, plug it into the headphone jack that’s lying on top of the stereo receiver, then flip the “Tape Mon” switch. Also, there’s an index of the “Food to Process Music By” CDs taped to the right side of the fridge next to the stereo.


A Shot at Love with Top Chef

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:09 am

This week was full of great examples of rules foolishly broken and wisely followed. To start with, Ashley landed herself at Judges’ Table by carelessly ignoring Rules A (“Never make a salad or dessert”), B (“Play it safe”), and D (“Be prepared to change your plan”). She made a panna cotta for dessert, even though nobody asked her to. She made two dishes, even though her team members practically begged her not to. And she served the panna cotta, even though it hadn’t set. So Ashley found herself in the ridiculous situation of facing elimination for a weak dish that she didn’t have to make and shouldn’t have served, when she had a second dish—the one she had set out to make in the first place—that the Judges really liked.

I think the record will show that the reason Eve went home this week instead of Jesse is pretty clearly the observance of Rule E (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”). In both of her appearances at Judges’ Table, Eve was incoherent. It’s not so much that she demonstrated poor judgment as that she just made no sense. She did not give the Judges a reason to keep her on (Tom: “I don’t think, in her mind, she knows what she’s trying to accomplish.”). In contrast, both times Jesse clearly conveyed that she understood the flaws of her dish and the mistakes she had made in its preparation. This can only get you so far (note Gail’s comment: “How long can Jesse keep making this mistake?”), but it can get you through a couple of close eliminations.

I’m not sure what the hell happened with Preeti. She seems like a mediocre talent. Her dish was not well composed or seasoned, by the Judges’ lights. She probably should have ditched the shiso leaves when they started wilting in the hot sun. She went back to the Stew Room and determinedly refused to learn from the Judges’ critique (“It’s a crowd pleaser!”). I don’t think she’s in this for the distance.

Predictions: Eve is my first successful elimination prediction since Arriane was eliminated from Top Chef: New York (and that includes an entire season of Top Chef Masters)! Huzzah, I am back on top!

The obvious choice this week is Jesse. She’s been up for elimination twice now; she does not seem to have her head in the game. But Top Chef never shakes down that way—a cheftestant can be up for elimination twice, then win in the next episode. My guess is one of the middle-of-the-packers will make a spectacular error in judgment. Maybe Ron?

Random thoughts:

  • Were those comically giant dice or is Padma a much tinier person than I had realized?
  • It’s not just me, right? Michael and Bryan seem to hate each other?
  • Jennifer shows an excellent grasp of Rule D: “The octopus is frozen, but it seems like a good product and, if it’s not, I will make something else up on the fly.”
  • Mike: “People get tired of me. Real quickly.” I have no doubt that this is true, but, you know, I find this kind of charming. More self-deprecating prickliness and less “girls are icky” douchebaggery, Mike.
  • Hector ends up in the top four with a tofu dish. The exception that proves the rule?

August 26, 2009

BibTeX Journal Abbreviations

Filed under: LaTeX — Chris @ 3:17 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, a list of BibTeX’s built-in journal abbreviations, of which Google is largely ignorant:

acmcs: ACM Computing Surveys
acta: Acta Informatica
cacm: Communications of the ACM
ibmjrd: IBM Journal of Research and Development
ibmsj: IBM Systems Journal
ieeese: IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering
ieeetc: IEEE Transactions on Computers
ieeetcad: IEEE Transactions on Computer-Aided Design of Integrated Circuits
ipl: Information Processing Letters
jacm: Journal of the ACM
jcss: Journal of Computer and System Sciences
scp: Science of Computer Programming
sicomp: SIAM Journal on Computing
tocs: ACM Transactions on Computer Systems
tods: ACM Transactions on Database Systems
tog: ACM Transactions on Graphics
toms: ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software
toois: ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems
toplas: ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems
tcs: Theoretical Computer Science

The availability of the above will depend on your chosen bibliographystyle. They are provided by all of the built-in styles (e.g., plain, abbrv, unsrt, etc.).

August 20, 2009

Top Chef: Las Vegas

Filed under: Not Tech, Top Chef — Chris @ 10:26 pm

I’ll start off by saying congratulations to Rick Bayless for winning Top Chef Masters. He was my sentimental favorite, but if I had chosen him I wouldn’t have achieved my perfectly imperfect 0.0% record of predictions for the season. (I’m off to a good start this season too, see below.)

So, Top Chef: Las Vegas. Let’s play spot the stereotype: slightly older, slightly insecure female contestant who doesn’t have a chance in hell (Robin), check; arrogant, slightly obnoxiously, but talented, nerd (Eli), check; gimmicky duo, one of whom will be eliminated within three weeks (Michael and Bryan), check; hot-blooded Latino, who cooks “with his heart and his balls” (Hector), check; portly, good-natured goofball (Kevin), check; macho, misogynistic douchebag (Mike), check. (Query: is “misogynistic douchebag” a self-negating insult?)

Speaking of Mike (aka The Douche), which was worse: his irritation that Jennifer C. (nota bene: a girl) could keep up with him shucking clams (not beat him mind you, but just keep up) or his blustering when Robin declined to compete in the Quickfire? And speaking of Robin, did she make the right choice? (For a lot more on that, see the end of this post.)

This week’s events gave me good reason to believe the new rules will not have to be significantly amended.

In the Quickfire, the Red Team took about 15 seconds to settle on a plan in which Preeti would shuck the clams. Preeti made it clear to her teammates that she had no idea how to shuck a clam. Kevin, at least, seemed to know how to shuck a clam better than she did (“No, it’s not like an oyster at all!”) Now, was the Red Team prepared to change their plan? Hell no. Did that work out well for them? It did not. And that’s why we have Rule D.

In the Elimination, Jennifer Z. (thank God I don’t have to look at her creepy ear hoops all season) decided to Take a Risk and Wow the Judges with a seitan-stuffed chile relleno. Seitan is never a safe bet. Quoth Kevin: “Who cooks with seitan? Nobody bleeping likes that stuff.” And that’s why we have Rule B.

On a more minor note, at Judges’ Table, Jesse—after finding herself in the bottom for disrespecting a protein (Rule C)—was a great example of Rule E in action. I don’t think she was in serious danger of elimination—that chile relleno was just too bad—but she clearly impressed the Judges by knowing exactly what was wrong with her dish and how it could have been fixed. Eve also had a pretty good explanation at hand (she shouldn’t have added that cream), but got bogged down in a distracting discussion of “complexity” as a vice that seemed to leave the Judges befuddled.

Predictions: I had a 1/17 chance of choosing the first to go and a 16/17 chance of at least not choosing the Elimination winner. Instead, I chose Kevin who, in spite of being young and Georgian and not formally trained, is apparently a very talented chef. Bzzt.

It’s inherently hard to make predictions this early in the season—it seems like half the cheftestants didn’t even register on screen—but it would be no fun if I didn’t at least try. I was very unimpressed with Eve’s fortitude. I’m guessing she’s going to crack up.

P.S. They got Ferran Adrià?!! [UPDATE 8/25: Oops, I think that’s Joël Robuchon. Not nearly as big a “get.” I got thrown by his not-speaking-English-ness.]

The analysis of Robin’s gold chip dilemma is below the fold.


August 19, 2009

Top Chef Rules 2.0: These Are My Beliefs

Filed under: Not Tech, Top Chef — Chris @ 6:18 pm

In our continuing effort to spin out the Grand Unified Theory of Top Chef, let’s re-state, clarify, and augment our original (and since-amended) list of rules. In order to avoid confusion, we will enumerate the rules by letters of the alphabet.

Rule A: Never make a salad or dessert. These dishes don’t get any respect, unless they are truly wonderful (even then, it’s almost impossible to win with them). In the case of dessert, you are quite likely to screw it up. Especially ice cream.

Rule B: Play it safe. This is not Top Chef. This is Top Scallop. You can win this competition by cooking menu items from your restaurant week after week (just ask Ilan). Never make something you’ve never made before and just assume it will turn out OK. As timid and pathetic as it sounds, it really is better to be in the middle of the pack until the very end.

Corollary B.1: Don’t get cute. Don’t ever “cleverly” name your dish a “risotto” or “coq au vin” unless you are prepared to really truly execute the classic dish (and, face it, you’re probably not).

(Perhaps we should recognize here an underlying Principle to this Rule, which is that the cheftestants should assume, per Jim Pryor, that the Judges (especially the Guest Judges) are lazy, stupid, and mean. They’re lazy, so they don’t want to have to work to understand your dish; they’re stupid, so they want to eat something that satisfies their preconceptions; and they’re mean, so they’re going to be eager to find some way to criticize you (the simpler and the more obvious the better). With respect to Corollary B.1, the Judges will always be happy to ignore any playful intentions and point out that your twist on a classic dish was made the “wrong” way.)

Corollary B.2: Never be the team leader. The team leader is always the first to go. Even if you’ve got a bottom-feeder on your team undermining you, the Judges are going to ask,”Wouldn’t a real leader find a way to solve the problem?”

Rule C: Respect your proteins. Nothing will get you kicked off Top Chef faster than an over-cooked piece of meat. And a well-cooked piece of meat will always win over even the best vegetarian dish.

Rule D: Be prepared to change your plan. How many times have we watched a cheftestant complacently coast to elimination because he chose to go ahead and stick with the original plan even though he couldn’t get the best quality ingredients or something in the kitchen wasn’t working right or it turned out he had to cook everything with a box of matches and a mirror? Quick thinking is probably the signal virtue of the successful cheftestant. If the plan goes South, change the plan.

Rule E: Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table. This is really important and not widely appreciated. If your dish didn’t work, you cannot bluff the Judges. Tell them why it didn’t work and what you’d do differently and maybe they’ll take pity on you.

Rule F: It’s business, not personal. If you’ve got a Marcel, a Dale, a Lisa, or a Stefan on your team, you’re going to have to suck it up and deal with it. Sometimes these people are talented and can make a real contribution to your team, if you don’t go into a passive aggressive tailspin. Successful cheftestants accommodate themselves to strong personalities and persevere.

That’s it. Good luck, cheftestants. Please be so kind as to fail in only the above-mentioned ways.

Prediction: Just for kicks, let me glance over the list of contestants…  Eli Kirshtein is the youngest (25) and is not from a Big Restaurant Town (Atlanta), but he’s a Richard Blais protégé and that has to count for something. Kevin Gillespie is also young, also from Atlanta, and doesn’t have a culinary degree. That’s our guy. Kevin will be the first to go.

Top Chef Masters Catch-up

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 4:36 pm

I was AWOL for two weeks, so let me just weigh in with my final thoughts and an ill-fated prediction.

Michael Chiarello: I don’t care if he’s a huge dick—though I think some of his dickishness derives from his insecurity at having spent most of the last ten years out of the trenches, pursuing a career as a celebrity chef—he’s obviously capable of cranking out really delicious food so long as he doesn’t get pushed too far outside his comfort zone (and, honestly, Rick Bayless is no different. Every last dish has been Italian and Mexican from those two). He’s got chops, but he’s outmatched. Total stars for the competition: 79½.

Rick Bayless: This guy is so gosh darn nice, I want to be his best friend. More than any other Masters chef, I want to check out his restaurant. I just need some reason to pass through Chicago someday. Total stars for the competition: 86.

Hubert Keller: He seems to be some kind of Jedi Master. Last week he cranked out 18 dishes to the other chef’s 4 or 5, without breaking a sweat, and earned a perfect 15 star rating from the critics. And he’s just so jolly. Has he ever once even fleetingly betrayed a negative emotion? Total stars for the competition: 83.

Prediction: My heart is with Chef Bayless, but I’m guessing Chef Keller, based partly on his preternatural Cool and based partly on a hunch.


Filed under: Iceland — Chris @ 7:49 am

Photo op at Hekla

The full set is here.

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