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Mourning the demise of Gourmet magazine, series editor Hughes asks "is food writing a dying art?" Readers of this year's anthology will offer a resounding "nowhere close." Ethical concerns of organic and locavore movements and free range meats are tidily summed up by now-famous vegetarian Jonathan Safran Foer. Whereas MIT grad J. Kenji Lopez-Alt shares a recipe for making French fries as good as what McDonalds makes: "salty, crisp, light, and not greasy." At the other end of the spectrum, New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton offers a version of Nora Ephron's meat loaf recipe to die for. Pulitzer prize winner Jonathan Gold tracks the shifting locations of Los Angeles' street vendors and Tod Kliman hunts down Peter Chang, the elusive "perfect chef" who moves between Chinese restaurants, from D.C. to Atlanta, to avoid celebrity. Along the way Kliman learns that innocuous Chinese restaurants can have secret menus for the cognoscenti and experiences the exquisite pleasure of hot peppers that scorch and even numb. And travelling to Tokyo, Kevin Pang discovered to his great surprise that eating a bowl of ramen "satisfied every taste sense man is blessed to experience." A sparkling collection.
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In a time where the most elemental of activities—consuming sustenance—is an increasingly political act, it’s not surprising that there might be more attention paid to talking about eating food than there is in actually eating food. Series editor Hughes sheds a tear for the shuttering of the venerable Gourmet, but maintains that “the rumors of food writing’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” Big changes in the culinary world are visible here, from Michael Steinberger’s lament over the passing of France’s reign of culinary mastery (all hail Spain) to Tim Carman’s plea to put Zagat out of its misery. But the trend du jour continues to be locavorism, evidenced by Carla Capalbo’s take on the epicenter of molecular gastronomy, El Bulli, getting dethroned as best restaurant in the world by a small Copenhagen joint that focuses on seasonal, place-specific ingredients. Despite all the delicious food fussiness on parade, though, the best of the best might just be Jason Sheehan’s hilarious (if you’re an industry insider) or terrifying (if you’re an unsuspecting patron) account of flash-defrosting 80-pound blocks of haddock on a frantic fish-fry Friday. --Ian ChipmanSee all Editorial Reviews