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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

All About the Benjamins, Er, Béchamels

This week’s New York Times Dining section features two loosely related stories on how chefs make their money and develop their empires in this age of culinary celebrities. The first piece, by longtime food writer Michael Ruhlman, is thought-provoking if disorganized; the second, by Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, is maddening in a very classically Brunian way.

Ruhlman explores the different experiences of minor-celebrity chefs, like public TV’s Ming Tsai and Michelle Bernstein of the Miami restaurant Michy’s, and the Batalis and Flays of the world. “I’m not even upper middle class,” says Bernstein, who does so many food-related side jobs that she’s rarely in the Michy’s kitchen. “I’ve been supporting us from the consulting. Basically holding together a family of two, with a house and a car.”

Then Ruhlman jumps abruptly into the celebs’ universe:

Even Mr. Flay and Mr. Batali say that with all of their other deals, their restaurants are where they make most of their money. “The restaurants are my foundation,” Mr. Flay said. “It’s where I spend 90 percent of my time. They’re my bread and butter.”

I find it hard to believe that Flay really does find the time to hang out so much in his five restaurants (which apparently account for 80 percent of his company’s income). But that aside, the difference between the up-and-comers and the already-theres is striking—the former scraping together extra money from side gigs, the latter relying on their multiple high-ticket restaurants for steady income and their $10,000 to $60,000 cookware deals for pocket change.

Bruni’s piece about chefs’ inflated egos is much lighter on the stats and heavier on the hackneyed observations—like this one about overly talkative servers who “describe dish after dish, from an amuse-bouche hardly bigger than a semicolon to a scoop of vanilla ice cream, in exhaustive detail and priestly voices.” Bo-ring. I know he eats at a lot of high-end restaurants and encounters annoying server/restaurateur behavior often, but he laments these purported injustices in a way that’s often just as obnoxious. Where are The Bruni Digest and Gastropoda when you need them?

Nuthin’ but Love for the CIA

Epicurious’s new video and blog series promises to “infiltrate the Culinary Institute of America.” Apparently by “infiltrate” they mean “run an infomercial for,” judging from an early look.

The feature will include blogs from four chefs-in-training (for now those sections say “coming soon”) and regular video installments (at the moment the only ones up are those four students’ audition reels). The current clips are basically bland introductions to four nice people who seem to love cooking and love their school—kind of like those chipper guys and gals who walk around backward leading tour groups of prospective college students. Case in point from Jared, the nutrition-conscious Canadian, as he introduces some friends to the camera:

These are two of my best guys in my class. We get along well, very well. We’re in the same writing class, too, and we share a passion for our teacher. He is so good!

Not that this rah-rah tone is so surprising, since the CIA logos and links “for more information” on every page of the feature make it clear that this is advertorial, not an investigative report. And this format does have its benefits—perhaps it will focus more on the food than some shows we know, without getting bogged down in personal drama.

Healthying Up the Quickie Mart

Most folks know that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is more healthful than one high in Big Macs and Crunch Wraps. But if you live in a low-income urban area, there’s probably not going to be a Whole Foods or even a Wal-Mart available. Some neighborhoods don’t even have a supermarket at all, and if you don’t have a car, it makes eating healthy a challenge. Especially since these neighborhoods usually have a fast-food outlet or two. This lack of access is part of the reason diabetes and obesity rates in the inner city are high.

But in two cities, innovative programs are bringing healthy foods to inner-city neighborhoods. In Oakland, California, People’s Grocery brings produce and healthy snacks to West Oakland and helps people set up community gardens to produce their own food.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, a Johns Hopkins University professor is reaching out to convenience-store owners in neighborhoods without supermarkets and encouraging them to stock healthier items, like whole-grain breads and cooking sprays.

An article in The Baltimore Sun shows how the program is bringing shopkeepers and customers together to focus on health.

‘I’m in the city a long time, these are my neighbors, my customers, my friends,’ said Grace Lyo, whose store on Mount Street in West Baltimore … is joining the program.

“Top Chef” Upset: Sam and Elia Pack Their Knives

“Top Chef” Upset: Sam and Elia Pack Their Knives

Only Marcel and Ilan remain to battle it out. READ MORE

Is Nutmeg Really a Mind-Altering Substance?

Is Nutmeg Really a Mind-Altering Substance?

Will I start seeing things if I ingest too much? READ MORE

Vegetarian-Friendly Cameroonian Food

Fans of the Cameroonian food truck at the Berkeley Flea Market will be happy to learn that they’ve recently opened a standing restaurant, called A Taste of Africa. rworange loves the expertly fried plantains (sule do do), a fluffy, moist rice dish full of black-eyed peas (jolaffe), and the tart house-made lemonade. This place is very vegan and vegetarian friendly, with vegan dishes on the menu every day, as well as meat dishes. Chuckles the Clone loves the stewed yams (nkule) with rice and a tiny dollop of their fabulously fiery hot sauce on the side. But, he says, if they have something called “traditional turkey”–which sometimes turns out to be chicken–then you need to order that.

This is not the kind of restaurant that makes a ton of food ahead of time and chucks it in the freezer. They make relatively small batches of delicious, fresh food and they actually run out of stuff–“you gotta step lively if you want it,” a server explained. So go early and often if you want to try everything.

A Taste of Africa [East Bay]
3015 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

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Berkeley–A Taste of Africa re-emerges on Shattuck- Cameroonian comfort food & lunch specials

Gombei Is Still Great

The Menlo Park branch of Gombei is always a reliable choice, says Wendy_San, though she isn’t so impressed with the San Jose branch. katg and OnceUponABite echo the recommendation. The excellent food and charmingly overbearing service make it a destination. Some advice: get there early so you don’t have to wait in line, and bring cash–it’s cash only.

Gombei Japanese Restaurant [Peninsula]
1438 El Camino Real, Menlo Park

Gombei Japanese Restaurant [South Bay]
193 Jackson St., San Jose

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Gombei—any recent experience?

Hamburger Helper – Promising Newcomers in Fort Greene

Fort Greene hounds have flipped over the burgers at Mullane’s. They’re well seasoned, handmade, and cooked to a turn. Buffalo wings are authentically crispy, meaty, and spicy, reports upstate expat faprilano, who also recommends the house steak. Fish and chips are crisp and tasty but, some say, overpriced.

Just down the block, 67 Burger scores with its Blue Burger, says VocalLizzy. She loves its “hitting on all cylinders” combination of meaty richness, bacon smokiness, and blue cheese sharpness. Beyond burgers, hounds recommend chicken, grilled cheese, or turkey club sandwiches. But some find the prices too high and note that add-ons add up fast at 75 cents for jalapenos, $1 for cheese or sauteed onions, and $2 for bacon or avocado.

Mullane’s Bar and Grill [Fort Greene]
71 Lafayette Ave., between S. Elliott and Fort Greene Pl., Brooklyn

67 Burger [Fort Greene]
67 Lafayette Ave., at Fulton St., Brooklyn

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Mullane’s Bar and Grill —Fort Greene Brooklyn
Brooklyn’s 67 Burger–More than burgers and all is yummy!

A Divine Doner Sandwich at Ali Baba

“I worship Berlin-style doner with red cabbage,” testifies jon, “and I’ve found a place here that has it.” He directs fellow believers to Ali Baba, which turns out a terrific version of the Turkey-by-way-of-Germany spit-grilled lamb sandwiches.

They’re the specialty at Kebap G, a takeout joint whose doner kebap on good hot pide bread will scratch the itch, even if it won’t make you forget Berlin, says TipsyMcStagger.

Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine [Murray Hill]
212 E. 34th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan

Kebap G [Upper East Side]
1830 2nd Ave., between E. 94th and 95th Sts., Manhattan

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Chichen Itza Opens in MacArthur Park

Chichen Itza, whose Mercado Paloma stall is a hound favorite, has finally opened its long-anticipated restaurant, reports 9thandBroadway, and the panucho and cochinita pibil are fabulous. It’s Yucatan-style Mexican food, in the ground floor of the Asbury apartment building.

Chichen Itza
2501 W. 6th St., Los Angeles

Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Ave. #C6, Los Angeles


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Chichen Itza restaurant arrives