In line with my recent column about gluten, I feel I must say something about two of my all-time favorites: salt and fat.
Let's talk first about fat, which is delicious.
Did you ever see some of those old Italians who are walking around looking great even though they're in their 90s?
Do you know what's keeping them alive?
Olive oil. They practically swim in it. Drink enough olive oil every day and the only way you're going to die is if someone hits you on the head with an axe.
As for salt – it's getting a bad rap by the food police. Go into any fine restaurant and you can't find a salt shaker on a table. The salt police have done their job well. Ask for salt in an upscale restaurant anywhere in New York or Los Angeles and they look at you as if you had just asked for a shaker filled with heroin.
I hear that in Los Angeles, the capital of tasteless, politically correct food, it's easier to score cocaine in most restaurants than it is to get a harmless little shaker of salt.
The new "wisdom" is: The chef knows how much salt a dish should have. You ask for salt and you are insulting him and you are insulting his family. If he comes out of the kitchen and lops your head off with a frigging meat cleaver, it's considered justifiable homicide.
I say if God had not wanted us to have salt or cholesterol, he/she wouldn't have invented high blood pressure medication and Lipitor.
My dad always made sure he poured a thick white layer of salt on everything he ate. "But Papa, you won't be able to taste your steak if you put that much salt on it," I used to say.
"I don't want to taste the steak. I like the taste of salt," he'd reply.
Once, years ago, I asked my dad, "Didn't your doctor ever tell you that you had to cut down on salt?"
"Yes," he said. "Years ago this doctor kept bothering me that I had to cut out salt. He kept it up until he died at the age of 67."
My dad always added, "If he salted his food, maybe he would still be alive now." My dad outlived a number of doctors. He would still be pouring salt on food with reckless abandon today if he didn't die from a fall at the age of 92.
All five of my kids love to cook and love to eat. I'm proud that from when they were teens, I instilled the value and joy of excess in them.
Ten years ago when my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, was covering fashion shows in Europe, I decided to take my son JT, age 17, and my daughter Jessie, age 20, on a weekend food excursion to New Orleans.
New Orleans! What a place ... salt shakers on every table in every restaurant like in the good old days. And the food – filled with salt and trans fats and butter and cream and sugar. It was so delicious. It's the kind of food you can't find anywhere else in this country.
When we set out on our New Orleans weekend, we stopped on our way at the JetBlue terminal in JFK. We hit the Papaya King stand and enjoyed a snack of spicy hot dogs. I had three hot dogs filled with sauerkraut and mustard. Just the thing to get my sodium count up for the trip.
Excessive? You bet. You can't teach your kids the joys of excess too early, I always say. We ate our way through New Orleans.
On the first night we ate at a restaurant named Lilette that was outstanding. I had a delicious seafood gumbo, we had fried eggplant with shriveled yellow tomatoes, basil leaves, and salted, tar-like black olives. Then we shared delicious white truffle Parmesan toast with shiitakes drenched in veal glace. And as a side order we munched on fried frog legs with fresh fine herbs. We shared a couple of great bottles of wine.
The next day it was a lunch at a restaurant that served chili omelets and grits and the most delicious biscuits. We finished that treat, and sped to Bourbon Street and drank Hurricanes, which are made up of four different rums and jungle juice. Then we rushed to Café du Monde where we devoured a pre-dinner treat of beignets covered with powdered sugar.
Then to dinner at another restaurant, Herbsaint, where we feasted on salty and delicious Muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique, a seared Kurabuta pork belly with local field peas and pickled turnips, and sautéed jumbo shrimp with eggplant dressing and jalapenos.
Sunday morning it was breakfast at Brennan's, with turtle soup and poached eggs with a thick rich Hollandaise sauce and chunks of crabmeat.
Then I had the thrill of watching my kids taste, for the first time, a Brennan's treat: Bananas Foster, filled with butter, perhaps the world's unhealthiest and most delicious dessert.
As I was driving to the airport Jessie asked, "What does it mean when you can't get your ring off because your fingers are swollen?"
"It means you've had a great weekend," I answered.
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