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Plat du Jour: Wednesday April 11, 2012

Today’s catch of the day seems to be all about economics. Marginal utility, supply and demand, Keynesian cross, labor markets, incentives, oligopoly…I’ve always said and still believe the most useful class I ever took was high school Economics AP. Don’t quiz me on what most of these terms mean, but at least I still remember the buzz words!

Innovation and entrepreneurship are pivotal to economic success. These whiskey soapstone rocks will solve the problem of having drinks on the rocks diluted from the ice melting (what, ice melts?). Many of today’s mixologists claim that they freeze their ice or cut the ice in a way that it doesn’t melt…as fast. Guess what, ice melts, ruining drinks. That has been one of my biggest pet peeves with cocktails for a long time and is why my family got me these actually for Christmas last year. It’s a brilliant, innovative idea, that solves a distinct problem. Now, mai tais can remain cold and you still taste the pineapple-rum concoction. Whenever I go to bars and restaurants now, I almost always ask which drinks are served up and which on the rocks. Unless there’s a compelling case for a cocktail on the rocks, which I must down within ten minutes to avoid it tasting like water and juice, I always have cocktails served up. Problem solved now with these rocks that don’t melt. As to the whiskey straight on the rocks. Easy solution, just don’t have it served with these kinds of rocks that don’t melt. There are always plenty of rocks that do melt. Just don’t put them in my cocktail.

With Passover continuing this week, here’s an excellent economic dilemma: the matzo industry.

This is certainly a question my Economics AP would’ve presented to us. Here’s an industry that essentially is relevant for one week a year. Yet it is extraordinarily vital for that week. Then there are the barriers to entry: the kosher laws, the major company that almost owns the industry. Here we see more innovation with the little guys presenting variations on matzo, from sesame seeds to vegan. The greatest matzo recipe I’ve ever enjoyed is the addictive chocolate matzo one of my college friends makes each Passover. It could be a pastry at Pierre Hermé. Somehow I need to convince her for the recipe.

For our economics lesson, we need some economic theory on cooking and dining out from an economist and passionate foodie. We can talk all day about whether or not his theories are true. He’s wrong in that what is simple on a menu is best. Ever had a good salmon with lemon butter? He’s right in that immigration has absolutely helped the tastes of this country and walk into an Ethiopian restaurant filled with Ethiopians, and chances are it will be very authentic and satisfying.

Then the other side of economics: labor, where labor means jobs. Then there is the labor of just getting a job. And the labor of getting a job doing what you want to do, which for many including yours truly, is food writing. I also have always wanted to be a news or sports broadcaster. All through school everyone encourages you to connect with this person and practice like this. Then in college when it’s almost time to seek post-graduate jobs, the main advice you receive is: don’t go into broadcasting. Very enlightening.

The same goes for food writing. I’ve been told to write this, contact this newspaper or this chef. I applied and interviewed with Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York. I wrote reviews for the college newspaper. I interned at the SF Weekly for the food section, and even wrote a 56 page thesis in French on the decline of formality in restaurants. Of course then upon graduating…the advice is like with broadcasting…you don’t want to go into this industry.

Former New York Times writer and Food52 editor Amanda Hesser yesterday wrote an excellent and helpful, though very discouraging article about her advice for aspiring food writers. Ultimately, the advice is don’t go into this industry, BUT if you want to, then understand the challenges you’ll face. With blogs, anybody can write, and those with the right voice, the right skills and the right passion can become the next Craig Claiborne. The food writing industry, like broadcasting, isn’t dying. It’s just vanishing from one medium and shifting to another. John T. Edge of The New York Times told me some excellent wisdom last summer that lots of food writers write about the same things: I ate here, I cooked this…the key is to find your niche and dig into that niche. Anybody who reads John’s articles knows how he has his niche and is brilliant telling stories within the niche of the creative small business purveyors and chefs of this country. Hopefully our platform here can continue finding its niche delivering and discovering insight into what defines our global food community and the many food and drink cultures, businesses, and traditions that we can learn from to make each meal a memorable one. Then in ten years…we may replace Pete Wells at The New York Times. I think the key piece of advice for everyone, food writer or not, is to never give up on your dreams.

That’s it for this economic Wednesday, see you Thursday!

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