Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Bitten

Monday's post on Bitten reminded me how much I enjoy reading Mark Bittman's blog posts. Sadly, his blog rarely features them anymore.

Bittman has posted several times on Bitten in the last week or so, which has been refreshing. Until recently, his role seemed similar to that of a deist creator: having set the clock in motion, he then appeared to have skipped town.

Bitten remains a captivating food blog, my favorite, but it's not always the peek inside the kitchen that produced How to Cook Everything that at first it promised to be. Which is understandable - the man is very, very busy.

Bittman often serves us as much Bittman as we can digest, leaving fans like myself satiated if not full to bursting. Every week you get a column, video, five recipes and a handful of other posts, not to mention the occasional Today Show appearance, new book, or TV show featuring Gweneth Paltrow.

The man waltzes between the bowels of professional kitchens and the sun dappled country lanes of Spain as if it were nothing. He is everywhere that pertains to food.

But if his range seems vast, it's nothing compared to depth of his accessibility. Everyone likes Mark Bittman, from serious chefs to home cooks to the little darlings of the food blogosphere. If you google the phrase "I love Mark Bittman," there are 570 results. If you google "I hate Mark Bittman," there are a scant 2.

Which is why I was so thrilled when he added blogging to his repertoire. Mark Bittman, benevolent emperor of food, was now hosting skillet-side chats. But bit by bit Bitten filled up with posts by his friends, colleagues, and readers that weren't me. At first it was novel, but then I realized how little of Bittman was left in Bitten. And how much Ed Levine there was.

A word on Ed. Ed seems like a great guy, and a stellar cook, but I find his tone to be somewhat antithetical to Bittman's you-can-do-it mantra. And they're both aware of it, with Ed referring to himself as a "maximalist," the yang to Bittman's yin.

But Bitten isn't the Minimalist column, and Ed does technically fit into the mission statement listed in the about section of the blog:

"On Bitten, he chews on food and all things connected to it."

Ed's posts fall under the "food and all things connected to it" part, though I had assumed that the "he" referred to Bittman. It all makes me wonder just who's hand is grabbing that carrot.

Bittman wants us to believe that any food, even if it's just vegetables, can be prepared at home without wreaking too much ecological or nutritional havoc. In contrast, Ed enjoys tauting readers with labor intensive, cream laden foreign delicacies, name dropping expensive restaurants he's eaten at in Europe and then mentioning how he's managed to prepare their signature dishes just as well in his own kitchen.

At first glance his posts appear to have that same can-do spirit as Bittman's, but on closer inspection one notices a sort of can't-do, nanny-nanny-boo-boo tone to his writing. Bittman is not only minimalist, but populist. Ed is not only maximalist, but elitist.

And that's part of Mark Bittman's thing. He has values (i.e. no animals during the day), but he refuses to pin himself down to any one label. He's vegetarian friendly, but not vegetarian. He likes locally grown food, but still shops at a supermarket. He remains open to all things edible in the interest of having fun with food and making everyone feel included. I just like it best when it's he that's doing so.

One gets the sense that he isn't able to regularly maintain the blog while trotting the globe in search of pancakes, and so his colleagues cover for him. And a world that includes a Bitten compromised largely of guest posts is still better than a world with no Bitten at all. But no one beats Bittman at writing for Bitten.

As I've noted before, this blog is in large part a response to Bittman. He's been a huge influence and there's no two ways about it: you'll notice in the labels section at right that the frequency of Bittman posts tie with those on fermentation, and I can think of no higher compliment. So in case there's any doubt, despite my criticism, let me make it perfectly clear: I love Mark Bittman.

That should bring it to 571.

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Karen B said...

those big snails on Bitten look delicious. I love escargot--and that you can buy a can for $2 at Wegmans. so earthy and yummy.

Lee said...

I agree with this post Aaron. And frankly, I don't want to read a million blog posts, just ones that I enjoy reading.

Want to subscribe to just Mark Bittman's writing on Bitten? Grab this feed:

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