The Revolution Was Televised

Editor Note: This post was written by, Mark Scarbrough, one of my favorite food writers of all time. He is the writing half of the Mark Scarbrough-Bruce Weinstein cookbook powerhouse. Bruce creates the recipes. Together, they have published 24 cookbooks; a feat that must be close to a record in the U.S. For their 2011 James Beard award nominated work, Ham. An Obsession with the Hindquarter, they bought and raised a pig to find out what it really means to be locavores. Their newest book, The Great American Slow Cooker Book, is due out in January 2014. I know it’ll be perfect, just like the kind of friend these men are to others, including me.

Our weather vane. In honor of Ham. An Obsession with the Hindquarter. Source: Mark Scarbrough.

Our weather vane. In honor of Ham. An Obsession with the Hindquarter. Source: Mark Scarbrough.

1987. I was in grad school. I’d just started cooking for myself. I didn’t have a lot of time (or money) but I’d heard about this new way to make fish: not fried, but sautéed. I’d grown up on processed this and boxed that. If cream of mushroom soup couldn’t fix it, we didn’t eat it. This recipe was a new start.

I went to the supermarket. “Do you have olive oil?” I asked the clerk. He was in a Duran Duran T-shirt. He led me to the aisle with the band-aids and pointed to a bottle called “sweet oil.”

“Yep,” he said. “Great for fungus. Finger- or toenail?”

I called in pizza that night.

But things were changing. I knew about olive oil. More to the point, Julia Child had once been a PBS curiosity; now she was an institution. There was Jeff Smith and Justin Wilson. We were on the near edge of something vast.

A decade later, Bruce and I are in a cab in Manhattan, headed to the studios of this new thing called “TV Food Network.” It was in ramshackle offices, desks shoved near stoves, wires everywhere. It looked like a cross between a kitchen and a clearance sale.

But the stage lights were there. And the make-up people. And the glitz. Also called “the twentieth-century food revolution.”

It’s an industry now. People cue up to see their favorite chef celebs. Olive oil has to be extra-virgin; condiments, artisanal. Food has become lofty, art-directed, and color-enhanced. Julia’s dream wilts under the lights. No wonder people still don’t cook much. Let’s just call in pizza.

A few months ago, Bruce and I were hosting a dinner party. One editor was at the table. Sometime among the courses, she looked over and asked what book we wanted to write next. I stammered something idiotic. Several glasses of wine are not good for business. She sensed my hesitation and motioned to the room as a whole, the people in it, the food, the candles, “This is a book,” she said. When I looked puzzled, she went on: “This. What you and Bruce do. This is a book. Not food on the table but feeding people. Someone needs to write a book about that.”

Bruce and I don’t live in a reconverted farmhouse. Our home was built in 1996. We live in the depths of the New England woods, but we don’t have barn doors as a table or shoe trees as placecard holders. Instead, we give dinner parties about twice a month because we want to find a way, not to feed our friends well, but to help them be well.

table 2

A table for friends, winter in the dining room. Source: Mark Scarbrough.

The food we serve nourishes the body—and then disappears into the evening, gone but not forgotten in the laughter, the joy, the friendships. We buy local but don’t make a big deal about it. We spend hours making a dish but don’t discuss the technique. The point is the people at the table, not the food. We want to cheat the sorrow out of life one more time. It is better to be well than well fed. Let the real food revolution begin.

About the Author

Mark Scarbrough is half of one of the most prolific food-writing teams in the United States. He and his partner, Bruce Weinstein, have published twenty-four books, written countless articles, and hosted many, many dinner parties. They blog at and find their peace in rural New England with an irascible collie named Dreydl.