Monday, July 31, 2017

More on Health Insurance Policy

Last month I suggested checking out Avik Roy, a right-wing health insurance wonk who, unlike many on the right, genuinely wants poor people to be well-covered. I was intrigued to see that he was happy with at least one version of the Republicans' recent proposals.

Again, I don't understand this stuff. But I refuse to rotely mimic the certainties and piques of my chosen pundits and tribal leaders. I don't want to become a health policy expert, but I'll gladly spend an hour listening to a sincere, non-shmucky, well-informed voice on the right explain a different approach from the ACA.

(I've been on ACA for a few years, and 1. it's far less flexible than private insurance, but 2. a fine last resort for those who can't afford private. It's an apt safety net but a poor catch-all)

So check out this very interesting debate between sincere right-wing wonk Roy and sincere left-wing wonk Ezra Klein. You won't come out of it expert (and it's ok to glaze over a bit when the discussion gets extra wonky...things get much easier to follow toward the ned), but it sheds considerable light on the whole matter. Very highly recommended.

Short version: Roy is naive (and way left of current Republicanism), while Klein has inflexible standards (though big programs like this always require iteration and tweaking). Roy loved the bill not as finished perfection, but as the best possible first step in the right direction, while Klein, paradoxically, mistrusts the system to deliver perfection...which is weirdly topsy-turvy.

Roy also explains why the common retort "But non-partisan CBO says....." shouldn't be the last word on these matters - even though busy, ignorant people like you and I just love a simple argument-closer.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

An Open Letter to Blue Apron

Dear Blue Apron,

I'm a veteran food writer and restaurant critic. My expertise is on the eating end rather than on the cooking end, which probably puts me in synch with many your customers - people who know food, love food, but are more excited about consumption than preparation.

I have two main reasons for using Blue Apron (every once in a while, anyway; most months I cancel most or all deliveries; sorry...I know that makes me your least favorite type of customer):

1. My cooking gets into ruts, and I like to be pushed into using different ingredients and preparations. There's nothing mysterious about a cucumber and radish salad, but it's not something I'd normally imagine making. After preparing it once, it feels like a part of my repertoire (not just an academic possibility).

2. I buy more or less the same versatile groceries each week, and improvise meals by mixing and matching ingredients in clever ways. Not being a cooking hobbyist, I'm uninterested in shopping for specific recipes. Nor do I have room to fill my pantry and fridge with leftover ingredients I'll rarely use. Blue Apron sends just what I need, so there's no shopping or pantry clutter.

I'm not all that indignant about paying $60 for a box containing $25 worth of ingredients. Since I do it seldom, and for the reasons above, and it works out to only $10 per individual meal, the price point isn't killing me.

Here are my complaints:

Drabbly Corporate Recipes
I understand your recipes are developed under many restraints. It's a tough job. But I'd suggest that you pay whatever it costs to get one really talented non-corporate chef in that loop. My taste buds tell me your team is composed of chefs with a corporate background (degrees from culinary school, experience in some "name" hotel or chain whose branding impressed your non-foodie headhunters, etc.). Such chefs are not primarily deliciousness-oriented. They're about getting stuff done to spec. But you need deliciousness, too!

The recipes are usually at least competent....though not always. Your Saffron And Tomato Bucatini directed us to add full-thread saffron by tossing it in to the sauced pasta and stirring for 2-3 minutes, just before serving. That's not how saffron works. It must dissolve and infuse over time. If the injection needs to be quick, at very least you must grind the threads. This is a dumbfounding error and a waste of good saffron. Highly corporate chefs don't have much experience with this spice. You need someone in the loop who can spot and stave off such problems.

I'm not denying that you need "get it done" dweeby corporate chefs in there developing things to spec. But you need a quality assurance stopgap - someone with deep knowledge and passion tweaking and improving. As-is, the recipes are 100% dweeby.

I understand you're not looking to tart things up with esoteric, indulgent arty touches or impractical complexities. But a non-corporate, non efficiency-oriented food expert could catch gaffes and generally polish things.

And you do need the polish. Your stuff usually more or less "works", and I realize that, alone, is tough under the constrained circumstances. But it's not quite enough.

The Tyranny of Timid Palates
A slight majority of your users probably has timid palettes, but a sizable minority does not. I just made your Caribbean chicken curry, and it flat-lined absolute zero, insipid as an airline meal. Similarly, you consistently under-portion the garlic. Your users complain about these things bitterly (do you read the comments under your recipes? You should!). Offer heat, but make it optional. Offer extra (i.e. correct) garlic, and make it optional.

Really, I'd go the other way, and let the timid opt out by decreasing quantities. I'm sure you've done market research, but understand while some customers inevitably scream/yell about excess spice, those turned off by blandness will drift away more quietly. Extreme reluctance to offend is a race to the bottom, so you need to consider which segment will be more valuable and loyal in the long term.

Natural filtration (i.e. not trying to please every last person) is a viable biz plan. HBO has a healthy subscription base despite its profanity and nudity. The network TV model - offend no one, ensuring you'll delight no one - is awfully stale in this era, no?

Layered Seasoning
Many of your customers mock your recipes for calling for salting/peppering to taste after every single step. It's true that good chefs "layer" their seasoning, to ensure a professional and consistent result. But for those unaccustomed to such layering, it's difficult to avoid under or over-seasoning. Either forego the layering approach, or else stipulate quantities (those who like things more/less salty or peppery can easily add/subtract).

It's 2017. People are eating healthy. I don't believe I've ever seen a full vegetable serving from you - not even in your veg meals. Cucumber salad is not a fully nutritious vegetable portion, nor is an ear of corn, nor the tomatoes in that bucatini. We need green leafy things, cabbagey things (e.g. brussel's sprouts) carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. If I need to cook that stuff on my own, you're not providing a full meal.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Problem With My Cooking

I've been working hard on my cooking ever since I left Chowhound. I'm at the point now where friends find excuses to be nearby at mealtimes. But a lackluster effort at shrimp scampi linguini has left me pondering some serious deficiencies.

I have two strengths:

I'm good at dreaming up combinations of ingredients to create harmonious flavors and textures.

The most underrated faculty for any creative pursuit is taste. I don't care how smart, clever, experienced, and skillful you are; if you don't know what "good" is, you'll rarely produce it.

I'm meticulous.

If a musician tries to play in tune, he'll, inevitably, sometimes play out of tune. But if you try to play really in tune, you'll play reasonably in tune even at your worst. This is a critical life lesson! My toast, for example, is never more or less than a half second from optimal brownness. I stand there and watch, in a state of poised alertness. I would never imagine glancing at my iPhone while cooking.

But I'm absolute crap at seasoning.

I get away with it, because my normal cooking doesn't require seasoning precision. Salt's not an issue, because I use almost none. And I can't go wrong with chili, because I'm happy with the full range, from bland to fiery. In fact, I prefer variation!

I can create a vague wash of garlickiness, but, getting back to that shrimp scampi linguini, the garlic needed to be nutty but not pungent, and should have dovetailed gracefully with the lemon - just enough to cut through the oiliness without smelling like air freshener. The salting needed to be assertive (this dish wouldn't have worked salt-free, of course), but not obvious. And I've never completely understood black pepper (if you consciously notice it, you've probably over-applied it).

When it comes to seasoning, I can barely hit the target, much less a bullseye. I've gotten away with this because my ad-hoc, improvisational cooking approach thrives on entropy. My go-to seasonings - chili, onion, scallions, coriander, cumin, and vague/sloppy garlic - taste good at any level. So I've grown lazy and stunted.

I suppose I need to develop a "feel", because there are too many variables (e.g. variety and freshness of garlic, fineness of mince, quantity of pasta, etc) to rely on strict calculation. But it disturbs me to realize how far away I am from having that feel. I've avoided it by developing an entire cooking style that lets me duck out of the issue!

It runs in the family. I once wrote:
My father, a wonderful sculptor, always wanted to try painting, but he knew he had no facility with color. Finally, he came up with a dazzlingly creative solution: he'd paint only with primary colors. Brilliant! And the results were distinctive and appealing...".

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Note on the Whole Trumputin Thing

A vast amount is known on the classified side. That's why Trump's worked so hard so early to discredit his own intelligence community. They have him red-handed, and he knows it, so he's tried to turn his base against them. Alas, they operate at a disadvantage, unable to make public their mountains of incriminating evidence, while he's free to blab and blab about them.

The press lacks access to that motherlode, but they know way more than they're reporting. The bottleneck is their journalistic standards of confirmation. Trump knows this, too, and it's part of what's fueling his war with them. (The zeitgeist of greatness in our time - ala food in the 90's - is investigative reporting. We're in a golden age of journalism, with the press fully rising to the challenge. I've happily bought digital subscriptions to NYT, WaPo, and several others.)

So there's all the pipeline, and many people know about it (and some finds its way into certain Twitter feeds) but you won't hear about it in the press because it's not double-confirmed.

But there is one sure takeaway: this is an immense scandal. It's not some minor break-in at a Washington hotel. Robert Mueller has a staff of a couple dozen at this point - all superstar investigators and/or prosecutors in their own rights. It's clearly not about any one meeting with the Russians.

So I'd urge you not to waste time with minutiae about this one stupid meeting with Trump's kid. It's nothing in the scheme of things. Either wait for Mueller's report (give it a year), or else dive into the Twitter feeds I follow (here's my list, or, if pressed for time, just follow my "likes") for the raw, unchecked stuff, which often seems to prove right. I'm not talking about Louise Mensch, who's pure chaos. I mean people like Rick Wilson, John Schindler, and Benjamin Wittes, who've been a month or three ahead of things since the election. Particularly don't miss Wilson's great Periscope video chats, announced via his Twitter feed, which have been the saving grace of this entire shitshow.

In the end, it won't matter who the eighth person was at this meeting, or whether Trump was advised about it, or whether there was follow-up. This is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. There's so much more.

I find myself getting lulled into speculative details and pundit outrage re: the story du jour, but while it's crucial that the press (and Mueller) are dissecting it all, we needn't pay attention on that level. I haven't seen many Trump/Russia stories worth reading beyond the headline. Beyond the golden nugget, they're mostly padding - recap and background. Just watch the headlines, and know that it will all come out in the end. This is like a long road trip at 5 mph. We don't need to plant our attention on every passing weed and tin can.

In the meantime, don't expect Trump to go anywhere any time soon. It is not in our national interest for presidents to be easily removed - and eagerness to ravage institutional processes to achieve one's political aims is precisely the sort of thing Trump does...and we should be better). The smart money says resignation is most likely. At some point Trump will really stop enjoying this, and he'll find a medical excuse.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Thomas Chapin

Great to see my old friend and colleague, dearly-departed saxophonist Thomas Chapin, getting some recognition. A film about him, which I haven't seen yet, is starting to gain some traction, which is heartening. When good people die too young (Thomas was just 40), it's their friends' responsibility to keep memory alive. Hence this posting.

Thomas and I played together in a zillion different bands in zillions of places, having spent the 90's happily embedded in a scene of comically flexible musicians whose typical work week might include a gypsy wake, an experimental puppet show, a lesbian drum circle, a chamber music gig, a Haitian dance party, and a big band performance.

Thomas and I took things one level further than most of the others. We were two of the only players at the time who spent as much time playing crazy avant-garde gigs at, say, The Knitting Factory, as we did playing more straight-ahead jazz in conventional jazz clubs and festivals. Those two circles scarcely intersected, as the avant-garde guys tended to be a bit wild and undisciplined, while the straight-ahead guys tended to be technical and narrow-minded.

Haiti to Mozart to puppets to lesbian drummers seemed reasonable, but the chasm between 1958-style African-American music and 1975-style African-American music was vast. I was a completely different musician on each side of that border, working with totally different pools of colleagues and unique musical challenges. The only common denominator, in fact, was Thomas!

These days, most good musicians can play anything. But back then, while a number players sort of dabbled at the two styles, very few approached both with serious commitment.

So while it wasn't uncommon to find ourselves screaming our heads off in our funky threads at some psychedelic brass band tribute to Jimi Hendrix, it would feel briefly strange when Thomas and I encountered each other in suit and tie (crazy haircuts well-concealed) playing gigs at the Apollo Theater or the Blue Note. Then we'd both remember that, oh yeah; of course, he does this, too! We were like two spies under deep cover bumping into each other out in the field.

Here's the link for the film again, if you want to buy the DVD, or donate (these guys have really been slogging to get the project done).

My work with Chowhound (and, even more so, with my new app, Eat Everywhere) obviously channeled the same credo of nimble-but-heartfelt culture surfing (promiscuity, if you will). In fact, Thomas enjoyed a great cross-cultural bite as much as I did. The chowhounding scene and the postmodern music scene are like identical cousins.

More on that here.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Historian Consensus Circa 2117

Nixon: Should have burned the tapes.

Carter: Weak; paralyzed by minutiae.

George W Bush: Late to disengage from Cheney's enthrallment.

Obama: Deliberateness is noble; equivocation is not.

Trump: Campaigned to enhance brand and ego, never intended to win. Victory ensured punishment for lifelong criminality that otherwise would never have come to light.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Buying Tesla Stock

As I've previously reported, I've made a decent living trading Apple for years now. Its stock plunges always coincide with a sudden hailstorm of half-baked crappy little rumors and concerns, few significant and none existential. Eventually, the price settles at a low plateau, I buy, and, just as suddenly, celebration bells ring, everyone notices anew that Apple's still printing money, and the stock boisterously pops up to a new high. I make my 30% return (sometimes after waiting a year or more, but, great, that means low taxes on the long term gain). Rinse and repeat.

The process seems highly orchestrated, given that Apple itself never really flinches, despite the periodic hysterical freak-outs. Yet the shenanigans work every time, showing that people are remarkably oblivious to manipulation. It's not even subtle. The freak-out occurs at some random moment, when a few analysts and a phalanx of dodgy bloggers you've never heard of suddenly get super pessimistic about Apple. Journalists, who love nothing more than drama, jump on, and, without fail, the masses compliantly shift their sentiment and down goes the stock. Someone's hacked our trend-following faculties.

I see the same thing happening right now with Tesla, which is down 16% this week, 20% off its recent high. All of a sudden, a few people you've heard of - and tons of people you haven't - are super pessimistic. The stock price tumbles, and, voila: self-fulfilling prophecy. As with Apple, the rumors seem devised to bypass frontal lobes and go straight to the fearful amygdala. They appear important until you examine them.

Advance deposits for Tesla's upcoming Model 3 may be slipping.
Accent on "may be", as there's no way to actually know. Listen, the phenomenon of many people tying up a grand of their savings years in advance for a car they've never seen (much less test driven) was a display of breathtaking enthusiasm. A decrease in the number of such people doesn't spell doom for the model, it means customers are merely "thrilled and excited"....and only if this rumor is even true. And we don't know if it is. I myself am curious as hell about the Model 3, but I sure haven't laid out a whopping deposit!

Tesla's luxury models are selling merely adequately
Given that the much cheaper Model 3 is getting closer and closer, and zillions of other carmakers are moving into electric, the fact that the luxury models - which are very expensive - continue to sell ok is good news, not bad. Nobody in their right mind - including Elon Musk - imagined the luxury models would be increasing in sales at this point. Yet their failure to exceed projected sales is what precipitated this sell-off. Whuh?

Zillions of other carmakers are moving into electric
Yup. And if you think they'll produce anything close to Tesla's standards, at similar price and scale, with consistent and reliable results, right off the bat, you're nuts. Tesla isn't a scrappy little start-up about to see how the big boys do. Battery tech is hard, and they've been at it for a long while in a smart and well-funded way. Same for the advanced interface stuff (necessary in any modern car, but especially electric and increasingly autonomous vehicles).

Furthermore, Teslas have off-the-charts fahrvergn├╝gen (driving pleasure) and coolness factor, and that's why car people go crazy for them. Volvo (which is going all electric), for example, will not challenge either. EV engine aside, Tesla's fun/coolness has been shaming all other carmakers, and those guys won't suddenly develop the secret sauce - and certainly not while also managing a tech transition Tesla's already completed.

If the competition's first (or even second) generation EVs manage to crush Tesla's established price, range, and quality, Tesla will indeed lose. If any of those parameters fall short (and they will), Tesla will remain the one to beat for a while. The millions of Tesla enthusiasts (many of whom, like me, can't afford a luxury Tesla, but drool over Model 3) will not lose their ardor if a Honda or a Volvo merely comes close. And even coming close will be tough...for now.

Tesla's still struggling to produce batteries en masse
This one is the ribbon of actual truth laced into the bullshit. But it's also a given. Battery production is hard, and Tesla's always struggled with scale and blown deadlines. Lofty as Tesla's stock price has been, production scale issues are priced in. No news here.

And, again, Musk's firm is not some scrappy little startup. If they can't get batteries made en masse on schedule, then I doubt anyone else can - at least not as cheaply, nor with as long a range ("range anxiety" is the all-important factor in all this). Tesla's been at this a long while, with great minds and resources, so I'm figuring some company won't blithely crash through this least not in the short term. And in the long term I expect Tesla, with their head start, to remain ahead of the pack for a while.

So: I'll wait for a plateau, and then buy some. But with a caveat.

The difference between Tesla and Apple is that Apple isn't going anywhere. With its obscene cash horde of $260 billion, it can weather utter catastrophe - several, in fact - and still be able to to easily swallow up, say, Starbucks and Boeing (yes, both!). No matter what, Apple won't, like, disappear, taking your investment with it. A giant metaphorical spring undergirds all its stock movement. The most successful company in history is not imperiled (heck, isn't even affected) by passing trends of manipulation and skittishness.

Tesla's a whole other game. There's no giant spring. But the current drama carries a familiar stench of manipulation. The entities hoping to crater this stock certainly intend to profit on the stock's recovery. So I'll just quietly, calmly ride along.

Finally, wherever I buy, the price will almost certainly sink lower - perhaps much lower ("buy low/sell high" should never be confused with "buy bottom/sell top", an impossible aim). And it may take quite a while before it recovers. And without the giant spring, that might be stressful. I'm patient, and appreciate the low tax rate of long term capital gains. But if I were someone who got anxious about on-paper losses, this would probably not be a good strategy for me.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"World Peace"

A few years ago, I met a fellow whose thing was "World Peace". He announced this, and stood there, breathing and blinking. You peace! The whole thing irritated the living daylights out of me, but I couldn't find a convincing way to explain why.

I haven't seen the guy in years, but I've continued to think about this. And, finally, I have the answer. The next person who tells me they're devoted to World Peace, I'm going to walk right up to them - invading their space - raise my voice, and exclaim "World peace, huh?" I'll start jabbing him in the collar bone with my index finger, contemptuously asking "What does that mean, anyway, 'world peace'"?

More jabbing.

"Tell me about world peace!"

I'll start poking him in the forehead, at which point, he'll take a swing at me, or at least break into an open rage. And I'll take a step back, calmly grin, and say "Voila: world peace!" holding up my puny, pink little index finger for consideration.

If I get my jaw broken, so be it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words fucking kill me.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Critical Dream Knowledge

I learned the following in a dream last night (it seemed so urgent that I used extreme force of will to remember it after awakening):

Mezzo sopranos will have a stillborn baby every sixth pregnancy.

Also: there are six scientific "flavors" of woman, four of which are "French," "Scotch-Irish," "Mezzo-Soprano," and "Puerto Rican". I could not learn the other two flavors - and it was driving me crazy all night trying to imagine how just two more could possibly categorize all the rest. But I finally decided it was like quarks, whose "flavors" are categorized with capricious adjectives ("up", "down", "strange", "charm", "top", and "bottom").

If so, "French," "Scotch-Irish," "Mezzo-Soprano," and "Puerto Rican" women may not literally be those things. A Sri Lankan might be, scientifically, "Puerto Rican" or "Mezzo Soprano."


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chowhound: 20th Anniversary

CBS told me they were planning a 20th Anniversary "celebration" of Chowhound, and asked me to reply to a list of very open-ended questions. They also promised to plug my app, Eat Everywhere. The result was this rather sad little throwaway (turn your volume off before clicking...the auto-play video ad is quite loud).

Anyhoo, as a treat for Slog readers, here's my full set of answers, which I hope offers a thoughtful and fitting look back at something launched on a whim as an ad-hoc little side project ("a three hour tour....").

How did you come up with the idea of creating Chowhound?
I'd attracted a following as a restaurant critic, and felt under increasing pressure to act like an “expert.” Ick. I was never comfortable with the notion that my taste buds are more significant than anyone else’s.

I knew loads of people who knew as much as I did about food, and who had great taste. I do have a special knack for treasure hunting, and for writing evocatively, and I was glad more and more people were enjoying my reports in various publications. But the “expert” thing felt creepy and dishonest (I wrote more about this here).

After gradually working my way up the NYC restaurant critic ladder, I got a call from The NY Daily News, which, at the time, was the highest-circulation paper in America. They were looking for someone to take over their restaurant review column. After a series of meetings and interviews, I was finally called into the editor’s office and told I had the job. I asked about pay, and was told that for two pieces per week, plus an occasional longer feature, I'd get $250/week. In a state of shock, I managed to croak out a question about food expenses, and they said I could take care of that out of my $250/week.

The scales instantly fell from my eyes. I understood the game was strictly about vanity (which explained a lot of the lazy food writing at the time). I liked eating well and writing well, period. I wanted to evangelize treasure and tempt folks to stop settling for mediocrity, but felt no urge to puff myself up. The solution came to me immediately.

A network of avid eaters would be way more useful than any one gilded palate, so I'd gather kindred spirits online in an atmosphere filled with zest and personality - as opposed to dry user-rating services like Zagat. And I'd make it flatly horizontal, not hierarchical. I'd been moderating online forums for years as a hobby, so the whole thing came pretty naturally.

I suppose I was the Gorbachev of restaurant critics, working tirelessly to ensure my own obsolescence.
What are your top 3 favorite threads in Chowhound?
Ha. I never looked at it that way. Let me try to explain...

Many users are naturally drawn to the prolific, confident writers - the food critic wannabes. Some of these posters are/were terrific, and many of us, including me, learned a great deal from them. They were always very welcome!

But the stuff I most appreciated was posted by random posters who'd occasionally drop an awesome tip into the mix. They weren't looking for cred. Some had trouble crafting a coherent sentence. But they'd quietly, modestly make it understood that they knew their stuff - had tried every tamal in Queens - and were sharing hard-won solid gold. The poster named "Fedex Guy", for example, was actually my Fedex guy! His tips were always on the money, even if his spelling was a little dodgy. He'd been chowhounding on his delivery route for years.

I often felt like I was the only one paying attention to some of these people. And they were the ones that came to mind whenever I questioned my commitment to keep the lights on.

I'll say one thing, though. I've spent the past two years building an ambitious cuisine app, and whenever I Googled some super-obscure culinary question, I'd inevitably stumble upon some amazing Chowhound thread offering the definite word on the topic. I didn't always have time to read much of the site back in the day, but I'm constantly discovering, even now, how phenomenally useful this data trove is. Years later, there's still nothing like it.
What are your most fond experiences with the community?
I loved seeing great places - which otherwise would have been ignored - thrive and prosper thanks to chowhound support and evangelization.

Everyone assumes that cream floats - that great stuff eventually gets discovered and praised. But that's not true at all! Treasure withers from disinterest all the time. It kills me when greatness fails. It's such a dangerous precedent.

I'm proud that our community has elevated so much treasure. We've done an awful lot to encourage the good guys, and to help make quality profitable.
How many Chowdowns have you organized and how many have you participated in?
None! I was too busy running this beast to gallavant with the crowd! Also, I needed to maintain food critic anonymity. The community arranged and enjoyed them on their own.

Hey, the cook back in the kitchen rarely enjoys the front-of-the-house conviviality. But the chowdowns sure sounded like fun!
Who designed the original logo? Was it based on a dog you own?
Cecilia Lehar designed it. We went through a ton of drafts, trying to ensure the dog didn't look scary, or sloppy. He needed a happy, eagerly-loopy, bon vivant flair, which was hard to achieve. Can you see the cocktail glass in his nose? :)
Could you explain the mystery behind the dog mask?
As a restaurant critic, I needed to retain anonymity. This made it difficult to appear on TV. I was on a program featuring a roundtable discussion with two other critics (one of whom was Ruth Reichl), and the producers offered to provide a disguise. They handed me an awesome dog mask, and let me keep it. I wore it to all public events (e.g. this book signing). About a week after I left the operation, I found it in a box that had been resting on a radiator. It had melted into a pile of gloop.
Have you ever imagined that Chowhound would be around for this long?
Absolutely not. My business partner Bob(TM) and I had planned on five years, tops. It was a fun kooky project, never intended to blow up so large or to last so long. Whenever I hear site users complain about this or that issue, I often have trouble getting my dander up. To me, the fact that Chowhound even still exists is a miracle. How many web sites from 1997 are still out there, serving their original mission?
In your words, what defines a Chowhound?
In the old days, we made all new arrivals to the site read through a text-filled front page, explaining all that. It was designed to filter out the trendies!

*Everyone has one in his or her life: the brother-in-law with a collection of 800 takeout menus, the coworker who's always late from lunch because she HAD to trek to one end of town for the best soup and to the other for the best sandwich. Chowhounds know where the good stuff is, and they never settle for less than optimal deliciousness, whether dining in splanky splendor or grabbing a quick slice of pizza. They are the one in ten who live to eat.*

*We're not talking about foodies. Foodies eat where they're told; they eagerly follow trends and rarely go where Zagat hasn't gone before. Chowhounds, on the other hand, blaze trails, combing gleefully through neighborhoods for hidden culinary treasure. They despise hype, and while they appreciate refined ambiance and service, they can't be fooled by mere flash.*

*No media outlets serve chowhounds. There are no chowhoundish newspapers, magazines or TV shows. And they've never had a place to gather and exchange information. This discerning, passionate crowd has long been completely invisible and utterly disenfranchised.......until now!*

*'s Alpha Dog, professional restaurant critic/author Jim Leff, along with Bob Okumura, launched this site to provide a non-hypey haven where their fellow hounds can opine, bicker, and rave to their hearts' content. Anyone who eats is welcome to stop by for unbiased, savvy chow advice or to just sit back and watch in amazement.*

*If you, too, fret endlessly about making every bite count; if you'd grow weak from hunger rather than willingly eat something less than delicious, this place is for you! Welcome to our community. Let's talk. Let's swap tips (click below to get to the meat & potatoes).*

Also....this article, "A Tale of Two Chowhounds", which has been republished many times, was a foundational document.
What would you like to say to the members who’ve been in Chowhound since the beginning?
Check out the cookies from these guys. They're the best I ever had. My favorite flavor is toffee, not listed on their site. Try to score a special order!
What have you been doing since you stopped running Chowhound?
I went on a long binge of exercise, yoga, and meditation. I also learned to cook healthily. Then I got my trombone technique back again (I started out as a professional musician, but hadn't played a note in years, being so busy running the site!). Then I got involved in a few kookie and rewarding projects (intentionally) off public radar. And wrote a Slog, which continues to this day.

For the past two years, I've been working - with a team of chowhounds - on a magnum opus: "Eat Everywhere", a iPhone/Android app that serves as an on-the-fly guide in restaurants of any cuisine. It's like the hitchhiker's guide to the food universe (John Thorne calls it "an impressively designed and wickedly ingenious app. Endlessly useful, surprisingly entertaining, and highly addictive....the distillation of a lifetime of adventurous eating").

If you're a newbie, it will make you fearless about approaching any immigrant restaurant at home (or foreign eateries while traveling), and confident about copping a fantastic meal. If you're already expert, it's the cheat sheet you've always dreamed of.

Everyone knows about samosas and pad Thai. But there are equally killer things in every cuisine. This mines all the best treasure. Really, I should have done this before starting Chowhound. You've got to know what to eat (and how to eat it) before you worry about where to eat!
How are you going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chowhound?
I'll be doing what I did for 20 years before Chowhound, and for the 20 years since: trying to maximize my deliciousness. I'll be out there searching for the geniuses, kooks, and hold-outs who aim for more than maximal profit from minimal effort. It's what I do! For a few years there, people paid some attention, but that was never a goal. I'm just a guy who really, really enjoys chowhounding!

Here's my Slog posting from Chowhound's 15th anniversary.

Here is the first installment of the epic tale of the selling of ("Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out").

Here are all Slog postings tagged "Chowhound".

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