Flash in the Pan 

The return of AAN man

Last weekend I went down the river to lovely Portland, Ore., to schmooze with editors and publishers from North America’s top alternative weekly newspapers. It was Portland’s turn to host the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ annual convention, where papers like Portland’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Willamette Week, New York City’s venerable (and flammable) Village Voice and our own Missoula Independent gather annually to talk shop, schmooze and party. I was there to push “Flash in the Pan”—which currently appears nationally in more than a dozen newspapers—into wider syndication.

I rented a booth in the convention’s trade show and adorned it with beautiful jars of pickles and other pantry goodness, as well as Flash samples and a demonstration kitchen where I planned to cook fragrant goodies like elk, garlic and morels, and then wine and dine the stampede of hungry editors who would surely beat a path to my table.

My cohorts in that labyrinth of booths included cartoonists, computer software and service people, the Associated Press, and my next-door neighbor Amy Alkon—AKA The Advice Goddess (see page 44). She too was there to shmooze her column into more papers.

At this, The Advice Goddess was a pro, dressed like a pink and orange poodle and looking every pixel the Los Angeleno that she is. Few were they who slipped past her booth unschmoozed. The buzz she generated was good for my business, too—I managed to net a few editors that she’d caught and released.

But soon enough, the student became the master. The Advice Goddess jumped on my bandwagon with a plate of very good cookies on her table. We dined on cookies and elk sausage and worked on solving a curious mystery of my love life: why so many of my ex-girlfriends went on to become lesbians.

She flew back to Los Angeles a day early to accept some award, and we didn’t quite solve my mystery, although we agreed it might have been “hotter” if I’d waited until after these women jumped the fence before dating them. Right. And speaking of hot, when I donned my apron, with its anatomically correct depiction of Michelangelo’s David, the Advice Goddess advised me that I should be on television. Where I come from, that’s Hollywood-speak for “I want to get in your pants.” Maybe that means the Advice Goddess is a lesbian in disguise, too. Like me.

One afternoon, former New Mexico prosecutor David Iglesias—a speaker at the AAN convention—stopped by my booth for a nibble. Iglesias, who reads Flash in the Pan in Albuquerque’s Weekly Alibi, was excited to try some elk, and had a wild-food story of his own to tell: eating wild iguana in Panama. He is a cool dude.

I attended a panel discussion on the ups and downs of restaurant reviews, and alternative ways to cover food. The panel included Jonathan Gold of the LA Weekly, a terrific writer who recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his restaurant reviews. His winning the Pulitzer was huge for food writing, and big news for alt-newsweeklies, too. But I have to say, the panel was kind of lame, and Gold kind of killed my appetite.

He looked like Jabba the Hut with gas, and he sat there scowling like the Queen of Hearts. Only rarely did he smile, as when reminiscing about the restaurants he’s put out of business with negative reviews, or how far he can entice his readers to drive to eat.

The panel addressed issues like loss of advertising revenue when restaurants pull their ads because of negative reviews, or the ways that blogs could inform and help generate additional food coverage. Panelists also discussed the possibility of focusing editorial coverage only on restaurants of which the reviewers thought positively.

None of this conversation struck me as particularly alternative, because it’s still the same old sitting down, getting served and rating the experience.

But maybe I’m biased, having written more than 250 columns about getting off your ass and taking an active role in your caloric intake, growing a garden and meeting farmers and putting it away for the winter.

I stood up and said something along these lines—also mentioning the elk, morels, trout and pickled asparagus that awaited them at my booth in the schmooze-pit. The panelists showed little interest in my perspective, and I was cut off with a “Thanks, Ari.”

After that, I took a much-needed break from the convention to hang with my good buddy and writing mentor, the novelist Tom Spanbauer—a master craftsmen of words, highly sought for literary feedback by the likes of Missoula’s own David James Duncan.

Tom and I sat in his kitchen eating elk sausage and reminiscing about our adventures back in the day when I lived in Portland and he was my teacher. It seemed like a dream, those parties full of singing and feather boas and cigars. That afternoon, Tom’s kitchen was a satisfyingly still point in my turning world of cut-throat schmoozing.

I hugged him goodbye, donned my apron and name tag, and went back downtown to fatten-up some more marks for the slaughter.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: Kitchen help wanted

Dear Chef Boy Ari,

It’s Noi and Im! We cooked you a Thai dinner at the Frenchman’s house last month. We hope you enjoyed the meal, and we’re happy to say that we are planning to sell our fresh spring rolls at the Clark Fork Farmers’ Market. The only problem is we need a commercial kitchen to prepare our food, and we haven’t been able to find one.

Do you know of anyone who has a commercial kitchen that we can rent (or use for free)?

—Noi and Im, Namjai Thai Catering

Dear everyone,

I’m printing this letter in hope that someone out there might know of a kitchen for these ladies. I was super-impressed with their food, and I think they could provide a much-needed raising-of-the-bar in the local Thai-food scene. These ladies are way beyond Pad Thai.

Dear Chef Boy Ari,

What are your top restaurants in Missoula (or the surrounding areas) that offer vegan entrees?

—Vegan Curious

Dear Vegan Curious,

The only purely vegetarian restaurant that I can think of is Tipu’s Tiger, and they have some vegan dishes—and an amazing chocolate tofu dessert. Also, the Good Food Store has some good deli and sandwich options, as well as salads, soups, etc. The Catalyst has some good soup/salad/bread combos, too. And Missoula’s two sushi restaurants, Nara and Sushi Hana both have some really good vegetarian rolls that are vegan.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Noi and Im’s fresh spring rolls are vegan. If they ever find themselves a commercial kitchen, then we’ll find out!
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