Northside SF  

Eating their words: From Julia, Sophia and Alice B. to Luciano, Woody and Hemingway
By Ernest Beyl

If you have been reading my occasional scribblings here in Northside San Francisco, you’re aware that I not only like to eat, but I also like to read about eating. I’m assuming you do too. Of course, reading about eating is no substitute for the real thing, but as a sport and a pastime, it rates right up there with reading about sex. And that brings up a good quote I read recently by food and restaurant critic Gael Greene: “Great food is like sex – the more you have, the more you want.”   
And by extension, I suppose, the more you read about eating, the more your stomach growls.
With that in mind, I want to share some of my favorite quotes about eating. You will undoubtedly have some good ones too, and I’d like to hear about them.

“Grilling, broiling, barbecuing – whatever you want to call it – is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”
                – James Beard
                American food icon

“Actually, a little grease helps the flavor. … I’m constantly running into people who cook beans in with the meat in making chili con carne. These people flunked chemistry.”
               – Frank Xavier Tolbert
               World Championship Chili Cookoff mastermind, author of the definitive book A Bowl of Red
“Chili Cookoff represents your three stages of matter: solid, liquid and eventually, gas.”
               – Roseanne Barr
               Droll TV actress and comedian

Chinese food
“Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites, and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back 3,000 years, haven’t yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?”
               – Bill Bryson

“Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to the heavens, is edible.”
               – Eileen Yin Fei Lo
               Food writer
               (quoting a Cantonese saying)

“Never eat Chinese food in Oklahoma.”
               – Bryan Miller
               Restaurant critic

“Central heating, French rubber goods, and cookbooks are three amazing proofs of man’s ingenuity in transforming necessity into art, and, of these, cookbooks are more lastingly delightful.”
               – M. F. K. Fisher
               Food prose stylist

“I think every young cook wants to write a book.”
               – Thomas Keller
               French Laundry boss-chef

“You’re obviously no cook, so I don’t know if I can trust you with the recipe, not even if a seduction depends on it.”
               – Richard Gehman
               Hedonist writer
               (when asked for his cassoulet recipe)

Corned beef and cabbage
“Some sharpie got a hold of some bad beef and sold it to the Irish. It smells like prison food to me.”
               – Michael McCourt
               Irish bartender

Dieting and health food

“The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook.”
               – Julia Child
               Cookbook superstar

“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart that looks at her watch.”
               – James Beard

“Health food makes me sick.”
               – Calvin Trillin
               The New Yorker writer

Dining out
“My advice for getting a good table in a restaurant is … go to drama school, get the lead role in several Hollywood movies. Then phone and ask for the best table in the house.”
               – Egon Ronay
               Restaurant critic

“Schizophrenia beats dining alone.”
               – Oscar Levant
               One-time classical piano genius and talk show host

“Never sit at a table when you can stand at the bar.”
               – Ernest “Papa” Hemingway

“If you run across a restaurant where you often see priests eating with priests or sporting girls eating with sporting girls, you may be confident that it is good. Those are two classes of people who like to eat well and get their money’s worth.”
               – A. J. Liebling
               Essayist, food writer and personal favorite


“The carp was dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second and third degree. Limp. I fell into a chair, with my hands still unwashed, reached for a cigarette, lighted it, and waited for the police to come and take me into custody.”
               – Alice B. Toklas
               Buddy of Gertrude Stein

French food
“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport. … After one taste of French food, I was hooked.”
               – Julia Child

Fried chicken
“When it comes to fried chicken, let’s not beat about the bush. To know about fried chicken, you have to have been weaned and reared on it in the South. Period.”
               – James Villas
               Food writer

Gourmets and gourmands
“One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”
               – Luciano Pavarotti
               Opera singer

“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
               – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
               Famed French epicure

“In the menu there should be a climax and a culmination. Come to it gently. One will suffice.”
               – Alice B. Toklas
               Cookbook author (talking sense again)

“I’m going to have your basic cheddar cheese burger, medium well, with mustard. Do you have spicy mustard? I’ll take that with lettuce and tomato, and I’ll still take French fries.”
               – President Barack Obama
               (on his first Air Force One flight)

Hot dogs
“A hot dog at the ball park is better than a steak at the Ritz.”
               – Humphrey Bogart
               Actor and movie legend

“A hot dog is not exactly gourmet food. I get my hot dog fix at Costco. They’re terrific – a foot long, with chopped raw onion, sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard, and a squirt of catsup. All this for $1.50 including a Coke. How can you beat that?”
               – Ernest Beyl
               Hot doggist extraordinaire

Italian food
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”
               – Federico Fellini
               Movie auteur

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
               – Sophia Loren
               Italian blockbuster actress

“I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead – not sick, not wounded – dead.”
               – Woody Allen
               Nervous eater

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their fine metallic taste that cold white wine washed away leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as a I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
               Ernest Hemingway
               (in A Moveable Feast)

“An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life.”
               – M. F. K. Fisher
               Sensualist food writer

Spices and herbs

“I believe if I ever had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon.”
               – James Beard
               Food writer


“My favorite animal is steak.”
               – Fran Liebowitz
               Sardonic American writer

Wining and dining
“We talked, and well, and all the dinner was most excellent, and the wine was like music on our tongues.”
               – M. F. K. Fisher
               (recalling a long ago dinner in Dijon)

“When shall we live, if not now.”
               – Seneca
                  Roman philosopher and playwright

If it seems Ernest Beyl spends almost all of his time thinking and writing about food, you are probably correct. E-mail:


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