WITH ALL computer programs "go," today the Food Section launches two new semi-monthly columns, this one and Robert Parker's wine column. Why Robert Parker? Easy: Several writers suggested a profile of Parker, a Baltimore lawyer whose wine newsletter, "The Wine Advocate," is rapidly gaining national attention and respect. Well-deserved, we agreed, when we read his newsletter and asked wine professionals around the country about him. But instead of writing on him, we thought, we should have writing by him. He agreed; and his wine notes and wine briefs will appear here every other Sunday. In the meantime, our notes on Robert Parker read: young and fresh, clean, a touch of sweetness with a nice and balance. Enough backbone so you can expect him to develop well over the years . . . Next week, more beginnings: the first of Judith Huxley's dinner-for-eight features, also to appear every other Sunday.
Last month's investiture dinner of New York's women's culinary association, Les Dames d'Escoffier, at the Helmsley Palace had three Washington representatives -- Carol Cutler, Linda Berliner and Dierdre Pierce -- during on a $95 extravaganza from American caviar through wild strawberries flown in from France, then Havana cigars for the men-guests. A dozen new members were invested; all but Gael Greene showed. What was learned? Not to leave the bay leaves in the cream of snail soup; one member was saved from choking by Cutler. What was, we hope, not learned? The secret-society-doodads of silver napkin rings and linen bibs and dinner bells used as gongs in the investiture ritual. They didn't go so far as to introduce themselves with, "Hi, I'm your Dame d'Escoffier, Mary; if there is anything you need, just let me know." We'll see when the Washington chapter, the second of the Dames' groups, gets around to investing.
Newest grasp on the coattails of the health-food movement is Hershey's, with its "all natural" baking chocolate (some health-food enthusiasts might call it "imitation carob"). I'm waiting to find labels in the produce section proclaiming: "all natural asparagus".
A letter from a supermarket wonders "what happens when a Giant customer disagrees with the computer price -- say on a Friday night with eight or 10 people in line behind? Does the check-out clerk close down the register and walk with the customer back to the shelf where he got the item?" We tried, at a busy Giant, and found the cashier cheerfully willing to check the price. To be sure, we were not the only ones in that line questioning the computer.
Cookbooks to look for: The International Association of Cooking Schools -- founded by Washington's own L'Academie de Cuisine -- is in the midst of preparing a cookbook . . . Cookbooks not to look for -- yet: Paula Wolfert's book on south-western French cooking is not expected on the shelves for another year and a half, since Wolfert's teaching schedule has become too heave to allow the original schedule . . . Cookbooks that have been looking good, having just won the annual Tastemakers' award: "Craig Claiborne's Gourmet Diet," "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts" and Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi's "The Four Seasons." . . . Speaking of Claiborne's diet book, we wonder how many of its users note that it is a low-sodium diet book, not a low-calorie diet book; many of the recipes provide at least half a day's calories per serving for a dieter, so don't expect it to be a path to slimness greased with heavy cream.
The warning on the label of the flown-in-from-California white asparagus we wrote about earlier this spring should read "Handle With Care." The first batch of the season look beautiful, but if you don't trim each down to a short tender stalk -- thereby cutting off over half the asparagus -- they taste like popsickle sticks.
The world is beating a path to Virginia's doorstep next weekend, a world of cooking to watch and sample. The Northern Virginia Folk Festival and Bazaar '81 will feature food from 25 countries -- including our own (Iroquois corn soup, soul food, apple cider and even hot dogs). The cost of the sampling is said to be minimal (after admission of $1 for adults, less for children and senior citizens); the variety will be maximal: Arabic lentil porridge, Argntine empanadas, Cambodian fried noodles, Vietnamese steamed bunss, Norwegian open-faced sandwiches and Serbian whole roasted lamb are just the beginning. Feasting starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and noon on Sunday, ends at 6 p.m. and will be accompanied by music, dance and folk art. The festival is at Thomas Jefferson Community Center, 3501 S. Second St., Arlington; follow the signs to the parking lots, where shuttle buses will travel to the center. For further information call 558-2165.
You can concentrate your palate on Germany next Friday, at the Washington Cathedral's annual Flower Mart, this year called Blumenfest. What that means is gustatory terms is a chance to taste homemade Black Forest Kirschtorte, apple strudel, sauerbraten and wiener schnitzel. The Blumenfest, in the Cathedral grounds off Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues NW, is Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. If tradition holds, the hungry should get there early . . . More news to be kept on a low flame until the next column, two weeks from today.