THE ODE TO the American stomach is becoming an epic, as throughout the country food scouts are gathering the finest game birds, the rarest fruits, the newest condiments, the oldest vinegars for the living museums of the '80s: food shops.
Washington's culmination last week -- with plenty of public fanfare -- was the opening of Someplace Special, Giant Food's McLean supermarket of heroic scope; in Philadelphia, it was the unveiling of Strawbridge & Clothier's Food Hall with its 104 cheeses and its David's chocolate chip cookies (baked on the premises) all displayed in a cave of tiny green and white tiles. This week it was New York's turn, with Dino De Laurentiis' DDL Food Show promising to roast before your very eyes whole lambs and wild boar.
The future harvest promises more and more: Michel Gue'rard, France's three-star chef of diet (and nondiet) cuisine fame has been jetting around the country--sleeplessly--to promote his chocolates. But they are only the tip of his culinary iceberg, which will include a whole line of prepared foods right down to a souffle' in a jar that will rise right out of its container in the oven, he says. And Jacques Maximin, whom French critics Gault and Millau have called "a cook without equal," stopped by between teaching in Osaka and returning to his Chantecler restauraunt in Nice's Negresco Hotel, revealing plans to open a food shop in California and promising, "I will make a Cuisine Maximin for the American habits." He did admit, however, that he had not yet eaten in an American restaurant (Jean Louis was on his schedule for his brief Washington stopover), and before he tried catering to American habits he would "have to learn what is the American life."
We cannot imagine who knows better what is the American life than Giant Foods. And if Someplace Special is Giant's measure of the American consumer, it is certainly flattering. The new McLean store on opening day had fresh meats to fill any carnivore fantasy, from suckling pigs and crown roasts to oxtails and partridges. From the calf: liver, sweetbreads, brains, hearts and tripe. For fish lovers, tuna and catfish and baby coho salmon and scallops with roe, all fresh, not to mention six or eight kinds of smoked salmon. The produce section would allow us to test the most exotic of cookbooks with one stop: Its water chestnuts, black and green olives, favas, tamarinds, taro roots, chayotes, baby artichokes, white asparagus and gooseberries were all fresh, and the apples came in eight varieties. As Esther Peterson, once consumer adviser for Giant and then for the country, gushed, "I wanted to make a gooseberry pie so bad I could scream." We couldn't fill our needs for staples there, but foods we thought unavailable in this country were glistening fresh on the counters.
All that is only temporarily relevant, however. Giant has done it; the question now is whether the Washington metropolitan area can buy enough lamb tongues and fresh sturgeon to keep Giant willing to supply them. We'll check back in a couple months. Doggone Booklets
Publishers scurrying their cookbook authors from city to city in order to peddle the latest buffet book or volume of five-minute recipes might learn something from the R.T. French Company. Like many food companies, it produces colorful little recipe booklets to promote new and unimaginable uses of its foodstuffs, and sends them free to consumers who ask. But French's has underestimated the appeal of one booklet; its "Cookbook for Dogs" is no longer available. The supply has "recently been exhausted," said the company. But in denying our request for a copy, French's threw us a bone, a booklet for people, "Potatoes on Parade." Dry nibbles, we thought. Jam It Up
Another Christmas bazaar. Ho hum, one might say. But what intrigues us about the First Congregational Church's version--next Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3 and 4, at 945 G St. NW--are the raspberry and strawberry jams. A hand-written note assured us that the jammaker had "hand-picked the berries on our meadow on the Northumberland Strait, clambering over rocks and old rotten logs (that's what makes them big and juicy)." We haven't tasted them, but consider jam always improved by a little poetry and lore in its background. The bazaar will also sell that winter necessity, split-pea soup. The hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, with lunch available 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days. The Price of Fame
What's the difference between a food and a flower? About $25, as far as we can tell. In New York recently we bought the most beautiful of vegetables, a decorative kale, at Balducci's. This edible bouquet came in two color combinations, but we favored the purple core surrounded by green leaves, and we paid about $2.50 for it. Within a couple of weeks decorative kale had become a fashionable centerpiece, and New York magazine reported it being sold by florists, only this time it ranged from $25 to $45. New-Product Watch
The New-Product Watch: Apple pie we could understand but, we wonder, who is going to believe a bagel by Mrs. Smith's?