Christopher Kimball.jpg
Christopher Kimball rocks the bow tie with the force of a drunken Spaniard giving a facial to an ice sculpture.
Christopher Kimball rocks a bow


Christopher Kimball Doesn't Look Like a Partisan Libertine, But Looks Can Be Deceiving

Christopher Kimball.jpg
Christopher Kimball rocks the bow tie with the force of a drunken Spaniard giving a facial to an ice sculpture.
Christopher Kimball rocks a bow tie with a level of authority achieved in this century only by Louis Farrakhan. The Cooks Illustrated founder and America's Test Kitchen host was in town at the Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park to talk about his new book, Fannie's Last Supper, in which Kimball describes a 12-course feast he prepared for friends, using recipes found in an ancient kitchen manual.

The book's namesake, Fannie Farmer, was the Victorian Martha Stewart. She entered the Boston Cooking School as a student in 1889, but by 1891 she was appointed head of it. But Farmer, ever the crafty entrepreneur, didn't rest on her laurels. In 1896 she compiled a collection of recipes into The Boston Cooking School Cook Book. When an incredulous Little Brown & Company turned down the book, Farmer offered to pay for the printing herself, in return for being able to keep the copyright. The publishers thought this deal would be a losing proposition, but nonetheless agreed to it. Four million copies and over 100 years later, it's clear that Little Brown & Company should be renamed Big Dumbasses & Company.

Kimball is similar: He's a self- made millionaire with a relentless Yankee grit. In fact, he's got such an air of persnickety exactitude, Kimball could make Willy Wonka say "Damn, dude, chill the fuck out." Lesser men would've ordered a pizza; but Kimball is no lesser man. In fact, he's a culinary Zarathustra--it's this kind of pursuit of perfection that led Kimball to pick entries out of Farmer's iconic recipe book, and prepare them using only the ingredients and equipment available when the book's 1896 edition was released.

Contrary to popular belief, the Victorians weren't staid losers. In fact, people during this age partied hard enough to cause modern-day frat boys to beg for a nap. Victorian parties were awesome ragefests: Guests were required to eat all twelve courses in exactly two hours, a feat that professional glutton Adam Richman would be hard- pressed to duplicate. Cigar-smoking chimpanzees were frequent attendees, and the courses were served by scantily clad women.

Kimball's feast featured retardedly decadent fare, starting with oysters on the half shell. Next up was mock turtle soup made, apparently, from boiled calves' heads and garnished with fried "brain balls." Blue cheese and chicken livers wrapped in puff pastry followed, along with a saddle of venison, grilled salmon, roast goose, apple sauce, fried artichokes, and jellies. "Jellies," apparently, is the archaic name for "jello." These last were made by boiling a calf's foot, then mixing the resulting gelatin with sugar and lemon juice and coloring it with beet juice.

A huge-ass pastry called the Mandarin Cake capped off dessert: this thing was a monstrous sugary castle, multiple layers stacked and hollowed out and filled with almond paste and garnished with whole tangerines, which had been similarly hollowed out and filled with sorbet and jelly. You see, Victorians liked to hollow out things--it was during this era that construction of the subways of New York, London, and Paris were started. FYI: the Mandarin Cake took Kimball's pastry chef 10 hours to make.

After this punishing gustatory death march, the guests retired to Kimball's parlor for crackers and cheese and liqueurs. Chef Jose Andres was one of Kimball's guests at the party. He became enamored of an ice sculpture carved into the shape of a comely mermaid. "Bring her up to my room," a drunken Andres declared, "She's the woman I love!" The chef then disappeared upstairs with the sculpture, apparently to party like a real Victorian. Hopefully the ice sculpture was able to close its eyes and think of the Queen.

After describing the Spaniard's libidinous interlude, Kimball entertained questions. Surprisingly, no one had any questions about the aforementioned orgy, probably because most of the people in the audience were so old they lived through them. Instead, people were curious about Kimball's magazine, Cooks Illustrated.

"When will you publish recipes for canning?" someone asked.

"We're doing canning and bacon-curing on the web right now," Kimball replied. "But not in the magazine, because that's not what people actually want. What people actually want is potatoes, chocolate, and beef." The woman who asked the question tried to protest, but Kimball was having none of it. "You can't lie to me!" he barked. "Green bean casserole is in the top ten!"

A guy asked about microwaves, or at least he tried to. Kimball cut him off: "The answer is no!" Somebody wanted to know if there was anything in particular he'd learned from his late friend Julia Child. "Yeah," replied Kimball, his wit so dry you could put packets of it into shoeboxes. "Vote Democrat. She had no patience for stupid people and she had no patience for Republicans."

And on that note, Kimball made like a Republican Congressman accused of being secretly gay, and refused all further questions.

The casual observer would never expect a nebbish-looking twerp like Kimball to be such a partisan libertine, but like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's enormous schlong, appearances can be deceiving. The moral of the story: if you're going to party like it's 1899, you'll need to be prepared to rock out with your gaying instrument out.

Rating: 8 gaying instruments out of 10

Fannie's Last Supper is available at Third Place Books

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