Robert Irvine’s Resume Improbable?

Courtesy of longtime reader Chris L. comes a link to a story in the St. Petersburg Times about Food Network star Robert Irvine, who appears to have fabricated parts of his resume and whose plans for a pair of big-time St. Petersburg restaurants are rapidly falling apart. Good work by the team that worked on this piece, although I would have liked to have seen some comments from the Food Network people (or at least the obligatory “no comment”). I’ve emailed the writer to ask if he reached anyone at FN on this topic.

Update: The article’s main writer, Ben Montgomery, told me that Food Network did not respond to his requests for comment, and that their food/dining blogger has also been trying to get a comment. You can see an update to the story related to the Princess Di wedding cake lie.

5:24 pm EST update: Ben sent me a link to a statement from a FN spokesperson over on the Mouth of Tampa Bay blog regarding Irvine. The gist seems to be that they’re distancing themselves from Irvine already.

ESPNEWS today.

I’ll be on the Hot List on ESPNEWS today at 4:10 pm EST.


Waitress is sort of a smart date movie, a romantic comedy with a heavy dose of realism (well, until the end), or a sad portrait of rural American life with some dark comedy and a positive outcome.

The film revolves around Jenna (Keri Russell), a waitress in a pie shop in a small Southern town, who discovers she’s pregnant and is not happy about it. Her husband, Earl – good luck watching the rejuvenated Law & Order after watching Jeremy Sisto in this movie – is a colossal jackass, abusive, controlling, and dumb as a post. (He’s the one real stock character in the film.) She ends up having an affair with the town’s new gynecologist (Nathan Fillion), a married transplant from Connecticut. Jenna is surrounded by characters at the pie shop, from her two waitress co-workers to the gruff head chef to the 80-year-old owner, Joe, played to the hilt by Andy Griffith as a grumpy old man, who gives everyone (including Jenna) a hard time about everything, but also fills the slightly hackneyed wise-old-man role.

The movie is alternately funny and painful. Jenna has a talent for making up new pie recipes, but gives some of them silly names based on what’s going on in her life, like “I Don’t Want to be Pregnant with Earl’s Baby Pie.” (Her co-worker Dawn: “I don’t think we can put that on the menu board, huh?”) Yet aside from the rare moments of pleasure she gets at the pie shop, Jenna is miserable. She’s trying to save up to leave her husband, but is repeatedly stymied. She’s afraid the baby will trap her in a bad marriage forever. She makes a connection with her doctor, but there’s no future in that while both are married. It’s a black comedy in the sense that the underlying life we see is so grim, with Jenna trying to find a way to start her life over but unable to create the opportunity; in fact, she gets her chance through an external source, which sort of makes up for the way that the opportunities she creates are stymied one by one.

Waitress succeeds because the droll humor and the film’s obvious sympathy for Jenna (and thus ours) overcome its flaws. The turning point at the film’s end is a bit too perfect, but writer Adrienne Shelly did set it up throughout the movie. Earl is a one-note character, perfectly defined by the fact that when he comes to the diner to pick Jenna up, he starts beeping his horn before he’s even pulled up to the front door; I found myself averting my eyes almost every time he came on screen because his treatment of his wife was so dated and misogynistic. I suppose such people exist, but Earl seemed too sharply defined and exaggerated. There was something a little too creepy about Dawn ending up dating her “stalker elf,” Okie, even if the point was to provide an example to Jenna. And perhaps the movie’s biggest sin in my mind is the pie-making -pouring cooked custards into unbaked pie shells (you have to blind-bake them), laying the horizontal strips of a lattice top over the vertical ones (they should be woven), and mashing fillings after they’ve been poured into the crust (the juices would turn the bottom crust into mush).

These hiccups don’t interrupt the movie’s undeniable charm, driven by some witty writing and a fantastic performance by Russell in the lead role. It’s a date movie with brains, or perhaps an indie take on the romantic comedy genre, or a film that just defies easy categorization. We could use a few more of those, come to think of it. I’ve been debating offering some sort of easy rating system, but if I had one, this would get my highest mark.

As an aside, no review of Waitress would be complete without a mention of its tragic backstory. After the movie was completed but before it was accepted to the 2007 Sundance festival, writer/director Adrienne Shelly, who also played Jenna’s unlucky-in-love co-worker Dawn, was murdered in her Manhattan office-apartment by an illegal immigrant construction worker whom she caught stealing money from her purse. It’s an artistic loss, as Shelly clearly had a lot of promise as a writer, and a terrible personal loss for her family: Waitress was written a few years earlier as a love-letter to her then-unborn daughter, who appears at the end of the film as Jenna’s daughter as a toddler.


Warning – review contains spoilers, since there’s no way to discuss the book’s merits without discussing the ending.

Ian McEwan’s Atonement is a wonderful novel undone in just sixteen pages, the length of an ill-considered epilogue that says the first 95% of the novel doesn’t mean anything like what you thought it meant. It succeeds from a critical perspective, but as a reader, I felt cheated.

The atonement in question revolves around Briony, the thirteen-year-old daughter of the Tallis family, and the way she lets a girlish fantasy and her lack of knowledge of adult relations (physical and emotional) spiral out of control, thus ruining the lives of two people close to her. McEwan has to stretch a little to get to the critical sequence where Briony falsely accuses a man of rape, including the use of a vulgarity I won’t repeat here and that would be almost out of the question for the man in question to have used in that fashion, but in general, the way he progresses through the novel’s first 95% is strong. The seemingly omniscient third-person narrator takes us inside the heads of the three central characters, and there’s a single jump in time that pushes the plot forward past several years where nothing of direct relevance happens, which turns out to be a solid decision that allows the second sequence of events to coincide with (and create parallels to) the dark opening of World War II. The book’s pacing and prose have the feeling of classic 19th century British literature, and while there’s no confusing Atonement with Jane Austen’s work, there’s no doubt McEwan drew Briony as the flip side of Northanger Abbey‘s Catherine Morland.

McEwan himself is an outspoken atheist, thus the novel’s central theme of a search for earthly redemption without reference to or hope for a spiritual one or one in an afterlife. (To be clear, religion or lack thereof is not an explicit theme in the novel.) Briony’s search for redemption – what she calls atonement, but what really is an external forgiveness from both of the parties she so directly wronged – affects her choices early in life, driving her away from education into a nursing job that takes on importance after the war comes home to Britain during the evacuation of British troops from France in 1941. Thus limited by the need for a redemption in the here and now, she seeks out her estranged sister to try to bring about a reconciliation through admission of her own crime.

Or does she? McEwan throws the entire book into doubt in a muddled, tacked-on epilogue. Is what came before a full representation of the actual history of events? An incomplete one? A complete fiction? Briony tells us how, as an author, she can play God and rewrite events, but can not ultimately redeem them – or herself, or fix the lives she ruined. But what then is the responsibility of McEwan? This is his universe, his reality. He can give Briony the atonement she desires, in full or in part. But he needs to be honest with his readers. In fact, by not telling us until that 95-percent mark that what we have read to that point is a meta-novel, a fictional work within a fictional work, with most details true to the fictional reality (stay with me) but some not, and oh-by-the-way he isn’t even clear in the final pages how much of the preceding novel is reality, he’s dishonest with his readers, using our credulous nature – that we step into a novel prepared to believe its reality, to suspend our disbelief, to accept the characters as real people as long as they’re drawn true to life – to his advantage to pull a nasty trick on us. Instead of a deeper look at redemption, atonement, or just plain old-fashioned forgiveness, McEwan turns the book into a writer’s lament, that one can not undo reality or even find catharsis through fictionalizing real-life events and altering them to suit one’s needs. Well, no shit, Ian.

On page 334, I was prepared to praise Atonement as a clever, well-written work with expertly crafted characters and brilliant descriptive prose. In sixteen pages, McEwan tore that opinion apart, turning the book into a wicked bit of sleight of hand that still has the same characterization and prose but that proves terribly unsatisfying as an actual novel because of the betrayal of the reader’s trust.

Mount Rapmore.

From Bill Simmons’ mailbag:

Q: If they were going to construct the Mount Rushmore of the rap industry, who would the four members be? Keep in mind that it is the four most influential people to the history of the industry, not necessarily the four best rappers.
–Adam, Hillsville, Va.

First of all, I have no idea why Adam asked Bill this instead of me. But Adam lives in some place called “Hillsville” in rural Virginia is probably still listening to his cassette version of To The Extreme, so we’ll cut him some slack.

Bill, however, gets no slack. His answers: Tupac (fine), Dr. Dre (also fine), Jay-Z (awful choice – the man can not rap), and the most overrated rapper ever, Notorious B.I.G.

B.I.G.’s legacy was preserved because he died just as he was becoming popular. He wasn’t a good technical rapper. His lyrics were beyond stupid, crude, and misogynistic, while never being particularly funny or clever. And his rise with Bad Boy Records represented the end of rap’s golden age and helped kill off West Coast gangsta-rap (although Warren G’s “Regulate” was that genre’s self-immolation moment). And maybe it’s just me, but I have never thought Jay-Z was any good as a rapper. His success mystifies me.

I don’t see how you can make any such list without including Rakim, one of the most influential rappers of all time and, I would argue, its best technical rapper, with outstanding flow and meter and plenty of inside rhymes. He’s cited as an influence by most of the best rappers of the 1990s and was revered enough in his prime to be referred to simply as the “R,” although I would be shocked if many current rap “stars” knew who he was.

And I’m also not sure how you can exclude Russell Simmons, who was a major figure in hip-hop’s formative years, co-founded (with Rick Rubin, who would be a good alternative) the first hip-hop record label, and was responsible for most of rap’s earliest cross-overs into the pop mainstream.

Honorable mention would go to Grandmaster Flash, the first rap artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a highly influential rapper in early hip-hop who probably didn’t have the long-term career to merit inclusion.

Chat extras.

Since I didn’t want to get too food-y:

(1658) Steve (Tufts)
Hi Keith… been to Mistral, Strip Ts, and Something Savory all on your recommendation. You’ve earned my trust… now I’m going to Baltimore in late may for a weekend Sox series. Where in the Harbor area can/should I get some real crab cakes?

I’ve never had great crab cakes in the Harbor area. I love the crab cakes at the Clyde’s restaurants around DC, and I know they’re expanding towards Baltimore. I tried Angelina’s in Baltimore, allegedly the best in the city, but it was mediocre.

(342) Stoeten, Toronto
Keef, What the hell is on your head in the picture for this Lion in Oil interview?

It’s a bath towel for my daughter. She outgrew it a year ago.

(254) Grant (Atl GA)
Most important question of the day: what is on the menu for V-Day?

Lunch today was the last of the pork with mushroom sauce from the other day. Tonight is homemade tacos, everything from scratch but the shells. I toast and grind my own cumin seeds – night and day difference.

(2255) JP (Columbus, OH)
“Gourmet” Eddie sounds like a real food critic, I might give his advice a listen. Did he really type “sux”?

Indeed he did.

(78) Jeff (Madison)
KLAW – have you read In Defense of Food It’s a good book – seems like it would be right up your alley

I haven’t, because it doesn’t sound like a defense of food, but like a defense of the food the author wants us to eat. Sure, we should eat more fruits and vegetables, but refined grains are not evil, just something we should enjoy in moderation. And desserts without refined white flour? Come on. I don’t want whole wheat in my chocolate cake.

(387) J: (Ny, NY)
I don’t want to get into politics, but have you read either of Barack Obama’s books? Are they well written or fluff?

I have not. I assume any book written by a politician is designed to further his political career. Sure seems like it works that way.

(1299) Todd, San Diego
Keith, Have you read any of the more famous graphic novels? Stuff like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns?

Uh, yeah, I might have read one.

(196) Andrew (Burbank, CA)
Keith, You love to talk about novels on your chats and “The Dish”, but I was wondering if you enjoyed plays as well and if you had a favorite play/playwright. For me, “Waiting for Godot” is the finest play ever written with Samuel Beckett being the best playwright who ever lived and “Far Away” by Caryl Churchill is the best play of this young century.

Can’t read a play. Just not the same. The text was meant to be performed, and it’s best consumed that way.

Chat today.

UPDATED with link to chat page.

I’m back on the chat today, although I don’t plan for a marathon – just a quickie for Valentine’s Day.

Also, for your reading pleasure, a strong short piece over at Squawking Baseball on how it’s the government that’s broken when we’re looking to blame someone for public funding of stadia.


In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.

So sayeth food critic Anton Ego, brilliantly voiced by acting great Peter O’Toole in Ratatouille , the latest in a string of amazing movies from Pixar, although the same could be said by, say, a scouting-oriented baseball analyst. Failure is easy to predict in a field where failure is the norm.

Ratatouille, however, is a success, although I wouldn’t put it quite at the level of The Incredibles , my favorite of the Pixar flicks. Ratatouille revolves around two main characters: Remy, a rat and gourmet who has detailed conversations with the late Chef Gusteau (a figment of Remy’s imagination), and Linguini, an American screw-up who arrives at Gusteau’s restaurant with a letter asking for a job. The two form a partnership built on teamwork – every Pixar movie comes down to teamwork – and food, and ultimately it’s up to the two of them to save the restaurant.

Ah, the food. The star of the movie is its amazing graphics, never better than when the subject is food. The coloring in the red onions, the shadows in the giant bowl of peas, the burnish on the copper pots – every bit of it looks so real as to distract you from the fact that the movie is animated. I’m just glad they didn’t show any desserts, because I would have salivated. The cityscapes of Paris and the detail in the hair of the one female character, Collette, were also astounding.

The plot was a little bit light, with some elements too predictable. You know from the start that Linguini will have to cook for Anton Ego. You know that Linguini and Remy will be separated towards the end, although I liked the way they turned that formula around and avoided the outcome I expected. You know that Remy’s family is going to turn up to help him at some point in the movie. But the setup was clever and the writing more mature than I can remember in any Pixar movie, including possibly the first Pixar sex joke (it’s very well done), a hilarious freak-out by the head chef Skinner, and some generally strong physical comedy.

The film also offers perhaps the best Proust allusion I’ve ever seen in a movie or read in a book, with the sequence that follows the first bite taken of the dish that gives the movie its title. Substitute a madeleine soaked in lime-scented tea and you’ll have the pivotal scene from In Search of Lost Time. I also thought the closing sequence was a nod to the opening sequence of Charade , a classic Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn film set in Paris.

Ratatouille struck one very sour note with me, though, and it nearly undermined the film. Nearly all of the voice-actors portraying French characters were not, in fact, French, but most did a passable job, particularly Brad Garrett as the late Chef Gusteau (even briefly rocking accents from Texas, Mexico, and Scotland … seriously, microwavable haggis???) and Sir Ian Holm as Skinner (which I assume is a reference to B.F. Skinner, the psychologist known for his experiments on rats). But Collette was voiced by Janine Garaofalo, and her attempt at a French accent was roughly as successful as your typical French military offensive. Was there some reason the Pixar folks didn’t go for at least a few native speakers? Audrey Tautou wasn’t available? Not only is she cute, but her voice is every bit as cute, and would have changed Collette’s role from “Linguini falls for her because she’s the only girl in sight” to “Linguini falls for her because she’s irresistibly cute.” Had Collette’s role been smaller, it wouldn’t have mattered, but she’s pivotal to the film and Garaofalo sounds like she’s making fun of a French accent, not trying to master one.

The DVD also comes with a five-minute short film titled Lifted that must not be missed.

Pork Chops with Mushroom-Rosemary Sauce.

I’m not sure if this is exactly a “30-minute meal,” but it comes together very quickly. I recommend that you brine the pork chops for at least an hour (2 cups chicken broth, 1 Tbsp salt, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, boiled, then cooled with a dozen ice cubs), but it’s not necessary.

I like to serve these by toasting thick slices of Italian or French bread, slicing the pork, then serving them like bruschetta, with the pork on the toast and the sauce poured all over the whole mess. The toast will soak up whatever sauce misses the pork as well as any juices that escape the meat.

1.5 pounds of pork chops (I used 2 boneless chops, over 1″ thick)
4 oz shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed, sliced into ¼” wide pieces
1 Tbsp minced shallot or scallion (white part only)
2 Tbsp cognac or other unflavored brandy
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp chopped rosemary
1 Tbsp olive or other vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a roasting pan large enough to hold all the chops on the middle rack.
2. Season both sides of the pork chops with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Reserve 1 tsp rosemary for the sauce and rub the remainder on the outside of the pork. Score the fat on the outside of the pork in three places to prevent the meat from curling in the pan.
3. Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron if you’ve got it) on the stove over high heat until seriously hot.
4. Add the oil to the skillet and as soon as you see any smoke add the chops. Sear for one minute, then flip and sear for another minute.
5. When the chops are seared on both sides, place them in the oven and roast until they reach the desired internal temperature, not past 150 degrees (“medium,” but that’s as high as you want pork to go). For tonight’s chops, this took about twelve minutes.
6. In the meantime, drain most of the fat from the skillet, leaving roughly 1 Tbsp behind. Add the shallots and mushrooms with a pinch of salt and cook with the burner off, using just the heat trapped in the pan, only restoring the flame to medium when the food stops sizzling. Sauté until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid and started to color.
7. Deglaze the pan with the cognac, turning the flame down or off to prevent ignition. Scrape the pan bottom to dissolve any browned bits (called “fond”). Cook until most of the liquid is gone.
8. Turn the heat off and add the mustard, reserved 1 tsp rosemary, cream, and salt/pepper to taste. Stir to combine and serve immediately. (If the sauce is done too soon and you need to hold it, pour it into a heatproof cup or ramekin and set it in a pot of warm water. If you leave it over the heat, it can break.)

ESPNEWS today.

I’ll be on The Hot List on ESPNEWS today at 4:20 pm EST, discussing the Bedard deal and some offseason winners and losers.

Update: There’s a clip of part of the appearance here.