Sky Full of Bacon

I’ve read an entire book on North Carolina barbecue and I still have trouble keeping track of which part likes ketchup in their sauce and which doesn’t, and which part is whole hog and which shoulder, and what the hell the damned Piedmont is. This site tries to explain it for me:

The big difference between eastern barbecue and western – or Lexington-style, as it’s sometimes called – barbecue is that ketchup is commonly added to the sauce of western barbecue. The other difference is that in the east they use the whole hog, both white and dark meat, while in the west they cook only the pork shoulder, which is dark meat and thus more fatty, moister and richer.

All that said, though, the truth, says me, is that – contrary to the mythical status of this east-west “rivalry” – most casual barbecue eaters probably wouldn’t even notice the difference between eastern and western North Carolina barbecue if you put one of each before them.

Certainly, if you compare the two styles against the whole panoply of American barbecue styles there’s far more similarity than difference. The unadorned chopped pork meat is distinctly different from, say, Memphis chopped pork covered in goopy red sauce and slaw, let alone from brisket in Texas or ribs in Kansas City.

Anyway, we were in Richmond for a few days, which was just close enough to North Carolina for a totally insane person such as myself to drive for eight hours down to North Carolina, across the center of North Carolina for three or four lunches, and back up to Richmond with lots of leftovers for the rest of the family to share. Seriously, I drove more for lunch (es) that day than we drove getting from Chicago to West Virginia. But when else was I going to get to North Carolina? I’d gotten this far in life without ever going there, and there seemed little enough reason to expect that to change otherwise.

With the help of the North Carolina BBQ Trail I plotted out a number of candidates and took off. The first one I knew I wanted to hit was Allen & Son near Chapel Hill:

Looks like a great old barbecue place, doesn’t it? (That was it at the top, too.) I wouldn’t know, though, since it was closed for two days for no particular reason. I’d been Faidley’d again! Given that Aaron Deacon at LTHForum had roughly the same experience, I think we have to regard the allegedly great Allen & Son as having passed into an unreliable phase of its existence where you’d best have a backup at the ready.

Allen & Son Pit Cooked Bar-B-Q
203 Millhouse Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516-8101
(919) 942-7576 (calling first strongly recommended)

Which I did; another 15 minutes of driving brought me to this place:

A&M Grill in Mebane looked and felt less like a barbecue spot than it did any old family restaurant in the South. But don’t let the comfortably padded, honey-voiced waitress who greets you fool you; a glance in the kitchen revealed serious barbecue equipment:

I ordered sliced pork, per the BBQ Trail’s guidance, then felt regret as I contemplated the probable result, gray CAT-scan-slices on my plate. Still, I was cheered by the first thing that arrived at my table, a freshly-fried platter of the best frickin’ hush puppies I’d ever eaten in my life. Okay, I was hungry enough that if I’d eaten the napkin it would have gotten two Michelin stars, but still, I ate four places’ hush puppies on this trip and these were easily the champs, light and yet complexly spiced. Really great.

My plate came, bearing something large and brown on it— a bun? Damn, I’d meant to order a plate of meat, not a sandwich…

No, it wasn’t a bun. It was an enormous sweet potato, fresh from the oven, what I’d imagined would be a little scoop of orange mash but was, instead, practically a meal in itself. While the “sliced” pork was what anyone else would call pulled, nice long strings of supple, lightly but definitely smoked pork flesh, moderately doused with a ketchupy, heat-laced mop of sauce and accompanied by a peppery slaw. A&M Grill doesn’t normally make the top tier of Carolina barbecue places (the trail site was the only place I’d seen it mentioned), and I grant I was hungry enough at that point to love anything that came on a plate, but this was first-rate in every way, the waitstaff and my fellow diners were friendly (when my sweet potato came a weatherbeaten old boy smiled at me, minus a couple of teeth, and said he wished he’d ordered that), it’s clean and bright, I absolutely recommend it as a backup to Allen & Sons… or on its own.

A&M Grill
401 E Center St
Mebane, NC 27302
(919) 563-3721

The next stop, Hursey’s, was another 20 minutes away in Burlington, which was the main thing that recommended it.  The three smokestacks set the atmosphere— except for one thing: no smoke coming out of them.

Not a good sign, and between that and the somewhat overly clean and professional look of the place, I decided not to spend too much time here and get my order from the only marginally friendly to-go counter.

Chopped is a legitimate style for North Carolina barbecue but this was chopped so finely it was practically liquefied; it was chopped to the kind of no-teeth-necessary consistency one associates with other Depression era foods when people couldn’t afford dentistry as the Maid-Rite sandwich or Russell’s BBQ in the Chicago area. That said, with some of the (perfectly standard) cole slaw and some sauce on it, this wasn’t a bad sandwich, really (and they did have the best fries of the day). It’s just that with smoke apparently existing only in this place’s memory, it isn’t barbecue in any sense I’m willing to recognize. This place seems to have been yuppified out of its roots, and isn’t worth the travel for the barbecue tourist.

1834 S Church St
Burlington, NC 27215
(336) 226-1694

Thankfully, you could spot the smoke easily at my fourth and final stop. Despite my geographical confusion, I’m pretty sure that the Lexington Barbecue in Lexington is an example of the “Lexington style” referenced above— though the only sauce I saw was a vinegary red dip as clear as raspberry Kool-Aid, without a trace of ketchup gooeyness to it.

As I came around the side to see where the smoke was coming from, I found a window into the kitchen and a cook hard at work chopping the meat. When I asked permission to snap a picture, he invited me inside for a closer look:

Lexington cooks only shoulders, round as hams, with cardboard flaps over the meat to keep the smoke in and ash that flies up from falling down on the meat. The firebox was roaring away just a foot or two to the right:

Lexington gives you a wide variety of ways to order your meat— coarse chop, medium coarse, with brown (outer skin), etc., and what makes this possible is that the shoulders are disassembled and neatly organized in the kitchen:

When I was finished snapping pictures he asked, “You gonna have somethin’ to eat?” When I said yes, he escorted me through the kitchen to a side door which put me straight into the dining room. I ordered a plate of coarse:

Not that I needed much to eat at this point, but the meat was tender and full of flavor— though still not that smoky, even though this had been the smokiest place I’d visited all day. The cole slaw was way too strong, almost like eating cocktail sauce; only that night, when I put it on a sandwich, did it really work as the condiment, rather than a side dish, it is. The people couldn’t have been nicer and so I ended my day by ordering some more food to fill out my assortment of leftovers (have the peach cobbler), and took off for Richmond. I couldn’t wait till dinner in about 3 hours, and another chance to eat barbecue.

Lexington Barbecue
10 US Hwy 29 70 S
Lexington, NC 27295
(336) 249-9814

* * *

Barbecue was not the only pork-related adventure I wanted to have in this part of the world, however. If North Carolina was for barbecue, Virginia was for ham in my book. I imagined seeing hand-scrawled signs for country ham by the side of the road, and kept my eye out for same, but I didn’t spot any, at least not in the middle of the state— maybe in a seriously ham-oriented area like Surry County, but not up Richmond way.

I did find one place online that was on the way back to D.C., however: Calhoun’s Country Hams. It was in Culpeper— where I have a couple of friends at the Library of Congress’ new film preservation center— and ironically enough it’s the one ham producer who comes to the Alexandria farmer’s market, just blocks from my sister’s house where we’d be staying. But it worked for us to visit him in his natural element, and I was glad I did— the sight of these beautiful hams hanging on a plywood wall was worth the drive alone:

Mr. Calhoun, as you might suspect from someone selling in the city, aims for a more natural-tasting, less salty product than many old time producers, and even uses refrigeration during part of the curing process to allow him to get away with the minimum salt necessary. (This is no blasphemy; prosciutto producers have always done the same, beginning the curing process in winter to take advantage of the cold.) Besides the hams, there was a variety of other bits and pieces sitting, cured and unrefrigerated, on display. I picked up some fatback, of which more anon.

I had dreams of talking my way into a tour of the smokehouse, or curing rooms, or something. Unfortunately by the time we got there it was straight up noon, and a lunchtime crowd ordering sandwiches made it impossible to schmooze my way into special treatment. So we bought our ham— the young woman stressed the price (around $55) to make sure I knew what I was getting into— and in the meantime ordered sandwiches to eat in the car. As we waited, a man getting his lunch struck up a conversation with me about country ham, how to cook it, etc. He seemed even more excited for me to be getting a Calhoun ham than I was.

We had our sandwiches in the car; the meat was milder than others I’ve had but it had the full flavor of true country ham, and it’s hanging proudly in my basement right now, awaiting an occasion for soaking and cooking soon.

There’s just one thing I’m still left wondering about. I bought the fatback, which looked very much like the bacon I make. And I started to fry some up last Sunday morning. But I could tell as it fried, it was going to be very, very salty. Too much so, in fact, for any of us to eat with pleasure. So what is this fatback for, exactly? It would have to go into something, where it would add salt to the dish and lose some of its own, I guess. Has anyone used this kind of true country fatback, extra salty, and what did you use it for?

Calhoun’s Country Hams
219 South East Street
Culpeper, VA 22701

Besides the new podcast, you’ll notice that Sky Full of Bacon has a new look!  This time it wasn’t rain at Kinnikinnick Farm but wrestling with WordPress upgrades that held it up, but my friend Wyatt Mitchell has manfully beaten WordPress into submission.  There are still things to adjust over the next few days, secondary pages don’t always work right yet, but I like the general idea of stressing the videos at the top of the main page (soon I’ll get the new video up there, and it will always display the latest), as well as various other features (including, at last, an actual blogroll) that will come in the next few weeks.  Comments and suggestions welcome, hope you enjoy.

UPDATE 6/8: Well, some technical issues with WordPress have appeared along the way, delaying the new SFOB. If the site’s missing at some point, I promise it will be back soon, cooler than ever.

ORIGINAL POST 6/4: If you click here today and things look all different… it’s because my friend Wyatt Mitchell is putting up the new custom-built look for Sky Full of Bacon. Which will better showcase the videos with the blog, and include various other features to bring this site into 2010 and beyond. Feedback appreciated, future patronage encouraged!

Me, I’m running around interviewing barbecue pitmasters and such today for an upcoming piece in a local magazine. So I’ll have nothing to do with how the site looks till it’s done, but I am happy to say that after the spring without new videos, there should be two within a month. Thanks for your patience…

UPDATE: So this was a cool night (and how rare for me, these days, to have two social events to go to on a Monday night no less…) About 25 people showed up for the salon, interestingly including Bruce F., star of the very first Sky Full of Bacon (the guy with homemade Earthboxes on his garage). Besides myself and the guy making a full-length food documentary below, there was a guy from a comedy troupe called Ladyparts, who have done sketch comedy online— so we kind of had all the ranges represented, short viral video, medium-length pieces (that’s me), and a feature documentary. There was a good discussion about how much response you can really expect from users and (from Bruce) whether you can really lead people to activism (I said, I’m not really pushing an agenda per se, but I’m never sorry to hear that somebody is following up on what I’ve shown by making headcheese or buying La Quercia prosciutto), and also about to what extent online media is a substitute for actually experiencing things yourself; one woman got to the heart of the matter by observing that the camera and the video was my vehicle for experiencing things more fully, for opening doors to those experiences, which is certainly true, and I replied that at the same time, the experience is transferable— if you watch my video and then go into a place and talk them up using what you learned from the video as a starting point, you will quickly gain much of the same access and intimacy with a restaurant or chef that I got by filming for several hours.

Afterwards I went to Phillip Foss’s birthday party at Pops For Champagne; the party was partly a costume party to allow anonymous reviewers to stay anonymous, though I didn’t see any actual reviewers with secret identities there; nevertheless, it prompted my costume, which consisted of a nametag which said “Hello, My Name Is Phil Vettel.” Certainly minimalist next to Foss’s own costume, a full Roman centurion kit.

Anyway, the party was partly underwritten by Miracle Berry, a lozenge made from miracle fruit, which somehow deadens the bitterness receptors or something, so that lemons taste like lemonade. An interesting effect, also slightly perturbing (first step on the slippery slope to some kind of future Alinea in which they simply wire up your taste receptors and induce flavor sensations by keyboard), and it only did so much for our cocktails (apparently the cucumber cocktail Foss invented and named for his blog, The Pickled Tongue, was fairly unpleasant without the miracle berry, pretty good with). Interesting to try, but I doubt I’ll be dosing myself in the future with them. Saw many interesting food media folks, Gourmet Rambler (Tatiana Abramova), Eliza Grossman (of ElizaBites), Lisa Shames, as well as chefs including Troy Graves (Eve), Brian Ellison (Frontera/Topolobampo), and others, as well as fishmonger to the star chefs Carl Galvan. As the evening went on a crowd arrived from the big Art Smith-Common Threads-Oprah event (see Steve Dolinsky’s tweets for the glittery red carpet report), and I talked to Graham Bowles for a few minutes about Grahamwich (he told me where it’s going to be, but it’s a secret). He also strongly endorsed The Purple Pig. Thanks for the invite to Phillip (whose generosity toward a good cause rivaled the Common Threads event’s, in spirit if not numbers; read more and give a little here.)

* * *

I’m one of the guest speakers at a salon in Logan Square Monday night, so I’m putting this up to direct anyone who comes from there to the good stuff here! To watch the videos, click on Video Podcasts at right; the last full-length one was Pie As a Lifestyle, you can watch it right now:

Sky Full of Bacon 13: Pie As a Lifestyle from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Some interesting posts of the past include this guide to Supermercado Taquerias, the Gebert-Nagrant Sessions, this one about beekeeping, and this two-part series on making my grandmother’s piccalilli.

Since I found myself in the unexpected position of having two finished videos in the hopper (one of which was waiting for its radio half on WBEZ, and thus holding up the other), I said I was going to put them up two weeks apart. But as it happened, hardly anyone saw the cheese one until well after the broadcast last week, and it was still getting publicity at the tail end of last week, so I’m going to delay the premiere of the Healthy Food Lithuanian for one more week. You’ll just have to find something else to watch— like this video by one of the other presenters at Monday’s salon.

Finally, I’ll be making another public appearance with tasty food in tow very soon; watch for details. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind a bit if you voted for me in the Time Out Chicago Eat Out Awards (third category from bottom)…

Here’s the illegal cheese video that goes with David Hammond’s radio piece:

Sky Full of Bacon Short: Making Illegal Cheese from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Check out other videos on subjects from local eating to Lake Michigan whitefish fishing by clicking “Video Podcasts” at right. And watch for a new one next week on the last days of one of Chicago’s last Lithuanian restaurants.

Or read restaurant reviews, cooking posts, and who knows what all by scrolling below. Welcome!

UPDATE: The radio piece is here.

UPDATE 2: Thanks to Serious Eats, Justin Kaufmann at WBEZ’s blog, and Chuck Sudo at Chicagoist for linkage.

Well, it’s one of those nice days when a blogger gets the next best thing to a fat check— attention from the blogosphere. So if you’re new here, this will tell you about a few things.

First off, thanks to New City for naming me Best Local Food Blog:

Mike Gebert’s incisive critiques cut like a sizzling hot samurai-style Benihana-grill-chef’s knife through mystery-grade filet mignon. Including his well-produced video casts, the dude puts out more thoughtful, interesting food content than the folks at the big dailies who get paid to do so.

Be sure to check out audience fave Lottie+Doof, too, which is a really nice blog (I’ve recommended it before).

And thanks to the ever-lovely and witty Helen of Grub Street Chicago fame, whose Tweets constitute everything I know about modern fashion, and whose attention in turn led to New York Magazine featuring the Edzo’s Burger Shop short video today. Be sure to check out the blog post at the Chicago Reader where it originated.

So if you’re new here, the main purpose of Sky Full of Bacon is the videos, which can easily be found by clicking on Video Podcasts under Categories at right, or by going here. Otherwise, there’s quite an array of posts on everything from making charcuterie to discovering unknown ethnic restaurant areas to hopefully amusing commentary on the world of food media. Welcome and check it out!

After my scathingly nasty letter to the Apple Store about this, I got a call from the manager of the Woodfield store. I learned:

1. He never saw the letter addressed directly to “Manager, Apple Store, Woodfield.” I copied corporate and they sent a copy of their copy to him.

2. “You’re not the first one this has happened to.” This is not as consoling as you might think. Is anything being done about the obviously confusing process on their website? “I sure hope so!”

3. He apologized and said they probably should have taken care of me (ya think? Ya think a store should take care of its customer standing there with steam coming out of his ears? Is that like, a 70-30 thing, or a 51-49 thing?)

4. And he hoped the next time I was in the store, they’d have the opportunity to give me the great service he knows they’re capable of. I pressed and said, how, what’s changed that would make that more likely to happen? Uh, well, he just hoped next time they’d rise to the occasion.

In other words, he got told to apologize, but they’re not really changing anything to be more likely to not treat a customer like crap next time. They’re just really, really hoping that next time, they won’t treat me like dirt. Or if they do, maybe the next time after that they won’t. Or the next time.

Still got a lot to learn, Apple Store. But you’re going to learn it on somebody besides me.

1. is a fascinating site devoted to old photographs (mostly 1900-1930) reproduced in extremely large scans so you can pore over every detail of ancient scenes. There’s all kinds of stuff, but I love studying food ones for quotidian details of ancient life; check out a 1910 square meal; a 1916 box lunch joint (shot by Lewis Hine) frequented by two 15-year-old factory workers, and a railworker lunch break from 1943; the Happy News Cafe; a 1950 bar with lunch menuboard visible; a 1939 country store (by Dorothea Lange); a black cook shack—in the middle of 1916 D.C.; Blue Bell Hamburgers, 1948; groceries in 1900, 1910, and 1950 (oh man, that’s the world I want to live in), and so much more.
2. You can get food for $10.80, but food plus sex for that price? Food+Sex is the name of an arty 20-page magazine published by one of those new magazine-printing-on-demand sites; you can preview it, sort of, here, and there’s a blog post here that tells you a little more about it and its accompanying art exhibit. And who should turn up but Nance Klehm (star of SFOB #7) contributing an article on… urm… “Human-Incubated Yogurt.”
3. I really don’t know what the hell this is. It’s a vaguely food-related song from some British musical about an antique store, apparently making fun of the cozy-little-50s-drama genre, since it’s filthy. The energetic star is Julie Walters, who you may recall from Educating Rita 20 years ago:

4. Martha Bayne has a nice piece on the Pacific Garden Mission, whose gardening program for folks in rehab was designed by… who else, Nance Klehm. You should check Martha’s blog once a month; she doesn’t post a lot but it’s always good. I loved this bit:

I’ve been volunteering here since January, but haven’t written much about it because a) I wanted to respect the privacy of the residents who work with us in the greenhouse program and b) you try writing about working with the homeless without sounding like some smug, self-righteous jerk. Everytime I tried I hated myself.

Yep, that’s why I make videos instead sometimes.
5. Tasting Table, the email newsletter you should go sign up for, found ground cherries at one of the markets—they might still be in season!
6. A weird summer was over before it started. For me, there’s only one thing to do in response to fall’s arrival: make pretty soups, like the author of When I’m Bored I Make Soup. (Ironically, he’s in New Zealand, so it’s not fall there.)
7. Not safe for work (unless you worked anywhere I ever worked in my life): Yes, this Chicago news anchor sure seems to have said on the air what it sounds like he said (h/t Chicagoist):

The co-anchor’s expression when they cut back to both of them is hilarious. They’re claiming he said “flucking.” Riiiiight. A commenter at Chicagoist suggests that this may explain the reference (apparently sampled on a Beastie Boys song).

I made a pastrami. More here.

At least, we’ll see if we can earn that title today.  First up: I have a blog post at the Reader, with an outtake of the most entertaining character in my most recent podcast: 75 Years of Gefilte Fish. Please read it!

Some milestones that make me happy: #11/A Better Fish has passed 1000 views at Vimeo (between its two versions— there’s a bleeped version I made for the Shedd, too); and both #10/Prosciutto di Iowa and #1/How Local Can You Go? have passed 2000 views each.  On the other hand, the new one, #12/In The Land of Whitefish, is just sort of sitting there, so if you like it, tell somebody, Tweet it, pass it along, pass somebody famous in the hallway and tell them about it, whatever!

If you liked my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory parody, check this out.

In a move I expect to affect absolutely no one, I’m turning off comments on old posts because the only people who post new comments on anything more than a couple of weeks old are spammers, and they tend to glom onto a few posts and totally assault them with keerap month after month. If you actually want to comment on something old, email me or something.

Actual content to come soon…

Notice posted at Crucial Detail website:

On October 19th chef Grant Achatz, in collaboration with Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail and the Alinea staff, will host an experimental dinner testing concepts, dishes, service methods, and techniques deemed too avante garde for Alinea.
• Seating will be limited to 30 guests.
• Tickets available by lottery only through this website.
• Tickets are non-transferrable and cannot be sold or traded.
• Due to the nature of the event, we regret that we cannot accommodate vegetarian or any other dietary requests.
• There is no charge for the event.

Chapter One

Charlie Bloggert was a boy who had a food blog. Having a food blog did not pay very much, and so he had to live in an old, old house with his Grandpa Jacques and his Grandma Julia and his Grandpa Ferran and his Grandma Alice and his iMac G5 with Snow Leopard. They lived on large pots of chilled beet soup and old episodes of $40 a Day With Rachael Ray, and dreamed of someday getting to eat at famous restaurants like Charlie Prodnose’s and Fickelgruber Laundry and Per Slugworth. But the finest restaurant of all, the one Charlie most dreamed of eating at someday, was Chef Grant Wonkatz’ Alinea.

“Tell me about Alinea, Grandpa Jacques,” Charlie would say, for he was always in desperate need of material for his food blog.

“Why, it’s the most marvelous place on earth!” Grandpa Jacques exclaimed. “And Chef Wonkatz is the most marvelous wizard with food that you’ve ever seen! Why, he has a kind of griddle that, instead of making food hot, fries it up cold! He has drinks that are hot at one end and cold at the other end as you drink them—”

“But how does he do that, Grandpa Jacques?” Charlie asked, furiously pressing “Save” on WordPress.

“Nobody knows! That’s what so wangdoodleficating amazing about it! And most amazing of all, he has a ravioli—oh, you’ve never seen such a ravioli in all your life—you bite into it and it explodes in your mouth with all the most amazing flavors that just go on and on until you feel like you’ll never be able to eat anything again! It’s called Wonkatz’ Everlasting Gobslopper and nobody knows how he does it—oh, wouldn’t old Thomas Ficklegruber or Jöel Slugworth give their right eye to know how he does it!”

“But someone must know how he does it,” Charlie said. “Can’t someone bribe his sous chefs or something? Hasn’t he written a big expensive coffee table book?”

“That’s just it,” Grandpa Jacques said, his voice growing low. “Nobody knows who his sous chefs or cooks are. Nobody’s ever been inside his kitchen. All they see are the waiters bringing dishes out. And the busboys taking dishes back in. But what happens in that kitchen, nobody knows…”

flip the pages…

Chapter Nine

The next day Charlie turned on the internet to find that a girl named Violet Beauregarde in New York had won the second Golden Ticket. Her father, a round little man with his hair combed over his head, was talking to the camera.

“Soon as I saw that ticket, I called this here Alinear up,” Mr. Beauregarde said. “I said you listen here, my girl Violet is a verrah famous food blogger, as you no doubt know, and runs a very important survey of very fine dining. And I said, my Violet expects the chef to cook for her. And the clown at the other end says, sir, the chef cooks for everybody, we don’t send the food out raw. No, no, you nitwit, I said, you listen to me, my girl Violet has been in the finest restaurants in all the world, Paris, Vegas, you name it, and maybe this news hasn’t reached the cornfield town you live in but when a customer says they want the chef to cook for them, it means they expect the chef to prepare a special menu just for them, of the chef’s best, not that junk he serves the hoi pa-low-ee. And they expect the chef to come out and talk to them, see? My Violet has some very specific ideas on cuisine and I think it would do your Chef Wonkatz a lot of good to get the benefits of her insights…”

flip the pages…

Chapter Seventeen

As the golden gate shut behind him with a loud clang, Chef Wonkatz began to speak. “You five lucky children—and your charming parents—are the first people to—”

FLASH! went the bulb on Mike Teevee’s pocket camera.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that right in my eyes as I’m speaking,” Chef Wonkatz said.

“Hold on a second Chef,” Mike said, furiously typing on tiny keys the size of mouse teeth. “There! I’ve just uploaded that picture to YFrog.”

“As I was saying—”

“Hang on there Chef,” Mike said. “My Flip camera isn’t picking up the audio very well. Do you think you could turn off some of those machines?”

“I know just the thing to show you,” Chef Wonkatz said. “You know how people send Tweets during their meal?”

“Do I know—listen, Chef, you’re talking to the first kid ever to live-Tweet from the bathrooms at Ducasse!”

“Well,” continued Chef Wonkatz, “I have found a way to Tweet… food.” And he opened the doors to reveal a gleaming white complex of cubicles and computers, at which dozens of casually-dressed Oompa-Loompas sat, furiously typing and then pressing “Send.” At the front of the room stood a plexiglass booth, and inside it was a plate of food neatly threaded onto a metal skewer, and a computer with a large camera-like device attached to it.

“Watch this,” he said, and suddenly the booth was filled with a brilliant white light. When it faded, the food was gone.

“Where’d it go?” asked Charlie.

Suddenly one of the Oompa-Loompas began jumping up and down in his seat. “There!” cried Chef Wonkatz as the five kids and their parents moved forward to see. “There, on his screen! That’s the food!”

“It’s tiny,” Mrs. Beauregarde said.

“It only has 140 characters to capture everything about the dish,” Chef Wonkatz said.

As they squinted at the tiny skewer with its minuscule food threaded through it, no one noticed that Mike Teevee had slipped out of the group and was now running toward the plexiglass booth at the front of the room…

flip the pages…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

“And this one is an oyster topped with yuzu—” Chef Wonkatz said.

“I don’t eat shellfish,” Veruca Salt said. “Contains too many pollutants.”

“What an adorable rhinoceros your child is,” Chef Wonkatz said. “And over here, is a slice of braised Berkshire pork belly with uni flakes and a salt caramel—”

“I don’t eat salt,” Veruca said. “Ironic, I know. Or pork either. And to tell you the truth, Wonky, I’m not wild about uni. Haven’t you got some food a person could eat in this place, like tofu or seitan?”

“I must admit, at the moment I’m not so sure,” said Chef Wonkatz.

“Well, there’s your pantry,” Veruca said. “I’ll just hop over and take a look-see—”

And in a flash Veruca had bounded the barrier and popped into the kitchen. “Stop, you’re not clean enough to be in the kitchen,” Chef Wonkatz shouted.

“Who are you saying isn’t clean?” Mrs. Salt, offended, shouted back.

Veruca hunted through the large steel refrigerator for something to her liking.  “Kangaroo meat… filet of snozzcumberous… Wonky, don’t you know you’re killing yourself with all this stuff?” As she went on, tossing packages over her head, Veruca didn’t notice that a group of Oompa-Loompas was sneaking up behind her with a large plastic bag.

“Say, what are those Oompa-Loompas doing?” Mr. Salt said.

“They’re making sure the meat in the kitchen isn’t contaminated,” Chef Wonkatz said.

“Veruca!” screamed Mrs. Salt, but a moment later the bag was over Veruca’s head and six of the Oompa-Loompas were inserting one end into a large silver machine.  A kind of rumbling noise came from the machine, and then suddenly the plastic seemed to stretch tight over Veruca, following her shape perfectly.

“What have they done?” screamed Mrs. Salt.

“They’ve vacuum-sealed her to keep her fresh,” Chef Wonkatz said resignedly.

And then, carrying the plastic-sealed over her head, the Oompa-Loompas began to sing:

For those who eat most heartily
An occasional blocked artery
Is not so high a price to pay
For enjoying pleasures while you may.
But then there are the crabby sort
Who’d never take a glass of port
A good cigar, a hambone joint
Or paté foie. For them the point
Is bringing to a prompt fruition
The optimum in good nutrition
Devoid of butter, fat or lard
Just whole grain bread turned granite-hard
Broccoli, lentils, bitter kale
Brown rice that tastes like last week’s mail.
One of this kind was Veruca Salt
Present her with a chocolate malt
And you’d be greeted with a look
As if you’d deep-fried a phone book
Tofu, seitan, these were her meats
Served raw upon the greens of beets
Which she would chew with jaw askance
(And soon make noises with her pants).
So long poor V. eschewed her treat
Not us! For us, she’s just fresh meat
She suffers now a fate to heed—
We’re cooking this young Salt sous vide.