In Alexandre Dumas’ foodie classic The Three Musketeers, main character D’Artagnan and his three associates wager with a rum-swilling, goose-fat-eating Swiss mercenary and his ragtag mates: the musketeers will go to the Bastion Saint-Gervais (which D’Artagnan had made a bloody mess of the night before) and enjoy a boozy picnic breakfast, under threat of gunfire, for at least an hour without ceding ground. The winner would enjoy “a dinner for eight...with no limits on the menu.”
In fact, the musketeers stood their ground, drank, ate, chatted, and killed about two dozen bad guys.
Earlier this month I attended the fourth annual Duckathlon in New York City, thanks to an invitation from event founder and host D’Artagnan, seller of foie gras and other fine foods. In the Duckathlon, billed as an epic food battle among four-chef teams from top New York City-area restaurants, squads competing against each other earn points by taking part in what D’Artagnan calls a twenty-event “gastronomic obstacle course” that sends competitors on “an action-packed tour” of area dining hot spots.
I realized only after seeing its numerous team culinary events that the Duckathlon is just slightly less impressive a foodie challenge than the one Dumas dreamed up more than 150 years ago.
|Baylen Linnekin recently sat down with Reason.tv to discuss the Duckathlon, "culinary freedom," and the notion that cooks and customers, not bureaucrats, should decide on what they can and cannot eat. Click on the video above to watch, or follow this link to Reason.tv|
The Culinary Paradox
There is probably no better place in America to hold an event celebrating and defending haute cuisine—and the chefs who cook it—than in New York City. The city is home to many of the best restaurants in the country.
But New York City is also a burgeoning food nanny state, boasting many new regulations that would seem more at home in, well, France.
Two years ago, a city councilor briefly considered attempting to ban foie gras, but thought better of it. But that was the last time New York’s restaurant cops showed anything resembling restraint.
Since then, the city has also banished trans fats from restaurant kitchens and forced chain restaurants to display calorie totals, in large type, alongside every menu item. The city, which claims the menu regulation "will help guide informed and healthier food choices," apparently didn’t find it relevant that this information was already available online and in handouts available in each chain restaurant.
The real pleasure of the Duckathlon is this culinary paradox—a troublesome attack by the state on what people eat that is playing out here and in California, Chicago, and many of this country’s bastions of gastronomy. I wanted to know what these foodies—chefs, suppliers, and journalists—think about what is effectively a fight to keep food legal.
Many at the center of the paradox, including some of the best New York City’s kitchens have to offer, are critical of bans that impact what some consider to be staple foods.
“They’re trying to change doughnuts,” a chef at Daniel, one of the city’s (and the country’s) top restaurants, laments when I asked him about the city’s trans fat ban. “I mean, doughnuts are good. They’re great the way they are.”