Tom Blakely's Food Page
A very personal view of food, from Bennington, Vermont

Email: tfb at ulysses dot cc

We live in strange times. On the one hand, we have the greatest array of food choices in history. On the other, it's easy to live your life eating the same few things over and over again. TV chefs abound while supermarkets are stocked with food from factories, designed by "food scientists" to be maximally addictive and minimally nutritious. Whether the latter is their intent, I don't know. Farm-to-table exists alongside Doritos and Shake-n-Bake. For every Michelin star, the are hundreds of Taco Bells and Waffle Houses. I have nothing against Waffle House (although I prefer IHOP) but a steady diet of fast food and addictive snacks is surely not the way to eat.

Food is personal. Part of what you eat becomes part of you. You may or may not be what you eat, but you are what you ate. As Brillat-Savarin famously said, "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you what you are." He may have been talking about class more that physiology, but to a certain extent, so am I. Through much of human history, and for far too much of the population today, the quest for food is a matter of survival. But for most of you reading this, your next meal is all but guaranteed. What you do look for when you are hungry, when it's time for lunch or dinner, when you select a restaurant, when you shop for food, when you peruse a menu? Surely the choices you make say much about who you are.

In Western culture, once you reach a certain level of affluence, you have an unbelievable range of food choices. Despite the assault on the middle class over the last decades, that level of affluence, the amount of money you need to open the gate to that vast array of choices, is lower now than it has ever been. The "masses" can afford, at least once in a while, to dine at fine restaurants serving food that, in previous generations, only the most wealthy could afford. At the same time, the overall quality of food seems to be going downhill. Fast food and chain restaurants know that they will only survive by providing palatable fare at a reasonable price. Food science is producing products that appeal to our basic craving for carbohydrates, fat and salt, often without including the subtlety and diversity of palate sensations that make great food, well, great.

If it's all about economics, we are doomed. There's a "race to the bottom" in mass marketing that will inevitably lead to reduction in quality such that, in the end, it only has to be good enough that most people will find it acceptable for it to be a commercially viable food product. To a certain extent, we are victims of our own success: the same forces that "raised the standard of living" dictated that not everyone can eat a meal that a small army of kitchen staff spent hours preparing. Restaurants must buy at least some of their foodstuffs in less than pristine state -- prepared, breaded, frozen, packaged in single portion units -- because starting every bit of every meal from scratch just isn't economically feasible. The result is more (the appropriately named) Cheesecake Factory than haute cuisine.

But it's not about how well a chef can disguise the fact that she didn't dress the lamb, bake the bread or grind the coffee beans. It's more about how close she starts to raw, undressed and unground. Good food is simple, fresh, clean, free of processing chemicals and full of the chef's skill and care! Good food may employ food science, if only because so many food preparation techniques are so imprecise. But the food certainly should not contain a list of ingredients that you can't pronounce.

The whole point here is not to be elitist (although I freely admit that I am), exclusive or even to suggest that we completely avoid processed foods, convenience foods and fast foods. But it can start as simply as looking at the ingredients in the food you buy, and choosing foods where the list includes only items that you recognize as actually being food. Once we have food, rather than some kind of chemical stew designed to appeal to our reptilian brain, we can start on our journey.

Every meal should be a quest for satisfaction, but not just satisfying our hunger. We should view food the same way we view music and art. We know what music we like, but we never close the door on listening to something new. And we may frequently return to old favorites, but new favorites are especially good. You can make this as extreme as you want. I really like trying new foods, experiencing them in new combinations and generally expanding my palate. But even if you are not that adventurous when it comes to exotic ingredients, you can still try new combinations, new textures, new techniques, new flavors and new dishes. If you got this far, you must have some interest in exploring food.

This site was, some number of years ago, my attempt to share my exploration. With any luck, I may revive it again.

Some possibly interesting links:
  • Reviews of some of my favorite restaurants can be found at Many of these will be written by me, other will be written by others whose opinions I respect when it comes to food.
  • You need good wine. The best way to develop a palate so you know what kind of wine you like is to attend as many wine tastings as you can. We are very fortunate in Jacksonville that John Bryan maintains a list of current wine-related events in the area, and publishes a weekly email newsletter so that you can keep up. Visit and sign up for the newsletter, then start educating your palate.
  • Why can't we get decent seafood in Jacksonville?
  • A shameless plug for my friend Dennis Chan's cookbook, Hip Asian Comfort Food which also happens to contain amazing photographs by my wife, Linda. You can buy or preview it here, or better yet, visit his restaurant, Blue Bamboo Restaurant and Wine Bar, on Southside Boulevard, have dinner, and get an autographed copy directly from him. Dennis also has a great selection of wine, and wine tastings on the first Thrusday of every month, where you will usually find Linda and me, sometimes pouring the wine.
  • Here's my favorite Bean Salad. If you like it, buy the cookbook it's from. (Nota bene: since I first wrote this, it's gone seriously out of print and the price has gotten ridiculous, at least on Amazon. It's got a couple of good recipes, but I wouldn't pay the asking price these days. If it keeps going up, I may put my copy up for sale.)
  • Click here here for a PDF copy of a wonderful seafood cookbook, sadly out of print, from the Government printing office.
  • Here's my second favorite cookie recipe.
  • Here's a link to my Mom's (Dolly Blakely) holiday cookie recipes (on Google Docs, link works again as of 12/14/2019).