99-cent fine dining  MAR 26 2008

The NY Times dining section has a fun pair of articles today about cooking on the cheap. First, Henry Alford prepared all his meals for a week using ingredients purchased from 99-cent stores.

Because the main Jack's store can have an unpredictable inventory -- yesterday's huge display of Progresso soup is today's much-smaller hillock of marinated mushrooms is tomorrow's sad heap of slightly battered boxes of Royal gelatin -- shopping there is a return to the improvisatory cooking of yore, when people made dinner with whatever was in the market.

Trader Joe's shoppers are already accustomed to those constraints. The Times also enlisted Eric Ripert, chef/owner of NYC's 4-star Le Bernadin, to construct an entire menu using primarily 99-cent items; 5 dishes and 3 desserts for $40.

A butter sauce was whisked into shape to dress frozen crab cakes and Seabrook Farms vegetables. Canned coconut milk went into the jasmine rice and the jarred marinara sauce for baked salmon filets. "Wild salmon for 99 cents!" Mr. Ripert said, in disbelief.

Here's a slideshow of Ripert and his team creating their dishes and his recipe for tuna rillettes. Take that, Sandra Lee.

Update: NPR recently aired a show on Cooking Gourmet with 99¢ Food, featuring Christiane Jory's The 99¢ Only Stores Cookbook, which is due to be released on April 1. Neither Times article makes mention of Jory's book, which seems like an obvious influence (or an incredible coincidence). If the book was an influence, this is bad form on the part of the Times. (thx, janelle)

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