December 28, 2010

My evening with knife skills maestro Norman Weinstein

I’ve been cooking since I was a kid, but until recently had only a vague idea that there was a right way and a wrong way to slice and dice. All of this changed when I took a class from knife skills expert Norman Weinstein at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in Manhattan. His workshops have been so popular that getting into one required keeping an eagle eye on class schedules and swooping down on a spot when a new series was posted.

When I at last made it to the Knife Skills 1 workshop, I was thrilled to meet the knife master in person, but crestfallen to find out that it was his second to last class at ICE; he was retiring, and would only be teaching a few professional classes at the institute after that week. He’s such a legend that he had to shoo Bon Appétit’s Barbara Fairchild, who popped in to pay homage, out of the classroom so he could start the session on time.

Feeling that I was learning from the last of the knife Mohicans, I soaked up every scrap of information, from the basics of kitchen knife construction to selection, maintenance and use. I learned that if you hone your knives on a steel after almost every use, you can minimize the need for sharpening, which will eventually wear away your knife. I also learned that honing steels wear out—when you can no longer feel the grooves along the instrument’s surface, it’s time to buy a new one.

Weinstein, whom I first encountered when I interviewed him for this WSJ story on knife sharpening services, was full of jokes, wisecracks and knife wisdom. “Never take a knife that needs sharpening to a guy driving a truck,” was one such pearl. Shoemakers and sketchy people who grind things other than knives are best avoided as well, he said. When asked what he thought of Japanese santoku knives, he said simply, “I believe in re-gifting.” [I know this is not the opinion of many chefs: my story on Korin Japanese Trading Corp. taught me this.] Weinstein believes that the complete kitchen needs only four knives: A 10” chef’s knife, a 6” utility knife, a paring knife and a scalloped slicing knife. For meat eaters, a carving knife would be a fifth addition.



Norman Weinstein's tomato peel rose.

My tomato peel rose.
It was the hands-on knife skills, though, that I found most eye-opening. I had to re-learn my grip (thumb and forefinger on the knife blade, second finger curled around the finger guard). We learned the “bagel cut,” for slicing laterally through treacherous dough fields, the “low technique” (for short stuff like celery and carrots) and the “high technique” for tall veggies, such as potatoes and melons). It’s all about using the longest knife you can (6” knives mean “you’re working far too hard,” Weinstein told us; let the weight of the knife do the work for you), relaxing the arm, using a light grip, keeping the slicing arm in constant motion and sliding more than chopping. If you’d like to learn the full Weinstein technique, tyou can order his knife skills book and DVD.

I sliced my way through stalks of celery, many carrots and several onions, but my pièce de résistance was a rose I made from a single piece of tomato skin. Perhaps I will take Knife Skills 2, although it’s not on offer at the moment, and won’t be the same without Weinstein at the helm. Happy retirement, Norman!





December 23, 2010

She's got the tree decorating touch

Every year I’ve admired our building’s Christmas tree, and the resident who decorates it so perfectly. This year, I learned, her name is Lynne Block, and she’s been beautifying our lobby for 15 years now. For 14 of those years, she also helped decorate a more famous tree: the 18th-century Neapolitan extravaganza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Although a bookkeeper by trade, Lynne makes religious shrines out of sardine tins and has shown them at several galleries. She came by her Met tree-trimming gig through a friend, the granddaughter of Loretta Hines Howard, the benefactor who donated her collection of angels and crèche figures to the museum. Installed annually in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall, the tree and its decorations have become a major holiday attraction. Lynne’s friend, knowing Lynne had a “delicate touch,” asked her to help with the decorating. She was so good at it that she returned year after year, eventually taking on the job of keeping inventory of the thousands of components of the tableau and making sure the job was on schedule.

“We had 15 working days to get the tree installed, so I would keep track of where we are on the job. I’m a very organized person, so that was one of the things I did bring to the job,” Lynne says modestly.

“I don’t do it anymore because my knees kind of gave out,” Lynne told me. “The slate floors are very hard on them.” When I commented that perhaps her Met experience is why our building’s tree looks so beautiful every year, Lynne said the experience didn’t hurt, but that the Met tree is of a different order of magnitude. Each angel on the 25-foot-tall tree has to have its own little spotlight. Decorating it involves using cherry pickers, electricians and riggers. Lynne helped decorate the tree and the landscape that spreads across the floor all around the tree. “Our tree,” she added of our lobby version, “is much more of a spontaneous emission.”

Lynne did buy a number of our tree ornaments at the Met as well as at the Metropolitan Opera gift store. The Fabergé egg reproductions, the realistic looking clip-on birds and the snowflake ornaments are from the museum; a set of jewel-toned spheres traced with lacy gold filament are from the Met Opera store. Lynne needs to stockpile them because accidents do happen in an apartment building lobby. “One time a UPS guy came in and leaned this big box against the pillar, and it knocked about five or six things off,” she recounts. “That’s why I watch the sales; we need to have a supply so we can replace stuff.”

The ornaments Lynne loves most, though, are the ones that have a history tied to our building. One resident was in the ornament business, so he donated some for the tree. “When one of the little old ladies in the building died, her family gave us some of her ornaments,” Lynne says. “The history of the building is in the tree.”

Knowing all this makes the tree even more special to me, spontaneous emission or not. Merry Christmas to all!

November 19, 2010

Kitchen hit parade

David's picture of Julia Child's kitchen, now on display at the Smithsonian
A nice piece of kitchen synergy: I wrote this Edible Manhattan article about Counterspace: Design and the Modern Kitchen an enticing box of eye candy now on view at MoMA for those who love design, architecture and cooking. Then my friend David Craig, featured these classic kitchens in his blog. If you're longing to be in the kitchen but powerful forces preventing that from happening, here's the solution.

November 14, 2010

The West Village's real meat market: Florence Prime

One of my favorite West Village rituals is to drop in on Florence Prime Meat Market (5 Jones Street) on a weekday afternoon. Free of weekend lineups, the crew, fronted by the efficient Maria Alava at the register, is cheerful and relaxed, its mood enhanced by the soothing classical music that always fills the store.

It’s the kind of place with sawdust on the floor, framed charts of beef cuts on the walls, handsaws hanging from hooks. The wooden butcher blocks have been worn concave with use, and the scales and meat case date back to the FDR administration. Many of Florence’s employees have been there as long as owner Benny Pizzuco, since 1995. “Once in a while one or two of the delivery boys change, but they all start out with a broom,” says Benny. “We we don’t start with butchers; they come with bad habits. They have to be taught our way.”

Although Benny worked as a butcher on Long Island before coming to Florence, he still studied the Florence way as an employee for several years before buying the shop in 1995 from previous owner Tony Pellegrino. Tony took over in 1975, but the shop has been around since 1936, when a butcher named Jack Ubaldi first opened its doors.

“We’re one of the last actual prime custom shops in the city,” says Benny. “Walk into other places and everything is cut already.” Pizzuco says he has one or two customers who have been coming to the store since it opened (or their parents did), though most are gone. A number of long-time customers have moved to the suburbs, but still make the drive in on Saturdays to pick up their weekly order.

Pizzuco takes pride in his beef, dry aged for up to three weeks and hand cut to order, handmade sausages, and his seasoned veal roasts, offered two ways: one with prosciutto, pepper, rosemary and garlic, and the other with spinach, sausage and herbs. “The seasoning goes where it belongs, on the inside,” he says.

This Thanksgiving , as every year, Florence is taking pre-orders for natural fresh turkeys, fresh duck, squab and quail, which Benny gets from a farmer in Pennsylvania with whom he’s had a longstanding relationship. On my last visit, one regular wanted to make sure that her turkey would be a wild one. They’re a little tougher, and a little gamier, an acquired taste that is a badge of honor among those who possess it.

Certain info is proprietary at Florence, such as the name of Benny’s turkey supplier, and how exactly he cuts his Newport steaks. The Newport, said to have been invented at Florence, is still one of its top sellers. It is a type of tri-tip, normally a grainy, triangular-shaped muscle from the bottom sirloin of the cow, but somehow rendered much more appetizing by the butchers at Florence.

“When Jack opened the place, it was very bohemian around here,” Benny explains. “People were really starving artists. He came up with this fairly reasonable cut.” (Still reasonable, it sells for $7.99 a pound at Florence.) The name came from the package of Newport cigarettes, which featured a half moon logo. “Back then it was fashionable, though today it might bother people.”

Don’t even get Benny started on the vagaries of outer-borough food stores and cheap meat. “To be honest witcha (one of Benny’s favorite sentence starters) all of those businesses, the meat market, the food store, the fish store, once you leave Manhattan, they’re gone; not enough people are interested in food to support a place like this. The stuff at Costco is horrible, untrimmed, in a bloody plastic bag. Why would you want to spend six-ninety-nine a pound for a steak when you eat only fifty percent of it?” he asks.

Anyway, back to the secret of that tender Newport. Benny will reveal that it is only partly tri-tip, and so more prime and tender. But he prefers not to divulge this “seventy-something-year-old secret.”

That’s okay with me. I’m happy that Benny has such secrets, and that Florence is still here to maintain them.

Florence Prime Meat Market
5 Jones Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-6531

November 11, 2010

Joël Robuchon makes magic on 57th Street

Whenever the boss is in town, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the Four Seasons Hotel crackles with an extra jolt of electricity. Today, the Robuchon force field was so powerful that his team of precision alchemists turned out a feast for the ages, what for me was the best meal of my life.


The occasion was hosted by M. Bernard Margez, the French wine magnate who owns 36 vineyards in eight countries and champions the idea of micro-cuvées, limited-production wines from vineyards that lack the cachet of the great terroirs. Margez has teamed up with the exporter Maison Joanne and is ready to spread his message and his product in the U.S.

So there were ravishing wines, notably a 2007 Château Pape Clément white, and double magnums of 1986 Château Pape Clément red, from the Pessac-Léognan region of Bordeaux, where wine has been made since 1252. Magret apologized for his English, quoted Montaigne on friendship, and thanked the Americans, without whose intervention in World War II, he said, “we would be speaking German today.”
Sommelier Jason Wagner

It was Robuchon’s food, however that stole the day for me: sea urchin in a domed glass cup covered in a white tea and carrot mouseline, king crab in a thin turnip ravioli with rosemary, sea bass surrounded by an ethereal lemongrass foam and stewed baby leeks, sliced wagyu rib-eye scented with wasabi. The wonder of Robuchon’s cooking and his menu is its simplicity and perfect artistry. He keeps his descriptions short, and throws in tiny accents, like the unheralded miniature enoki mushroom caps and the crispy pearl onion rings that helped make the wagyu dish soar.
Le Mikado: light chocolate cream with crackly strudel and intense coffee dome

When he made his appearance, the chef, who commands 26 Michelin stars in 16 cities around the world, was gracious and charming, hardly the exacting taskmaster he is known to be in the kitchen. During my interview with Robuchon in 2006 at the time of his New York Atelier launch, he revealed that he has a weakness for gadgets. On this trip, the man who sings the praises of a simply grilled baby lamb over a wood fire and strives to strip food down to its unadorned essence said he satisfied another craving: he bought an iPad.

November 10, 2010

Thai food via Harold Dieterle lands in the West Village

One of the very few disappointments of New York City dining has been the lack of great Thai restaurants. Los Angeles, even Boston, had more to offer in this category when I lived in those cities, the great Sripraphai in Woodside notwithstanding.

Suddenly, however, we Villagers are graced with two pedigreed newcomers. I haven't tried Las Vegas import Lotus of Siam, at 9th Street and Fifth Avenue yet, but happily dug into Harold Dieterle's take on Thai at Kin Shop on Sixth Avenue at 11th Street.. The winner of the first season of Top Chef had no background in Thai cooking, but a trip to Thailand made such a deep impression he immersed himself in the cuisine and made it the animating passion of his second restaurant.

Like Dieterle's first venture, Perilla, on nearby Jones Street, Kin Shop's decor is modest, clean and modern, in this case done up in watery blues and greens and soothing Thai prints.

We loved California's Uncommon Breweries Siamese Twin Ale, a malty, Belgian-style amber infused with lemongrass and kaffir lime. It got along famously with a deeply flavored steamed pork meatball soup with bok choy and a grilled wagyu beef rib cap salad with fiery pickled cauliflower, gooseberries, and mint bathed in a fish sauce dressing. There was vinegary grilled egglplant, showered with sesame seeds and biting black pepper, and bay scallops in a mild curry were marred only slightly by stringy  snap peas (something I've encountered lately in other green market snap peas). A comforting braised goat in Massaman curry showed off what Dieterle's Western culinary training brings to the table, slow cooked meats in favor of the more traditional Thai-style quick-firedproteins.

It's fantastic to have Kin Shop in the neighborhood, but stepping out into the cold on Sixth Avenue reminded us why at any price point, New York is a great eating town. Next door, a man stood in front of Ray's Pizza, an open box in his hand, scarfing a slice while his black lab sat by his side, panting eagerly after a taste. "He's had more pepperoni than I have," the man told us, just a tad defensively..

 

November 7, 2010

Pots and Pans 101

Since I love cookware, I jumped at the chance to interview the owner of Broadway Panhandler, Norman Kornbleuth, who’s been in the business of outfitting New York kitchens since 1976. He knows a thing or two about pots and pans, since he’s been surrounded by them since the early 1940s when he was a five-year-old at play in his father’s institutional kitchen supply store on the Bowery.

Some of the more inside-Kitchen-Stadium details I picked up during my tour of BP with Kornbleuth didn’t make it into my Edible Manhattan Story, Worth the Trip. So for those of you who live for discussions about the conductivity of aluminum, copper, or cast iron, this blog post is for you.

The cast iron corner of the store (65 E. 8th Street) is given over to Lodge Logic brand pots, pans and other specialty items, such as molds for baking biscuits and corn-shaped cornbread. The company has been around for over 100 years, and Kornbleuth loves the fact that it’s still family owned, as are many of the businesses with which he maintains decades-old ties. The Pittsburgh, Tenn.-based company’s griddles have been a staple of military kitchens through many a foreign war, can take heat at full blast and leave impressive grill marks. Plus, as they become seasoned, they develop a non-stick quality without the chemicals of treated surfaces. If you think plain old cast iron is too campfire for your kitchen, French maker Le Creuset dresses it up in colored enamels, akin to throwing a sparkly jacket over your jumper to go from office to evening out.

It is copper, however, that is the king of conductivity, if expensive (a 3-piece starter set will run you $900) and high maintenance. It heats up with lightning speed and cools down almost as fast, so delicate foods and sauces don’t overcook. It’s so conductive, in fact, says Kornbleuth, that first-time users often burn foods. The Bourgeat brand that Broadway Panhandler carries is lined with a very thin layer of stainless steel; when copper comes in direct contact with food it emits harmful chemicals. Unlined copper, however, Kornbleuth told me, is extremely good for the non-reactive processes of melting sugar and beating egg whites. In the old days, copper was tin plated on one side, and nickel plated on the other, which meant that you had to re-tin your pots periodically. Two other drawbacks are that copper is a very soft metal and scratches easily, and that with use, it oxidizes and turns a dark, greenish hue.

The next best thing in kitchen conductivity is aluminum. BP sells inexpensive, straight aluminum cookware to restaurants. Yet since it also is reactive (for example it can discolor a white sauce and impart a faint metallic taste), most aluminum these days is coated. In the late 1960s, an American named John Ulam patented a bonding technology that used heat and pressure to create a non-reactive sandwich of stainless steel and aluminum. His invention became All-Clad, which is manufactured in Pittsburgh and now includes a copper core line. It’s great at delivering heat evenly and efficiently, and is one of my kitchen standbys.

Although he looks at every new pot and pan on the market, Kornbleuth remains old school in his preferences. Except for delicate fish filets and egg dishes, he asserts, there is no need for treated surfaces if you bring cooking oil up to the proper temperature before sautéing or frying and avoid cooking foods straight out of the refrigerator.

“We don’t’ believe strongly in coated surfaces,” he told me, “but we have started to sell ceramic coating, which Is an excellent substitute for non-stick.” Although it seems to me most chefs turn a blind eye to the evidence that Teflon emits toxic gases (after all, these are the people who bring all their imagination to bear on pork belly and turn humble ingrecients into cassoulet; they’re devoted to making the life we have enjoyable, not necessarily longer), it is good for us home cooks to know that newer ceramic-coated pans use none of the chemicals found in Teflon. Kornbleuth says the Swiss-made Swiss Diamond line features the best of the non-stick surfaces (its surface is actually infused with diamonds and it comes with a lifetime guarantee). He also carries non-stick lines from Cuisinart and Tramontina, and two new Italian lines from Bialetti and Mepra.

Happy cooking!

October 23, 2010

St. Vincent's Hospital: what can be done?

 The grassroots movement to replace St. Vincent’s Hospital with a similar facility received a boost on October 17 at a rally in front of the hospital site at 7th Avenue and 12th Street. Speakers ranging from an 11-year-old P.S. 41 student whose brother’s life was saved by St. Vincent doctors to Lt. Dan Choi (who stood up to the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy) were on hand to lend their support to the cause.

Among them was Dr. David Kaufman, who served as an attending physician at St. Vs for over 30 years and as director of HIV clinical research. He reminded the assembled crowd that 340 inpatient beds, 22 operating rooms in full-time use, 23 clinics, 18 mental health sites and dozens homeless shelters and outreach programs can’t be shut down in under a month without any fallout. And that’s not even counting the over 60,000 emergency visits that the hospital’s ER logged annually. Dr. Kaufman’s rhetorical question to the powers that be was, “Where have all the patients gone?”
Dr. Kaufmans’s speech brought some much-needed hard numbers to the debate over St. Vincent’s, so WestView will be reprinting it in its November issue. When I spoke to Dr. Kaufman over the telephone, he told me that although he initially thought the cause of The Coalition for a New Village Hospital was a lost one (as apparently do all of our local and state politicians), or at least far-fetched, he’s been encouraged in recent days by the turnout at the rally (an estimated 500 to 1,000 people, depending on whose counting) and by “murmurings” he’s been hearing.

I didn’t feel encouraged after reading an excellent cover story in this week’s New York magazine, St. Vincent’s is the Lehman Brothers of Hospitals, in which writer Mark Levine placed St. Vincent’s closure amid a larger picture of New York hospitals as an outmoded economic model. The high cost of doing business in New York City, shrinking Medicaid and Medicare dollars, powerful private insurers who bully smaller hospitals into low reimbursement rates, and on and on...suffice it to say the story paints a depressing picture.

The even bigger problem for the West Village at the moment, however, is state health commissioner Richard Daines, who did not support a take-over bid by Mt. Sinai, and seems to be content to watch a Darwinian state healthcare scenario unfold to the detriment of the poor, the weak and the uninsured. As Dr. Kaufman put it, our best hope may lie in the power of the vote. “November second,” he told me. “The only way it’s going to change is if we get rid of Daines. Presumably a new governor will put someone different [in the health commissioner’s position.]”

Dr. Kaufman’s parting words were on the 17th were, “This is not a done deal. Maybe, just maybe, it is a new beginning. But it will take the relentless pressure and voice of our community. We need you to speak up, speak out, write, email, demonstrate and never give up.”
For a list of things you can do and politicians you can contact, go to the Coalition's Web Site, and scroll down to "Can't make it today? Here's what you can do."


October 12, 2010

The Anti-Michelin Man: Christian Delouvrier shuns stars on Second Avenue


The recent announcement of the 2011 Michelin Guide rankings for New York City arrived with its usual fanfare, setting up some restaurants for superstardom and no doubt dropping a cloud of disappointment (and worse) on others. When two friends and I visited Bernard Loiseau’s newly anointed three-star restaurant La Côte d’Or in Burguny back in 1991 or so, the chef, who was both charming and fanatical, recounted to us his relentless bid for stardom. Every morning when he woke up, he said, as he put on his socks, he would chant to himself “trois etoiles, trois etoiles,” (three stars, three stars). In 2003, Loiseau committed suicide, an act many believed was related to a decline in critical acclaim for his restaurant and rumors that he was about to lose one of his prized Michelin stars.



Where stealth chef Christian Delouvrier works his magic.

Amid this year’s Michelin triumphs and demotions, and in memory of Loiseau, it’s instructive to look at a chef who once fiercely safeguarded his stars before opting for life in a much slower lane. Christian Delouvrier earned four stars from The New York Times at Lespinasse in 1998 and then pulled down three Michelin stars at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. The restaurant was a target of critics from the beginning, however. Although awarded its three Michelin stars from inspectors under Delouvrier’s watch, the Times subtracted its fourth star in 2005, leading to Delouvrier’s departure.

He cooked at a La Goulue in Bal Harbor, Brasserie Ruhlmann in Chicago, and briefly at David Bouley’s Secession. Then suddenly the celebrity chef manqué appeared in the kitchen at La Mangeoire, a 30-year-old Provençal bistro on Second Avenue at 53rd Street.

I happened to talk to Delouvrier recently while reporting a story, and asked how he ended up here, amid cheerful sunflower- and orange-colored bric-a-brac, in a corner of Manhattan far from the power corridors of his previous kitchens. His cooking happens to retain all of its fantastic-ness, by the way, but coming across it here is little like stumbling upon a Caravaggio at the Greenwich Avenue Street Fair.

“That’s a good question,” the gentlemanly chef responded, “and I’m going to tell you what really attracted me here. “In 2008 I was in Bal Harbor, and I decided to come back to New York. One day somebody called me up, he said he needed a consultant. I went there, we talked, and I really got very excited about this. It was the challenge of “taking a restaurant that had been run differently,” and making it his own that drew him. “The challenge is still there,” he said, “We are not yet where we want to be.”

Also alluring was the fact that La Mangeoire was off the radar of blood-sniffing critics. “After being in a four-star restaurant,” the chef explained, “it is very, very soothing to be able to work and do whatever I want, and to bring a restaurant up to the level I would like to see. It’s a work in progress, and I really enjoy that.”

La Mangeoire owner Gérard Donato deserves Salesman of the Decade award for landing this talented chef; we’re looking forward to seeing what the duo creates in the coming months and years.

September 30, 2010

Remembering St. Vincent's Emergency Room

I’ve spent time in many hospital emergency rooms, but my late-night visit to St. Vincent’s in January 2007 stands out. There were more crazy people, more cops and more drunk and deranged people than average, for one thing. Since I was in Greenwich Village very late on a Friday night, this shouldn’t have been surprising. Getting something as simple as a blanket took an eternity, and the nurses had a gruff, seen-it-all attitude. The place felt more like a scene from M*A*S*H than the sleepy scenarios I’ve witnessed at emergency rooms in Jasper, Alberta, or Toronto. The only one that comes close for sheer colorfulness was Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center’s ER, which featured a higher number of gunshot victims and patients chained to gurneys and guarded by police officers.


This St. Vincent’s memory came to mind because I’ve been speaking to people to get their “St. Vincent’s ER Saved My Life” stories for WestView. Many of them are elderly, and are understandably frightened that since St. Vincent’s April closure, the closest Level 1 trauma center on Manhattan’s West Side is St. Luke’s Roosevelt at 114th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Their worry: What will happen if another life-threatening asthma attack occurs, or heart attack, stroke or terrorist bombing? The extra 15 minutes or longer, depending on traffic, it takes to get to Bellevue or St. Luke’s could mean the difference between life and death.


The level of complacency among residents here in the West Village is puzzling. As one senior activist in my building put it, “No one cares, because none of them go to St. Vincent’s.” That’s probably true. Affluent, newer residents have specialists and family doctors elsewhere, who did not have admitting privileges at the atrociously mismanaged St. Vincent’s. Perhaps they imagine themselves being expedited to New York Presbyterian’s ER via helicopter when disaster strikes.
 
Older residents—especially those who saw the pivotal and compassionate role St. Vincent’s played in the community during the 1980s AIDS crisis—recall nuns and nurses who were like angels, compassionate doctors and a sense of community at the medical center. By the time I got there, however, it was clearly a hospital and staff that had seen better days, and was just trying to hang on. The important thing, though, was that it was there, it was open, and it offered the community trauma, emergency and crisis centers, as well as the full range of medical specialists on the premises 24/7.

Walk-in urgent care centers are simply no substitute.




September 23, 2010

Hare with a pudding in its belly, and the future of cookbooks

I blogged recently about food historian Sandra Sherman's fascinating book, Invention of the Modern Cookbook, in which she explains how many cook and cookbook attributes that we think of as particularly modern (the incessant hype and marketing, the cult of the celebrity chef, the cunning methods of creating a market, etc.) were actually invented in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Last night I attended a lecture Sherman gave at the 58th Street public library on her book and was especially delighted with this example she gave of a 17th-century recipe:

Hare With a Pudding in its Belly

Gallon of flour, one-half ounce of nutmeg, one-half ounce pepper, salt, capers, raisins, pears in quarters, prunes with grapes, lemon, or gooseberries, and for the liquor, a pound of sugar, pint of claret or verjuyce, and some large mace.

Quantities peter out, and there is no mention of  cooking methods, times or the order of adding ingredients. I would be hard pressed to make the pudding, let alone figure out how to cook it in the hare's belly. Sherman's point was that it took a while for early cookbook authors to figure out how to write a recipe down. At least some things about cookbooks have progressed quite a bit since those early days.

Questioned on whether cookbooks will survive the abundance of free cooking advice, recipes, videos and other information on the internet, Sherman replied with the confidence of someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about them, "I'm sure that cookbooks will be the last books standing."

September 15, 2010

A visit with nose-to-tail eating evangelist Fergus Henderson

During my family’s recent visit to London, we visited the birthplace of modern nose-to-tail dining, St. John Restaurant, and its father, Fergus Henderson. The architect and self-taught chef opened his restaurant in 1994 and set down his philosophy in the now-classic Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking (Bloomsbury) in 1999, opening the book by explaining, “’Nose to Tail Eating’ means it would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, which lie beyond the filet.”


Henderson advocated a return to offal, the humble organ meats and gristly parts of the animal that make many people these days say “ewww,” though they were once common dishes in parts of the world. Henderson included in his book recipes for warm pig’s head, as well as pig’s spleen, tails, trotter, cheek and tongue; grilled, marinated calf’s heart; boiled ox tongue, and four ways to prepare lamb’s brains. The chef’s voice is a large part of the charm of his cookbook; it’s whimsical, encouraging and kind. Of tripe, he writes, “Do not let the tripe word deter you, let its soothing charms win you over and enjoy it as do those who always have!”

Henderson became a culinary cult figure, and incongruously, given his gentle personality, spawned dozens of macho, tattooed aspirants who never had pig’s trotters lovingly braised by grandma, as many a European chef has. Nose-to-tail cooking and eating was new to the younger generation, but it was an idea that was in sync with today's ethos of low-waste, sustainable farming. Plus, there was the bonus outlaw aspect of extreme eating. A sequel to Henderson's cookbook, The Whole Beast: Nose-to-Tail Eating was published in 2004.

We were one of the first lunch guests of the day in the plain, all-white dining room, an abattoir-like environment appropriate for its location near the Smithfield meat market. St. John’s deep selection of offal dishes is rounded out with simply prepared but delicious English dishes such as cold roast lamb, green beans and anchovy, brown crabmeat on toast, and Welsh rarebit.

Henderson appeared at our table, looking like an overgrown, rumpled school boy in a pink Oxford shirt and corduroy suit (it was late summer, but London at this time of year felt more like fall in New York, only humid and changeable). In round horn-rimmed glasses and with a soft voice and diffident hand gestures, the chef told us that he had actually been in our own West Village neighborhood on several occasions in the recent past, to cook at April Bloomfield’s gastro-pub The Spotted Pig at West 11th and Washington Streets, and at a neighborhood favorite of ours, Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto on West 12th Street. Both The Spotted Pig—which serves a more toned-down down version of Henderson’s offal-centric British fare—and Barbuto—the casual open-air restaurant that turns out a simply and perfectly roasted chicken—make congenial homes away from home for Henderson’s earthy cooking.

Although an assistant sent me a press release and pictures of the minimalist and modern St. John Hotel that Henderson plans to open in London’s Chinatown in October, Henderson is hardly the type to engage in the hard sell. There are no rave reviews plastered at the front of his restaurant, no mention of his Michelin star shoved in your face as you enter the restaurant. When asked if his new hotel would be party to any of the hotel designations that tourists look for (the Leading Hotels of the world, for example), he replied, “We’re not very good at joining things,” and pointed out that many of these lists involve payment in exchange for inclusion.

Although Henderson admitted that he did, as a trained architect, enjoy having a hand in designing the 15-room hotel, on site of a former London theater landmark, it was “more fate” than anything else that had led to this venture. He and business partner Trevor Gulliver had planned to build a hotel in Beirut, but that fell through. When the Chinatown space became available, they jumped on it. The hotel will include a bar and a restaurant that will stay open until 2 a.m.

Henderson talked briefly about his battle with Parkinson’s disease, referring to “my ropey left side.” The tremors have sidelined him from daily kitchen cooking, though he says that what is being served is still very much his food. “I’m here every day so if the chefs go crazy, I’ll pull them in line again,” he told us. In 2005, he underwent a procedure called deep brain stimulation, in which a wire fitted with electrodes was surgically implanted in his brain tissue and connected to a pacemaker-like control device in his chest. His symptoms have vastly improved, but are probably at play in those diffident hand gestures, controlled but still visible. Although the chef may at one time have hoped to return to the kitchen, he’s kept his status as the guiding creative force and public face of the restaurant.

For lunch, Henderson recommended that we try the grouse, at the time in season and visible on select menus throughout London. Henderson’s version is a small, whole roasted baby grouse from the moors of Yorkshire. “It’s so tender it almost melts in your mouth, and has this wonderful musky undertone,” he said, adding, “People always tell you’re the grouse is terrible this year and then they charge you a fortune for it. This year, they’re saying it’s actually a good year, and then they charge you a fortune for it.” We opted for an order of Henderson’s celebrated roasted marrow bones, parsley salad and sea salt; the grouse, which came with a side of liver (or was it duck heart, which Henderson is also partial to?) paste on toast crisped in duck fat; an order of witch sole and tartar sauce, some lightly braised spring cabbage and boiled new potatoes. All were astonishingly simple and flavorful. Desserts of a sublime, currant-stuffed Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese, honey roasted figs on toasted brioche and chocolate pot rounded out our meal, leaving us feeling that we had, at last, tasted British cooking at its elemental best.

St. John Bar & Restaurant Smithfield
26 St. John Street
London, England
EC1M 4AY
Reservations 020 7251 0848
(email: reservations@stjohnrestaurant.com)
For details on St. John Bread and Wine, Spitalfields:
http://www.stjohnrestaurant.com/home/

September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11

It's a beautiful day in the Village today, just as it was exactly nine years ago. The good weather brought strollers out in force Here are a few 9/11-related remembrances I spotted. This giant flag on the wall of the now-closed St. Vincent's on 7th Avenue is accompanied by a sign that reads:

Although we are gone
The Family of St. Vincent's
Will Never Forget
9/11/01


It's a reminder of the role the hospital played in administering to the wounded that day, and of the hole in trauma, cardiac, crisis and emergency services left by its closing.

Like most pedestrians, I tend to walk right by the Tiles for America on 7th Avenue and Greenwich Avenue, but stopped today to take a closer look. The tiles are fading, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation is trying to save them.





In front of Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, this sign responded to the recent Koran-burning story and  critics of the proposed community center and mosque near Ground Zero, quoting George W. Bush:


September 2, 2010

Pagliacci on Coney Island: the high-low art of Mercury Opera

Last night I attended a terrific opera that has to take the show-must-go-on prize for overcoming mountainous obstacles.  Mercury Opera Artistic Director Daria Parada somehow managed to stage an offbeat yet artistically accomplished version of I Pagliacci in the building that usually houses the Coney Island Sideshow.

It was the perfect venue for the production, since Parada’s interpretation of Pagliacci transposes the Ruggero Leoncavallo favorite to the amusement park boardwalk on the day of the Mermaid Parade. The Banff School of Fine Arts and Mannes College of Music-trained singer launched her company in New York City in 1999. In 2005 she relocated to her hometown of Edmonton, Canada for love, to marry musician Boris Derow. Parada first staged Pagliacci to rave reviews at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, but from the moment she first clapped eyes on Coney Island in 1992, bringing the production to the actual boardwalk that inspired it was her ultimate goal.

Parada held a competition for singers, and planned to stage the production in a tent on the Thor Equities lot on Coney Island. But a reduction in the number of seats she was allowed made the production financially untenable. After first considering cancelling the show, Parada thought of the Coney Island Side Show building on Surf Avenue and 12th Street, the original inspiration for her Pagliacci. Miraculously, despite the Side Show's busy summer schedule, its owner granted Parada use of the facility for one night only. Meanwhile, the tenor who had won the competition dropped out, the conductor walked out, and another singer was dragging the cast down by his lack of preparation.

 Somehow, the persuasive and plucky Parada managed to lure two top-notch performers to fly out from Phoenix and Niagara Falls to fill in, and Boris, her husband, did a superb job in the role of Beppe.
The event was a giant hit with the packed audience. Parada envisions Pagliacci becoming like a Cirque du Soleil production or a traveling Broadway show, constantly in production somewhere in the world. At the moment, she's in conversation with the Coney Island Side Show about doing an actual run there.

The last item in the evening’s program fittingly captured the miracuous quality of the evening. It was a quote from Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love: “….Allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. So what do we do? Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well. How? I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

For more information, contact: mercuryopera@gmail.com,917 757 1849
9320-106 A Avenue Edmonton, AB Canada T5H 0S7.




.

August 27, 2010

Living Spaces for a Small Planet


I saw a terrific show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last week called 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces. Out of 19 architects invited to submit proposals for small structures, seven were selected and constructed, and are scattered throughout the museum. The V&A’s challenge to architects was to design a space that explores the idea of refuge and retreat. Here are two of my favorites, Terunobu Fujimori’s “Beetle’s House,” and the Norwegian Helen & Hard Architects’ “Ratatosk.”

The first, conceived as a venue for an English version of the Japanese tea ceremony, is made of charred pine and is set atop stilts. The charring is an ancient and labor-intensive Japanese method of preserving wood, and gives the teahouse a weathered, alligator-like skin. Visitors climb a ladder and enter by a hatch in the floor of the teahouse. Traditional Japanese building methods were used to evoke a simpler, more primitive way of life. Housed in the V&A’s sunlight-filled Medieval and Renaissance room, the juxtaposition of this new, yet old-looking structure next to a medieval wooden spiral staircase was fantastic. Fujimori is a longtime professor of architectural history at Tokyo University who came to designing structures later in life.

The title for the second piece, “Ratatosk,” comes from the name of a squirrel in Norse mythology that lived in a giant ash tree at the center of the cosmos. The architects of Helen & Hard constructed their piece—which sits in the outdoor courtyard of the V&A—from five ash trees split lengthwise, planted face to face and covered with a canopy of curving willow slats. Although they used a high-tech 3-D scanning and modeling process to map sections of wood to be cut, the result is completely organic, conjuring the forested magic of myth and fairytale.

August 14, 2010

When samurai walked the streets of New York

There is a curious gem of an exhibition on now at the Museum of the City of New York, Samurai in New York. The show tells the story of the first official delegation of Japanese to visit the country in 1860, not long after Commodore Matthew Perry forced the ports of Japan to open after 220 years of isolation from “barbarian” foreign influences.

The purpose of the nine-month voyage was to ratify an amity and commerce treaty Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate signed with the U.S. in 1858. A total of 170 Japanese left from Edo (now Tokyo), including the official delegation of 76 samurai, interpreters, doctors and other functionaries. After setting anchor in San Francisco Bay, the “Japanese Embassy” as the delegation was known, split off from the rest of the group and continued on to the East Coast via a Panama land crossing. The Embassy completed its mission in Washington, traveled through Baltimore and Philadelphia and ended its visit with a two-week stay in New York.

In the Big Apple, the furor the delegation’s visit created was like something you might expect if aliens were to descended from a space ship to take a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg. With their shaved heads, topknots, hakama (skirt-like culottes), swords and martial demeanors, they were the extra-terrestrials of their day, and a transfixed city made them the toast of the town. New York, entrepreneurial and sassy on the eve of the Civil War, tried to portray itself as the “Edo of the West” to the visitors, staging two parades, a City Hall reception, and a grand ball, among other lavish celebrations. Walt Whitman wrote a typically hyperbolic poem commemorating the teeming parade up Broadway that he witnessed:

Over sea, hither from Niphon,
Courteous, the Princes of Asia, swart cheek’d princes…
First-comers, guests, two-sworded princes,
Lesson-giving princes, leaning back in their open barouches,
Bare-headed, impassive……
This day they ride through Manhattan……
When million-footed Manhattan, unpent, descends to its pavements….
When pennants trail, and festoons hang from the windows,
When Broadway is entirely given up to foot-passers and foot-
standers……

The exhibit is filled with curious mementoes: stereoscopic photographs, some of them hand-colored, of the visitors and their hosts; gifts exchanged; sketches and poems composed by the several poets and artists members of the Embassy. The visitors were especially impressed with a hot air balloon draped with flags that they witnessed rise in Philadelphia and head to New York, another commemoration of their historic visit.

An excited press even manufactured a young heartthrob among the members of the Japanese Embassy, Tateishi “Tommy” Onojiro (photo, left), a teenaged interpreter-in-training who reporters dubbed a “darling fellow,” and a “Japanese prince.” By the time the Embassy reached Washington, young ladies were in a frenzy to meet him, begging for his autograph or to have their photo taken with him (photo, below left).

The first American Consul General in Japan, Townsend Harris, arranged the trip and was largely responsible for this hero’s welcome; he had elevated the status of the Embassy in order to burnish his own reputation and persuade his government to foot the bill for the entire trip.

Despite the image-making of Harris, aided by Whitman and the press, the truth, writes Masao Miyoshi in his absorbing book about the Japanese Embassy, As We Saw Them: The First Japanese Embassy to the United States, was that the Tokugawa Shogunate sent “rather humble officials” to America.

Even the MCNY exhibit (co-presented with the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University) falls into the trap of romanticizing the exotic visitors, describing them as “all sword-wielding samurai” and “members of the military nobility.” Miyoshi dismisses them as “a group of bureaucrats too humble to even guess where Tokugawa policy might turn next.” (A few members did, however, go on to have distinguished careers in Japan, although one, a Tokugawa loyalist to the end, was beheaded by the imperial army.)

The compact MCNY exhibit touches briefly on the ugly racism that appeared in press accounts and among the American populace during this giddy cross-cultural exchange. For greater detail and complexity, though, look to Miyoshi’s 2005 book. He describes the impressions of both the Japanese Embassy members—whom he criticizes for being incurious and condescending—and the Westerners, who, although genuinely welcoming and generous, harbored equally appalled responses to certain Japanese customs and behaviors.

In answer to food historian Sandra Sherman’s question to me after she saw the exhibit, “What did they eat?” Miyoshi offers an amusing description of the difficulty the delegation had with the rich feasts that were endlessly proffered to them. Even today, the author points out, Japanese are “extremely attached to their native diet of rice, soy sauce, bean paste, fish and poultry, and cannot tolerate Western cuisine for any prolonged time.” (So true!) Many also adhered to Buddhist vegetarian diets and never touched milk, cheese or butter. Although the envoys brought huge quantities of their own foods and learned to love some delicacies (ice cream and champagne, for example), keeping well-fed on the trip was a challenge. They were “at times famished in the midst of feasts more luxurious than they had ever dreamed,” writes Miyoshi.

Miyoshi’s scholarly book (he was a professor of Japanese, English and comparative literature at UCSD) is both comic and poignant, and ends with the suggestion that despite the cosmopolitan outlook of many Japanese today and 150 years of diplomacy between Japan and the U.S., the relationship between the two countries is still, at bottom, one of mutual bafflement and incomprehension.

Samurai in New York
The Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave. at 103rd St.
New York, NY 10029
(212) 534.1672
www.mcny.org
Through October 11th, 2010

August 6, 2010

The NEDA coach and trainer toolkit has arrived!

Exciting news: The National Eating Disorders Association toolkit for coaches and trainers that I coordinated and wrote has just been launched online. You can download and view it here.

At the outset of this project, I knew a fair amount about eating disorders through co-authoring The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders with Dr. Marcia Herrin.  But I learned a lot more about athletics and eating disorders, including useful general information about sport, fueling and hydration that I have taken every opportunity to pester Son about, and even the children of other people.

 Organized sport, often as early as at the middle school level,  emphasizes the achievement of lean muscle mass, peak fitness levels and winning at all costs. The most successful athletes are driven, highly competitive and intensely perfectionistic, traits that just happen to be risk factors for disordered eating and eating disorders. For a genetically susceptible child or adult, the combination of these traits and sport can be dangerous; it’s no surprise that there is a high incidence of eating problems among competitive athletes.

The very nature of some sports can be damaging to the body image of both women and men, girls and boys, for example, gymnastics, figure skating, diving (aesthetic sports) and wrestling, rowing and distance running (weight-sensitive sports). Yet despite this pile-up of risk factors, there has been scant education about eating disorders within the world of sport. In part this is because of the feeling among coaches and trainers that eating disorders education contains an implicit criticism of what they do.

One of the goals of the toolkit is to balance an understanding of the goals and methods of coaches and trainers with the perspective of the eating disorder professionals who treat affected athletes. Attempting to do that, I included interviews with coaches and athletes, as well as physicians, psychologists and nutritionists who specialize in both eating disorders and sport, and worked with an advisory committee of experts in the field.

The toolkit, which has won the endorsement of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, will be officially launched at NEDA’s national conference this October in New York City.

August 4, 2010

Dogs, humans vie for licks at the Café Cluny ice cream cart


It’s been a hot summer so far. Really hot. Horrible, humid hot. So the mobile ice cream cart sitting in front of Café Cluny at the corner of West Fourth and West 12th Streets has looked even more enticing than in past summers.

We wait for it every spring, wondering when the cart will appear and officially kick off ice cream season. Addicts have their favorite flavors – a new one this year, banana vanilla wafer, made a big splash, especially after the persuasive Idyl Bray (pictured, at right), who studies dance at Alvin Ailey when she’s not scooping or hostessing inside the café, began touting its deliciousness. Cookies ‘n’ cream is the standard by which many measure newer Cluny flavors, but spearmint chocolate chip, peanut butter and strawberry seem to have large followings as well.

This cart is a charming, bright spot in the neighborhood, but I have to agree with Julia Moskin, who wrote in today’s New York Times (You Scream, I Scream….at the Price) that this whole artisanal ice cream boomlet can feel like silk-gloved hold-up. Some patrons, it must be said, drew the line and stopped coming when Cluny hiked its prices this year, from $2 to $4 per single scoop.

Those who can afford it, or who can’t but have no will power, have Jacqueline Zion, pastry chef of The Oden in Tribeca to thank/blame. She is the mixologist behind these flavors, which are also served from a cart in front of The Odeon. The pedigree of Zion’s cold comfort food is so long that it would surely win best in show in the Westminster of ice cream battles (perhaps that has happened already on the Food Network). The milk comes from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in the Hudson Valley, the eggs from Fishkill Farms, and the fruits and herbs hail from Satur Farm on Long Island. Naturally, the cookies and wafer mix-ins are all made at the restaurant.

Delia Acosta (above left), a deceptively docile martial artist, has been scooping in front of Café Cluny for three summers now, as long as the cart has been in existence. She’s watched kids grow up during that time, and gotten to know every neighborhood dog. Delia and Idyl, in fact, rave about their dog customers more than their human counterparts.

There’s Larry, who after a fateful sampling of one spoonful of peanut butter ice cream, now lies down in front of the cart every time he and his owner pass by, refusing to budge until he’s been given his taste. “You would think I gave him doggie crack the way he acts,” says Idyl. There’s Petey, the French bulldog who will eat anything and thanks his servers with a bark, and Ella, the goldendoodle with the beautiful greenish-gold eyes that plead for dessert.

Idyl has become friends with half the neighborhood, many of whom know that she is going to Poland to meet her boyfriend’s family. “Some people will sit here for hours and talk to you,” she says, motioning to the inviting bench that sits next to the cart. Delia says Gay Pride Day is always particularly memorable for the bare-chested, Speedo clad men who parade by, and there is even the occasional celebrity. Food writer Mimi Sheraton, a longtime 12th Street resident, has sampled a flavor or two, and Delia was once stiffed by Kirsten Dunst, who promised to come back with money but never did. She obviously doesn’t live in the neighborhood, for who would dare wear out their welcome when the ice cream is so cold, and so good?

Cafe Cluny ice cream cart
284 W. 12th Street, at W. Fourth Street
One scoop, $5, two scoops, $6
Root beer and Abita float, $8
Open daily, 3 to 10 p.m.

July 28, 2010

Blockbuster cookbooks and celebrity chefs date back to the 18th century

I love it when my articles connect me to interesting people from different walks of life. Food historian and lawyer Sandra Sherman contacted me through my blog recently after reading my Joe Baum article, explaining that she was fascinated by Baum’s entrepreneurial spirit and connected it with her latest book, Invention of the Modern Cookbook. In her book, Sherman examines how 17th- and 18th-century chefs became some of the earliest entrepreneurs, using promotional (and self-promotional) strategies that presaged Baum’s imaginative brand of restaurant showmanship. Sandra wrote, “It’s amazing how quickly capitalism and foodie culture grew together.”

We might think that today’s celebrity chef and cookbook mania is unique. In 2006 alone, Americans spent over half a billion dollars on cookbooks, Sherman writes in her fascinating history, and almost 2,000 cookbooks were published that year. This when more than 38,000 were already in print! It’s hard from our perspective to imagine a time more cook and cookbook crazy.

In fact, however, the modern blockbuster cookbook (The Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking, for example) has roots in women-authored cookbooks of the 18th century. Lydia Fisher’s The Prudent Housewife (1750) was printed 25 times, Sherman tells us, and hers was only one of several cookbooks that went through multiple printings.

Robert May was the first great English celebrity chef, a “master of self-promotion,” according to Sherman, with an ego to match his cooking skills. In his 1665 Accomplisht Cook, as was the custom of the day, he included poems by hacks for hire. They were the celebrity blurbs of the 17th century, often penned by uncredentialed unknowns who were sometimes comically clueless about their subjects. Their job was to write “puffery.” In other words, not too different from today’s celebrity puff piece.

Accomplisht Cook featured a frontispiece portrait of the chef, a glowing bio detailing all the famous people May cooked for, and his extensive experience in continental kitchens. These story-telling techniques were the same ones I employed in the many chef profiles I reported as a correspondent for People, in which a crucial element was which celebrities ate at said chef’s “posh” or “tony” restaurant. Sherman amusingly compares Grant Achatz’s 2008 book Alinea (also the name of his Chicago restaurant), in its self-promotional zest, to May’s Accomplisht Cook, what with its numerous introductions, serious essays by noted food journalists, musings on the nature of the cooking genius, and homage not to his biological father, as May paid, but to his spiritual father, Thomas Keller.

The arrival of women celebrity chefs in the second quarter of the18th century injected a note of modesty, practicality and relatability into the celebrity cookbook, softening its image much as Julia Child brought a breath of fresh air and undercut the Olympian poses of male French predecessors such as Antonin Carême or Auguste Escoffier.

Best-selling British cookbook author Hannah Glasse addressed the reader directly and refreshingly in her book The Art of Cookery, a bit like a chef-blogger today might chat directly with her legions of followers. Sherman describes this approach as “an in-your-face refutation of pompous French chefs.”

In her book, The Experienced English House-keeper, best-selling British author Elizabeth Raffald affected a warm competence that won over readers, drawing them in further by confiding how the labors of putting the book together had compromised her health. A precursor, perhaps, to the over-sharing that is a hallmark of not just today’s cookbooks, but all print and social media.

There’s so much more good stuff in this book that sheds light on today’s culinary landscape that you’ll just have to buy it yourself and read it!

July 14, 2010

Restaurateur Joe Baum lived to work




 It was fascinating to research this story in the current edition of Edible Manhattan on restaurateur Joe Baum. I had so much good material a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Baum (pictured at left with his daughter, Hilary) is credited with coming up with many of the innovations  that define the modern American restaurant. During his career he was responsible for some of the showiest, most profitable eateries of the day, including Windows on the World, Tavern on the Green, and The Four Seasons.

Although I was not able to fully tell this part of his tale, the end of Baum’s career was a bittersweet one. In 1970, he endured a painful ouster from the firm he had led to success with his wildly imaginative innovations, Restaurant Associates. He bounced back, however, landing a gigantic contract to develop all 22 restaurants in the new World Trade Center complex. From there, he rose to even greater heights of glory. In 1985, at the age of 65, he took on the $30 million project of overseeing a meticulous and widely praised renovation of The Rainbow Room complex atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza. With the Rockefeller family itself footing the bill, Baum had at his disposal the kind of deep pockets he needed to realize his lavish vision.

The good times came to an end in 1996, though, when the real estate development and management company Tishman Speyer took over the center. Lease renewal negotiations fell through in 1998 between Baum, co-operator David Emil and Tishman Speyer over a $4 million per year lease agreement, which would have been the highest in the business. Baum and Emil walked away from the contract, and the Cipriani family took over the restaurant for an 11-year-run that ended badly. In 1998 Cipriani, by then deeply in debt, was ousted by Tishman over millions of dollars in unpaid rent.

Negotiations between the Baum team (which by then included restaurateur Drew Nierporent) and Tishman Speyer fell through in May 1998. By October, Joe Baum was dead. To those who knew him best, there was no question that the loss of his beloved Rainbow Room, which he had coveted since first setting eyes on it on a school field trip to New York City in 1941, was what finally led to Joe Baum’s death. “Losing the lease at the Rainbow Room put Joe over the edge,” Baum’s longtime confidant and personal advisor Tony Zazula told me. Tishman Speyer, he says, “Didn’t realize they had the best.”  Yes, Baum had been suffering from some time from the prostate cancer that killed him, but this was a man who wanted to live forever because he loved his work so much.

Baum’s longtime scribe  and speechwriter Irena Chalmers said of Baum, “he died of a broken heart.”

July 9, 2010

Myers of Keswick celebrates its 25th anniversary

This has been a week of celebration for Myers of Keswick founder Peter Myers. Not only has he returned from England this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Hudson Street bastion of all foods British, his daughter Jennifer Myers Pulidore, who now runs the shop, is expecting her first child on August 5th. Any customer who spends more than $30 will get a free Myers of Keswick mug all day tomorrow. Now is the time to stock up on English victuals in preparation for Sunday's World Cup finals! The only thing that could be better is if England were still in the contest....

Myers of Keswick
634 Hudson Street (between Jane and Horatio Streets)
New York, NY 10014-5167
(212) 691-4194

June 26, 2010

Where can't you watch the World Cup in our neighborhood?

I usually see interesting things on my Saturday morning rounds of the neighborhood, and today was no exception. This mobile ESPN tv truck was parked on Ninth Avenue just north of West 14th Street. There were quite a few people who either wanted to watch South Korea face off against Uruguay (they were eliminated, 2-1) or just take a break from the already brutal heat. I'm glad they didn't go as far as providing the vuvuzelas.

June 22, 2010

Bonsignour, for a latte and the World Cup

It wasn't your usual crowd this morning at Bonsignour on Jane Street at 8th Avenue. This largely Latino crowd looked like they were at Mass, worshipping at the altar of World Cup Soccer. It was Uruguay over Mexico, 1-0.

June 21, 2010

It’s not often that I meet someone whose love for Japanese confections rivals my own. So I was tickled when I arrived at chef Anita Lo’s West Village restaurant Annisa last month to take a picture of her for this profile I wrote for WestView.


The restaurant was not yet open, and two adorable little shih tzu dogs were in varying stages of relaxation close by the chef. I leaned over to pet one of them and asked Chef Lo what their names were. “Adzuki and Mochi,” she replied, adding, “If I had a third dog it would be named Kinako.”

Here was someone truly after my own heart! Adzuki (sometimes spelled “azuki”) are the little round, reddish-brown beans that are so beloved in Japan. They can be steamed whole with sweet rice to make the celebratory dish sekihan, or boiled, sweetened and either mashed and sieved into a smooth paste (koshi an), or left lumpy (tsubu an). The an is used to fill pounded sweet rice cakes (daifuku mochi, see photo below, left) or used as the base for the dessert soup shiruko. Kinako is a light brown powder made from toasted soybeans, often slightly sweetened and used to coat mochi (see photo below, right). If I had only these three ingredients to live on I would be as contented as Chef Lo's chrysanthemum-faced shih tzu looked.


As my article describes, Lo is a talented chef who has, with quiet determination, made a name for herself in the competitive world of New York fine dining. Although she did a brief turn on last season’s Bravo reality show "Top Chef Masters" (a highly rewarding yet grueling experience, she says, which makes "Iron Chef" seem like “a walk in the park”) she has not garnered the kind of attention that would be accorded a male chef of her stature.

For more on the relative lack of high-profile women chefs in New York and across America, take a look at this gourmet.com article from Laura Shapiro, Where Are the Women? Then go out and sample some of the fantastic cooking that is being done in the city by the likes of Lo, Alexandra Guarnaschelli (Butter), Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune) and Missy Robbins (A Voce).

World Cup fever at Myers of Keswick


Internal discord may be roiling the ranks of team England at the World Cup tournament in South Africa, but here in the West Village, Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street is helping the British community keep the focus on winning--preferably  while snacking on the store's delicious bangers, crisps and biscuits.