"I come from a home where gravy is a beverage."---Erma Bombeck
Me? I come from a home where nobody ever made dinner. They made reservations.
We joke that our entire family lacks the genetic ability to boil water but I'm not kidding when I say that, one Thanksgiving, my mother served us boiled turkey and stuffing. My father's idea of cooking can best be summed up by his signature dish, ghetto fried rice. Even the dog won't go near it.
The sad reality is that none of us are very good cooks. However, the ironic part is that we're all obsessed with food. Hence, our family memories surrounding food are quite unusual.
Those wonderful smells that conjure up childhood memories of your mother's homemade pot roast? The mental image of your family gathered around a giant feast whipped up by three generations of your family? The thrill of grandpa cooking up his famous five-alarm chili while grandma bakes homemade apple pies?
Yeah, I got none of that.
Our family's shared memories of food revolve around great meals we've had at restaurants together. Like when we discovered that little restaurant in Harlem that made the best Chinese dumplings. Or when, twenty years ago, we knew Tom Colicchio was destined for future greatness when we tried his braised rabbit. Then, there was that time in Italy when we said "screw the Sistine Chapel" because we found a place that made the world's greatest hot-pressed spinach and mozzarella paninis.
Friends of mine consider our family's dining habits to be weird. However, as a wise man once said, "it ain't weird if it's the only thing you know."
"In Mexico we have a word for sushi: bait."---José Simons
Of all the foods about which I'm passionate, sushi holds a special place in my heart.
I eat it at least 4 times per week. I love the quiet precision required to handle the fish. I love the subtle flavors. I love the artful presentation. And I love sitting at the sushi bar, drinking a few beers, and talking to the chef about his craft.
I've always had this fantasy of quitting my job and opening a tiny sushi restaurant in Manhattan with myself as the chef. The restaurant would only seat 8 people at a time and would allow me to create high-quality sushi in a serene and peaceful setting. It's a dream that I think about all the time.
Unfortunately, there's only one real sushi school in the United States and it's in California. Real sushi chefs apprentice for years in Japan under a master. Top sushi chefs have been known to spend several years learning solely how to properly prepare rice. Many don't even touch a knife until they've been apprenticing for at least five years.
I'm no spring chicken but, at the same time, better late than never. Don't be surprised if someday you come to this site and there's a post saying, "Sayonara! Gone fishing."
"There is no love sincerer than the love of food."---George Bernard Shaw
On the other hand, I know that a passion for food isn't enough. Hell, I've worked my ass off in enough restaurants in Manhattan to know how difficult it is to survive in the restaurant business. That's why I'm always amazed by chefs who are so passionate about their cooking that they couldn't imagine doing anything else.
Living in New York, I've been fortunate to hang out with a lot of these amazing chefs. During the summers, I've barbecued with Rocco DiSpirito at The Doctor's house. I've downed shots with Mario Batali. I've played hoops with Bobby Flay. And I've broken bread with Jean-Georges Vongrichten. They're all normal guys who just tend to be exceptionally passionate about what they do. I always love hearing what they have to say about food.
It's also why I'm hopelessly addicted to food shows on television. Between all the shows on the Food Network, BBC America's "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares," and the Travel Channel's "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations," I find myself watching an enormous number of television shows that revolve around food.
How bad have things gotten for me?
Well, last night, I had a dream that Paula Deen was my best friend; Giada De Laurentiis was my second wife; Bourdain was my drinking buddy; Bobby Flay was my next-door neighbor; and Gordon Ramsay was my personal chef.
Thankfully, in my dreams, I still hated Rachel Ray.
"Life expectancy would grow enormously if vegetables smelled as good as bacon." ---Doug Larson
Two months ago, I had my annual physical. I discovered that I had abnormally high LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. Now, I generally eat pretty healthily and I work out on a regular basis so it was pretty clear to my doctor that these are genetic traits. However, he's fairly conservative and doesn't like the idea of putting patients on statins (like Lipitor) unless it's a measure of last resort; his rationale is that once you're on them, you're on them for life.
Instead, he proposed that I work with a nutritionist and together we would conduct a three-month experiment to determine whether a change in diet could significantly improve my blood health.
I'm currently subsisting on a diet of egg whites, spinach salads, fish, almonds, whole-grain bread, flax seed, and steamed vegetables. I'm allowed to cheat off the diet for one meal a week. I know this sounds limiting but my cheat meal last week was General Tso's chicken wrapped in two slices of pizza.
In all seriousness, I feel great. Without even trying, I've lost 10 pounds. I've never crapped so well in my entire life. And I've discovered that jogging 5 miles while watching the Food Network doesn't make me want to kill myself.
My blood is getting tested again in two weeks but I don't know if I can hold out any longer. Today on the subway, I almost licked someone's face because she smelled like butter. Yesterday, I saw a short guy in the elevator wearing all brown and I thought he looked like the cutest piece of foie gras I'd ever seen.
I know this diet is healthier for me but this is really no way to live. In the grand scheme of things, I drive way too fucking fast to be worrying about my cholesterol.
"How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"---Charles De Gaulle
Despite my love of food, I'm no food snob.
The French? Those cheese-eating surrender monkeys are food snobs. Every time I go to Paris, I end up getting in an argument over my belief that the only new contributions of French cuisine in the past 50 years have been Au Bon Pain and the Croissanwich.
As much as I love food, I hate eating pretentious food that has no personality behind it. Give me good old-fashioned American road food any day of the week. Serve me some ribs from Dreamland BBQ or The Salt Lick. Throw me a couple of lobster rolls from Red's Eats. Order me buffalo wings from The Anchor Bar. Or what about cheesesteaks from Gino's? Pizza from Grimaldis? Burgers from the Shake Shack? The curry chicken puffs from Yank Sing? The chili dogs from Pink's? The fried chicken from The Horny Toad?
Good Lord, is it any wonder my cholesterol is through the roof? Damn!
"We are the only culture that can stand in front of a microwave with a burrito in it and scream 'FASTER! FASTER!'"---Ross Brown.
Since BossLady works longer hours than I do, I pick the Peanut up from daycare every day. When it's warm out, we'll go to the playground for a few hours. Otherwise, we'll come home and read or play imaginary games together.
One activity that we like to do is make dinner together. When she was younger, I'd let her nuke things in the microwave. She would put some mac-and-cheese in the oven and I'd lift her up so she could press all the buttons. While it cooked, she would squeal with delight.
Now that she's almost 3.5-years-old and has a little more patience, I've been teaching her how to cook. We started off making some homemade tomato sauce. Then, we moved on to making sandwiches together. Now she even knows how to cook fish and steam vegetables.
However, I think I've created a monster.
Last week in daycare, the teachers cooked pasta with the class. My little 3-foot gourmand was so shocked that she felt compelled to tell the teachers that they were doing it all wrong! When I asked her what her teachers were doing wrong, the Peanut gave me a look of disgust and said, "Daddy, they put Ketchup on their noodles! Isn't that gross?"
Ladies and gentlemen, I now bring you the first in a recurring new series of videos called "How To Cook Like a Three-Year-Old." Today's lesson is "Pasta"
THE LAST SUPPER
Recently, I've been reading a slew of food-related books. In the past few weeks, I've finished Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential," Bill Buford's "Heat," and Michael Pollard's "In Defense of Food." Lately, I've just started reading "My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals."
It's fascinating to read what 50 of the world's greatest living chefs would want to eat for their final meal on the planet. Laurent Tourondel wants nothing more than a BLT sandwich made in his own kitchen. Alain Ducasse would have a simple roasted quail in Madiran wine sauce, then smooth celeriac puree with nutmeg, and a finish with apple slices. Thomas Keller says he would begin with half a kilo of osetra caviar, followed by some otoro, a quesadilla and a roast chicken, Brie with truffles, and for dessert either profiteroles or a lemon tart.
Some chefs pick the food of their youth, the simple dishes that remind them not only of home but also of why they became chefs in the first place. Others are less sentimental and simply pick their favorite dishes from their favorite chefs. Everyone has a choice and it seems to verify the old adage that you can tell a lot about a person from what they eat.
Personally, I think my last meal on this planet would be a Peter Luger's porterhouse steak with sides of creamed spinach, bacon, and German-style potatoes. I'd finish with some Junior's cheesecake. And I'd wash it all down with a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux. I'm not quite sure what that says about me.
What about you? What would be your last meal on the planet? Give me all the juicy details.