Donna and I arrived in New York last Tuesday to begin setting up our city outpost in the West Village, and we were struck anew by the extraordinary dining scene there. I plotted three very different theatrical performances, and they parallel the dynamism and diversity of the traditional, quirky, experimental food of NYC. I wonder if these traits cause coincidences. Last year I had a surprise encounter with my news mentor, Arthur Gelb, returning me to the Times, formative if unhappy years. This year we arrived in Times Square to have a pre-show cocktail at Sardi’s. We hadn’t been there a few minutes, and I don’t know what we’d said other than placing an order for a wine and a martini, but we’d struck up a conversation with a woman seated catty-corner to us. She said, “You Read On »

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When I returned to the CIA in the fall of 1999, two years after the publication of Making of a Chef wherein I described the humiliating service experience on my first day at St. Andrew’s restaurant, and Chef Czack lofted an overly generous tip onto my table with a look of withering disdain for my shoddy performance, he himself hosted me at the Danny Kaye Theater for an interview. I had been provided a pink beverage, strangely, as one almost always is given water. Chef Czack held out his hand to the drink. “Can you tell us what this is?” he asked me. I looked blankly at it, took a sip, looked out at the audience as a deer into headlights. I had not been expecting a sucker punch and confessed ignorance. “A Sea Breeze,” said Chef Czack, Read On »

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A confession: I’m not a great cooker of fish. In fact, Donna hates it when I cook fish, because I usually want to put some kind of fancy sauce on it. She wants it sautéed with plain lemon, a little butter maybe. (Yawn.) But she’s usually right—I don’t cook it often enough to get good at it. But another part of the reason I’m fish challenged is that I grew up in Cleveland in the 1970s where fish came into the grocery store on Monday (trucked in, no doubt) and sat around through Saturday, which was the only time in Cleveland you could get a good sense of what low tide smells like. The only fish I ate, and ate grudgingly, was breaded, fried, frozen, and reheated in a toaster oven, and I was able Read On »

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The first table I ever waited on would comprise two serious chefs, Richard Czack and CIA prez Ferdinand Metz, and the parents of a seminal American chef. It was in the St. Andrew’s restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America and it is forever linked in my mind with two similar drinks, the Sea Breeze and the Madras. The following is from the book that forever altered my course: Chef Czack did not look like a chef—balding, glasses, slight of frame; I didn’t know his age but he seemed elderly. His voice was nasal, fussy. He looked and sounded more like an accountant’s clerk. But Chef Czack was in fact a certified master chef and I was excited to be serving him and his guests, Mr. and Mrs. Forgione, parents of celebrity chef Larry, and Read On »

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It made so much sense the second I read it. One of those “of course!” moments. It was, not atypically, while reading Michael Pollan in his NYTimes magazine story a few years ago about how no one cooks anymore (really?). Certainly in the 1980s and 1990s most of the country relied on reheating already-cooked food for their meals. And perhaps as a result, at least in part, we became a grossly obese country where seemingly the only people who dieted were the people who were already thin, and the rest made increasingly bizarre, unsustainable stabs at it. A physically sick country, a confused country—don’t get me started. The “of course” moment. It didn’t come from Pollan, but rather from a researcher he interviewed, Harry Balzer, who works for the market research behemoth NPD, and studies all kinds of Read On »

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