Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"Can i make a bagel i connect with?"

Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be asking these questions.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Cookbook Review: Saltie

Image result for saltie cookbook

Saltie was a sandwich shop in Brooklyn that operated from 2009-2017. Like the second wave celebrity chefs of that era, Saltie trafficked in homespun recipes and elevated comfort food. Having never eaten there, I must say that I feel the cookbook encapsulates a place and time in American gastronomy that I look back on fondly. I was food-obsessed, and the Food Network and other media outlets had taken the pleasures of taste and democratized them and made them accessible. Now with Instagram, I am overwrought with images of fancified food, satiated beyond reasonable capacity, but back then, there was a real hunger for copycat recipes and home cooking. I made ramen. I was obsessed with pie. I fried donuts. I pickled. I was obsessed with chocolate chip cookies. I ate porchetta. All things that were delicious, but also novel. Now, we are anesthetized to new foods. Nothing surprises the palate anymore. Perhaps the best a restaurant can do is to make some food very balanced, very fresh, and very consistent (which is rare). But for that singular moment (which really lasted about as long as Saltie was alive), an egg salad sandwich with pickle from Saltie (which my gourmand friend Dave says was overrated) sounded and looked transcendent and revelatory. I can't say that I have cooked anything from the Saltie cookbook by Caroline Fidanza et al., but I like to leave it out like a stone or a talisman, conjuring nostalgia and inspiring me to continue to make honest food that looks beautiful and has authentic flavors. Now in a time when overpriced hipster sandwiches feel passé and bourgeois, I see Saltie as a marker of both the beginning and ending of an American "gourmet" food movement. There will continue to be hipster pizza pies (Pooleside Pies just opened), and bagel shops where you can get a dozen (not a baker's dozen) for $19, but beyond the fatigue of the palate and a deficit of original ideas, there will always be Saltie and the search for the perfect sandwich.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

rest in peace toni morrison

That evening the women brought bowls of pot liquor from black-eyed peas, from mustards, from cabbage, from kale, from collards, from turnips, from beets, from green beans. Even the juice from a boiling hog jowl.

Two evenings later Aunt Jimmy had gained much strength.

-from The Bluest Eye

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Housing Stock, Human Stock

Mecklenburg County subdivision-aerial 2010

I was flying over Charlotte in route to RDU and it struck me that much of Charlotte is planned like an overgrown Brier Creek, with single family subdivisions organized by Toll Brothers for miles and miles. Generic, without authentic aesthetics, these homes draw dwellers that want the privacy and comfort of a family home within a short driving distance to Target or Chili's. They are unbothered by the contradictions of living in an artificial community.

In Durham, the chorus of disenchanted voices has increased in the past two years as cranes perpetually hover over development sites, erecting faceless, homogeneous apartment complexes that have come to represent gentrification writ large.  Click on the link below to see:

These developments come from a master diagram by builders who are not based in Durham, and have no investment in the community. Their contribution to the housing stock is one motivated simply by capitalism; a formula (repeatable drawings) allows them to maximize their profit. Aesthetically, they are bland at best, behemoth eyesores at worst. The speed at which developers can erect these structures reminds me of the vast strip-malling of America in the 1980's that hollowed out local business communities and made ghost towns of downtown business streets. Like mountaintop removal for coal mining, generic apartment development shears a community of its character and vitality. City Council is quick to decry the perils of gentrification and the host of governance limitations imposed by an authoritarian State on regulating development, but my personal opinion is that we could be doing more to limit the influx of these developments or at least have more community input on their impact to the urban landscape.

The reason why I care is not only for my own well-being, but I believe that the human stock of a city mirrors that of its housing stock. If the housing stock is generic, without character, transitory, and essentially cheap on aesthetics, we will be drawing new Durhamites that are either blind to or actually find solace and comfort in those characteristics. I walked into the new Oak House recently on Main Street and it felt like setting foot in a Starbucks in a larger city with white well-groomed people on laptops and devices. One of the great worries I have is that developers see Durham as a reasonably blank slate onto which could be grafted the next Raleigh, or Charlotte. Two of possibly the most stutifyingly boring cities I've ever visited.

Monday, August 12, 2019

frank ferrell

great photo of the founder of Ninth Street Bakery, Frank Ferrell.  He turned 71 this past year!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

They Gon Love Me For My Ambition

So what’s next for Lee? He says he has six more concepts to open in the Triangle, and then, once he builds the financial backing, he hopes to launch a worldwide franchise—the first global food chain that is 100 percent nonprofit.

“Before I die, I want to see it bigger than McDonald’s,” Lee says, “producing billions of dollars a year and helping wherever is needed, like our local school systems.”

Monday, June 3, 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

RIP Wimpy's

Be a Conduit for the Ingredient II

On October 26 2016, I made an enigmatic post with a title only, "Be a Conduit for the Ingredient".   Nearly three years later, I think I am ready to expand on that.

"The common, recurring image of our present moment: a person sitting in a parked car, with the engine and the air conditioning running, using a smartphone, drinking a soda and/or eating fast food."

This was the first line written and read aloud in August 2017 by Adam Sobsey (link) in reference to everything he did not want our pop-up supper project (it was the anti-pop-up in many ways), Manifest, to be.  In the modern consumerist model of gastronomy, everything is disposable.  As a longtime bartender at Nana's of Durham, Adam saw the magnitude of food waste, not just in the uneaten things from diners' plates, but the peelings, scraps, and tops that were discarded, the plastic packaging, the cardboard, the gasoline used by the vendor trucks, etc.  At its best, each ingredient speaks with the clarity of a bell through the dish.  At its worst, it is a muddle of a McDonald's cheeseburger that is engineered by a massive agribusiness system to deliver sugar, salt, and hormones, not to mention a post-meal stomachache.

Like the economy of the aphorism in the post title, a carrot has a spiritual life that we can either evoke or deaden through food preparation.  When I think of respect for the ingredient, I think of Alice Water's rediscovery of the majesty of the garden salad in the 1970's.  Lettuces and greens have a fragility and tenderness, not to mention bitterness, that is alive in a way very few people get to eat or appreciate.  Like a spiritual medium, we can all become mediums for what an ingredient is saying if we slow down, listen, extend our palates, and finally, taste.

Trust the Chef

Our landlord is Self-Help Credit Union, and our rental point of contact is a gentleman who has been with Self-Help for years named Malcolm.  He knew Frank, the ex-owner, and has seen all the changes to the Bakery since I took over ownership.  Early on in my tenure, he told me that I didn't need to do a lot of things well, I just needed to do one thing very well every day.  His model was a small cafe in Greensboro, NC where the daily special was called, "Trust the Chef".  I can appreciate that.  As a result, soon after speaking with Malcolm, we instituted two weekly sandwich specials that rotated (now we usually run four).  This way, there is some weekly variety, but enough of a condensed menu such that the customer knows that the ingredients are turning over quickly and the items are not staling or expiring in a steam pan for days.  This ethos also animated the cooking of the Michelin-starred Parisian restaurant, Spring, where American Daniel Rose came to prominence in a small 18-seat restaurant that used an affordable prix fixe menu that changed daily with the green market offerings.  Listen to his work patterns and philiosophy here.  Later, as Adam Sobsey and I developed the 10 Commandments of Manifest, our pop-up supper, prix fixe was central to both food cost control and also affordability for the guests (our ticket price was never greater than $25).

There are other advantages to prix fixe as well.  When a guest selects their food, their agency in that decision is often mediated by the choices they have, good or bad.  When the restaurateur selects through prix fixe, they are implicitly saying, "let me take care of you, I know what you'll like, and I will give you the best of what I found today at the market or what I dreamed about last night."  There is a modicum of hospitality at work which serves to ensconce the guest in a cocoon of intentionality on the part of the chef, much as when you arrive at a friend's house for dinner you expect to eat what he or she has to offer, without a thought to making a special request or ordering from a menu.  In fact, the idea of the modern restaurant with a menu is actually a relatively recent bourgeois invention dating back to France of the 18th century.  We must not forget this, and must furthermore trust good chefs and restaurants when they select the menu for us because behind that plate of food is in fact thought, beauty, and if we're lucky, maybe even a little art.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies - Old Bill

"He was a big eater. Customarily, just before locking up for the night, he would grill himself a three-pound T-bone, placing it on a coal shovel and holding it over a bed of oak coals in the back-room fireplace. He liked to fit a whole onion into the hollowed-out heel of a loaf of French bread and eat it as if it were an apple. He had an extraordinary appetite for onions, the stronger the better, and said that “Good ale, raw onions, and no ladies” was the motto of his saloon."

Joseph Mitchell, "The Old House at Home", 1940