Ina Yalof has authored a new book, called “Food and the City”Read More
On The Town with Michael RiedelRead More
Ina Yalof is the author of Food and the City, a collection of more than fifty stories focusing on the behind the scenes figures who help run the foodservice industry machine in New York City.Read More
The world-champion oyster shucker, who works at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, has never tasted one: ‘I’ve tried to but I just can’t do it.Read More
How to Eat Your Way Around New York
The world-champion oyster shucker, who works at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, has never tasted one: ‘I’ve tried to but I just can’t do it.’
By MOIRA HODGSON
One of the most bizarre and entertaining meals I’ve ever had in my life was at a place on the Lower East Side called Sammy’s Roumanian. A sign at the door to the basement restaurant said “No Spritzing Allowed.” The waiters were identical triplets, causing confusion, and they served platters of Jewish specialties such as kreplach (meat-filled dumplings) and flanken (boiled beef). There was a jar of chicken fat on the table, vodka in a block of ice and a bottle of Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup. How did the syrup get that name?
You’ll find the answer to this and much else in “Food and the City,” Ina Yalof’s delightful oral history of, as her subtitle has it, “New York’s Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors and Purveyors.”
The author visited all five boroughs to write about more than 40 restaurants, very broadly interpreted, since some are trucks, diners and pizzerias. Ms. Yalof interviewed more than 50 people, not the usual star chefs (we’ve heard more than enough about them) but a praline artisan, a Brooklyn tortilla supplier whose kitchen turns out 450,000 a day, the owner of a Long Island duck farm and even a woman who calls herself “entertainologist”—a private chef for celebrities.
When Ms. Yalof pays attention to a fancy or famous restaurant, like Le Bernardin, she doesn’t interview executive chef Eric Ripert, but Justo Thomas, the fish butcher who works in a 5 foot by 10 foot alcove in the basement. At the Four Seasons, just recently closed, she talks to Jesus Albino “Albi” Chauca, an Ecuadorean who toiled in the kitchen for 16 years. The cast of characters is remarkable and Ms. Yalof captures their humor, passion and genuine enthusiasm for extremely hard work.
The author is an investigative journalist, not a food writer. As a child in Miami Beach, she was raised on a diet of TV dinners and her father’s one specialty, “Leo’s Famous Croquettes,” (canned Bumblebee salmon, eggs, Pepperidge Farm breadcrumbs and a great deal of butter). She was eventually taught to cook by her mother in-law, who had an “efficiency apartment” in an Upper West Side hotel. The refrigerator stood in the bedroom, she writes, “covered with vine-patterned Con-Tact paper so it would ‘fit in’ with the décor.” Somehow it contained enough food to feed a hockey team.
The idea for Ms. Yalof’s book came from a chance conversation with a neighborhood butcher. “His repartee was so entertaining . . . that it got me thinking: How many others like him are there around this city?” Plenty.
There’s Luis Iglesias, “The Mexican Menace,” who works at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. He’s the eight-time world-champion oyster shucker (15 a minute) who has never tasted one. “I’ve tried to but I just can’t do it.” He shares that phobia with Woody Allen who once commented, “I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead. Not sick. Not wounded. Dead.”
Ms. Yalof meets the head chef at Riker’s Island, who’s not some beefy bruiser but a five-foot-tall 60-year-old woman named Paulette Johnson. The native Jamaican is responsible for turning out 47,000 meals a day (breakfast at 5 a.m., lunch at 11 a.m. and dinner at 4 p.m.). When Ms. Johnson was asked at her job interview how she’d feel about managing the number of people needed to produce such vast amounts of food, her answer was unintentionally ironic: “It’s not really the size of the gun, sir, it’s the effect of the bullet.”
While Ms. Johnson cooks up pasta casserole (and, on occasion, her famous carrot cake) for prisoners, Lulu Powers caters parties for movie stars and politicians and pays close attention to their fickle tastes. The drink of the moment is “birch tree water,” Ms. Yalof assures us. “. . . And please not coconut water. It’s over.”
Some of the people Ms. Yalof meets have impressive personal histories that have nothing to do with food. Luísa Fernandes, the chef at Robert, a restaurant on top of Museum of Art and Design, is a Portuguese woman who worked for Doctors Without Borders as a nurse and parachute jumper in Angola and Kosovo. Alexander Smalls, great grandson of slaves, was a well-known opera star before he became proprietor of the Cecil, a well-known brasserie in Harlem. Mohamed Abouelenein, an Egyptian who owns the popular midtown food cart Halal Guys, is a former soccer player with a doctorate in veterinary medicine.
And then there are the mysteries she solves. Occasionally I’ve noticed many firefighters dressed in their gear shopping together in a supermarket while their truck idles outside.JoJo Esposito, a fireman on Staten Island explains that “the whole company has to go out together because if we get a run, that’s where we’re leaving from.” Six nights a week they get a real meal, and he cooks it. “Why me? Take a look. I’m the heaviest guy in the room.” His favorite dish is rigatoni with sausage. If a call comes in while he’s cooking, they’re all out of the firehouse in under a minute—including Mr. Esposito. When they return, he heats up their dinner. “There’s not a meal that I make that you can’t heat up and it’s just as good later.”
As for Fox’s U-Bet at Sammy’s Roumanian? David Fox, the originator’s grandson, explains the sauce’s name. His grandfather, a Brooklyn-born Jew, was a gambler who went to Texas to invest in land and lost all his money there. “But he did come back with something,” says Mr. Fox. “He came back with an expression that everyone used in the Southwest —‘You bet!’ ‘Feelin’ okay today?’—‘You bet.’ ‘Hot enough for ya?’ ‘You bet.’ And that, in a nutshell is how our chocolate syrup got the name Fox’s U-Bet.” They’ve been making it since 1900.
—Ms. Hodgson is the author of “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: My Adventures in Life and Food.”
Ina Yalof, author of Food And The City, on CBS This Morning News.Read More
“Food and the City: New York’s Professional Chefs, Line cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It,” an oral history by Ina YalofRead More
An article by author Ina Yalof on ThrillistRead More
Food in the City suggested in the New York TimesRead More
Ina Yalof, author of Food in the City, in the New York Post.Read More
Ina Yalof book signing and speaking at an event at the 92nd Street Y for their Kitchen Arts & Letters series.Read More
Ina Yalof, author of Food in the City, in the New York Times.Read More
The Feed: Tales of City Chefs
Ina Yalof’s new book, ‘Food and the City,’ plus Stephen Starr’s Le Coucou to open
By CHARLES PASSY
Kay Ch’ien this week is opening Hey Hey Canteen, a Hong Kong-inspired restaurant she has billed as a place for “elevated comfort food.”
Located in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, it features spins on Chinese-takeout classics like sesame peanut noodles, roast pork lo mein and wonton noodle soup, with an emphasis on high-quality ingredients ($9.99 to $16.99, not including add-ons or sides). Cocktails are also available.
Hey Hey Canteen, 400 Fourth Ave., Brooklyn; heyheycanteen.com
Le Coucou to Open
Veteran restaurateur Stephen Starr (Buddakan, Morimoto) is opening his latest project in Soho next week: Le Coucou.
The restaurant, part of the 11 Howard hotel, will showcase the Parisian chef Daniel Rose. Menu highlights range from pig’s feet with caviar to a farm egg cooked with cream, fresh peas and ramps. The restaurant has a 600-bottle wine list.
Mr. Rose’s Parisian establishments include Spring and La Bourse et La Vie. Although Mr. Rose is from Chicago, Le Coucou marks the first time he has cooked professionally in the U.S.
Le Coucou, 138 Lafayette St.; lecoucou.com
Ina Yalof’s new book ‘Food and the City’ PHOTO:COURTESY G.F. PUTNAM'S SON
Tales of City Chefs
There may be 8 million stories in the naked city, but for Ina Yalof, the most interesting ones revolve around food.
Her new book, “Food and the City” ( G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $28), looks at more than 50 New York culinary personalities, profiling such high-profile restaurateurs and proprietors asEd Schoenfeld of RedFarm, Alexander Smallsof the Cecil and Cronut creator Dominique Ansel.
Ms. Yalof also includes behind-the-scenes and lesser-known names, such as Le Bernardin fish “butcher” Justo Thomas, Staten Island firehouse cook JoJo Esposito and New York City Department of Correction food-service chief Paulette Johnson.
The common thread among these food professionals? “They have guts, perseverance and, above all, a passion for food,” said Ms. Yalof, who moved to New York in 2012 after living in Vermont.
Among the many personalities in the book, Ms. Yalof said she was particularly fascinated by Ms. Johnson, who is responsible for the 47,000 meals served to prisoners at Rikers Island and other corrections facilities.
“She’s this very small Jamaican woman who just figured how to pull it off,” said Ms. Yalof.
In support of “Food and the City,” Ms. Yalof will be holding a Wednesday 7 p.m. talk at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Ave.).Harlem Shake owner Jelena Pasic and Betony executive chef Bryce Shuman, both of whom are profiled in the book, will also speak. Tickets are $32.
Food in the City in the New York Times.Read More
A Taste of "Food and the City"Read More
Yalof’s the author of Food and the City: New York’s Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It.Read More
By Cara Cannella
Depending on the day, big city life can feel like a musical, full of synchronicities propelled by a storyline that snaps into place. It can also be rife with disturbance and disruption, full of struggle to connect disintegrated people and parts. Given such high highs and low lows, we need a grounding force to balance the stimulation of skyline and subway. So what do we do? We feed ourselves, of course, and we let ourselves be fed.
In her new book, Food and the City: New York’s Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It, journalist and author Ina Yalof creates a culinary cartography and feast for the senses to guide us on that quest. In stories of people behind many of the city’s favorite foods, she directs readers toward pleasure, depth of flavor, and intimate connection through the social context of sustenance.
By focusing mostly on lesser-known personalities, she transcends the celebrity chef-obsessed veneer of “foodie” culture. Through profiles and oral history, she goes deep into the foundation of New York’s culinary world by capturing food-related scents, sights, textures, sounds, and tastes across the five boroughs. With this navigational guide, Yalof helps readers tune out the noise of what can be too much food culture fed by countless lists of “Best Places to Eat” and “Foods to Eat Before You Die.” Her own journey through the food world, while both serendipitous and strategic, is often sense-driven.
“One weekday in midtown, for example, I followed the irresistible scent of grilled onions, which led me directly to the food cart of an Egyptian-American guy – Mohamed Abouelenein – who was producing plates of halal lamb at warp speed for a block-long line of hungry people working in the area,” she writes of the Halal Guys, also a popular destination for taxi drivers.
Through networking, she is able to get an introduction to Bobby Weiss, a fourth-generation fish wholesaler at the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. In the wee hours of the morning, his Blue Ribbon Fish Company processes “fifty to a hundred thousand pounds of seafood a day, between shellfish and frozen product” in a cavernous forty-degree, climate-controlled space about the length of the “Empire State Building laid on its side.”
In vignettes organized by theme – including family-owned businesses, immigrant entrepreneurship, and institutional food (with a focus on New York City’s main jail) – she covers a wide range of subjects. Standout characters include Ghaya Oliveira, a Tunisian former stockbroker who moved from dishwasher to executive pastry chef at Daniel, and Dominique Ansel, creator of the beloved Cronut, who greets customers waiting in line an hour or two before his bakery opens by offering “freshly made little madeleines to keep them warm and thank them for coming.”
In orienting and connecting readers through the world of food, Yalof’s eclectic culinary map serves the same function as great literature, which parses a range of possibilities and emotion to elicit meaning and mutual feeling. By highlighting pleasurable sensory experiences, she helps locals and savvy tourists alike make sense of daily life in the city.
As urban dwellers, we tune out stimulation in order to survive, seeking solace from crowds in our headphones, darkened movie theaters, and the final sweet bites of an ice cream cone. To thrive in the city, we need to find focus amid pulsing twenty-four-hour lights, unwanted interaction, honking horns, and stinky exhaust fumes. The only sensory input we can control, it seems, is related to taste, which makes Yalof’s guidance so welcome. Through her selective focus, we discover a feast of pleasures to comfort and carry us through another day.
Food in the City listed as a new and noteworthy book in USA Today.Read More
Yalof, Ina. Food and the City: New York’s Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It. Putnam. May 2016. 384p. illus. index. ISBN 9780399168925. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780698152809. COOKING
Author Bethanne Patrick mentions Food in the City in an interview about what she reads before she goes to sleep.Read More