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
by Ina Yalof
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Exuberant New York chefs and restaurateurs share their culinary histories.
Initially inspired by a conversation with an Upper West Side butcher, Yalof (Straight From The Heart: Letters of Hope and Inspiration from Survivors of Breast Cancer, 1997, etc.) began researching the “gastronomic landscape of New York City” throughout its five distinct boroughs. Eschewing the popular go-to dining destinations with their in-house “rock-star chefs,” the author canvassed chefs and shop owners of some newer and less-well-known establishments representative of the region’s diversity. Each interviewee generously shares his or her diverse background and offers unique and educative perspectives on taste, ingredients, and service experiences. An opening section on food-centered grass-roots businesses celebrates immigrant purveyors from Croatia, France, Greece, and Poland who all share a passion for hard work and flavorful delicacies both sweet and savory from their native lands. Personality and humor shine brightly throughout these essays, especially in the stories of Charlie Sahadi’s years curating a Middle Eastern deli, “entertainologist” Lulu Powers’ first catering blunders, and young cook MacKenzie Arrington’s insightful restaurant coming-of-age. Others highlight the business end of the food industry—e.g., Louisiana-born praline perfectionist Lauren Clark, who ponders the necessary transitions small ventures must make to stay profitable or food truck vendors like The Halal Guys, who prize cleanliness, word-of-mouth advertising, and the principle of the happy customer. From the oldest Chinese restaurant in New York to a Rikers Island food service overseer, each of these vignettes shares a common theme about devotion and dedication within the vast gastronomical spectrum. This is most eloquently dispatched by South Harlem baker “Mr. Lee,” who knows that “you got to be a 100 percent to do this.” Collectively, Yalof’s assortment of cuisines and memories paints a multiculturally diverse food tapestry, and each individually embodies a passion for food artistry that crosses generations, cultures, nationalities, and all manner of palates.
A wide-ranging, toothsome smorgasbord of Gotham's good eats and the tireless men and women behind each plate.