I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, which is a suburb of New York City. I was one of five children. So there’s five boys, five sons, and my mother and father. I’m the fourth of the five and I’m 10 years younger than my oldest brother and 7 years older than my little brother. We lived in a kind of smallish house until I was 7, then we moved to a very large house. Eating food was culturally really a central part – it’s really what made my family tick. It’s what kept us together. It’s what we enjoyed together – the family dinner at the house every night, eating out a lot as a family.
My father’s parents owned a candy store, kind of a candy-grocery store. They had no money and my father used to like to talk about when he went to the Army he thought the food was awesome because it was such an advance from what he grew up with. Like, spaghetti for him growing up was spaghetti with ketchup on it. That was the tomato sauce. And I don’t know if that’s because my grandmother didn’t really know that much about cooking, she just didn’t have time to think about it, or what it was. But his eating experiences as a child – and his first language was Yiddish – were really rudimentary. So he loved being in the Army, it was great.
Nothing made him happier than eating
He was an obese man. Once he got married he really gained a lot of weight. He was a pretty happy guy but nothing made him happier than eating. Pasta and ice cream were really his crutches. When I was a kid he used to send us up to the local ice cream place to buy pints of ice cream. This store, like a malt shop – it doesn’t exist anymore — called Bond’s. And he would eat like four pints of ice cream every night, different flavors, while he was lying in his bed watching TV. Really, really loved ice cream. Butter crunch was his favorite flavor. No matter what diets he went on, and he was on many. My life with him was just watching him go off and onto diets.
I was living in New York City and I was supposed to come out to have dinner with him. I was 33 years old. He went to the supermarket, he got a couple half gallons of ice cream. As he was putting the key into the lock at the back door he had a heart attack and died with a half gallon of ice cream in each arm. What better poetry could there be than him dying with a half gallon of ice cream in each arm?
I’ve been trying to get the recipe my entire life
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was an Orthodox Jew of Austrian descent and she was a great, great cook. And my father’s mother was from Russia or Poland, somewhere around there, and she left home when she was 16 to go to New York and I just don’t know how important food was. But one of my greatest memories is we would go to my father’s mother’s, Grandma B’s, house every Sunday. She would make the exact same brunch for us every week. Everything tasted so delicious. Well, I didn’t love everything she cooked, but everyone loved something. She made these ham and tunafish sandwiches. Now I was raised in a Kosher home so when we went to her house we could have ham. That was great, that was a real treat. And ham — I’m sure because it was kept from us — was something that I loved. Whenever I go out I always get ham sandwiches. She used the yellow bread, the white bread that was a yellow color, and plenty of mayonnaise in her tunafish and her ham sandwiches. She would make cheese blintzes. She made these noodles, these wide noodles. They might have been like Pennsylvania Dutch noodles that you can still get. They were wide, and they’d be with lots of butter and salt and pepper on them. They were fantastic. She made an apple cake that I have been trying to get the recipe for my entire life. Because she was the only person that ever made it.
You have these childhood memories of these flavors and then you pursue them for the rest of your life. You’re chasing that amazing taste that you remember, the sugar and the apples and just the right texture of the cake itself. It really wasn’t a cake. She called it an apple cake, but it was closer to a pie really than it was a cake. So she had those things. She had Brookdale sodas in these tall bottles. And that, every Sunday, was what we used to eat. We never got tired of it. It was just great.
There was a diner right on her block called the Short Stop. I don’t know why, but my brothers decided to try out this diner. And the diner was no larger than this room that we’re sitting in. It was kind of a classic old diner, like a railroad car but with a stainless front. It was the only time I’ve ever really seen it, but they served eggs in the skillet. So you would get your scrambled eggs, crinkle-cut fries, whatever it was, and they’d cook it and serve them to you in the pan. And that was just great. That place closed about 15 or 20 years ago. It was in Bloomfield, New Jersey. That was just such a great memory. Eggs really go back to my earliest childhood memories because my mother’s mother used to make sunnyside-up eggs for me, in a pan with the edges of those whites just perfectly browned and none of that clear liquid on it. I don’t know how she did it but they were always perfectly cooked, runny yolks, really delicious with salt and pepper.
My mother was a very good cook. She tried to cook without fat, often because my father was overweight and she was always trying to help him. But every year for my birthday what I wanted was corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes. Which is pretty rudimentary in a lot of homes, and certainly was nothing for her. She cooked such fancy things. But that to me was one of those tastes that just goes back to my earliest times and I loved it. It was a real treat to get it on my birthday each year. Seems Irish, but a lot of Jewish people somehow took that on. Maybe it was a matter of growing up in working class neighborhoods next to the Irish. Maybe that’s where they got it, because I’m sure my mother must have learned that recipe from her mother.
I remember being judgmental about food from a very early time. I had very strong opinions. I could never understand why my mother would try to cook the same thing that I loved in a different way. Now that I’m a parent, of course, I get it – you want to try different things. But kids are really finicky.
Can’t get enough jello
Chocolate pudding was a staple in my house when I was real little. And she used to buy this date nut bread that came in like a Pillsbury kind of container, but it wasn’t a Pillsbury product. And then she would take it out and slice it and then you put a schmear of cream cheese on it and that was a real treat. That was great. I was born in the 50s so not so much jello molds, but jello with fruit in it – big dessert in our household. It’s funny, because I know a lot of people really don’t like jello, but I love jello. Can’t get enough jello. I don’t really make it so much any more because it’s not the kind of thing I want to give to my kids, but if you put it in front of me I’ll relish it. I’ll devour it. I really love it. She used to put grapes in it. She used to put pineapple in it. She did a lot of other things.
There was a product that came out for a brief time in the early 70s called Jello 1 2 3. General Foods was the maker. It was great. You would pour it into [a bowl] with the hot water, but it would separate into three different layers. One was like a mousse, and then jello was on the bottom, and the third layer was kind of a whipped sort of thing. They stopped making it. I think there was some carcinogenic properties that they found out about or something like that. It was great because when I was an adult, somehow this box of Jello 1 2 3 had traveled with me across many apartments and it was probably in the mid 80s that I finally made that last box. That was really a lot of fun.
Because food was so central to my childhood I grew up thinking, well, the world is much bigger than food and there’s a lot of things to discover and enjoy. And so I thought that food wouldn’t be as important to me when I grew up and I certainly wouldn’t make it part of my career — and now I’m in the whole healthy food distribution business. I was a chef. So, in sum, whether it was as a professional or even when I was a TV producer, food was always a part of the welcoming, kind of celebratory mood that I always wanted to have in my company. We had a lot of employees. Milkshakes and french fries, and that sort of thing. Potato chips were always a big part of kind of the mood that I set in the company.
We were Kosher for Passover
Stuffed cabbage, that was really more of my mother’s Orthodox, Jewish side, the Austrian side of the family. With raisins, kind of sweet, rice, and meat. So it was a stuffed cabbage with meat. We were Kosher for Passover so there were very specific Passover traditions, which of course just ended this weekend. And my mother changed the dishes for Passover, so it was kind of this Herculean feat of getting rid of all the dishes and silverware and platters and pots and pans. The week before Passover we’d begin, and we had to bring down these barrels of dishes and silverware and pots and pans to fully switch over. From the attic. She got smart at some point and put them in the basement which was easier for us. It was always this kind of resentment about having to go through these tasks of having to change the dishes.
We were the boys. We were never expected to cook any meals, so that seemed like an effort to us. We weren’t really expected to help out in the kitchen at all. In fact, just before I went to college I thought it would be a great way to meet girls if I knew how to make something that my mother made. And she was famous for her cheesecake recipe. So I learned how to make cheesecake and that really was a great thing to learn. Because everybody loves sweets. It was a very easy recipe and to this day I really kind of embrace the easiest sort of recipes to make. In fact I went to a cooking school in France that really emphasized ease in food preparation, which was just perfect for me.
The cooking school was L’ecole Menegere du Quartier Latin. It was in Paris, next to the Pantheon. I was going to Hampshire College and I wanted to do my thesis in France on the Dreyfus Affair but my father didn’t really understand the leave of absence so he wasn’t going to let me go unless I enrolled in school. So I enrolled in cooking school, as kind of a farce, though I was interested in cooking. The Latin Quarter, at least when I was living there in ‘78, was largely Moroccan, African. I don’t know who lives there now. I’m sure it’s gotten pretty chi chi.
Something that my mother used to give to us for breakfast was graham crackers with warm milk. Later in life, there’s this restaurant in New York that made this warm Indian corn pudding that tasted very similar to graham crackers. You take the graham crackers, you break them in half, you pour the warm milk on top. And the graham cracker breaks down into kind of a mush. Depending upon how quickly you eat it, you can get some crispy parts, some mushy parts. It’s kind of surprising that I don’t really eat that any more because it’s really, really good. It’s just delicious.
We ate a lot of Wheatena and Farina as kids. I don’t know what happened but there was a transitional point – it may have been when we moved to the larger house and my parents had more money – but at some point my mother didn’t get up to make breakfast any more. So all these kinds of breakfast things that we ate, H-O oatmeal and Farina and Wheatena and graham crackers with milk . . . We all stopped eating breakfast. She didn’t get up to make it, so we just stopped eating it. It was kind of a lost part of our eating culture when we moved to this new house when I was 7. It’s when my little brother was born.
I don’t remember ever eating breakfast together. Our only meal together was dinner, but it was every night. And it was always iceberg salad with some sort of Seven Seas dressing like creamy Italian. There was usually a sliced half of grapefruit with a little bit of grenadine on top. And a lot of meat. This is the 60s and into the early 70s. There really wasn’t much consciousness, that I knew about anyway, about red meat and whether it was good for you. So we definitely had this roast London Broil a lot. It was such a killer because you feel so exhausted after you eat all this red meat. But she would get like a 6-pound chunk of roast and slice it pretty thinly. You know my nickname when I was a chef was “prosciuto man”because I used to cut things very thin, but she did pretty well without any sort of training I have to say.
She used to try and cook things without any fat, so chicken was really dry, fish was really dry. We had baked potatoes pretty much every night. Baked potatoes with butter. There wasn’t like a stuffed baked potato thing with cheese or sour cream or anything like that. But I love potatoes so much, baked potato was just fine with me. It didn’t really need much besides butter. In fact today when I eat a baked potato I put olive oil with salt on it. I try to use as little butter as I can.
I don’t think there was really any desserts in our family meals. My mother used to love to make them but they were for special occasions. I’m sure that had everything to do with my father’s weight. Actually, my oldest brother also for a long time had a weight issue as well. We were all wrestlers, so we needed to make a certain weight. Usually when you’re a wrestler you try and lose a lot of weight so you can wrestle at a lighter weight and compete against people that aren’t as strong as the people with heavier weights. So we were always on crazy diets. When I was junior in high school I was wrestling at 136 pounds and I haven’t seen that weight since that day.
My mother did not have a job during the day. She was a housewife. She raised us. We had help in the house for cleaning but she did all the cooking. She was a good cook and she enjoyed it. It never felt like it was either a challenge or something that she didn’t enjoy. She really relished it. In fact, she died a couple years ago, and I was the one who cleaned out the house, took whatever I wanted from there. I had no idea what a newspaper recipe clipper she was. Because there were thousands, thousands of recipes that she had clipped. I can’t imagine she made them all. But she had the ambition, I’m sure, to make them all.
The Claremont Diner was the number one
There was this one diner, a different diner than the one I mentioned already, the Claremont Diner. The Claremont Diner arguably is the most famous diner in the history of the world — certainly in the New York area. It was started in the 50s by the Bauman brothers. They had two diners, the Weequahic Diner in Newark and the Claremont Diner in Verona. It just became a destination. It was such a good restaurant. It started as a restaurant car with a stainless front and then it became so popular they built many rooms, banquet rooms, a bar, all kinds of things. The food was amazing. They were tremendous hosts. They had a Saturday buffet for breakfast, and a Sunday buffet. And they had, I think it was a Wednesday night dinner buffet. Even though we didn’t have that much money when I was little, if you were going to spend money it was always going to be on food. We had our favorite places to go, but the Claremont Diner was the number one. In fact the owner of the Claremont Diner made these business cards and it said on the business card – Harry Starr is my father’s name — “Harry Starr’s favorite place to eat.” Because we were there all the time. If there were lines – believe me, there were dozens and dozens of people that would wait on line to get into the place – we would always go right to the front of the line. We never had to wait.
But the buffet was so memorable in terms of what it had on it. There’s this one item, that when I started my catering business I figured I had to make. It’s basically a deep-fried French toast. You use challah – you don’t have to use challah but I do use challah. You fry it, deep fry it in oil. Obviously you soak it first in egg and vanilla, and then maybe you put some granulated sugar on the outside. So it’s really crispy on the outside and it’s really moist on the inside. It stinks up your house but it’s delicious. There’s really nothing like it. It’s kind of like a doughnut, I guess, but it’s crispier than a doughnut and lighter on the inside than a doughnut. It’s really a great thing.
Three of the things that Morris Bauman did: When you would sit at the table, he would put three things down, four I guess. Fill your water glasses. He put a basket of croissants. He must have traveled to France at some point because croissants were not diner food. It gives you an idea of how upscale this place was. Oh, it wasn’t just croissants; he would put a bread basket including croissants and he had these onion rolls, not quite as dark as pumpernickel. Delicious butter on the table to put on it as well. But he also had a coleslaw that he put on the table and he had what became known as a Claremont Salad, which I just made last week for Passover. It’s cucumbers, carrots, onions, peppers, and you throw it all together in white vinegar and sugar and salt, then let it marinate for overnight. Everything kinds of falls apart. It holds its shape but it gets really kind of limp, the carrots break down. It’s a really good salad. And the coleslaw was a highly mayonnaised, very creamy coleslaw salad with just cabbage and carrots, but it was a really good thing.
So, who would order anything, right? After you eat all that who needs to eat anything? But somehow we managed. I remember as a kid there was some pride in the number of trips that you could make up to the buffet table. I must have been 10 or 11 and it was my 13th trip to the buffet table. I just thought “now that is great. I’ve really attained a new level.” But there were just so many delicious things. I don’t know how Morris made money on this buffet because you would want to sample everything. It’s kind of fascinating to me when a dish or a flavor is so distinctive that here I am 62 years old and I can still recreate a dish, never having made it since I tasted it as a child, just based upon what those flavors are and whatever visual memory I have of what I saw.
There was a hot dog place that we used to go to a lot called Rutt’s Hut, which is in Clifton, New Jersey. It was great because it has a sit down restaurant but the main part of it that most people know is kind of a snack bar. There’s nowhere to sit in the snack bar; it’s just kind of an open thing with a griddle and you order what you want. They have Boylan’s birch beer there, a real treat. But they have a whole nomenclature around their hot dogs. Their well-done hot dogs are called wellers and their not-well-done hot dogs are called rippers, because they’re deep fried and the skin of the hot dog rips when you fry it. So you order either a ripper or you order a weller. To be perfectly honest I’m not that much of a hot dog fan, I didn’t grow up being a hot dog fan, except for Rutt’s Hut. That’s really an exceptional hot dog. When PBS did a two-hour special on hot dogs, twenty minutes of that two hours is about Rutt’s Hut.
About six or eight months before my father died we went to Rutt’s Hut together and he admitted to me that all those years that he would come home for family dinner, he said “You know, every night I came home and your mother worked so hard to make meals that wouldn’t be fattening, I would stop at Rutt’s Hut and have two hot dogs before I came home.” Every night! It’s just a part of my family food culture. My father and I were very close but I had four brothers. There wasn’t a lot of time I spent with him separate from all the others, but that was just a great, great kind of final moment to have with him.
A giant bowl of pasta
He was not a drinker. He didn’t drink any alcohol. He’d smoke an occasional cigar but he was not a smoker. He wasn’t a drinker. He’d would have a beer to be social once in a while. And he had a bar in our house for parties, but there was no culture of drinking wine or beer or alcohol at the table. He didn’t really have any interest. For him, it was about pizza and pasta and ice cream. We always had our favorite places to go to. It’s funny, my mother really didn’t make pasta. I never really thought of that. And maybe that’s why my father was so appreciative when I became a chef. Because one of the biggest smiles I remember on his face was one night when I made pasta primavera. He was just in seventh heaven, he was just loving it. And it was after he had quintuple bypass surgery and he was kind of depressed and it was kind of hard to get him to be as happy as he’d been earlier in life. But there were certain things that you knew were going to bring a smile to his face. And one of them was a giant bowl of pasta. That really made him very happy.
My mother must have made spaghetti occasionally. Think back to our childhood in America; pasta was spaghetti. There wasn’t penne, there wasn’t angel hair. It was spaghetti. Maybe my mother didn’t like spaghetti. My mother only liked dry pasta. When she went to a restaurant, she would say bring me the sauce on the side. She only ordered capellini actually, so it’s pretty possible she didn’t like spaghetti. And my wife doesn’t like spaghetti either. Well, ziti. Growing up in my family baked ziti was the pasta dish. And there was this one place called Sacco’s, in Teal, New Jersey, which now is a Syrian Jewish affluent community, but at that time it wasn’t. I think there were a lot more Italians there at that time. And Sacco’s was a typical red and white tablecloth Southern Italian place. And they made the most amazing baked ziti. I don’t think they used ricotta because I don’t really like ricotta cheese, but they used a lot of mozzarella, and they’d make it in this metal dish. They would bake it and it would get really crispy on the top of the baked ziti. All my brothers, we still talk about that baked ziti. My father was a Bolognese fan but it’s funny because as a kid I don’t ever remember him ordering Bolognese. It was all about baked ziti and pizza.
You can imagine the amount of food that was required
We had a summer home. My father worked in New York City and my mother had two sisters. So all three sisters would go to the summer home in Long Branch, New Jersey, for the summer the day after school ended. We’d be down there with our aunts and uncles and our cousins all summer long. The women and the kids would be there during the week and the men that were business partners — all the brothers in law were business partners — they would come down on the weekend. The kids had family dinner and then the adults would have dinner at this l-o-o-ong dining room table. I can’t even tell you what they ate because I was a kid and I wasn’t really allowed in the dining room. But the next morning my Uncle Arnie would go out to a bakery called Freedman’s, which was kind of a small chain — Belmar was the original where it existed –and he would get crumb buns which are still very popular. It’s basically a coffee cake with a lot of brown sugar crumbs on top. That was every Saturday.
Then when I was 10 we moved to Elberon, New Jersey, and we had a summer house with a pool in the back. And my grandfather took a rowboat that he turned into a bar. We would all eat breakfast together in the morning. Big dining room table. Eggs, pastries, smoked salmon, bagels. And then we’d all go out to the pool. It’s funny. There were three families and for two of the families obesity really was a problem. For my family it wasn’t really a problem.
But the food was constant. Cheese, cold cuts. And funny, because they did serve alcohol at that bar because both of my uncles were drinkers. And fruit, fresh fruit was a big deal. In those days we had fruit and vegetable vendors that would come house to house. My grandfather had a garden for vegetables but all of our fruit came from this truck, from Perry’s Vegetables. He must have come a couple times a week.
This house had 18 bedrooms. It had to house my grandfather and his girlfriend, three couples (the three sisters and their husbands). There were 12 grandchildren. And then my grandmother who was no longer living, two of her sisters used to stay with us there. They shared a bedroom. And everyone would invite as many guests as they wanted to have. So all 18 bedrooms were used every weekend. I mean it was a full house. So you can imagine the amount of food that was required to feed all those people. We never had family dinners on Saturdays. Everyone went out their own way. Food was provided for breakfast and all day long, but Saturday night you were on your own. So each family would go out to dinner.
It’s a very close family. We were just in Florida last week to celebrate Passover and all three families got together to celebrate Passover together. One of my mother’s two sisters is still alive. She’s 87 and she lives in south Florida and she’s the reason we did Passover down there this year. She’s my godmother and as long as she’s alive we’ll continue to have our holiday celebrations there.
The most amazing sandwiches
It’s funny how people just have specialties. So my aunt and her younger sister, Libby, who died last year, were the most amazing sandwich makers. Incredible sandwich makers. If you think about it, the hardest things to make are the simplest things because there’s nothing to hide behind. Like roast chicken. You can’t put sauce on it to make it great. You either know how to roast a chicken or you don’t know how to roast a chicken. In fact, when he would test other chefs, André Soltner, the chef at Lutèce in New York, would have them make omelets. Because an omelet is very pure. Either you can make a great one or you can’t.
For me, the key to a great sandwich is how well it all holds together. The bread can really help that. Because if you have white bread or whole wheat bread or some sandwich loaf, that can fall apart very easily. A roll is probably better for a sandwich. You have to have the perfect amount of mayonnaise or mustard. Not too much meat. And it’s got to hold together. My son, if anything falls out of his sandwich he won’t eat it. He’s like, ok I’m done. He has this idiosyncracy about food and he doesn’t like things to fall apart. He doesn’t care if they touch. A lot of people have a touching thing with food. His thing, he wants it all to hold together and he doesn’t want to get it on his hands. I get it, but I’m not as ridiculous as he is. I think their sandwiches were very neat, not self-consciously neat. I think volume had a lot to do with why they were so much better than anybody else’s. Not too much, not too little, just the right amount of each ingredient. I don’t know where they learned it but my mother did not have that talent and they did.
We used to have Sunday brunch at my house that I grew up in, just my family. And there was a place called Tabachnik which became a big company. They have a whole frozen food line now that they do. But at that time it was just a little deli in West Orange, New Jersey, which is where my father grew up. So every Sunday he and I would go and get bagels and smoked salmon. And this is really where I found my love for herring. We’d get matjes herring in a white wine sauce and onions, and a creamed herring. I guess it’s sour cream and onions mainly. I love it. Actually all my bothers love it. There’s a restaurant in New York called Aquavit which is a Swedish restaurant. They have a herring festival every June. I actually haven’t gone with my brothers, but my three older brothers, they all go every year to the herring festival. Smoked salmon, bialies were always a part of that, and it’s fun because Stop ‘n’ Shop here in town sells bialies and my kids love bialies. Certainly capers and sliced tomato and sliced onions, cream cheese, but not flavored cream cheese. Cream cheese and butter. So that was it. That was our basic Sunday brunch, that’s what we would eat just about every Sunday. It was just so much fun to go with my father. I guess that was one of the times when I didn’t really have to share him with my other brothers. So we would go to West Orange, which is probably a 15 minute drive, 20 minute drive, and we would get the breakfast stuff and bring it back home. It’s still to this day a ritual. It’s funny, it’s been almost two years since my mother died so we don’t have that house anymore, but up until two years ago that was what we did on Sunday mornings. We’d get the same glass plates out and have the whole Tabachnik-style spread.
My parents bought a house in 1963, when my little brother was born. They were thinking, are we going to add onto our current house or are we just going to buy another house? They bought this new house, in Upper Montclair. A lot of things changed and a lot of new food traditions began. Upper Montclair didn’t allow Blacks, or Jews, or Catholics. I never really thought about it until about 20, 30 years ago, but I realized that there weren’t any Jews when we moved to Upper Montclair. I grew up with one other Jew in my elementary school classes. So it was pretty rare. I’m sure that’s all changed at this point.
As children we try and get away from either who our parents are or who they want us to be. Unfortunately we don’t understand just how our parents are enriching our lives, whatever the culture that they’re raising us in. Because those impressions that are being made on a 5-year-old’s mind, or a 15-year old’s. As a person you’re not open your whole life the way you are at that young age. You just remember things. Things penetrate so deeply when you’re that young. And you don’t understand how deeply it is until you get older and then you talk about jello or my mother’s cheesecake or whatever it is. My grandmother’s sunny-side up eggs. No flavor will create as much emotion as the flavors that you experienced at that young age.
I created this thing called a quinella
I did a lot of entertaining in New York at restaurants because people don’t really cook at home in New York, they go out to restaurants. I created this thing called a quinella where you go out and you eat at five different places for the same meal. You only have tastes of things. A location can only be on the quinella if they have an item that’s the greatest thing you’ve ever tasted in your life of that thing. To give you an example, the original quinella was in New Jersey and that had Short Stop eggs in the skillet. The last episode of the Sopranos was filmed at this little luncheonette called Holsten’s, in Bloomfield, which is a place that we went my whole life that was known for their chocolates and their ice cream and their milkshakes. So we got ice cream at Holsten’s. We got hot dogs at Rutt’s Hut. We got sandwiches from this place called Calabrese’s, that isn’t around anymore that was an Italian deli. At Montclair High School, nobody ate in the cafeteria – they ate at Calabrese’s at lunchtime. They had the most amazing sandwiches because the bread was so fresh, those rolls, and they didn’t put any lettuce and tomato on their sandwiches. If you wanted a tunafish sandwich it was tuna with mayo on this roll and it was great. Ham and cheese, that’s what you got. So that was the original quinella.
Think of places and it’s helpful if you can walk to them, and living in New York, of course, that was easy. So the Cedar Tavern hamburger, the Two Boots pizza; the shawarma from Mamoun’s; the corned beef sandwich at Katz’s Deli – which is still there; and, oh, a place that just closed recently, the Noho Star, their hot fudge sundaes.
For years we’ve been putting together these quinellas. We’ve got them in New York, New Jersey, Boston, we’ve got them on Martha’s Vineyard. So that is kind of the crowning achievement, I think, of my childhood experience. Because there’s never too much food, and you can never find too many things to enjoy at one time. And maybe Morris Bauman at the Claremont Diner deserves credit for that. Because his buffet was just so enormous. He had lobster tails, I’m just remembering, on his dinner buffet.
Food is a subject that is never tiresome for me. So many great memories, my mother’s matzoh ball soup, the cheeseburgers and crinkle-cut french fries at the Colony Surf Club in Long Branch, New Jersey, when I was little.
I’m not that funny as it happens. I can’t tell a joke. I’m not a great story teller. I always marveled at my brother Richard’s ability to make our father laugh. While my father and I had a deep love for each other, my growing up and not being his little boy any longer was frustrating for him. And for me, I wanted to be more than just his sweet little boy. I wanted to make him laugh. After I went to cooking school in Paris when I was 21, I finished my degree at Hampshire College and started a catering business. I was living at home for some months and after each catering job I would tell my father stories about things that happened in the catering jobs. My father would howl with laughter as I regaled him with stories about rescuing a failed reine de saba or a salmon mousse. It was our own little Kitchen Confidential and he loved it. Food was his great joy in life. Because of him, food became one of my greatest joys in life. And in the end, while he didn’t understand a lot of what I did professionally, we shared the bond of food adventures. What more could a son ask for as I look back on my life with my father?