The James Beard media awards were this week! A.K.A., “Everyone Josh follows on Instagram goes out and parties together.” Many Snack Cart favorites won, including Michael Twitty, the Sporkful, and that one article about how everyone in the NBA eats peanut butter and jelly. Eater has the full rundown of winners and the restaurant awards are next week.
Speaking of The Sporkful, they published a two-part series that is absurdly up my alley. Long time Snack Cart readers have probably seen me write about Cambodian donut shops. There are something like 5000 independent donut shops on the West Coast, and 90% of them are owned by Cambodians. During the Cambodian Genocide of the Khmer Rouge, a pipeline of refugees came to America, apprenticed in existing shops, and branched out to form their own. The Sporkful found the patient zero. Ted Ngoy came to South California in 1975. Within a decade he was a millionaire who owned hundreds of shops across the state. Eventually, he lost it all to a crippling gambling addiction. This is absolutely riveting audio, especially the interviw with his former partner and ex wife. Part one details the story of the Cambodian donut shops. Part two is an interview with Ted himself.
Mitt Romney’s quest to be a real boy continues.
I may have freaked out late last week when I found out about Yellow Fever, an Asian fast-casual chain that Whole Foods recently partnered with. A tweet from Whole Foods is what put it on many people's radar, but that tweet was announcing the SECOND LOCATION. It’s just been out there forever and no one said anything! It’s also run by an Asian woman! My head hurt a lot. Lucas Peterson, writing for TASTE, examines how he feels about this as an Asian-American. The essay is a bit messy, but so are the forces at play here. Really great work. I also wonder if the fact that the founder isn’t Asian-American (she came to this country when she was 9) means the term isn't as loaded to her as it might be for others.
Boiled peanuts are entwined with the history of the South. Shane Mitchell, writing for the Bitter Southerner, digs into the history and current day practice of farming and eating the legume. It’s a great essay, and has some of the most beautiful photos I’ve seen in a while. Also, it turns out they *didn’t* make Jimmy Carter sell his peanut farm!
Mitchell, writing in Cherry Bombe this time, revisits her September 2006 review of Heat. The book by Bill Buford was the story of his apprenticeship under Mario Batali. Mitchell’s original review was critical, and her update (an epilogue, she calls it) is scathing. The original book hints at a lot of open secrets that have recently been coming to light. I’ve been having a few “can we separate the art from the artist” conversations with friends. Mitchell’s essay gave me a lot to process so I’ll quote her at length:
“Those of us who are diners, and readers of dining journals, must also quit being complicit. If you know a serial abuser is cooking your breakfast, lunch, or dinner, wouldn’t it be better to stay home and eat out of a box of cereal? Stop buying their books. Stop watching their cooking and travel shows. Stop celebrating them at award galas and food festivals. Stop making their recipes. And if that’s the price I have to pay, I’ll gladly never eat a damned cinnamon bun again.”
Helen Rosner writes up a recent trip to what the headline calls the high church of umami. After going through her own history with MSG, she describes a trip to the Ajinomoto MSG factory outside Tokyo. It’s a delightful, gentle, and Wonka-esque romp through the global source of bottled deliciousness. Rosner also quote one of my favorite essays. In 1999, Vogue’s food critic Jeffrey Steingarten debunked the concept that there are widespread MSG allergies with an essay titled, “Why Doesn’t Everyone in China Have a Headache?” I can’t find a copy of the essay online, but it’s in this book of his collected works.
Must-read: I’ve been thinking a lot about vegetarianism recently. This long feature by Cat Ferguson about the best way to kill fish gave me even more to think about. Of all the things in food we don’t talk about, how we actually kill the animals we eat is probably near the top of the list. This article looks into the burgeoning movement to bring Ike jime to America. It’s a traditional Japanese method of killing fish that is both more humane and results in better-tasting and longer-lasting meat. Ferguson meets with people up and down the supply chain to get a better sense of the challenges and opportunities. Of course, there are other major problems in our seafood supply chains.
Liana Aghajanian, writing for Thrillist, describes how essential Ferrero Rocher is to the experience of many immigrant families. It was reserved as gifts for guests or special occasions. Rocher spent a lot of the last century marketing itself as a status symbol in countries around the world. When immigrants from those countries arrived in America, the chocolates were both obtainable while also representing refinement and sophistication. Rocher is so big that earlier this year, they bought Nestle. My favorite thing in the article is that there was a Chinese knock-off company selling imitation chocolates under the name Fretate Relish.
TASTE has an amazing story on the secret history of the César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier. The two, whose names are synonymous with fine hotels and haute cuisine (I was like halfway through before saying, “Oh, like THAT Ritz”), began a golden age of high hotel living at the Savoy in London. However, they were also caught embezzling millions. The crime was successfully covered up until recently. I definitely can’t wait to read more about this in the upcoming book on the two men.
I will keep doing Nailed It content until all of you have watched it and come to realize it’s the greatest cooking show of our time. Eater interviewed host Nicole Byer, who is a delight. She is a connoisseur of discontinued chain restaurant dishes.
A Melbourne library was evacuated this week because people reported a gas leak. Turns out it wasn’t gas, just some Durian that someone had left in a cupboard.
Trace the history of pie à la mode, and you uncover a different age of dining. Instead of long descriptions of every element of a dish, you had a shared language that cooks and diners used to order. Anne Ewbank at Gastro Obscura explains the language. I enjoyed learning what à la Nesselrode means.
I just don’t know what to believe anymore.
The New York Times digs into the staffing challenges facing fast food restaurant owners. A decline in the teen workforce and immigration is leaving a lot of managers and owners scrambling. It’s very weird that the fact that low-wage workers across America are being treated better and paid more is being called a problem. Also, I wish they had dug more into the fact that fewer teens are working because they are prioritizing scholarships. I assume that means they are doing more extracurriculars. Interesting if they are ditching real income in the hopes of getting a reduced college tuition bill.
Gothamist is back! One of their first stories was a look at the City’s crackdown on ebikes. Mayor de Blasio has banned the bikes, which use small electric motors to travel up to 20 miles per hour. Despite the administration claiming they are only going to fine businesses, the crackdown has mostly hurt the poor immigrant delivery drivers. It’s all ugly and racist in the worst kind of New York way.
PUNCH reviews the Tommy Bahama bar at the Tommy Bahama store in midtown. It seems kinda terrible but kinda extremely my shit. Also, I liked this better when Gawker did it.
Today in “End of Empire”: Gold dusted chicken wings.
Benash, the last of the big three midtown Jewish delicatessens, has closed after being evicted for unpaid back rent and taxes. It’s sad to see these staples of my Damon Runyon fantasies close, but the truth of the matter is they were overpriced and not that good. Still, end of an era.
Review: What does a modern-day diner look like? Ryan Sutton find out at MeMe’s in Prospect Heights. He finds one of the best brunches in the city, as well as a commitment to (relative) affordability and being a welcoming space. In particular, it’s one of the few queer-owned and operated restaurants in the city. In Sutton’s words, “the coffee costs $4, refills are still free.” He awards it two stars out of four.
I am very here for Taylor’s Pork Roll flavored ice cream.
Review: Pete Wells raves about La Mercerie in Soho. Run by Marie-Aude Rose, a noted French chef in her own right who came to New York when her husband Danny Rose moved here to open Le CouCou. Just like Danny is doing fine French a bit better than it used to be, Marie-Aude is doing French cafe food a bit better than you can find anywhere in Paris. Wells raves about the precision and ingredients, spending two paragraphs talking about butter alone. He somewhat inexplicably only gives it two out of four stars.
Ramadan is almost upon us, and Ligaya Mishan is in Bay Ridge getting a lesson in hospitality by the owners of Bab Marrakech. The new-ish Moroccan restaurant seems a wonderful place to reflect on a truly ancient cuisine.
While Cambridge is now famous for higher education and the startup scene, it was one the home to a cluster of candy making factories. There’s a single one left, owned by Tootsie Roll Industries. The Globe’s Scott Kirsner, who spends most of his time writing about the innovation economy in Kendall Square, went on a quest to find out how to get inside the factory and what they make. While they wouldn’t let him inside, they did confirm that the factory mostly produces Junior Mints. In fact, every single Junior Mint in the world is made there. Scott should listen to this episode of NPR’s Planet Money, where they dig into the ultra-secretive world of candy making. None of the companies will allow outsiders in the factories or discuss the process, and most candies involve at least two to three secret steps that make them impossible to copy.
I enjoyed this first look by Devra First of Ghost Walks in the theater district. The bar itself seems fine, but First plays on the name (from Hamlet) and quotes the play back after every section. I'm such a fucking nerd.
Review: Deva First meditates on what it means to be from the suburbs, and what it means to grow up. She visits Buttonwood in Newton, where chef-owner Dave Punch is building a small empire. This one, says First, might be the best of the bunch and is certainly the best for the neighborhood. It has food for every occasion and everyone in a party that a suburban family might need. First awards it three out of four stars.
There’s going to be a Tequila bar inside a Wegmans.
Review: Phil Vettel has written his now-quarterly review of Next. This year, Next is doing a progression through time. The first quarter was dedicated to the high cuisine of Escoffier. Now they’ve moved on to, you guessed it, Nouvelle. Rather than sticking to Nouvelle Cuisine, they are interpreting it more as general rule-breaking and leaning into reinterpretations and molecular gastronomy. I am really conflicted about these reviews. Next is clearly important and the degree to which it is innovating is something else, but reviewing and re-reviewing the same restaurant, even a fantastic one, strikes me as indulgent even for someone whose job is writing about indulgence. Next continues to have four out of four stars.
I am for SURE going to the newly opened Vienna Beef museum.
Review: Mike Sula, when inspired, is one of the best reviewers out there. His visit to Radio Anago has him inspired. How else could he come up with the line, “the soundtrack for the secret government breeding experiment that is River North nightlife”? He finds a lot of touches, be them the soundtrack or the fried chicken topped with gold leaf, that make it seem as if the dream of the 80s is alive in River North. However, he also finds chef Hari Chan, a member of Chicago sushi royalty who is taking the fish deadly seriously. This place sounds weird and great, and you really need to click through to read Sula’s description of the Wagyu tartare.
This is an excellent sign.
Michael Gerbert interviews Zenash Beyene, the woman behind Ras Dashen, a 17-year-old Ethiopian restaurant in Edgewater. This is mostly written as a monologue from Beyene, who talks about her youth in Ethiopia, coming to America as a refugee, and starting a restaurant. She is optimistic and grateful, and practically gushes at how much she loves America. I teared up reading about what this country can represent to people.
Tom Sietsema finally publishes the full list of the top ten new restaurants in D.C. It’s honestly impressive to look at this list and realize all of these places are less than a year old. The District is currently in the middle of an explosion of great food. Sietsema says nothing epitomizes the expansion of fantastic neighborhood restaurants more than Elle, which takes the top spot. He awards it three out of four stars.
Not on his top list, but somehow winning four stars, is a short review of Royal Nepal. You like Momos? Sure you do, everybody likes momos.
Oh shit it’s crab season. GET AFTER IT.
YES!!!! The most recent Food Ambassadors video is up. This is where Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Albright interviews ambassadors about an aspect of their country’s food. I love, love, love this series for all its earnest hokeyness. She talks to the Japanese Ambassador, as well as the official brand ambassador for Suntory, about the rise and increasing popularity of Japanese whiskey.
Tim Carman reviews the holy trinity of fast food burgers: The Whopper, the Big Mac, and the Dave’s Single (Wendy’s). He gives a short history of each, and then analyzes their flavors. I was most interested in how he broke them down by weight, and that most fast food burgers are largely composed of bun and condiments.
Neat profile of a British journalist who runs the blog Dining With Strangers. Over ten years he’s had meals with 104 different people. Some famous, some regular. Some interesting, some boring. It’s an interesting if confounding hobby.
If you live in LA and you don’t go to this tribute to Jitlada chef Tui Sungkamee, you are dead to me. IT’S FOR A GOOD CAUSE YOU MONSTERS. Not to mention all of the best Thai chefs in LA are preparing food. Plus Langer’s for some reason.
LA Taco publishes a long and poetic essay by Daniel Hernandez. He’s visiting Poncho’s Tlayudas, a simple backyard restaurant behind Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales in South Central. Hernandez reflects (and rambles a bit) about the Oaxacan community in the restaurant and in Los Angeles, and on the larger immigrant experience. This is a lovely read, and there is a photograph of the house-made blood sausage that made me try to eat my computer.
Oh hell yes we get a double J. Gold! First, he recommends ten food-centric films. He goes far deeper and indier than Ratatouille (or even The Big Night). In fact, he seems most interested in food as a proxy for horror.
Gold also writes up a short note naming Taco María The Times' 2018 Restaurant of the Year. Chef Carlos Salgado has led the charge on the growing movement to treat Mexican cuisine (Gold calls it Mexican-Californian but ehhhhh) with the seriousness we treat any other. It’s happening in cities across the country, but the vanguard of the movement is an hour south of LA in Orange County. Plus, there are tacos sometimes.
Out of context J. Gold quote of the week
It is hard to interpret the flash of a knife as the portent of a really well-made brunoise onscreen; the combination of rabbit and stockpot does not equal fricassee.