Friday, September 16, 2011

Q&A with Bill Grimes, Appetite City author & TV show host

Food Historian, book author, cultural curator, former New York Times restaurant critic -- Bill Grimes has earned a lot of notches on his food belt. 

Add Entertainer to that championship belt. 

Bill Grimes, Author, Restaurant Critic, TV Host: Appetite City

Based on his best-selling book: Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York published by North Point Press, “Appetite City” TV is a show about the stories behind the iconic food New Yorkers love. 
See August Appetite City premiere coverage on Master Chefs blog below and on Food and Drink:

The stories Bill narrates makes the food all the more curious and kinetic.

Bill is an engaging, smart, affable expert.  He has an impeccable pedigree for his role as master storyteller.
On his weekly TV show, “Appetite City,” Bill takes the viewer on a fun food journey.  No imperial tutorial or snobby know it all. 
Bill loves food culture and clearly wants to share his unreasonably good fortune being at the front of the food line. 
Think sitting around the dining table listening to him eagerly spin the history of food and restaurants in New York City, blended with witty gastronomic anecdotes, whipped frothy with urbane charm.

But with actual footage and images to add spice and depth.

Recently, this reporter was privileged to interview Bill Grimes.

How did you come to do the TV Show, Appetite City?

It’s funny because I knew the program manager, Diane, who was developing a new program with the station NYC Media, focused on the cultural values of New York City. 
They were intrigued with my New York City historical work. They approached me.
I started by going out with Top Chef Masters host, Kelly Choi, who conducted three-minute interview spots with me at historical hot spots like Times Square.  They soon determined the spots could be expanded.
Together, NYC Media and I brainstormed what to cover.  Certain things are obvious: for example, Street Food, GreenMarkets, Chinatown, oysters. 
Then they had to be sure I’d be good on camera!

The current season is eight episodes, broadcasting at 8:30 pm every Thursday.  The day after they can be seen online. There is an enduring life cycle to the shows.

What is a typical Day in the Life of production like for you?

During the taping season, we typically start at 9 am and I interview the subject. We work many months in advance. That’s why you’ll see me in heavier coats on some of the first episodes. There is b-roll footage shot.  We work anywhere from two to three hours up to five or six hours a day. We’re frequently hopping all around the city!
Essentially, I am talking to the resident expert of the day (profiled) on the show. For example, the deli owner Arthur Schwartz or Chef Marcus Samuelson (
I do stand up at different locations.
There is no script.  I fill in the background and history of the place for the viewer.

How do you choose your subjects and how is that different, if at all, how you chose the restaurants to review while at The New York Times?

While the themes and culinary chapters are gleaned from the book, the resident expert subjects featured in each show are new.  The producers and the team research and select the resident experts for each show.
I don’t do any editing.  They do all that.  I trust them to make decisions. I didn’t want to do any of that. Leslie Farrell is a brilliant producer and director and a great collaborator!
At the Times, I reviewed the restaurants and topics I wanted to cover.

What can you do on TV that you can’t do in print? (besides the obvious!)

TV opens up the picture.  At the risk of being obvious, TV can provide those great images from The Library of Congress, for example.  It’s a big thrill to see the romance of the history, the romance of time travel – to feel as one would in the 1890’s. With the footage and pictures we can see what people did.
Food is ephemeral. So we can’t taste what it was like then.  But here we are recreating episodes that capture the other senses of the sight, and sound surrounding the aura of the food. That is enchanting.

Until recently, we didn’t take care to take stock of our culinary culture.  I got started researching menus at the Library.

Since you’ve covered culture, arts and theater, your are in a unique position to cover food as art. Do you agree that food is an art form or is there a food culture?

Yes, and no.  Yes, but it’s closer to Craft.  It starts out as workaday form of cultural expression.  Think about it as a sculpture and painting? Hardly compares to bread or dough. While cooking is one of the greatest forms of expression, some would argue it’s an insult to the Picassos of the art world.  It’s a pointless argument.

In the same way, go back to the Renaissance.  The people who created the fountains in the public square or tapestries were craftsmen -- laborers with a particular skill.  There was no distinction between high art and craft.  Artist as genius – as privately inspired  --came about much later. 
This is frustrating for food historians.

How has the reporting about food changed with the emergence of a Foodie culture and bloggers, where everyone seems to be an expert?

The emergence of the Foodie culture has given rise to a great interest in food that is close to the land, to heirloom breeds and animals. The internet has allowed us to transmit that interest and be our own food and restaurant critic.  (This phenomenon) is still in its infancy. Some of the food news is terrific – there is great enthusiasm. Some of it is annoying.

What do you think makes a good food critic?

Ultimately, we each make the decision to what tastes good. 
Food criticism has certain set of standards and a knowledge base.  A reader has a feel for the critic’s way of thinking which is very useful as a guide – as a way of describing the eating experience. They have to trust the critic.
A good food critic is someone who can express in words the pleasure and sensations of food; who has a wide experience with food – traveled and experienced different food cultures and made food for himself…. Has a feel for performing the technical aspects of cooking. And to have the stamina to go out every day, every night to cover the restaurants. And to keep up with the trends.

What is your favorite piece of food and drink?

No one single story stands out.  I’ve enjoyed them all. I loved the out of town coverage I got to do on breaks from the regular column. I covered different cultures and restaurants in London, Paris. I wrote features for the Times’ Dining Section like, dining around Texas for hamburgers in Waco!

How have your books impacted the world of food?

Of the two books I’ve written, I will say that my book about cocktails, “Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail” IS a classic of its kind.  Now, all that is happening. But at the time, it was very much ahead of its time.  All the bartenders I talk to use it and refer to it, which makes me pleased and proud. 

It may be a bit premature with regard to “Appetite City.” The information is solid and it hadn’t been done before.
The book began with the publisher saying I should take advantage of my position as restaurant critic and do a history of restaurants in New York. 
I had done a show for the New York Public Library about menus and that in turn sparked material for dining out and food.
With the TV show, I get to reach a wider audience.  We take a chapter and expand each one, including many more aspects or elements.  We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.  We can do BIG things.

What do you see for the future of food? Any upcoming trends on the horizon?

There are mega food trends such as globalization that reshape the future.  By that I mean there is an awareness of other cultures now. In the past, France’s food culture reigned supreme.  But things have evolved and there is a great democracy – a United Nations of food– and that is exciting!  As a trend, technology will only intensify this mega trend… There is an ability to transport ingredients globally.  For example, you can readily get fish from Australia or New Zealand. There is a global demand for this -- for those not satisfied by the Alice Waters’ back to the land sensibility.

The sense of culinary regional distinctiveness that preceded the industrialization or manipulation of food before World War II in the US wiped clean the slate of cultural food memory, unlike Italy or France. 
We are just now finding our way back.  It was all kicked to the curb.
For a lot of immigrant food cultures here, the heritage dishes meant poor and poverty and they wanted to become modern – to have abundance. So they dismissed their way of cooking to embrace what they thought was American.

In this country, there was a perceived reason for people to devote themselves to plant hybridization.  Some new breeds are better.  But then on the other hand, there are certain breeds of pig in Germany that were almost extinct because people became fearful of fat!  Someone made the effort to rebuild the population and continue breeding. Why? Because the meat is so delicious.

Appetite City broadcasts new episodes until September 29th on NYC Media NYC TV Life, Channel 25 on Time Warner and/or Channel 22 on Cablevision and online at and available to download for free from iTunes.

Oh -- and Bill and his wife recently returned from what he described as a very non-foodie vacation where he says outside of Amish bakeries, it was a wasteland of franchise restaurants. 

Nice to have back in Appetite City, Bill.  New York loves you….

Be sure to stock Bill's two game-changing food and drink book.  Not unlike the man himself, they are fun and smart, filled with great stories:


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

With its own Garden out back, Goat Town Restaurant's Farm To Table Menu is a Standout

Goat Town bistro restaurant (it says the name is a derivative of the Dutch word for Gotham) is still in the bubble of restaurant discovery. 
It is in its culinary ascendency, but not for long.
Farm to table food lovers from The New York Times to Time Out to New York Magazine to this reporter, have fallen hard for the Goat.  

A recent lunch at this darling of a Lower East Side outpost was a culinary treat.
The bar was set rather high, considering all the foodie reviews. 

A visual delight is the heady décor. Those subway-tiled dining room booths as seen from a news report or web site is just so non-dimensional – setting up the expectation that while it may look cool, it will be hard as nails to sit on. 
Au contraire. 
(See, real life IS better than digital – just like music and well, you know…) 

Sliding into the creamy subway tiled booths is titillating--because the design is new and different, thanks to the design team at hOmE.
While any died-in-the-goats-wool (sorry) would gladly suffer for fashion and good looks, it’s immediately all too evident the seating is truly comfortable. 

Next up is the server Erin who is very friendly and smart.

My cousin Maryann, (the talented Academy-Award winner) and I went for the fennel dishes we’d read about at Goat Town.
While not on the menu in the way we’d hoped for, we did get to indulge the herb in a fanciful way.

But first, there was the beer tasting.
There are lots of captivating choices: drafts, can and bottle -- from Stella to Anderson Valley to Bear Republic to Keegans.  It was decided Radeberger was refreshing beer of choice for that day.  

The bar is open, long and fun so diners can look forward to plenty of great bar chat and food talk here.  Be sure to catch Goat Town's daily Happy Hour - good drinks and lots of fun.

Next up were the appetizers.
The “taste the sea’ anchovy Mecox Bay/Long Island oyster deep fired with relish, lettuce, and egg, celery, and vinnagraite was the ready order, especially because Mecox Dairy and the area are featured in this reporter’s upcoming book, “Hamptons and Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.”  
It was also a preferred menu choice because oysters are a New York City iconic, not-to-be-missed menu item. In any iteration.

Goat Town offers up select East Coast and West Coat Favorites that will leave aficionados slurping in muy simpatico. In addition to Mecox Bay’s mild crisp flavor, there was Pemaquid/Maine (lemony & light), Island Creek/Massachusetts (salty, buttery and briny) and Fisher’s Island/New York (strong hint of salt, sweet and clean) to name a few.  

The fois grois organic chicken liver was a stellar choice too: breaded with a bit of butter and served with the longed for fennel, spicy watercress, and homemade blackberry jam. 

Desserts were a must-try lemon cheesecake with a seasonal compote of raspberry couli and a salted caramel Knickerbocker sundae with homemade caramel ice cream, accessorized with salted pretzel. 

The Knickerbocker sundae was worthy of a transcontinental move if you do not live near the Lower East Side neighborhood.  Wow!  
Guest can readily link the over-the-top desserts as a tribute to owner Nicholas’ pastry chef status at Gramercy Tavern and Gilt.

Chef Jessica Wilson
Hopped up on sensational flavors, it wasn’t long before we had to meet Goat Town’s acclaimed chef, Jessica Wilson.  
But not before New York’s Bravest paid a visit to the restaurant!
Seems the neighbors were perhaps a bit too much eager…and code had to be settled.  All was resolved in a New York minute.  

Soon, compliments and shared food and foodie friend networking were exchanged with chef Jessica before heading out to Goat Town’s awesome, inspiring, backyard, raised-bed garden, designed and maintained by none other than Annie Novak.  

Chef Jessica in her garden at Goat Town
Goat Town’s Executive Chef Jessica Wilson is the talented chef cum farmer, homegrown cook from Vermont and she proudly says many of the seeds are from her home there in Wolcott.  

Homegrown Goat Town culinary crops include nasturtiums, chives, sage, fennel, pineapple sage, shisedo peppers, hyssop, lemon thyme, zucchini, arugula, radish, cucumbers, squash – and one very agile, and adorable cat!

Chef Jessica surveys Goat Town crops for menu


While I was talking to the super-talented, homegrown chef, Matthew Weingarten, over a recent deliriously summertime lunch at his Inside Park restaurant on Park Avenue, (he cited the amazing garden and food.  As well as subway tiled booths.  “I was surprised how beautifully comfortable they are” smiled chef Matt. 
Matt is in the final stages and chapters of his soon to be published cookbook. 
The content and layout and design sounds extraordinary and unique.  Look for more in-depth coverage here soon. 
Chef Matt is a featured culinary artist in this reporter’s upcoming book Homegrown New York Cookbook. 
Go now to Inside Park for a sneak peek of what is so compelling about this chef’s singular ability to foment frisson among foraging, farm to table, and cooking to inspire recipes that follow the seasons. 

Back to the Goat:
The Goat Town menu is flirty yet all business. 
The Goat Town restaurant is luxurious in the way only authentic place and experience can be. 

Goat Town is located at 511 E. 5th Street, (at Avenue A) NYC, 10009

Friday, September 9, 2011

Greenwich Village’s Di Fiore Marquet Café serves up exceptional Merguez sausage

Stepping into the Greenwhich Village neighborhood restaurant Di Fiore Marquette Café, ( one can be forgiven for thinking they’ve entered a Right Bank café or a French countryside auberge’s charmed dining room, worthy of a Truffaut movie set or a scene from the “French Kiss.”  
The out of time fantasy restaurant is a sensual delight.
Di Fiore Bar Seating
The entranceway embraces happy, full-paned grilled windows on either side of the door, cuddling tete a tete seating: perfect for a romantic, coffee-fueled interlude or a business meet up; glass pastry cases whose resident fresh croissants and brioche wink “take me, pick me,” along with a few seats at what can be described as the love child of a mid-century five and dime counter and a low-slung bar that inherited the sterling genes of a good place to eat, especially as a single.  
The unpretentious, glorious seasonal flowers are overflowing in a pitcher near the register.  Transported while waiting to ring up, one can dream about the bouquet’s journey from Greenmarket floral stall via basket or bike—along with a fresh baked loaf of bread.  The reverie is sprung by the hum of fresh juice squeezings, with cappuccino and espresso keeping harmony.

The long narrowish dining room is marked with antique silver mirror glass, sexy, lipstick red walls, menus and appointments. It seems every wall space is filled with framed paintings.  All are for sale.

At the back of the restaurant, casement windows spool out to a picture-perfect garden setting. The bistro size wood tables are accessorized with simple, easy favorite flowers such as tulips, roses, or Peruvian lilies. No tortured blossoms or florist egos are present here to compete with the food and the conversation.
And it is the conversation and stories that help make Marquette unique. 
Celeste Di Fiore -- Inimitable restauranteur
Make no mistake. While the décor and ambiance are heartbreakingly embraceable and the food is the star of the show, it is owner Celeste Di Fiore who is the real–deal charmer – the Elaine of the downtown, Village cohort. 
For more than 10 years, she's looked after her customers like a doting, sometimes worrisome, always supportive, can’t-help-herself favorite friend or aunt. The customers are neighborhoodies: from the nearby Forbes magazine staff, the creative artists and patrons of the Salmagundi artist colony; writers and authors; along with students and professors from the Cardoza law school on the corner, or NYU. There are the quiet celebrities: Meryl Streep, Sean Pean and Giada De Laurentiis' mom, to name a few. Like a butterfly, Celeste can be seen alighting at a table to ask about the customers latest book, or another’s health, or to agree with another about the neighborhood’s lack of a grocery store due to changing real estate, while ensuring his weekly take out dinner is all set.
Meeting with Celeste for a Merguez tasting is not just learning about this distinctive food. 
There is a story behind the venerable North African or Mediterranean sausage.
In what may make six degrees of separation look easy, this merguez culinary discovery resonates as part of Celeste and her Italian family’s roots and how she came to own the restaurant and to her accountant's involvement with merguez, working as he does for the Brooklyn Bangers butcher shop – and the Vanderbilt restaurant, there– but that’s another story.
John the accountant brought some of the merguez for Celeste to sample. “It was delicious. But I almost had a stroke,” she laughs now. That sausage was made with lamb – and pork! She knew no Muslim or Yeshiva customers who frequent her restaurant could eat the pork.  
Besides. True merguez should be lamb and beef, according to her first experience with the sausage gleaned from Jean Pierre Marquette and Lynne Guillot – her former partners.
Jean Pierre and Lynne served merguez on a baguette, with the juice soaked up in the bread, all wrapped up in napkin.
Informed by her first merguez, Celeste prefers a simple presentation. 
Today, her merguez is good enough to stand alone.
Di Fiore's Marquette’s Merguez Sausage from “Brooklyn Bangers” menu item is a Mediterranean-influenced dish marinated in fresh olive oil and thyme.
It is delicious.  It is spicy.  The heat is just right. The restaurant cooks it just right too: on the charcoal grill to impart a smoky, earthy flavor, then in the oven for five to eight minutes.
Celeste explains her kitchen cooks came up with their sterling mint-infused chimichurri dipping sauce.  It is perfect; light but stalwart enough to stand up to the juicy, muscular lamb and beef merguez.
Celeste has it served with big grain Israeli cous cous, mint, julienned fresh, market vegetables including squash, haricot vert beans, grape tomatoes; and potato salad sautéed with a little butter, olive oil and pearl tapioca.  (The tapioca adds strength)  

       Look at this sausage: 

An organic, noble Bricco al Sole Mantepulciano wine, rich and robust with high tannins complimented the entrée. 

Over the course of eating the meal, Celeste shares some of Marquette’s art-fueled stories.
Prompted by a long-ago customer/artist and Celeste’s desire to “warm it up a bit” in the restaurant – a change from her former partners’ more industrial style, the burgeoning talent asked to bring a few paintings to sell. Over time, there occurred an entropic progression toward the Marquette’s dining in a gallery ambiance.
That first hopeful act of art was the catalyst to scores of fascinating, twisted, successful and inexplicable but true tales.  
Celeste reviews a customer's just-purchased art work

Sit with Celeste and she will tell you a story about the art and the artist for every one of the pieces.  Each is recounted with pride, an abiding protection for the artist, along with a resignation and perhaps secret delight for the vagaries that are life.  Artists are grateful for the exposure – and hoped for sales—and at the same time, the stories sometimes sound more like entries at the City Desk.  For example, there is the one about the man who purchased a painting, insisted on leaving the artwork at the restaurant until his check cleared while he left for Egypt. Some years later, the painting awaits his return…Then there is the couple that continues to amass a collection, it seems, buying the art that smiles down on them at their favorite table.
Sadly, dessert suspended more art stories. The macchiato was freshly made as a thick, frosty milk shake of espresso with dollops of milky foam peaks.    

A rather perfunctory search of restaurants that serve marguez in New York turned up less than a handful: one in Queens and the other is Manhattan’s Colicchio & Sons ( confirming how special and uncommon Marquette’s merguez menu offering is. 
Di Fiore’s merguez seduction as calling card delivers.  Don’t miss it – for lunch or dinner.
Soon, Celeste will be stopping by your table to tell or hear a story, as you will have become a Marquette regular, devoted customer.  
 Marquette is located at:
15 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003 (Between University and Fifth Avenue)
And on Facebook
Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, and wine. Delivery and catering.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How to Prepare Food and Drink When Tropical Storms are in Season

While the New York Metro area is preparing for the worst storm in what many are already referring to as a “once in a century,” stocking up on food and drink is primary. 

The good news is the storm will pass.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions to make sure the pantry is stocked appropriately and safeguard against loss of power and flooding:

  • Get to the local Greenmarket and secure fresh greens, fruits and herbs.  Salads, with fresh tomatoes, melons, peaches, figs, for example, will fuel energy naturally and keep well even if power goes out and refrigerators are shut down.  Just add extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.
  • Pack ice into coolers so that in the event power is down for prolonged time, items from the refrigerator and freezer can be moved and stored safely.  Use the ice in cocktails…
  • Pre-pack picnic meals like sandwiches, cold soup and gazpacho, pesto chicken is delicious hot or cold. Cold pasta salads with pesto or fresh herbs – no mayo- is also a tasty cold alternative and will keep for quite awhile.
  • Cook eggs for easy and good-for-you hard-boiled eggs. Excellent with salads and sea salt, or just for a snack. And cooking beforehand gets them out of the fridge in case of power shut down.
  • Cut celery and carrot sticks and pack for high-energy food.
  • Prepare fresh popping corn and store in individual bags for desserts and snacks.  Offer spices and herbs such as garlic, cardamom and hot pepper flakes as seasoning, in addition to salt.
  • Consider cans of tuna and boxed milk.  (Have hand-powered can and bottle openers on hand.)
  • If power is off for many days and ice packed items do begin to spoil, compost only green items and fish. No dairy or meat.  Use the spent water for indoor plants.
  • Make coffee beforehand and store in thermos bottles.
  • Fill glass jars with drinking water.  Add mint to some bottles for refreshing treat.
  • Freeze water in containers for ice.
  • Freeze refrigerator items in freezer and keep door shut, even if power goes out. Move to ice-filled cooler if needed.
  • Besides fresh fruit for dessert, make creative confections of items seemingly “parked” in the refrigerator such as cheeses, butter, and fresh milk.
  • Make a couple of loaves of bread.  It’s easy.  Flour, egg, olive oil and salt.
  • Move planters and outdoor containers to garage or safe area where high winds will not topple the container and prevent smaller pots of becoming a projectile
  • Trim low dead tree branches
  • Cut herbs and store indoors before they become waterlogged.
  • Have plenty of wine -- a nice rose or Chenin Blanc is ideal for this time of year and the farm-fresh food.  Or grab a few bottles of champagne.  And beer will keep indefinitely-even if you need to move from the refrigerator to the cooler.
  • And have enough Johnny Walker Black on hand to help soothe those nerves while the winds wail. 

I posted this advice the Friday before Miss Irene hit the east coast on my NY Food & Drink column. 
And low and behold, it’s true that Great Minds Think Alike! 
Saturday, Chef Deborah Pittorini, chef and owner of Cuvee Bistro restaurant at the Greenporter Hotel emailed me with an Italian Feast menu link on her award-winning blog: The Seasoned Fork. 
Chef Deborah is a featured chef in my first book: Hamptons and Long Island Homegrown Cookbook. Her recipes for the book are amazing – as is her story…

Chef Deborah prepared for the Miss Irene hurricane with well-seasoned and delicious food for good reason: Check it out here:

What a glamorous way to make it through a storm. 

Also, be sure to reserve a stay at The Greenporter Hotel and dine in the extraordinary restaurant: Cuvee Bistro.

It’s blissful….

Go now for end of summer harvest menus, North Fork vineyard tours and food, food, exciting food, prepared by Chef Deborah. 
Her culinary magic and distinctive cuisine showcases homegrown, local produce and fish and mollusks and cheeses and local wine pairings -- all harmonized to make you think you've been seated in a farm-fresh fantasy.  You have been. It's called Cuvee Bistro...