Archive | October, 2009

Sundays at the Brooklyn Flea are for eating

Sundays at the Brooklyn Flea are for eating

At the Brooklyn Flea Market under the Brooklyn Bridge every Sunday, food entrepreneurs sell their wares alongside some of the nicest junk you're likely to get your hands on.

At the Brooklyn Flea Market under the Brooklyn Bridge every Sunday, food entrepreneurs sell their wares alongside some of the nicest junk you're likely to get your hands on. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)


Set up under the Brooklyn Bridge every Sunday, the Brooklyn Flea is home to probably some of the nicest junk you’d ever be able to get your hands on. But among the stalls selling old records, shiny baubles, vintage bird cages, Victorian brooches and ethnic rugs, food vendors sell their goods to hungry shoppers.

Relatively new to the food business, these entrepreneurs, many with small shops elsewhere,  set up their stalls in a bid to introduce the public to their goodies.

On Oct 25, the Brooklyn Flea was abuzz. Amid families with their children in tow and the antiques, oddball junk jewelry, cupcakes, candy, chocolate and creamy Ricotta cheese were fast being sold.

Martha Stewart was spotted with her TV crew lolling about the flea. She stopped at the Brooklyn Blue Marble ice cream stall and tried a taste of chocolate chip.

Her response was a definite “mmmmmm.”

Martha Stewart with her TV crew at the Brooklyn Flea. Stopping by at the 'Brooklyn Blue Marble' ice cream cart, Stewart let out an audible ‘mmmm’ as she ate a scoop of ice cream.

Martha Stewart with her TV crew at the Brooklyn Flea. Stopping by at Brooklyn Blue Marble ice cream cart, Stewart let out an audible “mmmm” as she ate a scoop of chocolate chip. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Daniel Sklaar of ‘Fine & Raw chocolate’ used to make and sell chocolate from his kitchen till the FTA’s regulations were tightened. Selling his goods online and at the flea market for two years running, Sklaar considers himself to be an ‘artisan’ of chocolate and makes fresh batches on a weekly basis.

Daniel Sklaar of Fine & Raw Chocolate used to make and sell chocolate from his kitchen until FDA regulations were tightened. Selling his goods online and at the flea market for two years running, Sklaar considers himself to be an artisan of chocolate and makes fresh batches weekly. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Having worked at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates previously, Liz Gutman met Jen King at the French Culinary Institute and decided to launch ‘Liddabit Sweets’ in April this year. “Jen and I had talked about going into business together for a while”, Liz says. Producing for wholesale and catering for weddings, Liz and Jen set up their sweet stall at Fort Green in Brooklyn every Saturday.

Having worked at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates previously, Liz Gutman met Jen King at the French Culinary Institute and decided to launch Liddabit Sweets in April this year. “Jen and I had talked about going into business together for a while,” Liz says while adjusting her glasses. Producing for wholesale and catering for weddings, Gutman and King set up their sweet stall at Fort Greene in Brooklyn every Saturday. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

“This is my bread and butter”, says Betsy Mark Devine of ‘Salvatore Bklyn’ with a smile. Mainly wholesale producers of cheese, Devine and her partner Rachel have been selling homemade cheese, particularly Ricotta cheese for two years and have a stall set up at the Brooklyn Flea every Sunday.

“This is my bread and butter,” says Betsy Mark Devine of Salvatore Bklyn with a smile. Mainly wholesale producers of cheese, Devine and her partner Rachel have been selling homemade cheese, particularly Ricotta, for two years and have a stall set up at the Brooklyn Flea every Sunday. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Keavy Landrith specializes in little morsels of delight – teeny cupcakes that look almost too pretty to eat. With degrees from the Culinary Institute of America and The French Culinary Institute, Landrith initiated ‘Kumquat Cupcakery’ two years ago. With no retail location, Landrith says her business went into full bloom after her cupcake hobby began verging on pure obsession. Catering for parties and events, Landrith works from a rent-out kitchen. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Keavy Landrith specializes in little morsels of delight -- teeny cupcakes that look almost too pretty to eat. With degrees from the Culinary Institute of America and The French Culinary Institute, Landrith initiated Kumquat Cupcakery two years ago. With no retail location, Landrith says her business went into full bloom after her cupcake hobby began verging on pure obsession. Catering for parties and events, Landrith works from a rent-out kitchen. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

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Brooklyn teens learn about farming and eating right

Brooklyn teens learn about farming and eating right

East New York Farms teaches teens about the farming business while providing organic produce for the community. (Photo: Althea A. Fung

East New York Farms teaches teens about the farming business while providing organic produce for the community. (Photo: Althea A. Fung

East New York Farms grows produce like long beans, which are popular in the West Indian community. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

East New York Farms grows produce like long beans, which are popular in the West Indian community. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)


The clamor of the number three train as it rolls into the New Lots Avenue station in Brooklyn can be heard blocks away. The final stop on the above ground train line is a busy hub for commuters catching the train and buses.

Three blocks from the station exit, beneath the trestle, is a farm, a tiny farm, where area teens learn about agriculture.

Part of a trend of urban farming, East New York Farms,  in what was an abandoned lot, has been growing fruits, vegetables and honey for the past nine years.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2007 census, the face of farming is changing. A farm is defined as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold,” and across the country there are more youth and minority farmers and more farms are utilizing less space – with 36 percent being classified as residential or lifestyle farms. Organic farming is also rising steadily.

East New York Farms is an example of the new American farm.

In a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, local teens, ages 13 to 15, are paid to run the half-acre farm and sell the produce at the East New York Farmer’s Market. Money made at the market, along with some government funding and donations, pay for the teens’ salaries and farm maintenance.

Farm manager David Vigil shows a group of pre-schoolers how to wash fruits and vegetables after they are picked. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

Farm manager David Vigil shows a group of pre-schoolers how to wash fruits and vegetables after they are picked. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

East New York Farms is beneath is train trestle of the number three line. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

East New York Farms is beneath is train trestle of the number three line. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

According to David Vigil, the farm manager who has experience running larger rural farms, the farming teaches the kids about leadership and sustainable agriculture.

“For most of them it’s their first job, so they get to learn how a workplace works. It allows them to do work that is really positive for their community, it allows them to meet adults and other community members and interact with them and build trust. And it gets them involved in growing and eating food,” said Vigil.

According to Vigil, the farm is fertilizer free, which keeps chemicals away from the kids and the food that goes into the community.

To maintain the farm, especially in the winter, Vigil plants cover crops that add nutrients to the soil. During harvesting season, June to mid-November, Vigil and the 20 teens plant everything from carrots to bitter melon, an extremely bitter tropical fruit that looks similar to a cucumber. The farm grows lots of tropical fruits and vegetables that Vigil says are in demand because of the neighborhood’s large West Indian population.

Also in demand is the farm’s homemade honey. Though beekeeping is illegal in New York City, the farm has an education exemption that allows the young farmers to keep bees and produce honey.

In the three years that Vigil has been at East New York Farms, he has seen a change in the way the kids react to the produce.

“Anything that is left over at the end of the day they are able to take, or things that are little imperfect and we can’t sell, they can take,” Vigil said. “We used to take it to the food pantry but in the last couple of years the youth have been more and more interested in taking home what we grow.”

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Amateur cookoffs heating up and slimming down in Brooklyn

Amateur cookoffs heating up and slimming down in Brooklyn

A plate at the Food Obstructions cookoff in Williamsburg (Photo: Winnie Andrews)By WINNIE ANDREWS

Amateur cooks get ready, Brooklyn has yet another cookoff that encourages both economic and culinary resourcefulness.

This cooking competition is called the Food Obstructions, named after five arbitrary rules that cooks must follow. The arena is the Gutter, a dark, cozy bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Under the melodic music of pool-table clatter, 15 amateur cooks compete to impress about 50 tasting participants. Unlike other competitions, cooks are restricted to spending $25 on ingredients.

The competition is part of a booming cookoff craze in Brooklyn. In recent months, amateur cooks have simmered, stirred and baked their way through several different competitions including hot pepper and chocolate, macaroni and cheese, lamb, cassoulet, and risotto, to name a few. At $5 per plate, The Food Obstructions promises glory for the cooks and cheap eats for the judges.

“It’s like a pot-luck, but we decided to have a little fun twist, and have a little competition,” said Cathy Erway, the organizer of the event.

Ingenuity was encouraged at the Food Obstructions in ways other than the $25 limit on ingredients: cooks were required to use something purple, a fruit, a vegetable and a locally sourced item, and could not use bacon. The cooks came up with dishes such as pepper blintzes with blueberry jam, biscuits covered in figs and fondue, and Thai curry butternut squash soup.

Food Obstructions judges at the Gutter (Photo: Winnie Andrews)

Che Flowers, 27, a receptionist from Astoria, Queens, was one of about 50 participants who came to the Gutter to judge and socialize. After filling his plate with small portions of the 15 different items, he sat down at the bar with his score card and a friend. Flower’s vote ultimately went for the bread pudding. “Combined with that pickled grape, every little bite had a different layer of complexity,” he said.

“It was an incredible amount of food for $5,” said Michael LeVasseur, 27, who came with who came with Flowers and also lives in Astoria.

This new style of cookoff attracts urbanites in their twenties and thirties. Joann Kim, 25, a food writer living in Greenpoint, said she runs across cookoffs all the time. In the past month alone there have been at least five cookoffs in Brooklyn. “It’s a great way of bringing folks together and sharing some good food and good energy,” she said.

The cooking aspect draws a crowd as well, “it’s so much fun to just roll up your sleeves and have a long project ahead of you,” said Erway, 27, a freelancer writer living in Crown Heights who organized the Obstructions competition.

The urban cookoff can be traced back to 2005 when Matt Timms organized his first Brooklyn Chili Takedown in Williamsburg.  One hundred people attended that first event. Since then, Timms takedowns have expanded. Timms, 35, said his bacon takedown in March drew so many people he had to turn several hundred away. Timms is now hitting the road and taking his cooking competitions to Nashville and Boston.

Lamb loving crowds at Matt Timms Lamb Takedown in October (Photo: Matt Timms)

Before starting the Chili Takedown, Timms participated in the International Chili Society’s chili cookoffs. There, chili meant only one combination: meat, red chili peppers and spices. No beans, no vegetables and definitely no tofu.

That wasn’t broad enough for Timms. After discovering a recipe for peach and jalapeno chili in his Marlboro cookbook, Timms decided to expand the definition to just about anything, including a chili made entirely of candy.

Nick Suarez is one of the cooks making a name for himself today on the New York cookoff circuit. A recent Saurez success was a casserol of duck confit, butternut squash, potatoes, fried and caramelized onions, bacon and parsley. He entered the dish in a casserole competition in Greenpoint and took home first place.

Suarez began competing last November at Timms’ fondue takedown in Williamsburg, where he won second place, and has been hooked on competing ever since. The 27-year-old Dumbo resident works for a wine magazine, and spends much of his free time cooking. Since his competition debut, Suarez’s kitchen has been filling up with prizes; he now has more aprons than he knows what to do with, he said.

Cooking for competitions requires a certain strategy. “You essentially have to over-season your dish,” Suarez said. “The judges and the audience are only getting one bite, so you have to pack as much flavor as you can into that bite,” he said.

Another of Suarez’s tricks is to include a lot of salt and butter, that’s what our tongues respond to best, he said. He also cooks and seasons the ingredients separately to bring out flavor.

Big taste doesn’t always come cheap and amateur cooks usually foot the bill for ingredients. Suarez spends between $50 to $100 for each competition. He puts in the time and money because he’s addicted to the competition. “It’s the culinary glory that keeps me coming back for more,” he said.

Both guests and cooks can learn a thing or two at cookoffs. Flowers said that after eating at a sandwich competition, he realized how easy it could be to spice up a chicken sandwich with some cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and cheese. “It changed the way I made sandwiches for a month,” he said.

Cooks also learn from the competitions. Christine Collins, 26, a first-time cookoff competitor from Caroll Gardens who participated in the Food Obstructions event, can now give one important piece of advice: don’t replace wine with wine-vinegar where heat is involved.

Collins made this mistake while concocting a plum sauce for the Food Obstructions; it resulting in a burned pan, a smoke-filled kitchen, and a very stressed-out cook, said Collins.

But despite the mistake, Collins still pulled together a ginger-garlic soy sauce and peppercorn beef in time for the cookoff. The judges approved, and she took home the $100 first prize.

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Author on avoiding dinner battles

Author on avoiding dinner battles

Michelle Maisto (Photo: Michelle Maisto)


Michelle Maisto is a self described food lover. She likes eating, cooking and writing about food. So when she got engaged to her food-loving boyfriend, the dinner table was the last place Maisto expected to encounter relationship problems. But after moving in together, what had once been a pleasurable activity became a nightly battleground for cultural identity, division of labor and food preferences.

Maisto began recording everything she and her fiance ate for a year to try to analyze the problem. Those notes turned into Maisto’s first book, “The Gastronomy of Marriage – A Memoir of Food and Love,” which came out last week.

Maisto is a petite, dark-haired woman in her early thirties who grew up in New Jersey. She now lives with her husband Richard Chang in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She is a freelance writer and does food writing on the side.

Maisto met her husband 11 years ago while living and working in Los Angeles. Common interests helped draw the two together; they both loved writing and food. On one of their first dates, one of the things that most impressed Maisto was Chang’s instinct to order a specially offered soufflé, despite the extra wait.

“Food was such a fun part of our courtship. I never thought it would be an issue,” said Maisto.

But it was. After getting engaged the couple decided to move in together in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That’s when the question of what to cook for dinner started creating nightly gridlock.

“It was relentless!” said Maisto. “Within the context of our home, food became a big problem for us,” she said.

Maisto began to wonder if this was a warning sign for deeper troubles.

“It was like, man! This is such a stupid thing and we’re having trouble with this!” she said.

There were several road blocks. Chang liked meat. Maisto was a vegetarian. He preferred lighter options like steamed fish. She loved rich, Italian pasta dishes.

The Gastronomy of Marriage, A Memoir of Food and Love by Michelle Maisto

And then there was the question of who would cook. When Chang took on extra freelancing work to pay for their upcoming wedding, Maisto agreed to do most of the meals. Despite enjoying cooking, this arrangement conflicted with Maisto’s desire to feel like a modern couple.

Many food issues arose from cultural differences. Maisto came from an Italian family and Chang from a Chinese one. For both, meals were a way to hold onto culture.

“We were both just trying to put a stake in the ground for our identities,”said Maisto.

Though Maisto chose to live with her meat-eating boyfriend despite being vegetarian, others prefer to live and date only people with the same dietary preferences. Jason Das, a vegan and the founder of the Web site SuperVegan, prefers dating fellow vegans.

“It’s simpler,” he said.

Das became vegan seven years ago. He prefers having a vegan-only kitchen, which makes living with a non vegan difficult.

Rynn Berry is an author of six books about vegetarian, vegan and raw diets. He is a rawfoodist and eats mostly fruit. Berry said he only dates vegans because he doesn’t want any physical contact with someone who eats meat.

Berry said being a fruitologist eliminates many food preparation issues because there is no cooking involved.

“One of the great appeals of being a fruitologist is that both men and women are emancipating, there’s no dish washing, no scrubbing of pots,” he said.

For Maisto and her husband the dinner table conflicts have subsided over time. Maisto now adds meat only to her husband’s portion of the meal while keeping her own vegetarian. A repertoire of quick dishes they both enjoy – like frittata, fried rice and risotto – also helps reduce the dinner-time stress.

Maisto said the key to a couple’s success at the dinner table is “being open to eating different things and to looking at eating as an adventure.”

For Maisto, the initial struggle to eat with her husband resulted in “The Gastronomy of Marriage” rather than the end of marriage. After five years of living and eating together at the same table, the question of what’s for dinner is no longer so combative.

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Kolache: The ‘next bagel’ hits New York

Kolache: The ‘next bagel’ hits New York

 Into this boom-and-bust cycle steps Kolache Mama. Mama who? The mother of Czech baked goods

Kolache Mama offers the mother of Czech baked goods in flavors mom never thought of. (Photo: Richard Saler)


Empanada Joes has come and gone, Krispy Kreme has almost disappeared and Tasty Delight could face a freeze in sales once fans of frozen yogurt welcome winter. Into this boom-and-bust cycle steps Kolache Mama. Mama who?

Kolache, the mother of Czech baked goods (pronounced co-LAH-chee) was originally a sweet dessert, but not exactly a pastry. Over the years Czech communities in America began making kolache in areas with large European populations. The buttery yet light dough was filled with traditional fruit fillings, like raspberry or apricot, and cheeses before being tried with heartier options, like hams or eggs, around Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska or Minnesota. Kolache became a snack or breakfast option.

But now a Houston entrepreneur has decided to introduce the kolache to New Yorkers, hoping to make it the next bagel.

“Bagels started with an ethnicity group and are now across the board,” said Richard Saler, CEO and director of Kolache Mama, the franchise that will sell kolache. “We feel we can popularize the kolache like bagels because people don’t know what it is, we have so many options to eat them and alone are only 25 calories.” As for appealing to a New York audience, he said, “We chose New York to start the business because if you make it here, you’ve made it.”

Pronounced co-LAH-chee, it was originally only a sweet desert but not exactly a pastry.

Originally only a sweet dessert, kolache are now offered in savory versions as well. (Photo: Richard Saler)

Saler, who was born in Philadelphia but has lived in Houston for several years, tried kolache in a small Texas shop when his son-in-law suggested them. After tasting the hard-to-describe treat, he was hooked. He noticed that even if vendors tested different fillings kolache were still seen as a breakfast or dessert-only food.

For two years, he did research and development to see if there could be a market outside of Czech communities and invested over $150,000 to develop a business plan. On Sept. 30 the first New York Kolache Mama store opened at 45 E. 45 St., and others are planned for 34th Street, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

“Our products are fresh and we have vegetarian, lunch, snack and other options at an accessible price,” Saler said. “We are not selling kolache as the new ethnic food but a new food option, and we’re not selling it as just a breakfast item either.”

With little over 8,000 Czechs in New York City, Saler will definitely have to appeal to people who know nothing of his product and can judge it on its taste alone. During the store opening, the hot pink logo and the smell of baked bread reeled a few of them in. When presented with a hand-sized baked something filled with one of the more than 20 options for $2.99, their taste buds and price-conscious minds seemed to like what Kolache Mama offers.

“It was thrilling to have my first kolache,” said Annie Hu, who tried the food on opening day.  “The dough is delicious and the fillings were tasty. For under $5 you can get a kolache and a cup of coffee. It’s worth the price.”

Saler recruited a “culinary team” to develop a menu for his kolache, including Christopher Lampo, a 1989 honors graduate of the Culinary Institute of America; David James, chef de cuisine; Jocelyn Jones, a pastry chef; and Christine Campbell. The business will also offer catering and has partnered with City Harvest, a city food bank, to pick up unsold food each day and to receive a donated percentage of sales.

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Ed Koch on eating your way to Gracie Mansion

Ed Koch on eating your way to Gracie Mansion

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)


In time-honored New York style, the mayoral candidates are eating their way to the campaign finish line.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading the charge, racking up votes with hot dogs at Nathan’s, a second helping of pickles at the Queens County Fair and even a “Mike Bloomberg sandwich” at Lioni’s Italian Heroes in Bensonhurst. “Next time, put some hot peppers on it!” was the incumbent’s verdict on the pastrami, mozzarella and mustard sandwich.

But shrewd as Bloomberg is, few know their way to New York’s heart through its stomach — or enjoyed getting there as much – as well as Ed Koch, New York’s mayor from 1977 to 1989.

“Not as many politicians enjoyed food as much as Ed,” says Koch’s former press secretary and former New York Post political writer George Arzt. “He ate a lot more than Bloomberg does.”

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries.  Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries. Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

For Koch, eating on the campaign trail, whether stopping at a street vendor or taking a slice of pizza offered by a local shop owner – and always smiling for the cameras – was not just about scoring votes. It was about being polite.

“You’re there, you’re campaigning and if someone offers you a pizza, to turn it down is plain rude and stupid,” says Koch, now 84, in his Midtown office at law firm Bryan Cave. It was also simply about eating.

A gourmand who these days twirls capellini pasta at high-end diners like the West Village’s Il Mulino and Trattoria Dell’arte on Seventh Avenue, Koch says he relished the pizza, deli sandwiches and hot dogs “with the real casing” that he ate while campaigning for mayor in 1977, 1981 and 1985.

Unlike some candidates, who may discreetly pass half-eaten knishes or pizza slices off to an aide before moving on to the next photo op, Koch boasts: “I ate the whole thing.”

It was a way of showing respect to voters, says Koch. “People want to show their community at its best,” he says. “The best and quickest way to do that is by offering some food that the community feels especially proud of.”

Joyce Purnick, who covered New York politics for 35 years for the New York Post and New York Times, agrees with Koch’s food philosophy. She says it’s particularly important for politicians to have a big appetite in the Big Apple.

“Favorite dishes are a matter of ethnic pride, or even regional identity in the politics of New York,” says Purnick, over the telephone. “It could be pizzas with Italians, burritos for Latinos or the hot dogs from Nathan’s. We all grow up eating certain foods on certain holidays and it’s very much a part of our culture.”

Former White House chef Walter Scheib, who served Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from 1994-2005, puts it more bluntly. “You want a political debacle, turn down a regional specialty and watch the fallout from that one. It’s just like kissing babies: You’ve got to do it.”

Koch says he never turned down a meal on the campaign trail. Running for governor in 1982 against Mario Cuomo, whom he beat out for mayor in 1977, he was asked to milk a cow in upstate New York. He was then asked to drink the milk. He did.

“Milk directly from a cow is not so good because it’s hot,” says Koch. “I like cold milk, but not direct from the cow. You just try not to show discomfort.”

His discomfort did show once, but not while campaigning. At a Bedouin feast he attended traveling between the Sinai desert and Israel, Koch was given sheep’s eyes, a local delicacy. “You’d take it and then secretly throw it over your shoulder,” he says. “The eye looks at you – very intimidating.”

Koch’s enthusiasm for food photo ops back home sometimes worried press secretary Arzt, particularly at dessert time. “You have to beware of chewing on camera, you have to beware of getting chocolate all over your face, you want the less messy foods when you’re going out,” says Arzt.

But Arzt says that the greater danger for politicians at food stops is the people they’re eating with. When a person approaches a hot-dog-chewing politician for a photograph, Arzt says, “The one thing that goes through the aides’ minds is, ‘Is the guy part of the mob?’”

To ensure he wasn’t snapped with a mobster, Koch would joke with anyone approaching, asking them to raise their right hands and swear they weren’t “a member of la Cosa Nostra.”

Eating your way to power can be more dangerous still for out-of-towners, as South Dakota Sen. George McGovern discovered while campaigning in New York for the 1972 Democratic presidential primary. McGovern ordered a kosher hot dog from a street vendor in Queens, along with a glass of milk. The Jewish community he was courting slammed him for the non-kosher combination.

More recently, President Obama was mocked by conservative pundits when he ordered a cheeseburger with spicy or Dijon mustard at an independent burger joint in Arlington, Va. Sean Hannity teased on Fox News, “I hope you enjoyed that fancy burger, Mr. President.”

Between photo-op pizzas, burgers and an on-the-run campaign diet of hot dogs, takeout, ice cream and soda, Koch struggled with his weight while in office. “It’s always easy to put on weight when you’re campaigning and eating junk food,” he says.

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Scheib, who as White House chef fed Hilary Clinton and Laura Bush, says the photo-op foods and gala dinners, sometimes 5 or 6 meals a day, also

took a toll on the first ladies. “They were thrilled just to get back to the White House and get back on a more low-cal nutritional diet, get their vegetables, lettuces and soups back in,” he says. “They’d come back off the campaign trail and get into a purge type of thing to get ready for the next wave of all this food.”

Since leaving office, Koch has used the private gym at Rockefeller Center most mornings to manage his weight and is comfortable giving advice to others on staying in shape. Visiting Ariel Sharon at his home in the Negev, in southern Israel, he told the former Israeli prime minister, “You’re getting too fat and you’re going to die prematurely.”

“He said, ‘I hardly eat,’” Koch recalls. “And, of course, that wasn’t true; he ate like a horse. He came to Gracie Mansion, where I lived, and he ate off everybody’s plate. I was amazed.”

But Koch himself has not been dieting lately.

From June to July, the former mayor spent five weeks in the intensive care unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and had his aortic valve replaced. Slimmer than he’s ever looked, with suspenders holding up too-large pants, the older, more somber man than most New Yorkers remember, says he does not need to worry about what he eats for now.

“It was touch and go because of complications,” he says of the surgery. “I lost 26 pounds in the hospital and the doctor said that until I gain 10 pounds I was under no restriction. I left the hospital at the end of July and I’ve only gained back about four and a half pounds. I have six more pounds to go, during which period I can eat whatever I want.”

Ever the New York politician, Koch thanked the team of 20 hospital staffers who worked on him with a food stop worthy of a thousand Post flashbulbs – a dinner at Brooklyn’s 120-year-old Peter Luger Steak House.

He ordered a slab of steak, medium rare, and told his guests, “If any of you order anything other than steak, I am going to make it public.”

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Former rocker sees the light in food art

Former rocker sees the light in food art

Painter Robert Box sells his food art paintings on weekends outside the Met.

Painter Robert Box sells his food art paintings on weekends outside the Met. (Photo: Courtesy of Robert Box)


It was the way that the early morning sun glinted off his coffee mug that inspired painter Robert Box, 58, to take his art in a new direction. From small-time rock-star and abstract artist, he has become a painter of food.

Born in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park in 1951, Box’s interest in painting stemmed from an early fascination with color. Among his favorite artists is painter Jackson Pollock, whose signature paint-splattered canvases emphasize the marriage of color and motion that Box strives to use in his own work.

Box enrolled in Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in 1969, but cut his education short after the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, when he and some friends dropped out of school in protest against the war in Vietnam. “I had to ask myself, ‘What am I doing, doing art? People are dying,’” he recalled.

Without a degree or a job, Box — then known as Bob Racioppo — and friend Artie Lamonica moved into a storefront in Brooklyn and started a punk-rock band, for which Box played the bass guitar. A chance meeting with acquaintances Annie Golden and Johnny “Zeeek” Criscione at a local bar led to the formation of a 9-member band called “The Shirts.” From the beginning, The Shirts sets themselves apart from the era’s army of cover bands with original set lists and a fun, pop-punk sound.

“We did our own stuff during a time when few bands were really doing that,” Box said. After a friend posed as the band’s persistent manager, The Shirts landed their breakthrough gig at CBGB, a popular club on Bowery Street in Manhattan. The band developed a devoted fan-base, which by 1977 included a talent scout from EMI Records.

“They came in, saw potential, and just went with it,” Box said. “We became small-time rock stars, flying all over the place for shows and getting per diem money for food and clothes — whatever we needed.”

5 years and 3 albums later, The Shirt’s punk-rock popularity had dried up. The band’s third album tanked, selling only 10,000 copies. Box and his band returned home to New York, defeated. “We went from having everything taken care of — bills, food, travel arrangements — to starting over. It was a weird transition,” he said.

With little money in his pocket and ample time on his hands, Box returned to painting with a newfound fervor. He continued to develop his colorful, abstract style and hit the New York art gallery scene hoping to show his work somewhere — anywhere — but with little success. He bought Gallery Guide magazine and began working his way down the list, “But no one was interested. It was hard to even get through the door for an actual rejection.” By the time he gave up his search, Box had been turned away from more than 30 art galleries.

Despite the troubles in his professional life, Box’s personal life was thriving; he married and had two children. His rock and roll lifestyle gave way to a busy family life.

Unable to afford studio space, Box took up residence at his kitchen table. Gone were the nights spent painting into the small hours of the morning under artificial light, trying to shake the night-owl schedule he had adopted while on tour. Box was now forced to paint during the “quiet time between 6 and 7 am, before the kids woke up.” The change in timing made all the difference.

One morning while he was sitting in his small kitchen, a blank canvas and a cup of coffee in front of him, Box was overcome by a sudden appreciation for the way the morning light illuminated the edge of his coffee mug. Before the light could shift, he painted the simple scene, producing what he would later recognize as his first piece done in the “Pop Realist” style. “It was such a departure from my earlier abstract work,” he said. “But it was refreshing. I needed a change.”

Box experimented with the effect of natural lighting on food in this recent corn on the cob study.

Box experiments with the effect of natural lighting on food in this recent study of corn on the cob. (Image: Courtesy of Robert Box)

Box began to experiment with all sorts of food and kitchen items — from tomatoes to salt and peppershakers — always positioning his subjects in the same glow of the early morning light. A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1998 for a Vermeer exhibit proved to be the final push that Box needed to bring his foodie paintings to the masses.

“I left the exhibit and saw all of the artists outside the front steps [of the Met], and I thought ‘I can do this!’” He began by spreading out a blanket in front of the museum, arranging a few of his pieces right on the sidewalk. His first customers were a pair of Swedish flight attendants, who bought a painting each for a total of $40. Soon, Box invested in an aluminum table on which to display his wares, followed by a pushcart to bring the paintings from his car to his table on weekends.

The colorful paintings, which range in size from 8 inches by 7 inches to 16 inches by 16 inches, have been a hit with tourists and native New Yorkers alike; Box regularly sells to five or six customers per day, and his paintings cost $15 to $500. The success finally stimulated sales in galleries across New York as well, and led Box to rent studio space in the Brooklyn Artists Gym, a cooperative for artists of all mediums.

With his transition from abstract studies to food art, Box has aligned himself with some of the world’s most celebrated painters: Vermeer, Matisse, and Picasso, all of whom created masterpieces featuring food in still-life. “Some people look down at you,” said Box of selling his paintings on the sidewalk from what he calls a “gallery sans roof.” However, he added, most people appreciate it. “It’s accessible. I mean, who doesn’t like food?”

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Gourmet Magazine is finished, but the (food) party goes on


At the Chelsea Market After Dark kickoff of the New York City Wine and Food Festival in early October, the chatter seemed at first to be as much about Condé Nast’s announcement that it was shutting Gourmet magazine as it was about the event itself. But as the hours passed, attendees happily moved on to drinking, eating, and dancing — the announcement of Gourmet’s demise could only do so much to dampen the festivities.

Gourmet, started in 1941, was the nation’s oldest food magazine and had a circulation as high as almost one million. But its reputation and prestige couldn’t keep it from sinking along with its ad revenue — ad pages were down 50 percent from the same quarter last year.

The reaction to Condé Nast’s announcement reveals how important the magazine was to both readers and the food and wine industries. More than 1,000 articles filled with shock and sadness were written since the announcement in publications from the New York Times to food blogs, and Twitter was abuzz with the news for days. Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl’s tweets took on a somber tone: “We’re all stunned, sad”; “Hard to believe it’s over”; “I am losing my family.”

The sentiment was the same among many of the Chelsea Market After Dark’s guests lined up outside the market and around the corner of Ninth Avenue. After all, those in line for event were paying $95 for the privilege of discussing, eating and celebrating food.

“I hate to see any magazine shut down,” says Julia Therese, “and all the food magazines are so good. Helps the home cooks. Helps you experiment and try new things.”

Therese, who flew from Florida to attend the Wine and Food Festival, had been a Gourmet subscriber for five years. Now, she says, reminiscing about the times that she and her friends would use the magazine for ideas, she will rely on, Bon Appétit and Food and Wine Magazine.

“A lot of times we couldn’t do it right because in the  ’70s you couldn’t get all of the ingredients you can get now as easily, but we would try them,” she says. “It was good fun and the photography was wonderful. You know, it’s sad so many things are going by the wayside with the economy.”

Sharon Hurd traveled from Tennessee to attend the festival. She says she used Gourmet as inspiration for her restaurant, the Mezzanine Tea Room, in Kingsport.

“It’s like we’re going to lose a part of us,” Hurd says.

She says she doesn’t know where she will turn to now for recipes and food ideas; she just hopes that Condé Nast will change its mind.

Tammy Jones couldn’t get a Gourmet subscription at her home in Bermuda, but she would buy the magazine religiously, she says. As a food blogger, she spends much of her time on food Web sites and heard the bad news on

“I was absolutely dumbfounded,” she says. “I have Gourmets dating back to the ’60s and ’70s. I was going to get rid of my magazines and I’m not now. They’re mine! I need to cherish them because it’s not going to be around anymore.”

Jones says she will continue reading Bon Appétit and Saveur; and when the final issue of Gourmet is released in November, she will “get one to read, one for plastic.”

Her funereal mood turned, though, when the doors opened at 9 p.m. As the line outside began to move, Jones reached into her purse, put on a blond, spiky wig — in honor of Guy Fieri, one of the event’s hosts — and laughed excitedly.

Inside the Chelsea Market, Mary J. Blige’s popular party song “Family Affair” played loudly, and and towers of wine glasses stood like beehives throughout the room, which was decorated in Food Network colors, orange and white.

The crowd made its way through the doors dancing, and most of them danced straight to the bar. Others moved through the market and helped themselves to cupcakes, cookies, chocolate, bread and soup. Many hovered around the fluorescent lights that spelled “Sandra Lee,” and waited to be photographed with her.

Lee, a Food Network personality with a show called Semi-Homemade Cooking, was also disappointed when she heard about Gourmet.

“When I found out, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Gourmet Magazine did a feature on me and Semi-Homemade before I was on the Food Network. They identified that Semi-Homemade would be a big hit and that there was a new way of cooking that people could use when no one else would. And it’s just a shame. It’s heartbreaking.”

When asked where she will turn to now for recipes she said, “My own magazine,” laughing.

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A Korean Thanksgiving at the Fulton Fish Market


Seafood buyers and sellers enjoy traditional dishes prepared for the Korean Thanksgiving at the Fulton Fish Market.

Seafood buyers and sellers enjoy the Korean Thanksgiving at the Fulton Fish Market.

Trays of Korean food lay steaming against the refrigerated air of the Fulton Fish Market. There were thin slices of beef sautéed with soy sauce and garlic (bulgogi), glass noodles stir-fried with beef and carrots (japche), and sweet crescent-shaped dumplings filled with sesame seeds and honey. The table stood beside boxes of whole trout, sea bass and blue crab, and about fifteen men, ending a hard day’s work at 7 a.m. on a Friday in October, waited in line to scoop the hot food onto their plates. For some, it looked familiar; for others, colorful and interesting.

This celebration of the Korean harvest festival—also informally called the Korean Thanksgiving—marked a small victory for Dong Joo Park, 57, president of the Korean Seafood Association of New York, who had organized the event. “This is the first party for Korean people at this market,” he said in accented English.

And it is a culmination of a long history of immigrant politics, corruption and solidarity in the briny underbelly of New York City’s seafood business.

Since the 1970s, Korean seafood workers have been slowly gaining clout in the Italian-dominated Fulton Fish Market. Last Friday marked the first Korean cultural celebration on the floor of the first Korean wholesaler in what is now the largest seafood market in the country.

The Korean Seafood Association started in 1977 following an influx of Korean immigrants in the 1960s and 70’s. Though many headed towards produce, a small but growing network of Korean immigrants became seafood retailers and purveyors—the middlemen between the retailers and wholesalers—and they bought seafood from the wholesalers at the Fulton Fish Market.

At the time, the Genovese mafia family, following waves of Italian emigration in the 19th century, controlled the Fulton Fish Market, which was then operating beside the docks of South Street in Manhattan. “People could not complain. If you complained, you got beaten. One person per year was killed,” Park said. Scale readings were also miscalculated; prices were arbitrarily determined; cheap fish were switched for expensive fish: and the Koreans received the brunt of the discrimination. Afraid to alert the police, they quietly went about their business.

A couple of changes started taking place in parallel in the 1980s: a sweeping anti-mob crusade led by then U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani and a surge in Korean immigration to New York. In 1987, Giuliani filed a racketeering suit against the Fulton Fish Market, effectively leading to the successful federal prosecution of mafia bosses through the 1990s and the eventual diminution of organized crime in New York.

Tony Lee, the first Korean wholesaler at the market, stands in his office above his lot.

Tony Lee, the first Korean wholesaler at the market, stands in his office above the ground floor where Captain Blue sells seafood to retailers and purveyors.

In 1986, Tony Lee, a nuclear power plant engineer, left South Korea and became a seafood purveyor, supplying retail shops and restaurants in New York City. “I liked my [former] job, but I came for my family. My mother wanted me here.”

Shortly after his arrival, he met Il Yeon Kwon, 53, Chairman and CEO of the Korean supermarket conglomerate H-Mart, which was recently highlighted in Forbes. Lee explained that, at the time of their encounter, there were only two H-Marts in Flushing, Queens, a haven for Korean immigrants then and now. As Lee supplied the H-Marts with seafood, the number of Korean immigrants kept growing and fueling a greater demand for Korean food, which in turn, grew Lee’s business more and more. H-Mart now has 33 stores from New York to California, according to the company Web site, and Lee is their sole seafood supplier.

In 2005, as part of the ongoing cleanup, the city moved the Fulton Fish Market’s 38 wholesalers and 600 employees—mostly Italian—to a new $85 million facility in Hunts Point, Bronx. “Before this market moved from downtown Manhattan, all the mafia people controlled this market. Since Giuliani cleaned up all the mafia people, the situation is very different than before,” Park said. Now it is “very clean. No crime. No nothing here. Now, Koreans can buy fish without problems. They can negotiate prices, complain.”

In 2008, with new market conditions and financial strength backed by Korean immigration, Tony Lee opened Captain Blue, the first Korean wholesaler in the 187-year history of the Fulton Fish Market. “Since I started in seafood, I always wanted to be a wholesaler here,” he said. After nearly 25 years in seafood, he now runs a multi-ethnic 19-person company selling fish and shellfish from all over the world. According to his long-standing business partner and salesperson, Paul or “Paulie” Muzzio, 38, “he could sell you a bag of rocks if he could.”

Lee admits his main challenge as a new entrant is acquiring new customers who have been using the same vendors for years. “A lot of companies got more than one hundred years of business. It’s generational.” Currently, H-Mart represents 60% of Captain Blue’s sales, and Muzzio, who has been a seafood salesperson for 23 years, has brought his own customer following to Captain Blue. But they want to grow the business.

Lee said, “It’s very hard right now,” but “a lot of Korean people try to help me by buying from me.” Park has also been supporting Lee’s business by strategically placing the Korean festival on the floor of Captain Blue.

Outfitted in his glossy blue Members-Only jacket, Park said, “We are right in front of Captain Blue wholesalers. It is run by Korean people. It is owned by Korean people. It’s a big operation. It was not easy.”

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Home cooks learn new tricks in Brooklyn

Home cooks learn new tricks in Brooklyn

Brent Young and his colleagues show how to cook liver the right way.

Brent Young and his colleagues show how to cook liver the right way. (Photo credit: Isabelle Schäfer)


“We’re going to eat a lot of liver tonight, so grab a strong beverage to go with the strong taste!” said Brent Young with a grin to the 10 people gathered around the kitchen table at the back of the shop. Five different sorts of raw liver, shimmering yellow and green, one of them the size of a small pig, were displayed in bowls. Rock music accompanied all of the young butcher’s movements while he smoothly tossed  onions, beat an egg or chopped parsley. The smell of grilled liver filled the air.

The liver class on Thursday night at the Brooklyn Kitchen store attracted a dozen curious home cooks, one of the 15 different two-hour cooking classes the cutlery shop offers every month.

In the past months, demand for classes at the shop, at 616 Lorimer St. in Williamsburg, has grown so much that the owners, Taylor Ekkinen and Harry Rosenblum, decided to expand and open an organized cooking school that will be called Brooklyn Kitchen Labs, just two blocks away from their current location. They are renovating an old house with two floors, building a big teaching kitchen in the basement and a smaller prep kitchen, mostly for baking.  Another kitchen will be upstairs, as will more retail space and a butchery. The opening is planned for Nov. 7.  It will be used in addition to the old location.

The demand for classes may come in part from the economy,  According to Zagat’s 2010 New York City restaurant survey, people eat in restaurants only three times a week, compared to 3.4 times a week the prior four years, “They understand the value of cooking at home better now,” said Ekkinen.

Sandra Lara participated in the liver class and said she loves to cook at home.  “I used to go out to eat a lot, but since the recession started, I cook every day at home. So I really want to learn new recipes” she said, while prodding a piece of liver.  “I usually give liver to my dogs,” she said with a laugh; her specialty is jelly making.

Potential participants have to register online for each class individually. “Once registration is open, the classes usually sell out in a couple of hours,” said Young, who gives butchery lessons and helps out at the store. Most of the new classes are already full, with up to 15 participants in one lesson. “ People are being more comfortable with being adventurous in their own kitchen,” said Young. “And in Brooklyn, people tend to have good cooking space.” Most participants are 20 to 45 years old.

Until now, the Brooklyn Kitchen store could offer classes only in the evenings, when the 10-foot cashier’s table becomes a kitchen table. Interested cooks can learn how to make ice cream and sauces, charcuterie and sausages or how to bake French sour bread and Halloween cupcakes. But there is not much space between the cutlery and the cooking books to get seriously down to work.

“The new location means more room with more possibilities,” Ekkinen said. “We can have classes during the day and on weekends now, for example.” With the new teaching kitchen, participants will be able to actually cook instead of merely watching and taking notes. Twice as many classes will be offered, their price depending on the lesson. Knife skills class, for example, costs $45, while a butchering class can be up to $75 for one session.

At the liver-cooking class, Connie Madeo said she had taken  a pig butchering class, watching for two hours as a butcher cut pieces of meat from an entire pig. “From snout to tail, it was like a puzzle and he used only one small knife,” she said. “It was fascinating to see what I actually eat when I eat chop suey!”

Anne Hynes, who often cooks at home for her children has attended several cooking classes, and now was at the liver class. She has learned here how to make kombucha, a kind of tea, bread and sauces. “I like coming here,” she said. “It’s interesting and the people here are fun” She admitted, though, that  she doesn’t usually cook liver. “Let’s start cooking!” cried out Young. Obediently, she went and observed.

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