Tag Archive | "New York City"

Pasta with… Flying Fish Roe or Sea Urchin


By CAROLINE SHIN

Basta Pasta bustles at the open kitchen and dining room.

Basta Pasta bustles at the open kitchen and dining room.

Toshi Suzuki opened up a replica of his Tokyo-based Italian restaurant, Basta Pasta, about 20 years ago on 17th Street and 5th Avenue. His international response to Japan’s recession at the time, Basta Pasta is now a bustling eatery, busy with chefs at the open kitchen and guests at the dining space cum gallery.

Tall, down-to-business with a pencil mustache, Suzuki, 51, sells two curious dishes: spaghetti with tobiko or flying fish roe and linguine with fresh sea urchin. “The fish roe pasta is the only Japanese-Italian dish we have,” Suzuki said. “Everything else is Italian.” That includes the sea urchin pasta, which is considered a delicacy in Italy.

Italian cuisine is very popular in Japan. Katsuya Nishimori, 50, an artist-turned-florist, came to the U.S. after college 27 years ago, and dines at Basta Pasta regularly. He said, “There are many Italian restaurants in Japan. We love Italian food.”

Spaghetti con uova di pesce or flying fish roe is a signature Japanese-Italian dish at Basta Pasta.

Spaghetti con uova di pesce or flying fish roe is a signature Japanese-Italian dish at Basta Pasta.

The tobiko spaghetti blends both cultures in a delicious colorful dish. Clumps of tiny bright orange bubbles of tobiko sit atop a swirl of spaghetti with tomato sauce, shiso or perilla and shredded basil. The taste is subtly fishy and the texture, complicated. The tobiko lends a soft crunchiness to the smooth pasta, and, by the end, it mixes in with the soupy finish at the bottom of the plate. He sells about 200 units of the $15 dish per month. (His most popular dish, spaghetti churned in a parmesan cheese wheel and topped with parma prosciutto at the table sells 600 units at $16 every month.)

In comparison, Suzuki sells about 400 dishes of the sea urchin pasta monthly at $19. “People know it and love it,” he said. “It’s very popular in Italy and Japan.”

Linguine ai ricci di mare or linguini with sea urchin is an Italian delicacy.

Linguine ai ricci di mare or linguini with sea urchin is an Italian delicacy.

Kyriaki Vlachopoulou, 38, who works at the Greek Consulate, sat at the bar—just two seats from Nishimori—on a recent evening. “I’m the biggest fan of the sea urchin pasta,” she said. “I only get the uni pasta.” The bartender, aware of Vlachopoulou’s three-year commitment to the dish, laughed in agreement. Several thin salmon-colored slabs of sea urchin rest atop linguine sautéed with tomato sauce and Serrano peppers. The light brininess of the sea urchin melds with the savory pasta with each forkful. “It goes down smoothly,” said a contented Vlachopoulou after finishing a plate of the notable dish. “It’s full-flavored. But it’s not very fishy.”

Customer loyalty such as that of Vlachopoulou and Nishimori has helped Suzuki focus on his New York Basta Pasta. He commuted back and forth between the sister restaurants until seven years ago when he closed the Tokyo location. “The market here still is better,” he said.

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New York’s veteran waiters aren’t going anywhere


Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle's Bemelman's Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)

Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle's Bemelman's Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)

By JOEL MEARES

Tommy Rowles has been shaking martinis at the Carlyle Hotel’s swish Bemelmans’ Bar for 51 years. He was 17 and fresh from Dublin when he first got the job.

“I came in to go to the bathroom and there was this Irish bartender here,” says Rowles, standing at the bar on a quiet November morning. “He said, ‘Are you looking for a job?’ Then he asked, ‘Do you own a pair of black socks?’”

Rowles told the man to mind his own business – he wanted to work in an Irish pub, not a ritzy hotel – but he was soon swayed. Just weeks later, he was serving his first drink in the bar named for “Madeline” creator Ludwig Bemelmans.

New York is famed for its old-time waiters, bartenders and deli workers; raspy raconteurs like Rowles who have taken tips for decades at places like Bemelmans’, Peter Luger’s and Katz’s. They’re as familiar as the towering pastrami on rye at the Carnegie Deli: always there, always smiling and always with a special in mind. Some are as famous as the celebrities they serve. This June, Vanity Fair profiled Elaine Kaufman, of Elaine’s on the Upper East Side.

While many of these familiar faces say they’ll never retire, others are hanging up their aprons. Bartender Hoy Wong, who worked at the Algonquin Hotel past his 90th birthday, retired this year, and the veteran waiters at the Café des Artistes lost their jobs when the restaurant shut its doors in September. But there are those, like Rowles, who are defying the clock and keeping the spirit of the long-serving New York server alive.

New York Times writer William Grimes, who recently released the book “Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York,” says the city’s dining and drinking scene has been transformed by this changing of the guard. Flair is being replaced by expertise as diner legends retire.

“The younger generation of waiters is required to be much more knowledgeable about what’s on the menu and the ingredients that are in each dish and be intimately familiar with the wine list,” says Grimes. “There’s almost a requirement that waiters be foodies. I think that in the old days the personal touch of the waiter was much more important than technical knowledge. People went to a particular restaurant because they knew their waiter and cultivated a relationship with him and trusted their dining fate to his capable hands.”

Carnegie Deli’s Jack Sirota might have had the New York food scene’s most famous personal touch. The 77-year-old began working night shifts at the Seventh Avenue deli in 1959, the same year he married his wife, Renee. Grimes says delis like Carnegie are legendary for waiters who gave “not just instruction on the menu, but on how to live your life.” Sirota did just that.

Through his 44 years at Carnegie, where he later switched to lunches, Sirota kept customers smiling with stories, advice like “you can’t go wrong with pastrami,” starred as himself in Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” and wrote a chapter of a book about the deli, “How to Feed Friends and Influence People.”

Sirota officially retires this year, though he has been on sick leave since 2003 when he fell from a footstool in his kitchen. He was later told he had an enlarged heart and never returned to work. Over the phone from his home in Lakewood, N.J., he says he misses the buzz of the busy diner and its regular customers.

“I loved being around people and I had a good time,” he says. “My philosophy was, every day is Christmas; every day was good.”

Sirota’s customers miss him too. “Bert and Ruth,” who ate at the Carnegie seven nights a week when they lived in Manhattan, were delighted to run into Sirota at a bakery in Lakewood this year. And he hasn’t lost the waiter’s wit that made him a hit on the floor. To a doctor who’d just put a stint in a blocked artery, he said: “I bet you took out the pastrami!”

If gregariousness was Sirota’s secret to success, Rowles’ says his is discretion.

“They tell you that everything that’s done in Vegas stays in Vegas and it doesn’t,” he says, looking as though he might be hiding a million secrets in his flash red Carlyle jacket. “Everything that happens here stays in the Carlyle. People know that if they screw up, they’re not going to see it in the paper in the morning.”

Rowles works the lunchtime shift Tuesdays to Fridays and drives in from Pearl River, N.Y. He says he had a regular crew of men who drank at his bar during the day, but “I’ve buried them all in the last three years.”

His favorite customer was one of his earliest. On his first day of work, the then 17-year-old Rowles served Harry S. Truman. The former president became a regular, drinking bourbon with the young Irish bartender most nights before heading off to visit his grandchildren on the Upper East Side. “He was really nice,” says Rowles, “an American hero.”

Rose Donaghey, an 89-year-old Ulster native still carrying burgers at the east Bronx’s Wicked Wolf restaurant, treats all her customers equally. She says it’s the secret to a 50-year career as a waitress in the city. “I didn’t care, rich or poor, I treated everybody the same,” she said over the phone from her home in the Bronx. “It didn’t matter who they were, I made them feel at home.”

Wicked Wolf owner Kathy Gallagher, whom Donaghey had worked with for 14 years at another restaurant, Charlie’s Inn, roped her in to the job. She works just two days a week – Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  – and her son drives her to and from the restaurant.

“It’s great therapy,” she says. “If I’m at home, I would be playing games, on the television, going to church, things like that.”

When she began at the Wicked Wolf last year, newspapers across the city covered the story of New York’s oldest waitress. Ellen Degeneres even approached her and offered her a first-class ticket to L.A. to appear on her talk show. Donaghey turned her down. “I didn’t want to fly seven hours,” she says.

Like Rowles and others among the city’s old-timers, Donaghey has no plans to retire and she won’t become a modern “foodie” waiter, either. She says her parents, who were farmers in Ireland, never stopped working.

“It’s in my genes,” she says. “We can’t relax, all my family worked to the very end. If they told me they didn’t need me, I would stop working, but that’s never been a question.”

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Angel Moinas and the American dream


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El Maguey is Angel Moinas's new Mexican restaurant at 142nd and Broadway in Manhattan.

By JON CROWELL

Angel Moinas paid a coyote, a smuggler of illegals, $800 in 1982 for a ride from Tijuana, Mexico, to Los Angeles.  The trip from Ecuador, where he is from, to Mexico had been legal, and he traveled by bus.  This leg of the journey, however, meant four hours lying in the trunk of a car. “Full music in my ears — when I get out in Los Angeles, I can hear nothing,” Moinas recalls.

Once Moinas arrived in Los Angeles it was a simple matter to fly to New York City. In those days, airlines were not overly concerned about the immigration status of their customers.  He soon found work as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

Now, Moinas, 47, has a new restaurant, El Maguey, at 142nd and Broadway in Upper Manhattan.  It is  Mexican, family style, with orange walls and seating for 60.  Three flat-screen televisions playing muted action movies are mounted on the walls and Latin music plays softly.

It is a Wednesday night, October 21st, and El Maguey has only been open for six days.  So far, business has been slow, but he is not concerned.  He doesn’t have a liquor license yet, and he expects that when he is able to sell alcohol his business will improve dramatically.

Moinas has good reason to believe that a liquor license will improve business at El Maguey — his other restaurant, La Posada, is literally a block away at 143rd and Broadway and is doing well with its liquor license.  La Posada is less suited to family dining and feels more like a bar, but the establishments are similar enough that Moinas expects to be able to replicate La Posada’s success.

Becoming a restaurateur was not a speedy process for Moinas.  His first obstacle was his immigration status.  Fortunately for Moinas, Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act on November 6, 1986.  The act allowed certain illegal immigrants to apply for amnesty, and Moinas made the cut.  As a result, he is now a U.S. citizen.

The second obstacle for Moinas was money.  He didn’t make much as a dishwasher, but soon worked his way up to becoming a cook and then a sous-chef.  He worked long days, saved fastidiously, and after about 12 years had acquired enough money to return to Ecuador and open a restaurant.  A year and a half later, however, Ecuador converted its currency from the sucre to the dollar. The U.S. dollars Moinas had saved had gone a long way when converted to sucre, but didn’t seem to stretch as far once the currency converted. The cost of running his restaurant rose, but his revenue didn’t keep up. Eventually, he went broke.

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Moinas relaxes in his new restaurant.

Moinas returned to New York in 2000 to start over. This time he started as a “black car driver” for a company that chauffeured corporate executives.  He worked long hours for four years to save money.  On some days he would start an afternoon shift at 3 p.m. and not return home until 8 the next morning.  He had a new wife and baby daughter at home, but he needed to earn enough money to pull ahead.  Finally, in 2004, Moinas took the plunge again and opened La Posada with two friends.

Owning a restaurant did not make Moinas rich. He couldn’t afford enough staff to run the place, so he worked as a cook himself, often putting in 14-hour days.  After a year he bought out one of his partners and a year later he bought out the other.  The buyouts only put Moinas in debt, however.  He  needed $50,000 and the only way he could get it was through loans from friends and family in the Ecuadorean community.  Those loans came with exorbitant interest rates.  On a $5,000 loan, for instance, he would have to make payments of $250 per month in interest until he had paid off the principal, a rate which is approximately 60 percent annually.

Moinas has had to fight and pay for everything he has acquired in life.  Now that he is the sole owner of La Posada and has paid off his debts he still isn’t in the clear — his landlord has not yet renewed his lease, which expires in two months, so Moinas is on tenterhooks again.  He has opened El Maguey partly as a hedge against the possibility that his lease for La Posada will not be renewed.

Operating two restaurants means that Moinas must pay $14,000 a month in rent.  Asked if he was rich, he laughed.  “I have too many bills,” Moinas said.  “It’s crazy.”  In fact, Moinas and his wife, Janet, both still work full time.  La Posada stays open until 4 a.m., which means that Moinas often doesn’t get home until almost six in the morning.  As a result, he says, he rarely sees his daughter, Hailey, who is now 8.  He is asleep when she gets up to go to school and she is asleep when he gets home.

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Christine Collins: The Food Obstructions II champion


The Food Obstructions Cook Off Poster!

The Food Obstructions Cook Off Poster!

By JON CROWELL

Christine Collins won the second Food Obstructions challenge on Sunday, Dec. 6th at The Gutter in Brooklyn.  Her winning entry was Spicy Filipino Beef Brisket served with Rosemary Potato Pancakes.  It was her second consecutive win.

The Food Obstructions Challenge is a food cookoff inspired by the 2003 Lars von Trier movie “The Five Obstructions.”  In the movie, von Trier challenges director Jorgen Leth to recreate one of his movies five times, each time adhering to a different creative obstacle.

Von Trier is an avante-garde art-house filmmaker, which perhaps explains his appeal among the young, white, trendy crowd gathered at The Gutter.  He is known for such luminous innovations as the use of unsimulated sex in his ostensibly non-pornographic fare  (eventually, however, he went for the full monty and began producing hardcore pornography).

Christine Collins smiles while Atticus stands next to her.

Champion Christine Collins smiles while Atticus stands next to her.

What the existence of von Trier meant for Christine Collins, however, was that she was forced to make her spicy Filipino beef brisket while adhering to the following obstructions:

1.  It had to include an ingredient that begins with the letter “K.”
2.  It had to contain rosemary.
3.  It had to include an ingredient with seeds.
4.  It could not contain butter.
5.  It had to contain an ingredient produced or grown in Brooklyn.

Collins went with Ketchup for her “K” ingredient.  (Thankfully the alternative spelling “Catsup” is going out of style.)  The rosemary was used to flavor the potato pancakes. Presumably, an ingredient with seeds was included at one point, along with an ingredient from Brooklyn, and, finally, the dish did not contain butter.  In short, Collins qualified.  For her winning effort she took home $100, which she accepted with the following speech:

“Thanks, Everybooddddyyyyy!  I don’t know – I guess I’d like to thank my mom, for being from the Philippines – she told me to use ketchup when cooking meat, so, there you go!”

Boxer Manny Pacquiao is Filipino

Boxer Manny Pacquiao is Filipino

Collins is half Filipino, which accounts for her dark hair and allure.  Afterward she stood outside The Gutter with her boyfriend Atticus, who is an acrobat, and smoked a cigarette.  Atticus remarked that he would like to be in the movies one day, in a role that required him to hang off a cliff.  He has also thought about joining the circus, but “I met Christine and she hates carnival folk,” he explained.  “I try to tell her, it’s not like what you see in the movies in the 1920s…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Collins remarked

“She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Atticus said.

Collins is now the two-time reigning champion of The Food Obstructions.  She speculates that along with the recent emergence of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao (who is the current WBO World welterweight champion, and perhaps the best pound-for-pound boxer alive today), her emergence as a champion food cooker may signal the coming ascendancy of the Filipino people. Or not.

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A tour with Meals on Wheels in Washington Heights


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No more bake sales for public schools in the city


By SONYA REHMAN

In a bid to get children in New York City to start eating right, the Department of Education, which has already moved to make only healthy beverages available from school vending machines, has prohibited bake sales from public schools.

“We understand the need for parent groups to raise funds at school gatherings. However, we are doing schoolchildren a disservice by using these events to distribute and promote foods that contribute to obesity,” said an Oct. 7 press release by the Health Department, responding to the Department of Education’s initiative to curb childhood obesity.

William Havemann, the media spokesperson from the Department of Education stated: “We don’t track how often schools have bake sales but schools are now permitted one bake sale per month during school hours, and after 6 p.m. on weekdays they can have as many as they want.”

The ban “makes me very angry,” says Liza Campbell, a teacher at the Bushwick School in Brooklyn. “It’s a traditional form of fundraising where kids can bake stuff with their families. It brings families together.”

Caitlin Duffy, who teaches at the MS 245 Computer School in Manhattan, says she is disheartened by the reasoning behind the ban. “The actual reasoning seems ineffective,” she said. “Minimizing their sugar intake is definitely not the effect. The amount of baked goodies students can buy with what money they have on hand is hardly enough to cause them a lot of harm unless these bake sales have a daily frequency.”

Photo illustration by Sonya Rehman

Photo illustration by Sonya Rehman

Cassandra Dillenberger, a concerned parent, doesn’t think the bake sales will curb childhood obesity. She says, “Better lunch meals provided at schools and better home nutrition are better places to develop good eating habits. Bake sales are fundraisers for class/school activities for which no alternative school funding is available. These are for enriching activities such as school trips, graduations and things like that.”

The Health Department release made no suggestions how to replace the bake sales. Duffy says that some of her teacher friends are unsure how to raise money for extracurricular activities without bake sales, “They can’t possibly get funding through Parents Associations or their budgets or fundraising programs purchased by the school,” she says, “So they are stuck without means for extracurricular activities where they might want to quickly raise a registration fee, the cost of T-shirts, or other simple club needs.”

Merril Zgar, a parent of four, thinks the ban is misguided. “Banning bake sales won’t teach children anything,” she says, “They can snack across the street on Twinkies at a bodega. As a parent, it’s important for me to limit my child’s sweet intake and that comes from parental discipline. It’s not about having no sugar. It’s about moderating your sugar intake and if you eliminate something entirely, it only causes the child to want it more.”

Lana Ajemian, vice president of the New York State Parent Teacher Association, says the group “strongly encourages innovative ideas and alternatives to providing high sugar, fat or salty foods for classroom celebrations.”

This sentiment is echoed by Mary Jane Detroyer, a nutrition and exercise consultant, “If they want to initiate change, why not have allow the bake sale and provide healthier recipes for options to sell, like muffins using less fat and some whole grains, zucchini bread or banana bread or carrot bread, or homemade granola bars, etc.”

“I think our government is truly hypocritical when it talks about the obesity epidemic,” Detroyer says, “They do not fund money for gym class and they provide high fat, processed food for lunch. The children need to learn how to eat at home, also. I think a better idea than getting rid of bake sales would be for each district to have a registered dietitian on staff that could visit the schools and teach the children how to eat properly and work on recipes for the cafeteria and offer education to the parents.” The cost, she said, “would be well worth it for what it is going to cost down the road to pay for the health care for these children.”

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The tricks and tips of food styling


Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell carefully brushes sauce on to lamb chops about to be photographed for Departures magazine. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell carefully brushes sauce on to lamb chops to be photographed for Departures magazine. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

By JOEL MEARES

Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell has some words of comfort for those struggling to get their Thanksgiving turkeys looking as plump and brown as the birds in their cookbooks. Those birds, he says, “are still fairly raw on the inside.”

The shiny brown birds that dominate magazines and books every fall are often the work of a food stylist’s paintbrush, one of the many tools Preston-Campbell carries with him in a metal briefcase to studios across New York. He also takes butter tweezers, a scalpel and a butane torch.

The trick with turkeys, he explains, is to roast it quickly at a high temperature. Then, brush the skin with a mix of water, soap and the supermarket-bought browning agent, Kitchen Bouquet. The bird might be Jell-O inside, but its outside is golden, moist and ready for its close-up.

Behind every great, stomach-teasing picture of food, there is a great food stylist and photographer. As models must be primped for the flashbulb, slabs of steak, gourmet cupcakes and martinis must be styled for food magazine pages, billboards and their own packaging. And just as with fashion, there are tricks to the trade.

“People eat with their eyes,” says Preston-Campbell, 38. “One of the first things they teach you at culinary school is that presentation is the first impression on someone when you’re preparing food for them.”

He started styling food a decade ago after 11 years working as a chef. His last kitchen job was as chef de cuisine at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in the Flatiron District, and he found the work grueling. “I had 18 employees and they were a pain in the arse,” he says.
The difference between presenting food to eat and food to be photographed is that “you need to think of how the camera will view the food,” he says.  An overhead shot is styled evenly, he explains, while a shot taken from 45 degrees above the dish, the angle at which most people view their food, will be less even.

On a trip through Chelsea Market, shopping for the ingredients for a chicken hash and lobster bisque he will be styling for the New York Times magazine, Preston-Campbell describes his job. “You’re more or less shopping for, preparing and cooking idealized food for the media, whether it be magazines, newspapers, TV shows, commercials, or anyone else who needs food in their production,” he says.

For a job like that the New York Times shoot, a stylist is booked for “shooting days” and “prep days.” The client sends through recipes and the stylist offers feedback. The stylist then shops for the food, stores it at home or the photographer’s studio – most food photographers have studios with large kitchens, tables and refrigerators – and cooks and presents the dishes to be photographed on the day of the shoot.
“I think what differentiates a food stylist from a prop stylist or a wardrobe person is that we don’t just go and buy the thing that’s being photographed,” he says.  “We have to buy the raw materials, prepare it properly and make sure that it looks good – usually with only one chance to get it right.”

What looks good in food styling is always changing.

Romulo Yanes, for the last 26 years the only staff photographer on the recently closed “Gourmet” magazine, says magazine food was styled in a “very commercial way” in the 1980s. “It was lit and styled to look in the past more plastic,” he says over the telephone from his home in Morristown, N.J.

Preston-Campbell describes the old look as “over stylized, as if everything’s placed exactly and you can tell there’s been five meetings for each carrot stick placed on the plate.”

In a nod to all things organic, local and slow, food is styled today to look unfussy and realistic. Preston-Campbell calls it “making it look accidental when it really isn’t accidental.”

Ingredients are laid out on Preston-Campbell's prep table. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Ingredients are laid out on Preston-Campbell's prep table. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Kirsty Melville, head publisher at cookbook publisher Andrews McMeel, says photographers are increasingly using natural light. A native of Melbourne, Australia, she says Down Under cookbook queen Donna Hay’s simple, natural photography is having an influence on current US styles. “It’s brighter, with strong colors, but still very natural,” she says.

Hay, in an email from her office in Sydney, says she strives to create food that the reader can easily reproduce. “The way we style at the magazine is straight from the kitchen to the plate,” she writes. “We’re not about reviving cold food for a shoot – we work fresh and fast and we don’t use tricks, paints or colors.”

Yanes likes the move towards reality. “When I am most successful in photography is when I can make a dish come to life for people, like it’s sitting on your kitchen table. One of my biggest things is to have the food be believable and natural so someone doesn’t look at the food and say, ‘It looks so good, it’s fake.’ That would not be a compliment to me.”

The change has been far-reaching. “The other day I passed McDonald’s and they had photography of hamburgers that actually looked good,” says Yanes. “It wasn’t those pristine, perfectly placed lettuce leaves, and the buns, and the super, super juicy burgers that were beyond real.”

Melville says a publisher is ultimately looking for the style of the photography to match the food in the recipes. “Photography is an expression of the style of the food, which is in turn an interpretation of the voice of the chef or food writer,” she says. A particular challenge for her was Andrews McMeel’s book, “The Amish Cook At Home.” Melville wanted pictures reflecting Amish family life, but could not show faces. Instead, she and the photographer decided to use hands, rolling dough and cutting vegetables, in the images.

Hay agrees that the image must match the story. “Each story we do is thought out from the theme to the color palette, background and story,” she writes. “And because food is one dimensional on the page – you can’t touch it or smell it – it needs to have what we call ‘yum factor.’”

Glossy or gritty, the job of the stylist and photographer is to make food look good – no matter what – and photographer Yanes has his own turkey story to share.

Shooting outdoors in upstate New York, Yanes and his team discovered that the oven they were supplied with was not large enough to fit the turkey they had to cook. Luckily, they had one they prepared earlier: a shriveled bird cooked three days before to use as a stand-in.

The team “doctored up” the ageing turkey, already stinking in the July heat, and singed the skin with a butane torch to get rid of wrinkles. “The skin just kind of perks up right away,” he says, laughing. “You would never have been able to tell in the photograph and it wasn’t retouched or anything.”

The only other time Yanes has ever faked it was while shooting a mango rice pudding on a beach in Hawaii for “Gourmet”. Missing the bottle of cream he needed to finish the dish, he substituted sunscreen.

Such substitutions are common in styling. Steam, difficult to capture on camera, is commonly faked with cigarette smoke; garment steamers with a hose attached to steer the vapor and, notoriously, soaked tampons, microwaved and placed behind the dish to be shot.

There are even those who devote themselves to such fakery. Tom Trengrove, who sells everything from fake sushi to blackberries made from resin from his Trengrove Studios Web site, says his company has developed “products that make photographing transitory kinds of things, like ice and foam, more stable.”

Preston-Campbell used carved acrylic ice cubes from Trengrove, for a recent Grey Goose print campaign. The shop’s most popular products are ice, ice powder (used to put a frosty surface on a can or glass) and “Foam Booster,” added to beer to keep the foam from going down. You can even buy a small droplet of solid water for $12. “In this business, reality is defined by whoever’s paying,” says Trengrove.

But stylists, photographers and the mad scientists who assist them, have increasingly fewer reasons to use their tricks. While cookbook sales are up, with many economists suggesting people are cooking at home, magazine sales are down and people like Yanes and Preston-Campbell are finding work scarcer. “It’s much easier and cheaper to get it on the Internet than to go and buy a glossy magazine for $6,” concedes the stylist.

Yanes says the closing of his longtime home, “Gourmet,” which defined food styling trends since it launched in 1941, is devastating. “I think it was a mistake,” he says. “They were the first American publication to cater to gastronomy and it just seems like a terrible loss. You don’t close “Vogue”, “Vogue” is fashion. “Gourmet” is food.”

Preston-Campbell stays hopeful. “There will still be a demand for food stylists in the future even if all the editorial content and food advertising move to the web,” he says. “Food imagery still needs to be created regardless of the medium.”

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At Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, food is therapy


By CAROLINE SHIN

On a recent Friday afternoon at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, a petite Arlaine Bruce cut up slices of homemade apple, sweet potato and pumpkin pies for the Harvest Moon Ball. There were also sugar-free oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies for the diabetic patients and cups of ginger ale for all. Guests kept rolling in. Many needed help with their wheelchairs; a few wheeled themselves in. Even fewer walked.

At Mary Manning Walsh, food plays multiple roles in the lives of its residents—the more than 350 patients are 80 years old on average (and a lot are waiting to get in). The Upper East Side nursing home organizes special events such as the harvest ball, where food is used for socialization and normalization among its patients. Generally though—whether special events or regular meals—it is about “trying to get them to be happy with what they’re eating,” said Joanne Gaffney, 61, clinical nutrition manager. “Trying to feed them what their mother made them.”

Food and nutrition make up just one part of the nursing home’s comprehensive services, which also include 24-hour nursing, physician, laboratory and even, religious services. Arlaine Bruce said most of the residents are covered by Medicaid and Medicare and a few pay out of pocket.

Bruce, 46, director of recreational therapy, organized the harvest ball: a show with two lithe dancers, a keyboardist and a singer. She often uses food to get her patients to socialize. At the start of the show, one elderly lady, smartly dressed in an autumn leaves pattern, waved to a friend and wheeled herself over to the table where they chatted amid bites of pie and sips of ginger ale. Most of the 120 patients, however, stayed quiet, eating and responding to the show with occasional applause. They could not be identified nor interviewed, according to the nursing home’s policy.

Music therapist Sue Dennis, 40, says the food also normalizes things for the residents. “It might orient them a little,” she said. “It’s fall. We’ve got pie.” For Christmas, there are cookies, eggnog and hot chocolate, and the Passover seder presents its usual menu. The food reminds the patients of “what they would normally be doing.”

Bruce has also organized Saturday morning Doughnut Hours in which she and her patients talk about the news and play trivia around doughnuts and coffee. At monthly birthday celebrations, Bruce hands out cake and ice cream. The nursing home also hosts Travel Club meetings, in which a country and a typical regional food would be presented. Those who had visited that country would start reliving how good the food was there. Both Bruce and Dennis mentioned the apple strudel and sweet plantain, which have been featured in past meetings.

“They get together, eat and talk,” said Dennis. “It’s stimulating. They start reminiscing.”

For regular meals, Gaffney said the nursing home’s food service is not that much different from a restaurant’s. “We do cater to the needs and preferences of the residents.” The nursing home provides balanced meals that contain all food groups, adjusting the dishes or giving alternate sustenance for the patients with liquid restrictions, tube feedings or controlled carbohydrate diets. But she emphasized that, unlike a hospital, the nursing home does not adhere to a specific therapeutic diet. “You want to strike a balance,” she said.

Patients have individualized menus that adhere to their taste preferences and dietary needs. The menu, which varies daily, is planned weekly at the dietitians’ office. Breakfast usually comprises orange juice, oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. Lunch and dinner include an entrée, starch and vegetable sides and dessert. All three meals come with bread and butter and coffee or tea with milk or creamer. The dinner menu that included beefaroni or tuna salad, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and apple cobbler. There are additional off-the-menu dishes such as honey soup. Crab cakes, goulash and Philly cheese steak appear on the menu for upcoming weeks.

Gaffney added that food provides oral stimulation for some patients who are not tube feeding, and “for people that are seriously, terminally ill, we are more liberal with their diet because it’s one of the few things they can enjoy.”

Every day, it’s up to Andrea Reid, 58, assistant director of food and nutrition, to supervise the kitchen’s tray line: One person calls out the resident’s dinner selection — “two scoops, no mash” — and places a dish on a heat conductor plate, alerting the next two people on the hot or cold foods sides to place food and beverages on the dish. One person then adds coffee or tea, and the final person checks for accuracy. Beefaroni, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach lay steaming in baking pans. Tuna salad lay cold and yellow digital thermometers stuck out from roasted chicken.

After stacking up the trays of food, the staff members cart the meals to the nurses, who then deliver the food to the residents’ rooms. Some patients elect to eat at the dining room, where they have assigned seating. “They’re territorial,” said Bruce.

At the monthly Food Committee meetings, the nursing home allows its patients to issue complaints — most concerned cold food and a desire for new food.

Gaffney said the staff tries to remedy the issues the best they can. “You want to keep people happy here. This is their home.”

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Controversy calms for Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza restaurant


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Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza in Harlem renamed its restaurant after President Obama after he was elected. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

By VADIM LAVRUSIK

The bright red signs reading “Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza” still hang proudly atop the fried chicken store in Harlem, while inside, the new name is written on tape covering the original name,  “Kennedy Fried Chicken.”

For those not from the neighborhood, it’s still a sight to see, said Mamadou Diallo, manager of the store at 116 Street and Nicholas Avenue.

“Tourists driving by always stop to take pictures in front of the restaurant,” the 32-year-old said.

But after causing a stir last spring by renaming the fried chicken restaurant after the first black president, people in the neighborhood have gotten used to the new name and questions of cultural identity have faded away.

“Things are pretty quiet now,” Diallo said.

After President Obama was inaugurated, several New York City establishments renamed or began naming products to pay homage to him. In Brooklyn, a shop opened named Obama Beauty Supply; the Sixpoint Craft Ales brewery named a beer after Obama; and then came Obama Fried Chicken in Harlem and Brownsville.

The Harlem restaurant was tied into an uproar with community leaders in Brooklyn, including Councilman Charles Barron and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who held rallies protesting the name as being stereotypical and degrading toward African-Americans.

Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken, which operates under a separate owner from the Brooklyn location on Rutland Road, took its signs down for about a month, said Diallo. Then other members of the community complained, he said. But after checking into possible legal issues with having the name, the signs went back up. The Brooklyn owner kept his signs up because they cost $5,000, according to a New York Times report. Diallo said his signs cost only $500.

“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” Diallo said.

Apparently, many who were offended by the signage at first have warmed up to it.

Stopping into the restaurant recently, Ebony Brown, 26,  said she thought the name was ridiculous at first.

Though the signage outside the restaurant have been updated, inside the old "Kennedy" in Kennedy Chicken is taped over. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

Though the signs outside the restaurant have been updated, inside the old “Kennedy” in Kennedy Fried Chicken is taped over. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

“Everyone was excited with Obama’s win, naming their kids after him and all sorts of stuff. But when I saw this, you know, naming a chicken spot after Obama just reinforces stereotypes of us black people,” said Brown, who lives in Harlem. “It’s passing by now, though.”

In a New York Daily News poll, readers were asked whether the shops should be allowed to use Obama’s name. A 68 percent majority selected the option: “Sure, it’s capitalism.” Others are indifferent. For Calvin Bowers, good food is good food, he said. Bowers works as a super across the street from Obama Fried Chicken and said he’s been going there “for five months straight, every day.”

Bowers said that as a black man, it doesn’t make a difference to him who it’s named after and what stereotypes people think it puts off.

“I am just trying to get something to eat,” he said. “You can’t beat it.”

Some African-American cultural sensitivities aren’t always as obvious to business owners from other parts of the world. Diallo, who emigrated from Guinea, Western Africa, in 2000, said the owner simply liked the new president because of his African heritage. As far as connecting fried chicken and a black president, Diallo said in his country many tribes are associated with different foods. His tribe, for example, is associated with eating lots of yam.

“If you go to a Hispanic area of town, you’re going to see a lot of tortillas, and that sort of thing,” Diallo said. “Well, then what’s the big deal?”

A lot of the criticism also came from people saying the restaurants were exploiting Obama’s name for profit. But Diallo said the Harlem business has stayed the same.

He also points to the many other products that took on the Obama name after he was elected, like Change Hot Sauce, which bears a drawing of Obama and was made as a limited product by Garden Row Foods in Illinois. The company sent the restaurant a sample, saying it could make more if the restaurant wanted to buy it.

"Change" hot sauce was send to Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza after they renamed. The company would not say whether they have sold the product or not. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

“Change” hot sauce was sent to Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza. The company would not say whether it has sold more of the product. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

A worker at that company, who would not give his name, said Garden Row makes lots of different hot sauces for different occasions and this was no exception. He would not disclose whether they had sold any of the Change hot sauces or not.

But even though Diallo said business is the same, it at least draws some new customers.

Amin Nuani, 32, came into Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken after seeing the name.

“Wow, it was the first time we saw something with Obama’s name on it like that,” Nuani said. “I think something with his name on it will definitely draw people in, especially in Harlem. But why not, he is our president.”

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Day of the Dead starts at the bakery


By DANIEL WOOLFOLK AND NUSHIN RASHIDIAN

Mexican bakeries all over New York City are preparing pan de muerto, Spanish for bread of the dead, for the Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1. But Panaderia Caotzingo on 76-11 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens is anything but dead during the week before the holiday as customers bustle in and load trays with pan de muerto fresh from the oven. Baker Sergio Rodriguez, 22, makes 270 pieces of dome-shaped ‘’dead bread’’ each day, sized as small as the palm of a hand for $1.50, or bigger than a grown man’s face for $12. The sweet, cinnamon-infused bread is decorated with bits of cooked dough shaped like bones.

Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) has been celebrated by Mexican Indians for centuries. To them, it is the day the dead come back to visit the living–friends, relatives, and loved ones. Often, Catholic families make offerings at the graves of their loved ones, leaving them their favorite food, or even their favorite vice, be it cigarettes or alcohol. But they always leave pan de muerto, says bakery worker Yessica Rodriguez, 23, who is originally from the 300-person Southern Mexican town of San Jose Chilipa.. Rodriquez’s grandmother on her mother’s side died six years ago; each year, her family back home takes the 25-minute walk to the local cemetery.

When they arrive at the cemetery, located between mango trees and a cornfield, they make a velvet shrine and lay offerings of bean and chicken tamales, chocolates and purple flowers—any kind, as long as they’re purple. Her late grandfather gets a single Marlboro Red cigarette. When Rodriguez dies, she says she would like to have an offering of bean and chicken tamales, just like her grandmother. But she’s too busy to think about death right now—she must finish a sale to Cristian Moran, 26, from Guerrero, another state in Southern Mexico.

Moran has lived in the United States for six years. His grandfather died one month ago, but instead of going to Mexico, he sent $200 to relatives back home. He said people don’t celebrate Day of the Dead in New York City as much as they did in his hometown.

Bakery manager Sergio Najera, 54, agrees. Most Mexicans who die in New York City have their remains sent home, he says, so there is little reason to celebrate in local cemeteries. Adults tend to honor the dead privately, and children have another tradition to enjoy: Halloween.

Zeltzin Rosendo, 10, is excited for the 31st of October.

“They give you candy on Halloween and you get to get dressed up,” she says, standing next to the window displays that shows off piles of pan de muerto to people who walk past. She is not a fan of putting food on graves.

“That kind of creeps me out a bit,” she says.

Her brother died in the womb this past year, and this will be the first time they lay an offering to him. They will leave him pan de muerto.

Some people prefer neither Halloween nor a Day of the Dead in America. Queens resident Enrique Jimenez remembers his childhood experience with pan de muerto as he makes a quick visit to the bakery.

“I would buy the bread when I was little, or my mom baked it, but not too much anymore,” he says.

This year he will gather with his cousins and his brother, who is bringing pan de muerto from Mexico.

“This bread has a different flavor,” he says. “The original flavor is from Mexico.”

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