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Fat Guy

eG Foodblog: Fat Guy (2010) - Goin' Mobile

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When I go on book tour, my appearances are attended by a handful of people most of whom were just wandering around the bookstore when the announcement came over the public address system. They ask questions like, "What's your book about?"

When Ferran Adria (aka the world's greatest chef, the leader of the culinary avant garde) goes on book tour, everyone shows up. The most significant food-world players for 500 miles around come to pay homage. They have prepared their questions for the master.

Ferran Adria's biography, written by Colman Andrews, has just hit the bookstores and Adria and Andrews are making the rounds. This evening they appeared at the International Culinary Center (the umbrella institution that includes the French Culinary Institute and the Italian Culinary Academy) in New York City. I got invited, perhaps because I teach a class there, perhaps by mistake, perhaps out of pity. I was certainly the least important person in the room -- a marginal inclusion on the guest list that included Mario Batali, Tim Zagat, Jose Andres, Andre Soltner, Jacques Torres, Drew Nieporent, Alain Sailhac, Jonathan Waxman and a whole bunch of others.

I'll give a brief description of the event, with some photo support, in a moment. But first, welcome to my eG Foodblog, the first of this new season of eG Foodblogs. For the next week, I'll be posting ad nauseam about my food life. The centerpiece of the week is a trip I'm taking down to Mobile, Alabama, to look in on the seafood industry post-BP-spill. Before and after that trip, I'll share the various things I'll be doing in the course of this week.

Returning to the matter of Ferran Adria and Colman Andrews, the book is called Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food. (Should you choose to buy a copy, that's an eG-friendly link, which means the Society will get a small commission from Amazon if you use that link for purchase.)

There's DC-based Spanish (and then some) chef Jose Andres talking to Dorothy Hamilton, president of the ICC.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

I'm only going to apologize once this week for my terrible photography. Sorry. Now deal with it.

That's Colman Andrews, who wrote the book.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

The snacks were not at all avant-garde. They were mostly Spanish-style and pretty good.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

The restaurateur Drew Nieporent (Nobu, Tribeca Grill, Corton, etc. -- he keeps opening new places so it's hard to keep track of him).

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

My signed copy of the book.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

Ellen also made a short video of Ferran Adria speaking to the question "What's the biggest misconception about you?" That will not be postable until morning, though, because of the time it takes to compress and upload the video.

I found Adria to be engaging despite speaking through a translator. This was the first time I'd ever seen him up close, and I had wondered whether I'd find him as brilliant as everybody says he is. I did.

It was also good to hear him speak directly on the issue of El Bulli's closing. There has been a lot of press on this -- world's most difficult-to-reserve restaurant suddenly closing -- and Adria assured us that it's a temporary closing. El Bulli is expected to reopen in 2014, at which point the company will be reorganized as a nonprofit foundation.

Although I was intrigued by the Q&A session, my actual mission was to try to get Colman Andrews and Ferran Adria to join us here for online Q&A. When I spoke to them and their publicist, however, it turned out that they had already agreed to do it -- Dave Scantland ("Dave the Cook") already had a whole dialog running. So we are looking forward to welcoming them soon.

There is an excerpt from the book on the New York Times website, if you're interested.

I'm off to catch a little shuteye before an early rise for a visit to Sarabeth's bakery. More on that tomorrow morning.

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fantastic - I loved the foodblog series and its great to have them back - looking forward to the next week. I'll be especially interested to see the effects of the oil spill, the media have gone very quiet on that this side of the pond.

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The snacks were not at all avant-garde. They were mostly Spanish-style and pretty good.

Cocktail olives! On sticks! Not what I would have expected at an Adria event, which somehow makes them even more excellent. What were the fishes underneath - anchovies?

What eating highlights can we expect this week?

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I will definitely be doing as much research on the effects of the oil spill as I can.

I'm not exactly sure what I'll be eating -- the schedule is kind of getting made up as we go along -- but I'll be at Sarabeth's this morning, a school picnic this afternoon, Mobile Bay area for a few days, a kindergarten-age birthday party, and a few other things.

The food at the Adria event was from a Spanish place called Despaña, nearby the school in SoHo. http://www.despananyc.com/

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My brother gave me a copy of the book a few days ago. It seems for some reason that we are blessed with early releases of food books here in Australia. Now to settle down to read it...

Erin, the fishes on the snacks look like marinated anchovies.

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I found Adria to be engaging despite speaking through a translator. This was the first time I'd ever seen him up close, and I had wondered whether I'd find him as brilliant as everybody says he is. I did.

It's a pretty impressive feat, isn't it? Was it Lucy Garcia doing the interpretation? When I saw Adria on the book tour for A Day at El Bulli, I thought she did a great job.

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Matthew: Yes, I believe the translator's name was Lucy. She didn't really receive a formal introduction. She was superb.

I've just returned from Sarabeth's and another appointment, and now I have to process the photos (they are much better than my norm, because Ellen was on hand) and hope to be able to post something in a couple of hours.

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A quick preview while I work on the rest. PJ and Sarabeth inspect their finished loaf of bread.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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So here's what happened...

Several months ago I got invited to a book preview event at Sarabeth's Bakery. I generally ignore such invitations but I've been a huge fan of Sarabeth's baked goods, jams and restaurants for most of my adult life. So I went. This was right around the time that Ellen went to Thailand for two weeks for a conference and I had to figure out ways to entertain PJ. One thing we did every day was we baked bread or a bread-like product. One day we baked challah and it came out poorly. I figured, hey, maybe I can get Sarabeth to teach me and PJ to make challah that doesn't suck, and write something about it in time for the Jewish holidays.

Trouble was, I was thinking at the speed of the internet and Sarabeth's book publicity schedule was on the timeline of print media. The book wasn't to be on sale until well after the Jewish holidays, so my idea didn't make sense -- I'd be talking about a book nobody would be able to buy.

The book, Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, comes out next week (you can pre-order now with this Society-friendly link). So we decided to resurrect the idea of doing a tutorial but to make it more generally about baking with kids.

I'm going to post a bunch of photos here now. This may actually be the most relevant outlet for the material, because the eG Forums audience includes such a high percentage of serious cooks. But I'm also hoping to sell an article for money down the road, and maybe some of Ellen's photos too. Ellen, for her part, is busy querying the editors she works with. That's basically how you make a living as a freelancer: you collect stories and try to sell them to as many outlets as possible. We'll see what happens.

The book is exquisite, published by Rizzoli, co-written with the very detail-oriented Rick Rodgers, with photographs by Quentin Bacon. Most importantly, Sarabeth Levine -- New York's iconic baker -- was absolutely dedicated to providing home cooks with the actual recipes from her bakery, while being incredibly rigorous about testing the recipes in a variety of home-kitchen settings over a period of nearly three years. Sarabeth waited 30 years to publish her first book, and it is a definitive text for the home baker. In my household we are in the process of scrapping various long-standing recipes and upgrading to Sarabeth's versions.

What I wanted to do was have PJ and Sarabeth make a recipe from the book from start to finish, as a demonstration of the efficacy of the recipes as well as the possibility of doing some of them with kids. She selected the scone recipe. I've got an email in to the publicist to see if we can obtain it in electronic format and post it here. If that works out I'll follow up. In the meantime, I have Ellen's photos.

Before making scones, PJ helped Sarabeth with various tasks. But first he had to get an apron on.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

It wasn't possible to do bread start-to-finish given our timeline, but working with some dough from the morning's batch PJ and Sarabeth divided, weighed and shaped three loaves. We later took one home and devoured it on the subway.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

After further proofing:

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

They then cut and rolled croissants, also from dough that the 4:15am crew had prepared long before our 8am arrival.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

Then they made the scone recipe. The recipe makes 12 large scones but we decided to do 24 minis so PJ could bring one for each kid in his class -- the least he could do for missing the first hour of school to bake scones.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

We then decided we lacked the willpower to wait, so we tasted several scones with a couple of Sarabeth's jams.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

We then replaced the eaten scones with scones from the actual bakery. At which point, I made an interesting discovery: Our handmade scones were even better than the professionally made ones that relied on mechanization (a necessity when you're making batches of 500). The less shiny appearance of the hand-made scones was superior (I'll see if I can find a comparison photo at some point) and they had a better, looser texture. So not only is it possible to bake well from Sarabeth's book but also it's possible to take advantage of small batch size to make better stuff at home than can be made in a commercial context.

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And here's a short clip of Ferran Adria from last night at the International Culinary Center:

Video: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Lovely string of narrative pictures in the bakery ! I especially loved the one of PJ and his finished product. Such a great expression of shy pride.

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Sarabeth looks like the perfect teacher for PJ. I love that she guides his hands to demonstrate how to do things. He's making memories as well as scones. :smile:

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Sarabeth is amazing. It doesn't look possible, but she actually has 12 grandchildren. So she is a total pro at dealing with kids. But also her passion for what she does is infectious. Even after 30 years in business, she telegraphs a sense of amazement that she has the privilege of getting up every morning to bake.

I sort of felt that way too this morning. I used to make a lot more money as a lawyer than I do as a food writer. Or, rather, I used to make a lot of money as a lawyer and now I pretty much don't make any money. But I get to go with my son and bake with Sarabeth.

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I'm totally off my schedule today for a couple of reasons. First, because we had to go to Sarabeth's at the crack of dawn. Second, because I have a rotator cuff tear and haven't had a good night's sleep in about three months. So my breakfast wound up being catch as catch can at Sarabeth's (there are worse ways to dine, I suppose), then I had to power through the middle part of the day and lunch didn't happen until about 4pm at PJ's class picnic.

Anyway...this is the school lunch I packed for PJ this morning.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

I know this looks pretty elaborate, and certainly by American standards it is (just today at the class picnic PJ's teacher was grilling me on how to make those checkerboard tea sandwiches) but I feel totally inadequate when held up against the standard set by the fanatics on the Bentos topic. This topic has been running for about a century, or at least seven years, and has almost 600 posts, many showing packed lunches that are well beyond my capabilities. Over there, as in many aspects of life, I am merely tolerated.

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I also agree that the pictures of Sarabeth helping PJ tell more than words could. You can see her working with him to impart knowledge versus just telling him what to do.

I like how the tomatoes and cheese (?) echo the checkerboard of the sandwich. A kid's eyes would be drawn to that. Can you give us an idea of that the other children brought? We often talk about the future of food and cooking so I find it interesting to see what the youngest are dining on.

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Steven, do you find that PJ's tastes are changing, or does he still like the same things in his lunches? He seems very adventurous (not that I have much experience with that age group). And I know you've mentioned elsewhere that what you can pack is limited by his school. How does that affect lunch-making?

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What a fun morning for PJ! He looks like he knows what he's doing -- do you just bake with him or is he involved in other cooking as well?

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Andre Soltner--Lutece was a favorite back in the day.

Love the Sarabeth/PJ photos; he looks very intent.

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Heidi, to clarify, because I've been a little unclear: PJ's lunch and the class picnic were two different things. The class picnic was after school today. It was early dinner for the kids, but it was lunch for me. I don't know what the other kids had for lunch today, and I don't yet have a really good feel for the lunch scene at PJ's new school. At the old school, though, the other kids' lunches were pretty lame.

In terms of the picnic, we got our food from Hummus Place. This is one of our favorite inexpensive restaurants. Every couple of years I start a topic called "put your money where your mouth is," asking for people's favorite New York restaurants once you strip away business meals, special occasions, etc. -- the places where you spend your own money easily and often. For us, Hummus Place is very prominent in the current rotation of such places. The hummus is just phenomenally good, much better than anything you can get packaged in a supermarket -- better even than Sabra, which is by far the best packaged brand and is actually quite good. At Hummus Place the hummus is served warm, dotted with chickpeas and herbs (or you can get it with favas). The $7.95 lunch special includes hummus as well as a choice of appetizer. We most always get falafel as the appetizer -- they do that very well too, though we have a different favorite place if falafel is to be the actual centerpiece of the meal.

I didn't get a photo of plated food from Humus Place because we got takeout. But here's the restaurant and what we got:

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

Also, the general scene at the class picnic:

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Photo: Steven Shaw

I should add, between school pickup and the picnic we got one of our favorite snacks: Coco Helado. I've never bothered to look up what that means literally. All I know is the city is overrun with Coco Helado vendors and that I've seriously considered "Catch the Flava!" as an eG Forums signature line.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

Coco Helado is not actually good. It's just ice, sugar, artificial color and flavoring. But we love it as a treat, probably more for the ritual of it than for the "flava." And it's only a dollar.

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Photo: Ellen R. Shapiro

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Steven, do you find that PJ's tastes are changing, or does he still like the same things in his lunches? He seems very adventurous (not that I have much experience with that age group). And I know you've mentioned elsewhere that what you can pack is limited by his school. How does that affect lunch-making?

There aren't many current restrictions on what he can bring for lunch. His old school was in a synagogue and lunches had to be kosher-dairy, plus they had a lot of allergy restrictions you had to follow even if you didn't have any allergies. And lunches were refrigerated, which presented its own set of challenge. Now, however, he's in the public school system where anything goes. The only challenge I've had has been complying with the waste-free lunch ruling from the parents association. You see, the school PJ goes to is a very progressive place and so one thing they ask you to do is not use disposable packaging for lunches. The other day I felt a little bad when I bought him an avocado maki at the nearby sushi place (which is also a Chinese restaurant). It came in a foil-and-plastic container. The soy sauce was in another plastic container. Everything came in a paper bag in a plastic bag. I transferred the food into reusable containers and threw the original packaging in the trash. I'm not sure that helped the world very much but it did preempt potential social ostracism.

What were you asking? Oh, right: No, PJ's tastes have not evolved much. He really will eat just about anything, albeit not at any time. We talk a lot about his lunches, though the feedback is not always reliable. And every day I evaluate what he did and dind't eat. It's not a totally reliable system, because what he says doesn't necessarily coordinate with what he eats, which in turn doesn't necessarily predict what he'll eat in the future. That's part of why I try to pack a range of stuff, so he has choices.

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What a fun morning for PJ! He looks like he knows what he's doing -- do you just bake with him or is he involved in other cooking as well?

If you define baking broadly, then most of what we do with him in the kitchen is baking. For example, you could say that making pizza is baking, and pancakes too. I think kids do best with stuff that can be made in bowls without sharp knives. I've done some other stuff with him, and he watches me cook everything, but he mostly participates in baking.

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Lovely string of narrative pictures in the bakery ! I especially loved the one of PJ and his finished product. Such a great expression of shy pride.

And don't forget the look of pride on Dad's face as well. Thanks for sharing Steven.

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We then replaced the eaten scones with scones from the actual bakery. At which point, I made an interesting discovery: Our handmade scones were even better than the professionally made ones that relied on mechanization (a necessity when you're making batches of 500). The less shiny appearance of the hand-made scones was superior (I'll see if I can find a comparison photo at some point) and they had a better, looser texture. So not only is it possible to bake well from Sarabeth's book but also it's possible to take advantage of small batch size to make better stuff at home than can be made in a commercial context.

Can you tell us more about the advantages of having made them by hand offered over her commercial product? Is it that the dough was worked less? My attempts at scones are always less satisfactory than store-bought ones, Scottish grandmother notwithstanding.

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I do think it all comes down to "worked less." And I'm going to get you Sarabeth's scone recipe. It's going to catapult you ahead of your ancestors. I'm just waiting on the PR department at Rizzoli.

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I'm pleased with the thought that the Q&A's are returning along with the blogs. Any chance you could talk Sarabeth into doing one? At this rate it will be the eGCI coming back next!

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