In the New York Times
Red, ripe and renegade: Berries that break all the rules
APRIL 17, 2017
OXNARD, Calif. — It ought to be easy to find a single ripe strawberry to sample in a 20-acre field. But Rick Gean picked two bright-red specimens and looked dubious.
“This one should be O.K.,” he said, sounding not quite convinced. Then again, his definition of ripe is more stringent than most.
Mr. Gean and his wife, Molly, own Harry’s Berries, a strawberry farm on the inland edge of this coastal city north of Los Angeles where they do nearly everything wrong, at least according to the gospel of modern commercial berry farming.
Is New York too expensive for restaurateurs? We do the math
OCTOBER 25, 2016
The New York City restaurateur’s perennial lament — that staying afloat is tougher here than anywhere else in the country — grows louder each time another restaurant closes. Rents are astronomical, the complaint goes; wages are rising, regulations are byzantine, and don’t even talk about the price of fresh produce.
But is it true? Is New York any less hospitable to independently owned restaurants than other big cities?
Recent figures suggest that it may be: The number of independent restaurants in the city fell 3 percent from March 2015 to March 2016, slightly more than the 2.7 percent drop nationwide, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm that tracks consumer spending.
In Rome, using ‘Roman Holiday’ as a guide
OCTOBER 18, 2016
The silver-haired gentleman in the perfectly tailored dark suit made a sweeping gesture and gave me a wistful smile.
“It was right here,” he said. “1952.” He pointed to a particular spot on the floor. “That is where she stood.”
If he was alive in 1952 he was a very little boy, but every guide I speak to at the Palazzo Colonna in Rome knows and reveres the spot where she stood. “Roman Holiday” was the first American film to be shot in its entirety in Italy, and “she” was Audrey Hepburn in her first starring film role, playing a princess on the lam who spends one glorious day in Rome with a journalist who figures he has the scoop of his career. Gregory Peck was the journalist; it didn’t take long for the scoop to turn into a brief romance.
Private eyes in the grocery aisles
APRIL 4, 2015
Mansour Samadpour makes his way through the supermarket like a detective working a crime scene, slow, watchful, up one aisle and down the next. A clerk mistakenly assumes that he needs help, but Mr. Samadpour brushes him off. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
He buys organic raspberries that might test positive for pesticides and a fillet of wild-caught fish that might be neither wild nor the species listed on the label. He buys beef and pork ground fresh at the market. He is disappointed that there is no caviar, which might turn out to be something cheaper than sturgeon roe. That’s an easy case to crack.
Loss leaders on the half shell
FEBRUARY 22, 2014
The joint is jumpin’: Three mixologists in striped dress shirts, dark slacks and suspenders pour drinks almost as fast as three shuckers send platter after platter of raw oysters to their fate. A bluesy soundtrack wafts over the standing-room-only din as patrons sip and slurp, oblivious to the crowd that has gathered outside for what can be a 90-minute wait.
It feels like 9 o’clock on a Saturday night. It is 4:30 on a dank weekday afternoon.
This is oyster happy hour at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — a selection of 15 different kinds of oysters, most of them for $1 each, with a handful at $1.25 because they had to fly in from the West Coast. Krystof Zizka, a co-owner of the restaurant, says he doesn’t make a penny on the oysters, though they are one of the reasons his three-year-old restaurant is so successful.
For a chef, 41 years in the kitchen takes its toll
AUGUST 24, 2013
STARTING as a dishwasher at the age of 17, the chef Mark Peel worked his way up at some of the great California restaurants: Ma Maison, Michael’s, Chez Panisse, Spago, Chinois and, finally, for more than two decades, Campanile, his own place in Los Angeles.
Those 41 years in the kitchen have brought him considerable fame: Campanile won the James Beard award as outstanding restaurant in the United States in 2001. They have also brought him carpal tunnel syndromein both wrists and thoracic outlet syndrome in his shoulders, resulting from repetitive stirring, fine knife movements and heavy lifting. He has a bone spur on one foot and a cyst between toes of the other from constantly standing. He has had three hernia operations and lives with a chronically sore back.