By now, if you’re even an occasional reader of my blog, you know that I reside in Chicago. You may also know that I have a fondness for the Chicago-style hot dog. That’s because when people say the word “hot dog” – or any reference about the encased meat – I usually go on to explain how I basically grew up in the Vienna Beef factory in Chicago, IL. Vienna Beef is the maker of the true Chicago-style hot dog. From a young age, my father owned his own food company through Vienna; today, my brother owns his own stand, Josh’s Hot Dogs. Without a doubt, I’ve consumed my fair share of dogs over the years. I’ve never liked my dog overdressed and have always liked ketchup on it (a Chicago no-no), but I respect all of the toppings and every now and then I’ll even dabble a bit. But after one too many admonishments about the ketchup, I decided to write an email to one of the most knowledgeable people I know in the hot dog world, an old friend, Senior Vice President of Vienna Beef AND author of Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog, Bob Schwartz.
I hope you are well and I wish you great success on your new book, Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog. I know how much work goes into a book. Now, on with my plea:
Please grant me permission to use ketchup on my hot dog!
As you know, I have been an avid hot dog eater probably since the day I could eat solid foods. Len Kaplan Provisions, through Vienna Beef, showed me the path to Hot Dog Greatness. What better way to learn about the hot dog than hearing the banter between you and my father as an eight-year-old, or running rampant through the halls of the Vienna Beef factory.
But here’s the thing: I am just not a big fan of all of the trimmings. Having a culinary degree and all, I understand how the flavors meld together like fine art…the colors, the textures, the tastes. I appreciate that’s how a Chicago dog ought to be dressed, but it’s just not my style. I have given the Vienna Beef Mail Order Hot Dog Kit to countless food aficionados all over the country for countless different occasions – everyone loves it! Listen, I even still sport my yellow Vienna Beef tee shirt, stains and all. And I still think about the times I would stand behind the counter and watch the employees at the dozens of hot dog stands Len Kaplan Provisions delivered to around the Chicagoland area.
I was at a barbecue in the Hamptons recently with many celebrity chefs and food industry professionals. New York’s famed Shake Shack was catering the event, and although they have one of my favorite burgers of all time, they also were serving up Vienna hot dogs. In fact, I believe they’re Danny Meyer’s pick by choice.
When I approached the food station and asked for a hot dog with only a bit of ketchup and some divine sport peppers on it, I received a glare from the woman in return. BUT WAIT! I was HAPPY to get that glare from someone in New York. I assured her that I was from Chicago, grew up with the Chicago dog and self-proclaimed that yes, it was legal for me to eat it with ketchup.
Now I need to make it official: Bob, do I have your permission to be an honorary ketchup user on the Vienna Beef dog?
If it makes your decision more clear-cut, I was once granted a certificate from a chef friend of mine who hails from Buffalo stating that I am an “Honorary Buffalonian.” Why? Because I put Frank’s RedHot hot sauce on just about everything! (Not hot dogs, though!)
Best of luck with the book!
I appreciate the trip down memory lane, even if it is a bit of a cover up to hide your youthful ketchup fetish. I suppose that what you do privately outside of Chicago can be forgiven. Besides, I loved your story and look forward to seeing you again soon. The book looks great – I can’t wait to get it out there for Hot Dog lovers everywhere to enjoy.
All the best,
Andrew “Kappy” Kaplan loves food. A professionally trained chef, these days you’ll find him on the road talking up kids and cooking as Director of Yum-o! and keeping special projects running smoothly for Rach, all the while taking a bite here and a bite there as he samples and shares local flavor from across the country, from taco trucks to fancier finds. Follow Kappy on Twitter to see what’s On Kappy’s Plate!