Alan Richman, the dean of American restaurant critics, has been writing about restaurants from China to Peru for GQ for twenty-five years — and he celebreated his silver anniversary at the magazine by winning his 15th (!!) James Beard Award. I aspire to his august status, of course, to say nothing of his unshakeable indifference to the torrents of controversy that appear in his wake. But I suspected that his eating habits at the home are about the same as mine, and maybe as yours. So I asked him about it.
Alan, what are the last three things you ate at home, and in what room did you eat them?
Orwasher’s cinnamon-raisin-walnut bread, dotted with butter before toasting (which makes a mess of the toaster-oven), eaten in the kitchen standing up while reading Adam Platt on NoMad; leftover cold ribeye, purchased at the Le Marais butcher shop and overcooked on a gas grill by me (only I am a bad-enough cook that I can make a gas grill flare up and burn meat); and two Sabrett all-beef, natural casing hot dogs, removed from the freezer where they have resided for at least a year, reheated first with gentle steam and then by pan-broiling, accompanied by two-day-old Zabar’s potato salad. I haven’t had a normal sit-down meal at home since Sunday, and that was the overdone steak.
I never have a sit-down meal at home. In fact it’s rare for me not to eat over the sink. But I can’t help but notice a lot of Jewish food in your answer. Like me, you come from a Jewish household with the usual heavy Eastern-European food occasionally relieved with bad Chinese. Do you still do any kind of Jewish cooking at home, other than on ceremonial occasions?
The only food I cook well is Eastern European, the dishes I either learned from my mother or constructed to taste as though my mother made them: Pea soup made with beef bones, braised chuck (altered to taste half-French, half-Jewish), and the cheese blintz, at which I am unrivaled. I wish there were a blintz festival so I could take on all comers.
I think they do it at Telluride. What, in your opinion, is the best piece of Jewish home cooking?
It’s not brisket, that’s for sure. If only Jews had been as ceremonial about flanken as they are about brisket, Eastern European home cooking would be every bit as honored as French country food. The single greatest piece of Jewish home cooking was my mother’s stuffed cabbage, which is lost to history.
What about baking?
Can Jews bake? The greatest Jewish baked good is rugelach, but I always thought of that as a bakery product, although I suppose there are Jewish martyrs who bake them at home, too.
What do you think of the whole third-wave coffee renaissance? I see you as a Chock Full O’ Nuts man, but I may be wrong.
I drink a lot of Chock Full O’ Nuts French roast because that is my girlfriend’s favorite coffee. I can get it on sale, and I don’t have to grind it. A man has to take advantage of the few times a woman makes his life easy. I will admit, however, that I have a secret fondness for great coffee because I lived in Boston in the 1970′s and early 1980′s, the era of The Coffee Connection, the finest purveyor of coffee the world has ever seen. I still dream of its Kenya AA.
If you are anything like me, and I believe you are, you get a lot of doggie bags and leftovers from the elaborate meals you are forced to eat by your job. How do you generally heat them up?
Brilliantly. I am not much of a cook but I am a seminal freezer and a brilliant re-warmer. I can make a second-day sub taste better than it did the first day.
What kind of snacks do you eat at home?
I tend toward sweets, unfortunately, especially cookies and ice cream, although I don’t like cookies in ice cream.
What kind of cookware / stove do you have?
I have a six-burner, restaurant-like, Thermador gas cooktop. It’s the subject of much admiration, and I think it does everything the big-shot cooktops do except provide a very low flame when you need one. I have a Frigidaire electric double oven that’s just fine, and mostly All-Clad pots. I buy cheap fry pans because I like non-stick, and I’ve found that neither the best ones nor the worst ones last very long.
I find the same thing. Who is going to remember to use those childish plastic instruments when they are in the heat of cooking? They don’t even work. I feel you in this, as in so much else. Well, Alan, thank you very much. And congratulations on all your honors. I hope I can get half as many before I’m done.