Joe Bastianich: Restaurateur, TV star, winemaker, author. In fifty words, give or take, how’d you get here?

I thought I was being smart and securing a good life for myself by initially entering into finance, but I was miserable. I made the choice to pursue what truly interested me, worked like a dog to open Becco twenty years ago, and I guess the rest is history.

TNB’s resident food writer Alan Brouilette sat down with Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son, Eddie, at Whisky Advocate‘s Whiskyfest Chicago.  

 You’ve been in the bourbon business a long, long time.  What’s your earliest memory?

 Eddie Russell : Goin’ out there as a little kid.   Jimmy worked seven days a week, and I’d go out there with him during the summer, on the weekends.  The buildings were so big, and fun to play in, and I knew everybody out there…it was just a fun thing for a young kid to do.   Then as a teenager I moved on to other things, but I actually went there for a summer job, and that was thirty-one years ago.

Last weekend, my delightful friend Shelby texted me about a new tandoori powder she’d found and promised that it would “change [my] mind about Indian food.”  And here we go again.

 

I have killed my own dinner before, but always shellfish. Oysters and clams from a raw bar are alive until swallowed, about which my conscience troubles me not, and I have done terrible, terrible things to lobsters to prep them for grilling. I learned from the great Jeffrey Steingarten that the most humane way to kill lobsters is to guillotine them, lengthwise and abruptly, with a chef’s knife.  It’s gruesome, but it gets easier with practice.  I’m okay with the violence, not least because grilled lobsters are fucking delicious. If lobsters tasted like balsawood airplanes I would be more supportive of their right to life. But my previous exposure to guns has been limited to shooting the ones usually wielded by movie terrorists at a gun shop in Las Vegas, and my previous experience with hunting comes from thirty-five years of watching Bugs Bunny and from a deep admiration for Woody Allen’s standup routine about moose hunting. So I was a little trepidatious when my friend Jon suggested a handful of us go pheasant-hunting at his hunt club. But I’ve heard pheasant is delicious.

Hooray Beer!

By Alan Brouilette

Food

I didn’t start to like beer until I was about 35.   When I was growing up, you had pretty clear beer options.  There was Miller, and Budweiser, and Coors, and that was basically it.  I recall the occasional appearance of Heineken in fancy restaurants.  Based on the occasional sip of Mom’s beer, I determined early on that I didn’t like any of them.  I remember the first ads on TV touting Samuel Adams Boston Lager as better beer; something about winning a mess of gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival.  Tried that, eventually.  Miller Lite, but bitterer.

One of the publications I write for with some regularity occasionally throws me the bone of a restaurant review.  The reviews for this particular periodical are only a hundred words at most, so there’s no pay for them; your compensation is that you get to expense the check.  So a few weeks ago I went to Sunday brunch at (the place assigned), and Monday, I submitted this review:

Rare Breed

By Alan Brouilette

Food

After my attorney and I ran the Las Vegas Half Marathon, we needed a suitable celebratory dinner.   This meant a steakhouse.  No elaborate French twelve-course, no flown-in-from-the-Sea-of-Japan sushi, no carb replenishment.   Nothing at all would do for the meal observing a thirteen-mile jog other than a couple of big slabs of meat, some serious sides, and a fat red wine.

Post-Thanksgiving Notes:

* First Thanksgiving without a turkey. I don’t know why we skipped the big bird, but there was a leg of lamb and roast beef and a chicken instead, so who could complain? I had offered to make stuffing, which I had done already by the time the decision was made to omit turkey. For my part, the turkey went unmissed. I credit this entirely to the three quarts of turkey stock I made. I wouldn’t have expected to miss turkey, but Thanksgiving without stuffing and gravy is just a pain-in-the-ass dinner party. The stock, which had been reduced to the point of really being more of a turkey demiglace, became the drippings in the stuffing and the basis for a gravy so good several people were seen eating it with spoons. The flavor you can get out of five pounds of spare parts, some veggies, and two gallons of simmering water will never stop amazing me.

Family Guy

By Alan Brouilette

Food

The Ideal:

The alarm goes off at six on Thanksgiving morning. The cook rises and goes to the local greenmarket’s special session, hand-selecting the freshest produce for dinner. There is coffee upon returning, and the work begins. Sweet potatoes are peeled and chunked. The mise is gotten in place. The (home-made) bread is cubed and the (home-made) stock is heated, filling the kitchen with the aromas of stuffing. There is more coffee, light music – Vivaldi – and a very light snack. The best of the wine is decanted, to breathe. Someone laboriously yet lovingly assembles the pan of Grandma’s sweet rolls that are the family’s longest-standing holiday tradition. Dessert work is under way, too — perfect wedges of Granny Smith apples are sprinkled with lemon juice, and the ice cream maker is spinning. The heirloom turkey, which was brined yesterday and air-dried overnight in the fridge, goes into the oven. Family arrives. The children express delight at the smells from the kitchen, and show off the construction-paper turkeys they made yesterday at school. The pans of sweet potatoes and herb stuffing go into the oven. The adults open Champagne and talk about politics (everyone is in agreement), Christmas (everyone is well-prepared) and plans to remodel the kitchen (everyone loves the new island). The turkey comes out, and is moved to the carving-board to rest while the pan drippings become gravy. The sweet potatoes are glazed and returned to the oven, to caramelize, and the foil comes off the pan of stuffing, to crisp the top. The sweet rolls go in. The turkey gravy is lush with bits of fond and shreds of meat. The rolls slip cleanly from the pan, the sides are transferred effortlessly from baking pan to serving dishes, the children eagerly take seats at the table, and someone pours five glasses of wine and two of milk. The cooks change into fresh clothes for dinner. The turkey is expertly carved. Dinner is served promptly at two, and ingested in a leisurely manner. Everyone is delighted by the presentation. There is good hot coffee, and dessert, and a nip of apple brandy to go with the pie and ice cream. The adults team up to do the dishes while the children nap, and then all spend a peaceful afternoon and evening together. There might be a board game, or a walk to look at Christmas lights, or even a small game of touch football. There are turkey sandwiches as a very late snack, and the clamor for the leftovers leads to careful division of all that remains.

Pennies A Day

By Alan Brouilette

Food

The Northwest chapters of the Slow Food organization want you to help save the heirloom turkey. Similar to the ubiquitous heirloom tomatoes, there are old-fashioned varieties of the turkey still raised in the United States. If you are interested in an American Bronze turkey for Thanksgiving this year, you have to place your order with Slow Food by April 1.”

This put anybody besides me in mind of the old Sally Struthers TV spots urging you to adopt a Third-World child?  The ones that promised “a photo and a letter once a month,” detailing progress and thanking you for your support?

As an incoming high-school freshman, I weighed 170 pounds. Sixteen years later, I weighed somewhere slightly north of 315. That’s a gain of 145. So, with much respect to the late great Allan Sherman, I would like to explain how it came to pass that I got fat:

I’m in Kansas City this week, and have spent most of my time here thinking about barbecue.  I’ve been an evangelist for barbecue about twelve years, and I should probably explain how this came to be.

Amuse-bouche

By Alan Brouilette

Food

I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I do. But I don’t want to. I could throw out a CV, with articles and citations. I could throw you a family heirloom guilty-pleasure reverse-snobbery recipe from the fifties. I could yammer about obscure restaurants or the importance of pure ingredients or “the joys of authentic sushi” or any of a zillion other things. I could fake it, y’know? Look up some African restaurant no one’s ever been to and Asian fruits no one’s heard of and a couple of microbrews no one’s invented yet and wax poetic on ’em. Talk about how green sapote tastes just like chocolate pudding and tut-tut that more Americans aren’t adventurous eaters. (With the “like me” implied.) Wave my bona fides atcha like a puffed-up pigeon, strutting and looking for a fight.