A Moment in New York Cuisine
We were drinking Manhattans in a Paris hotel bar when Daniel first told me that he wanted to write a book about New York cuisine. It was a statement prompted by an ongoing conversation the two of us had been having, reflecting on trips we had taken over the past couple of years, to Lyon, Paris, Tokyo, Piedmont, discussing how in each of these places, there is a collective pride in place—each city’s cuisine a celebration of its home.
Yet in New York City, one of the greatest dining cities in the world, it has never been this way. Here, for the most part, our cuisine has always had a sense of place somewhere else in the world. Our city, so often referred to as a melting pot, is brimming with virtually every culture and tradition. As a result, you can get almost everything here simply by going to an ethnic neighborhood—that microcosm of a foreign country—or to a local distributor. It’s one of the coolest things about living in New York, but it can also be our downfall. Too often, because everything is available all the time, we forget to look at what’s growing in our backyard. In spite of the fact that New York is one of the greatest agricultural regions in the world, we have never fully developed our own identity.
So we decided to write this book—to play our part in the conversation to define “What is New York Cuisine?” and to join the growing local movement that has begun to take shape around us.
We acknowledged early on that a local cuisine begins with its local ingredients. This book, then, we realized, had to be not only a collection of recipes but also a collection of the ingredients that comprise them and of the incredible men and women who work tirelessly to make their existence a reality. There was a lot we needed to learn.
So Daniel and his team spent weeks driving around New York, visiting countless farmers who cultivate amazing ingredients, learning about their land and their crops, tasting their products. What he found along the way was that New York is full of lush farmland and dedicated farmers who are producing some extraordinary things. We found that their stories are compelling, their products outstanding, and their commitment to preserving the New York agricultural tradition exemplary. He chose to highlight the farms and ingredients that he had come to respect the most on his travels throughout the state. The more he learned about these farms and their farmers, the more we became interested in New York’s culinary trajectory throughout the ages.
This took us beyond the ingredients, to the historical narratives, and more research—and we quickly discovered that although our city’s culinary identity is not quite intact, there are some wonderfully unique traditions that have existed over the years. We became obsessed with egg creams and soda fountains and Delmonico steak. We learned about their origins and their evolutions, about the legends that surrounded them and the people who invented them. An entire genre of food that was classically New York—smoked fish, potato chips, the oyster pan roast—all these dishes speak to this city’s history not only as America’s immigrant melting pot but also as a rich agricultural center. We decided to include these recipes and stories as well, because they had their cultural roots here in New York, but, perhaps even more so, because they had their agricultural roots here, too.
And so it was there in that Paris hotel bar sipping on that quintessential New York cocktail, reflecting on our relationship with New York and our budding fascination with it, that we decided to write this book. But it was through the process of writing it that we learned to fully understand the magnificence of our hometown—not only because of its lush farmland and the people that cultivate it, but also because its centuries-old culinary narrative has left an indelible imprint on American history. And we realized, in the humblest of terms, just as generations of immigrants and entrepreneurs had before us, that we love New York.
Nettle Toast with Lardo
4 cups nettles
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon diced (1/8 inch) shallot
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 (1/4-inch-thick) bias-cut slices of baguette
1 cup ricotta
8 (1⁄16-inch thick) slices lardo
Pickled Red Pearl Onions (page 501)
Ground black pepper
Wearing gloves, remove the stems from the nettles and discard.
In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sweat until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the nettles and sauté until wilted. Season with salt to taste and cool on paper towels.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the baguette slices and cook on one side until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and pat off excess oil on a paper towel. Top each toasted side of the baguette slices with ricotta and sautéed nettles. Cover with a slice of lardo and garnish with the pickled red pearl onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Revue de presse
—Mimi Sheraton, food journalist and former restaurant critic of the New York Times and other publications