I Love New York
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.
Locust Grove Fruit Farm
The trees at Locust Grove Fruit Farm in Milton, New York, do not stand in the perfect lines that you would imagine in a successful commercial orchard. Surveying it, Chip Kent grins: “We aren’t that symmetrical. Look around—there are trees going down, up, and across the hills. Every inch of this place is utilized.” He proudly defends the haphazard planting scheme as the culmination of seven generations of work that his family has put into this land. Over half of the space is devoted to New York’s state fruit and a Hudson Valley specialty: apples.
Chip moves about the place in a fully restored Ford Model T that his grandfather bought in 1926. He loads it with apples destined for the local market; this morning he’s driven it down the steep hill to the Hudson River. As fog drifts along the terrain, escorting with it a wave of tree-ripened perfume, Chip discusses the orchard’s proximity to water. “Ask my father, Jim, and he will tell you that the reflected moonlight off of the river adds more flavor to our fruit.” Offering a more scientifically grounded explanation, he says, “Breezes come off the water and create a constant airflow around the property. Wind wards off potential fungus and creates an earlier harvest timetable, meaning a lower chance of late-season frost.”
Most of the apple trees grow on the back hills of the property in well-draining soil, scattered among pear, quince, and plum trees in a patch work. Locust Grove Fruit Farm expertly nurtures close to fifty varieties of apples and harvests them from late July to early December. Chip pulls out an elegant, hand-inscribed list, one that delineates every variety of produce he grows. He makes copies of it, distributing it to potential clients. Gazing at it, he confesses his greatest bias: “My favorite is the Golden Delicious.” When this sweet-tart apple is crossed with the Cox’s Orange Pippin, the result is another of Chip’s favorites: the Suncrisp. Among all of these delights, there is one heirloom tree on the property that he is particularly fond of. Fifteen years ago, Chip’s uncle threatened to cut it down. “To ward him off, I ate every last apple from the tree” just to prove it was worth keeping. From that time, the tree’s apples became known as Chipper apples. This unique variety speaks to the heroic effort Chip made to save it, and, he says, “People ask specially for this apple at the market,” loving it not only for its heirloom characteristics but also because of its unique association with Locust Grove.
Locust Grove Fruit Farm’s commitment to growing extraordinary fruit honors the Hudson Valley apple farming tradition. It is because of the dedication of farmers like Chip that close to 120 varieties of apples abound at the Greenmarket today—a dramatic improvement over the selection of perhaps four varieties that were available a mere twenty years ago. Now, Chip is working on a plan that will enable him to invite more people to see his glorious orchards. A 250-year-old abandoned farmhouse on the property is begging for some restorative attention. Chip envisions its destiny: a brewpub. Playfully, he lets us know what his role will be in this venture: “I’ll help cut wood for the fires, but the cooking. . . that’s for somebody else.”
New York Sour
Jerry Thomas, affectionately called the Father of the Cocktail, described sours in his 1862 book, Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks, the first recipe book for bartenders. After traveling the world in search of the latest in all things cocktails, Thomas opened his most celebrated bar on Broadway and 22nd Street. Our version of Thomas’s sour is made with apple brandy from Laird’s, America’s first commercial distillery. Opened in Scobeyville, New Jersey, and in operation since 1780, Laird’s has supplied everyone from George Washington’s troops to visiting foreign dignitaries with its legendary apple-based spirits.
6 Red Delicious apples
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar
Peel the apples with a paring knife, being sure to leave some of the flesh (about 1/4 inch thick) attached to the peel. You should have about 2 cups of peels. Toss the peels with the sugar in a medium bowl. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 3 days.
After 3 days, combine the vinegar with 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the hot liquid over the apple peels and sugar. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Cover the container and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 days. Shake the mixture to ensure all of the sugar has dissolved and then strain through a chinois, reserving only the liquid. Note: Any leftover apple shrub can be served over ice and topped with sparkling water to make a refreshing nonalcoholic beverage.
1/2 cup sugar
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar with 1/2 cup of water. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Note: Simple syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month and can be used to sweeten iced tea, lemonade, or cocktails.
8 ounces Laird’s 12-year-old apple brandy
3 ounces lemon juice
4 egg whites
Combine 2 ounces of apple brandy, 3/4 ounce of lemon juice, 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, and 1 egg white in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass and slowly layer 1/2 ounce of apple shrub over the drink. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, to serve 4.
Wells Homestead Farm
In Long Island’s Suffolk County, Lyle Wells, an eleventh-generation farmer, grows sensational asparagus. Although some of it makes it into some of Manhattan’s most esteemed restaurants, most of it is sold locally, flying off the Wells Homestead shelves in Riverhead. “Two months out of the year I get to sell asparagus, and unlike some crops that I need to actively move, I’ve never had to pick up the phone once. Never once,” Lyle says.
Opting out of rigid field organization and standard row arrangement, Lyle allows the asparagus to pop up wherever they please, and the effect is that of a miniature forest. Densely clustered stalks grow from the plant’s base, called a crown. Once the crown is set, the plant takes two years to yield an edible crop. Only then does it begin to produce vegetables perennially. In very hot weather, asparagus stalks grow rapidly and become overly woody; this signals the end of the harvest season. However, they are purposely left in the field to flower while they fully mature to the fern stage. This induces more photosynthesis and prepares each plant for the next season’s crop. Unless there is an asparagus beetle to combat (these feed on the spears and cripple the asparagus), Lyle has the luxury of being able to say, “I don’t really have to do much.”
Although part of Lyle’s success with asparagus can be attributed to the ease of growing it, part of it also comes from the fact that farming is in his blood. His family history on this same land stretches back 350 years—the longest any Riverhead family has ever owned a piece of property. With deep family roots in Long Island, Lyle is wholeheartedly dedicated to the land and the work that he himself has been doing for over thirty years. On the whole, he says, “It’s not easy, and if it was, everybody would be farming.” His connection with the profession
somewhat reflects the nature of his favorite crop—after the asparagus is set, it will continue to produce for nearly two decades. Lyle finds ease and comfort in this long-term commitment, as he ensures prosperity for the next generation of Wells family farmers one harvest at a time.
28 large asparagus
4 cloves garlic, crushed but kept whole
4 (1/8-inch-thick) slices lemon
4 sprigs thyme
4 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the outer leaves from the asparagus tips, forming tight points. Trim away the woody ends of the asparagus and peel the stalks from the point down. Tie the asparagus with butcher’s twine in 4 bundles of 7. Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper a little larger than twice the size of the asparagus bundles. Place 1 asparagus bundle on each piece of paper. Place 1 garlic clove, 1 lemon slice, and 1 thyme sprig on each bundle. Top with 1 tablespoon of butter and season with salt to taste. Fold the paper over the bundle to enclose, and fold the edges together to seal, creating a parchment paper pouch around the asparagus. Place the asparagus packages on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest in the pouches for 2 minutes before serving. Alternatively, you can grill the asparagus in their pouches over a grill.