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Let Them Eat Tomato Cake

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Sometimes I actually listen to my customers. After finishing her meal, Meirav Devash, turned to me and said that I should make a shortcake. Being a huge fan of Strawberry Shortcake (both the character and the delicious dessert) I agreed. Only I didn’t wind up making a shortcake. I also didn’t wind up making a dessert. But that’s how things go at Dirt Candy – someone asks for shortcake and somehow they get Tomato Cake with Smoked Feta, and Cherry Tomato Leather.

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How did this happen?

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Big Kitchens, Big Drinks, Lots of Vegetables

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This past Wednesday I was invited to participate in the New Taste of the Upper West Side’s Vegetable Dinner at Dovetail. People paid $195 for dinner, and got all-vegetable courses from a bunch of chefs: I did the amuse bouche, then there were courses from Dovetail’s John Fraser, Harold Dietrle of Perilla and Kin Shop, Missy Robbins of A Voce, Ed Brown of Ed’s Chowder House, and Christian Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar. Even though I wasn’t included in the publicity materials, I really was there.

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I could not be driven.

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This was a strange event for me (although it wound up being a lot of fun), and I’ve got a lot to say about it, and you probably don’t have a lot of time, so in the spirit of a picture being worth 1000 words on today’s open market, I’ll be telling my story in pictures.

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Normally I’m in a cab crammed with food and my staff,
but this time it was only me. I did the event all alone.

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It was so lonely. Just me and my milk crates.

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I’m one of those people who’s always on time, and I was told to be there at 4pm. I got stuck in traffic and didn’t show up until 4:45, but it didn’t stress me out at all. Normally I’d be crawling the walls, but I was really proud of myself. This time I’d be the one to stroll in fashionably late. So I showed up at Dovetail and I found…

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…an empty restaurant. I found John and he said
“Oh, yeah. No one would ever be here this early.”

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Here’s John. (And me. It’s my blog so, by law, I have to appear
in every photo featuring another chef).

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The kitchen at Dovetail is huge, like the massive, sweeping prairie.
Knowing I wouldn’t be comfortable out in the middle of all that space where
anyone could just sneak up on me from behind, they gave me this tiny
corner where I could feel at home.

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The strangest thing about Dovetail is all the staff. The second your
dish was ready to be plated these…people would just come from out of
nowhere and hunch over your plates and start their plating frenzy.
Then they’d stop and…

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…there were your dishes. Plated! It wasn’t just me…

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…everyone’s plates took up all the surfaces and the plating
monsters swarmed them all, like killer kitchen ants.

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Missy Robbins of A Voce did a Barley Risotto with a Nettle Puree
and a cheese that none of the rest of us could pronounce (or even spell).

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Adam, from A Voce. I felt naked for not rolling with a crew.

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Halfway through the night, drinks started to arrive. This
is where things got fuzzy, but I did the amuse bouche so my dish was
already out. Kitchen fun fact: everyone drinks from quart containers.

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Even when we went up to the bar later, they knew that we kitchen
people would be uncomfortable with actual glasses in our hands.

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Lots of late-night drinking ensued, during which I learned that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Talking to John, Missy, Harold, and the rest of them, you realize that if you’re a chef, you just keep working this hard forever. We all slog away, six days a week, working crazy-long hours (12+ most days), and we all think that other chefs have it easier, when, in fact, we’ve all got it just about the same.

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Then on the way home I found a hand exerciser in
my cab. So maybe things are turning around? I’ll have
a more powerful grip?

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Meet our Wine Zoo: Zafeirakis Malagousia

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Dirt Candy doesn’t have much room to store cases of wine, so rather than offering people the same old list of Syrahs, Cabernets, Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios and all the rest of the usual suspects I thought I’d make up a wine list of the strangest and most unusual wines I could find, sort of like a wine zoo for exotic animals.

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One thing I’ve learned as the keeper of the Dirt Candy Wine Zoo is that if I see a Greek wine, I’m going to give it a chance. Some of the most surprising wines I’ve tasted over the past 3 years have been Greek, and while the Dirt Candy wine list was getting a bit mainstream for a while there, with the advent of the Touch of Classe and now this Malagousia from the Zafeirakis winery in Greece, we’re back to full-on freak status.

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Have you ever had wine that tastes like fresh, first pressing, extra virgin olive oil? A wine so silken and heavy it just slides down your throat like a golden draught of honey? No? Then you should try this one.

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Dirt Candy Design Contest!

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Okay, so I’m getting ready to start selling a Dirt Candy t-shirt, and I’ve realized that I can’t make people pay for a shirt that’s nothing more than a t-shirt with a Dirt Candy logo slapped on it. I’m turning to you guys, the fabulous designers, artists, and illustrators who are my customers (and even the ones who are not my customers) and asking for your help.

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I want you to design the Dirt Candy t-shirt. My one request is that it incorporates the logo…somehow.

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I’ll be taking submissions from now (right now!) until Thursday, May 24th. If you want a Photoshop copy of the logo to work with, just email me at info at dirtcandynyc dot com and I’ll send one over to you right away. And you can submit a jpg of your design to that same email address. If we pick you, we’ll email you for a more high resolution file.

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What do you get for designing this bold new look for Dirt Candy shirts? The winning design will get a free dinner for two at the restaurant, and you’ll be credited (or your company will be credited, or whatever name you want will be credited) as the designer of the shirt in the Dirt Candy online store (when it opens, which will hopefully be in July).

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Not what I had in mind.

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Small print section: the t-shirts I want to use are white women’s and men’s shirts, but if another color is crucial to your design, I’m open to it. Right now I’ve sourced Gildan SoftStyle Fitted T-Shirts with round necks, not with plunging neck lines that show chest hair. I really want the design to work for both men’s and women’s shirts, but if you come up with two gender-specific designs, I’m good with that, too.

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Most of all, I want you to mutate, mutilate, mayhem-ate, and make most awesome the Dirt Candy logo as you come up with the Best. T-Shirt. Design. Ever.

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This designer has a lot of heart!

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(Really funny designs may get an extra honorable mention prize.)

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Lady Chef Stampede: Chu Niang

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I’m holding a Lady Chef Stampede! For the rest of the year, and maybe beyond, I’ll be posting about the dozens of women who changed the history of food. Whether they’re chefs, restauranteurs, or writers, these are the women on whose shoulders we’re all standing.

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Chu niang is not an person, it’s a whole class of professional female chefs who were the rock stars of China’s Song Dynasty (960 – 1279). Far more popular than male chefs, they charged more money for their services, were held in higher esteem, and cooked elaborate meals for nobility and scholars like hired guns who blew into a household to dazzle an important guest with a jaw-dropping meal, then disappeared in a puff of cash. They were so popular that there was actually a chu niang shortage at one point, which led to the founding of a women-only cooking school expressly opened to meet the demand.

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There’s a much repeated story online about Son San Niang, who was a famous chu niang. Hired by premier Wang Zeng, who had agreed to host a Thousand Guest Banquet, she arrived with her staff of 80 (made up mostly of women and a few men) and instantly set up the kitchen like a war room. She sat at one end of the room on a raised platform, flanked by female assistants who would run orders to the various stations.

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Her chefs set up their stations facing her, and Son San Niang communicated with them through a complicated series of signals made with colored flags. There were blue, red, yellow, purple, and white flags and each one was matched to the color of the uniforms of chefs at certain stations. The flags would signal for the relevant chef to start steaming, to double-boil, deep fry, stop cooking, start plating. Son sat on her platform and oversaw the meal prep like a general directing her troops.

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Before chu niang, Chinese women cooked, but they cooked at home. Many of them were required to take professional cooking lessons before marriage, and a housewife who was in charge of her own kitchen was called a zhongkui. But chu niang weren’t just excellent home cooks. They were paid for their work, and valued for their skills, not their baby-making potential. They weren’t cooking for their husband and children, they were cooking for important and influential men. Chefs were wildly powerful in China. The country’s first documented chef, Yi Yin, was also a Shang Dynasty prime minister, known as “God of the Kitchen” due to the massive influence he had on the policies of the Shang king.

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Chu niang were cooking food during the Song Dynasty and practicing the most elevated and refined style of Chinese cuisine. The Song was an innovative era in Chinese history that saw the invention of gunpowder and the production of the world’s first paper banknotes. It was a time when learning, literature, and art hit new heights, and right there with them, the chu niang were pushing Chinese cuisine to a higher level and protecting the traditions of the past. For 300 years, chu niang were Chinese food. For that alone, they deserve some respect.

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Attacked By Squirrels

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I know that a lot of people wish Dirt Candy took more walk-ins and I know that it’s frustrating when you come down here and the restaurant is full and I can’t seat you, but that’s no reason to just barge into Dirt Candy and seat yourself. And I wish someone would tell this to the squirrels, because on Friday night, that’s exactly what one of them did.

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“Squirrel, party of one.
Coming through.”

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Lady Chef Stampede: Edna Lewis

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I’m holding a Lady Chef Stampede! For the rest of the year, and maybe beyond, I’ll be posting about the dozens of women who changed the history of food. Whether they’re chefs, restauranteurs, or writers, these are the women on whose shoulders we’re all standing.

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Edna Lewis

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The granddaughter of slaves, Edna Lewis was born on April 13, 1916 in Virginia. She left home at 16, after her father died, and wound up in New York City where she ironed in an industrial laundry, worked for the Daily Worker, and campaigned for FDR. In 1948, she and antiques dealer, John Nicholson, opened her restaurant, Café Nicholson on 323 East 58th Street (right between First and Second Avenue). It was filled with people like Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Marlene Dietrich, and Richard Avedon. She cooked there until the late 1950′s, and then in the 1960′s she broke her leg so badly she had to stop cooking professionally for a time. Since then, her cookbooks, chefing stints at Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, her classes, and guest cooking jobs across the country have made her famous and influential.

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Judith Jones, who edited Julia Child at Knopf, encouraged Lewis to write cookbooks and she wrote four, the first two of which, The Edna Lewis Cookbook and The Taste of Country Cooking, got rave reviews and were extremely influential. Edna Lewis died in her sleep on February 13, 2006, but between being born in Virginia, and passing away in Georgia, she changed cooking in New York City and across the country, and she earned Southern cuisine a hell of a lot of respect.

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(A review and potted history of Cafe Nicholson from the New York Times)

(Edna Lewis on Wikipedia)

(A long  bio of Edna Lewis)

(A short documentary on Edna Lewis)

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Goodbye, Jesus

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Jesus left Dirt Candy over a year ago, but he was my sous chef and my friend, and part of him will always be a part of Dirt Candy. We have a handle that we use to open up the basement hatch which we all have to do about 100 times each day. It was always getting lost, so one night Jesus braided together this rope for the handle out of plastic wrap, just like a kid at summer camp making lanyards.

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It wore out recently, and so I had to throw it away. It was the last thing that Jesus did that was still here. So from now on, while he’ll always be a part of Dirt Candy, it’ll only be in spirit.

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menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Tomato $13
tomato cake with smoked feta,
yellow tomato leather, herb puree

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll$10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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FacebookButton

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