July 30, 2011
Can this femme writer survive her meat-and-bourbon-centric Esquire Mag. “Eat Like A Man” Dinner at Restaurant Eugene? Read on.
By Felicia Feaster
Intrepid reporter Felicia Feaster enters into the testosterone-heavy fray of diners at a recent Restaurant Eugene Author’s Dinner to find out “How To Eat Like a Man “ with Esquire magazine author (and part-time Marietta resident) Tom Junod, how to sip bourbon neat and, gasp, nearly skip dessert…plus the macho dinner table convo turned up some semi-salacious dish on Nicole Kidman and talk of the hallowed glories of Valdosta football. Here’s the play-by-play of Feaster’s butch-focused banquet:
I eat like a girl. Chopped salads, tea with milk and honey, cupcakes, quiche, tuna fish sandwiches, ceviche and gazpacho. Foods which I have found men disdain, mostly I suspect, because they are cold. Ever since they discovered fire men have had a thing about cooked food. Because I drink bourbon, I occasionally fool myself into believing I have ballsy food tastes. But my father, a Green Beret who can tie a maraschino cherry stem into a knot in his mouth, and who recently pulled a pit bull off of a golden retriever at his Florida dog run by sticking his thumbs into the hinge of the dog’s mouth, liberated me of that fallacy. He informed me that the way I drink bourbon, with ginger ale and a splash of Angostura—which local barkeep Jerry Slater informed me is a Presbyterian—is girly. Needless to say, my father drinks his bourbon neat when he’s not using it to clean machete injuries and other medicinal purposes.
It was hard not to ponder the culinary gender divide, and my place in it, during a recent Restaurant Eugene Author Dinner staged on a sweltering July night, celebrating the meta-tome of testosterol cookery from the editors and writers of Esquire, Eat Like A Man (Chronicle Books). Even despite my estrogen cross to bear, it was thrilling to graze—if for one night only—among a ribeye devouring cadre of men and their fellow travelers. It was all for a good cause, one which I consistently support: men slaving over a hot stove.
Restaurant Eugene owner, chef and lord of his own foodie empire, Linton Hopkins feted his guest of honor, Marietta-based Esquire writer and contributor to Eat Like A Man, Tom Junod, and a gaggle of bookish types, including Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine editors and writers and other literary sorts, who have the gumption to read beyond a 250 word Huffington Post dispatch.
Guests enjoyed a grilled ribeye steak the size of a paperback Thy Neighbor’s Wife with creamed spinach and pancetta- studded potatoes and a deliciously saline hot pot with plump, nearly alabaster shrimp and other habitues of the sea. “Men don’t eat desserts” Junod stated, and Restaurant Eugene’s director of hospitality and fruition Judith Winfrey copped to the cliche that sweet and salty do not mix. “We thought about just serving scotch!” she said. A plaintive communal sigh escaped the men in the room, while the women seemed relieved they would not have to drink their dessert. They were instead rewarded for their good sportsmanship with a fruit crisp with cardamom cream.
“This food writing thing can be very addictive” Junod stressed addressing the crowd of diners, as he scrolled through his literary journey from Atlanta magazine, to Sports Illustrated to GQ and finally, Esquire. Though he stressed again and again that he is not really a food writer, Junod’s course was set early on when he divined that his mother had substituted mashed potatoes at the family dinner table with boxed flakes, a lighting bolt moment for a child sensing the frailties of his parent included in the Eat Like A Man essay “My Mom Couldn’t Cook.”
A winner of two National Magazine Awards, Junod has bitten off heart-wrenching essays on the identity of the iconic man who jumped from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 (http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN) and a saucy celebrity profile of Nicole Kidman, which involved getting the star tipsy and also chastely frolicking in Junod’s Sydney hotel bed (http://www.esquire.com/features/nicole-kidman-gallery-0899), a fact he dangled cruelly before little Tom Cruise when he phoned up to Junod’s room to ask what was keeping his wife.The Scottish Daily Record called Junod “the man who started the rot in Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's marriage.” Such reportage larks are apparently a thing of the past, as Junod admitted that the usual two to three day celebrity interview has now dwindled to two or three hours, and naturally it is much harder to get a celebrity into bed in that time frame.
Wearing white to the face, as per his dapper father’s sartorial directives (http://www.gq.com/style/grooming/200706/fashion-generation-tips-national-magazine-award?currentPage=1) Junod entertained diners with an abbreviated slice of his James Beard Foundation Award-winning essay “My Mom Couldn’t Cook” that is both wistful and world-weary, as is Junod’s way. It is also about the lead weight for some women, of the feminine arts of cooking and domestic nest-making. Probably not Junod’s intent, but it was one of my takeaways.
So what do men who are not just simply eaters but connoisseurs of food, talk about when they eat manly-style after a few of barkeep Greg Best’s King Street Derbys (grapefruit, bulleit bourbon, sorghum syrump, bitters) under their belts? For one, they talk about restaurants: Seeger’s, Miller Union, Floataway, Bocado, Serpas, back to Seeger’s, Deacon Burton’s and Carver’s Country Kitchen, whose location no one at the table was able to adequately pinpoint, only adding to its insider allure.) Also on the conversational table: a Valdosta mother’s homemade mayonnaise recipe, personal ads in The New York Review of Books (add joke here) and fried oysters. No one uttered a word about cupcakes.
They also talked about football, which should not come as a surprise since I have yet to sit at a table where the boys outnumber the girls where balls do not come up. Junod also talked about balls, and kidneys and sweetbreads and brains, all of which he consumed on a journalistic mission to, in essence, man up, which is described in his deep-into-offal Eat Like A Man essay “Those Parts.” Sample quote: “There’s something forbidden about it, something secret by the body’s own designs and therefore taboo: it’s the other dark meat.”
At the end of the meal a long narrow plate like a gang plank was set on the table. There were olive oil financiers like buttons, pecan cookies in what looked in the dim lighting, to be a shade of pink and mocha marshmallows. They all looked suspiciously like something a girl would eat. Maybe such dainties were meant to quell the chest beating and usher the menfolk back into the domesticated female fold. Or maybe, just maybe, after a night of guy food, every man—defying the palate of his gender—secretly just wants something sweet.
An Excerpted Passage from Tom Junod's "My Mom Couldn't Cook" Essay:
“My mother, Frances Junod, was not just a mother, not just a mom. She was a dame. She was a broad. She went through her entire life as a Harlow-esque platinum blonde, and I never knew the real color of her hair. She liked to go to the track, and she liked to go out to restaurants. She did not like to cook. That she did it anyway—that she had no choice—owed itself to generational expectations, and to the fact that if my mother was a doll, in the Runyon-esque sense of the word, my father was a guy, a pinky-ringed sharpie who spent many nights going to the New York City restuarants my mother longed to frequent, but who, on when nights when he came home, loudly expected food on the table.
So my mom put food on the table. She cooked three hundred nights a year.
She cooked spaghetti with butter and cheese. She cooked hamburgers, panfried without added fat on a hot, salted cast-iron skillet, until they formed a hard crust. She cooked scrambled eggs, made idiosyncratic by the addition of a teaspoon of water....For dessert she made Junket or Jell-O or My-T-Fine chocolate pudding....
Like most human beings I grew up making the connection between food and love; what I began to realize when I started cooking for myself was that the more necessary connection was between food and honesty. “Oh I am a terrible fibber,” my mom would say and then blithely assert that she’d spent “hours over a hot stove” cooking the package of frozen Banquet fried-chicken drumsticks on our plates. She’d say this with a knowing cackle that served simultaenously as an admission of guilt and warning that we must never say that she was guilty. Food was love all right, and we had to tell my mom we loved her by swallowing a fiction that everybody knew was untrue.”
The "Eat Like A Man" Restaurant Eugene Menu:
Passed hors d’oeuvre: Mini Croque Monsieurs
Stoudts, American pale ale, Adamstown, PA
King Street Derby cocktail
Seafood Hot Pot
Shrimp, clams, mussels, grouper, sturgeon, tomato fondue
Shaya, verdejo, old vines, Rueda, Spain
Grilled Ribeye Steak
Creamed Spinach, Potatoes with Pancetta
Domaine Georg Rafael, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, 2001
Peaches, golden raisins, almond streusel, amaretto, cardamom cream
Barerre, cancaillau, gourmandise, jurancon, France, 1995
The How To Eat Like a Man Cookbook
Packed with recipes, personal essays by Junod and others, and dinner party tips, Eat Like A Man features an intro by Tom Colicchio and recipe contributions by David Chang, Sean Brock, Mario Batali, John Besh, Eric Ripert and many other, mostly male, pantheon chefs. Several locals also make an appearance. There’s a recipe for Hugh Acheson’s bread ‘n’ butter pickles, Scott Peacock’s oyster stew, Ria Pell’s fish and grits and a work-horse roast chicken recipe from Hopkins with just three ingredients: chicken, kosher salt and black pepper. “That chicken is so dumb,” says Hopkins of the elegant simplicity of his contribution--- conjuring up a cozy scene of a man cooking for his family and “waiting for the chicken to roast while you’re doing your kids’ homework.” See recipe here:
Linton Hopkin’s “Dumb” Roast Chicken Recipe
One 3-31/2 lb. Chicken (preferably free-range and air-chilled)
1 Tb. Kosher salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.
Rinse the chicken inside and out under cold running water. Using paper towels, dry the bird thoroughly inside and out. The chicken must be bone-dry or it will steam rather than brown. Set it in a cast-iron skillet and generously season with the salt and pepper to tatse. Place the skillet in the preheated oven and go about your business (kid’s homework?) ro about 45 minutes.
Slit the underside of a thigh—the juices should run clear. The high heat turns the chicken into a golden brown and it’s juicy as hell.
*To fancy up this “unpretentious chicken,” Linton recommends putting a cut lemon or a few stems of rosemary or your favorite herb in the cavity during the roasting. Or halfway through the cooking you can add some uniformly diced carrots or potatoes. Post cooking, use about half of the rendered fat remaining in the pan to sauté some greens.