For forty of the past seventy days I’ve been on the road, with another two weeks to go before I can settle into the holidays, and perhaps the biggest thing I learned was how hard it is to find good, nourishing food when traveling, especially when you live in a Marriott Courtyard. I spent ten days, for instance, at one such Marriott in the infernal (temperature-wise) San Fernando Valley while filming a new cooking competition show. (Kitchen Inferno airs this Wednesday on Food Network—let me know what you think!)
True, there was a Whole Foods within a fifteen-minute walk, where I could buy grapes and almonds for the room, and I could have hit the salad bar, but I don’t like to eat out of plastic clamshell containers. By myself. In a shitty hotel room. Sorry Marriott, but there it is. So I and my fellow judges, Judy Joo (who is every bit as hot as she looks on TV) and Daniel Green, were at the mercy of the chains, P.F. Chang’s and Cheesecake Factory.
Did you know that the Cheesecake Factory offers three—three!—sizes of Caesar salads? I squeezed past the waiting line (every night there was a wait for a table, Jesus) to grab the single vacant chair at the bar. The bartender described the three sizes with the hoop of his arms and asked, how hungry I was. I said, “Hungry but not starved.” He said, “The small should be plenty,” then asked if I’d like chicken on top.
When will America stop equating quantity with value?
Then ten more days as writer-in-rez at Old Dominion University, a Marriott again, but I didn’t even have the options I’d had in the Valley. Yes, there was sugary granola and unripe bananas in the lobby for breakfast, but otherwise I was at the mercy of Starbucks’ sugar-laden pastries for breakfast and bar food at night. Ten days is a long time. Happily, the writer Mike Pearson and his lovely wife Jo-Ellen had me to dinner for a soul-satisfying curry, and my BFF, Blake Bailey, took me to the restaurant Stove for a splendid meal. (The locally revered chef greeted the table and, learning who I was—Blake is a terrible brag, bless him—the chef asked if I would sign his copy of my book. I’d be honored, I said. He returned and handed me this. I almost considered signing it.
And from there I flew to DC for a private event, where the awesome chef-restaurateur Bryan Voltaggio and his stellar staff put together a great five-course meal for sixty special guests. But the highlight for me was the lamb burger at the bar at Range for lunch. I highly recommend the restaurant, even when I’m not there to tell Chef Pardus stories.
I did a similar event Wednesday night at the Morven Museum in Princeton (attended by Dr. Nancy Snyderman, just out of Ebola quarantine, whose reporting I admire, and whom I found adorable on sight, and she just kept getting more adorable as the night wore on—Nancy, tell viewers your story about eating with so many cultural cuisines while in lockup!).
The meal was prepared by Max Hansen, who, it turns out, worked as a cook for Thomas Keller at Rakel in the late eighties. Great Keller stories from his early days! And a great, great meal featuring scallops from an hour and a half a way, and locally grown risotto! They grow risotto-style rices in New Jersey—who knew?
I had flown in from LA that morning after pitching the major cable networks a scripted chef drama. It’s going to be a hard sell, but it’s a great cast of characters and a chef story that’s yet to be told, so keep your fingers crossed.
(For those who travel a lot, and use Uber and Lyft, which I love: there’s a new and different ride service called Blacklane. The company emailed me and asked me to try it, on them, and I did. What’s different and valuable about this service is that it allows you to preorder car service. So when I arrived at the Austin airport for my flight to LAX, I punched the details into the app on my iPhone, and a car and driver were waiting for me when I arrived to take me to my pal Margie’s house in Hollywood; Margie is currently casting the next three Avatar movies. Margie is the cooler older sister I never had.)
The food highlight of LA was lunch at Sugarfish in Brentwood, near the HBO offices, and it was some of the cleanest and finest sushi I’ve had in ages. Highly recommend. Also had splendid pasta with bottarga and veal with lemon sauce at Modeo. I love the absolute simplicity of Italian cuisine (even when it’s a tad pricy—thanks, Alagrav and rlagravenese, and hi, Lily!). And I always try to go to Farmshop in Brentwood, where I had the loveliest of red rice salads, the day before (photo above by my suh-weet! iPhone 6 camera). So, in LA, I was very well nourished indeed.
But the highlight of all these travels? Showing up at the cooking tent at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, where I was promoting my new book How to Roast (the link is to Amazon but please buy from some other place as Amazon is harming authors). I had agreed to demo how to roast a chicken—minus step three—as well as how to roast red peppers, and how to roast broccoli, and when I got to the tent, there were no ovens. Anywhere. And certainly not in the cooking tent. A quick tweet to Michael Symon and I had a plan! Spatchcock the fucker and “roast” it in a cast-iron pan, whilst smashing it down with another pan. In 45 minutes I had great bird, had told some cooking stories, and made a quick pan sauce (to serve with the stovetop “roasted” broccoli and properly roasted red peppers).
I was so soaked with sweat from the Austin heat and the stovetop cooking that someone asked me if they could get me a fresh shirt, as they had T-shirts for the festival.
But I sold a lot of books! Thanks, Austin. (Oh, and while there, for those of you who live in Dallas and care, I met the Wylie H. Dallas, a total fluke, caught him FBing at a bar! I’m sworn to secrecy as to the person’s identity—it was made clear my life depended on it.)
And now I get to be home for four nights! Hurray! And all I want is to stay in my jammies and read and sleep and cook nourishing food for my family and watch the Cavs and the Browns.
Being on the road is so disorienting, I just remembered it’s Halloween!
Halloween was my dad’s favorite holiday. Happy Halloween, Dad, I miss you. Happy Halloween, all!
If you liked this post on roasted and braised turkey, check out these other links:
- My recent post on Roast, Pigstock TC 2014, and What If You Hate Cooking Dinner.
- Todd Porter and Diane Cu are my friends at White on Rice Couple.
- Something fun to make this weekend would be a minty and chocolatey batch of Peppermint Patties.
© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.