You’re drinking a Sazerac. Rough day?
It’s the one cocktail that’s truly American. It’s something that I fell in love with when I was in New Orleans and I think they make a great one here [at Bar DeVille]. One of my go-to drinks is the Hemingway Daiquiri. That’s the one drink that I can make from memory, I can make it anywhere in the world as long as I have the ingredients. It’s preferably Flor de Cana seven years aged rum with simple syrup, fresh lime juice, fresh grapefruit juice and about a quarter of an ounce of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. Shaken, strained, poured neat and not on the rocks. That is the drink that Hemingway had at La Florida.
Growing up your family wasn’t into cooking yet somehow you wound up as ABC 7’s “The Hungry Hound”.
Wasn’t into it is an understatement. I was the baby of my family, my sister is 12 years older than me and my brother is nine years older than me so by the time I was being raised my mom was already in her early 40s and was like, “Enough. I don’t want to cook anymore!” We lived in St. Cloud, Minn. which was 60 miles north of Minneapolis with only like 10 Jewish families so keeping kosher in that kind of town was a challenge too. It was a lot of frozen food and food was just not a big part of our lives growing up. Whenever I come in contact with people in the food industry they variably have a story about how on Sunday afternoons their mom would make this gravy and they’d be in her apron strings or talk about how’d they go to the market with their dad. I don’t have any of those stories! None of that. It was like that Woody Allen film where his mother would put the chicken in the de-flavorizing machine and it would come out the other side with no flavor. That was typical for us.
Do you remember when you first fell in love with the experience of eating great food?
It was probably at my brother’s apartment. My brother’s wife is from Australia, she was a huge foodie and cook and loved to go out to eat and try new things so that is where I had the spark go off. We would go to her house when I was probably in 7th or 8th grade and I would stay over for the weekend and she would make Szechuan shrimp, bagels from scratch and Thai food. I didn’t have pork until I was 13 or 14 so going to their apartment was really the first turn on for me.
How did you make the transition from general assignment reporter to food correspondent?
I was always interested in food. Even when I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I would drive 50 miles to the Thai restaurant at the Wisconsin and Michigan border. I got to Chicago via CLTV because they were looking for people with like two years of experience that didn’t cost a lot of money but were really nimble and could shoot and edit and produce and do everything themselves. So that first job at CLTV got me into Chicago and a lot of people who I worked with lived out in the suburbs. I was like, “There’s no way I’m gonna live out there! I gotta live in the city,” so I lived above King Crab on Halsted and Willow. My first two months here I didn’t buy groceries, I just made my way out from my apartment and tried the sushi places, PS Bangkok and all of the stuff in my neighborhood. I didn’t want to cook, I just wanted to eat out because I had never had that kind of experience before.
In a time where everyone can be their own restaurant critic, what do you think sets you apart?
I’ve been doing it for 17 years so I feel like I have had the arch of experience but I back it up with hard work. I have one intern for my blog but we don’t have interns at ABC and I have no producers so I do everything myself. I produce my own pieces, I sit down with the editor and pick out every shot that airs and I also have to maintain my blog and I do freelance. I am constantly trying to do other things besides just the TV job. I think it’s hard work and commitment to craft.
Is there any food that you are embarrassed to admit you enjoy?
I was just talking about this yesterday. The Burger King chicken sandwich! Not the grilled chicken sandwich but the fried, bizarre, oval-shaped chicken sandwich with the mayo and the shredded lettuce. That is my go-to fast food junk food. For some reason that Burger King chicken sandwich resonates with me as like a teenage kid in Minneapolis.
How do you think Chicago stacks up compared to the restaurant scene in other big cities?
I am so biased. I do think Chicago is the best. You never run out of ideas here. First of all, I have to do four stories a week and there’s always a neighborhood to go to, there’s always a place I can re-visit, there’s always something new opening up. Yes, we don’t have as many places as say New York City does but our places are so much more affordable. That’s why I think it’s such a great food town because you can eat so well for not so much.
Having a front row seat to the city’s culinary world, how do you think it has changed over the years?
I think it’s the shuttering of fine dining. It shows that not just Chicago’s dining habits but everyone’s dining habits are changing. It used to be when you came to Chicago—this is, we’re talking 20 years ago—you had to go to a French place like Le Francais in Wheeling. Charlie Trotter’s was a must visit and over the past five years it has not been a must visit but maybe Alinea has and Trotter’s has closed. Avenues [at the Peninsula] is closed. The dining room at the Ritz Carlton is closed. Seasons at the Four Seasons is closed. Park Hyatt is now NoMi. So all of the fine dining has been going away. Yes there’s L20, there’s Tru, Grace is going to be opening up in a month or so, but fine dining has changed. People now want to go out in jeans. They don’t want to put on a tie, they don’t want to put on a jacket. That’s a little too old school for people.
Who are you closest to within the ABC7 family?
Linda Yu, for sure. She’s my unofficial aunt. We make dumplings at her house. We just had dim sum together over the weekend. We had all of our families meet at MingHin in one of the private rooms and had dim sum. She’s great because she loves to eat like I do. You should see her take apart a fish!
Where would you like to see your career go?
I would love to have a national platform. Ideally, I’d love to be the food guy on “Good Morning America” or on Katie Couric’s show or any of those shows as a food correspondent. I knew before 2003 when ABC hired me that there was a need locally for a food reporter so now it has come to fruition and other stations are doing this and I think there’s that need on a national level.
What would you choose to have for your last meal?
I’d probably have one of Nancy Silverton’s pizzas from Pizzeria Mozza. Something with squash blossoms, chanterelle mushrooms and fresh mozzarella. She has the best dough in the country. Pizzeria Mozza pizza and a bottle of Château Pétrus, just to be decadent.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Jon Stewart. I just love “The Daily Show” and I love what he’s doing. He’s a few years older than I am so we’re sort of the same generation. Jews typically are not big drinkers so Jon Stewart would probably drink a beer but I would try to get him to drink a Hemingway Daiquiri with me.
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