December 6, 2013
Next time you are at an all-you-can eat buffet, imagine the food displays without any covering: there are flies in the coleslaw, the man in front of you leans over the spread, breathing heavily. His nose scrunches up as though he might sneeze at any moment. You cringe, but it’s too late. Mashed potatoes are off the menu tonight.
Johnny Garneau is the reason people like this man will never sneeze on your food today.
On March 10, 1959, the restaurateur and inventor filed his patent for the “Food Service Table” later known as the “sneeze guard,” meant to protect food on display from bacteria and other germs that may be spread by sneezing. These days, it’s required by law that retail, self-service food bars have one—nary a salad bar shall be left uncovered.
At the time of his invention, he owned and ran a chain of American Style Smorgasbord restaurants in Ohio and Pennsylvania—a set price, all-you-can-eat buffet model based off of the the traditional Swedish “smorgasbord,” a celebratory meal, buffet style, with a laid-out table of food. The first example of a smorgasbord in America appeared at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Garneau’s “American Style Smorgasbord” restaurant was one of the first of many self-service restaurants that would pop up in the the United States in the ’50s.
“Being the germaphobe that he was, he couldn’t stand people going down the Smorgasbords smelling things and having their noses too close to the food,” Barbara Kelley, one of five of Garneau’s children says. “He said to his engineers, ‘We have to devise something—I don’t want these people sneezing on the food.”
When the patent was granted (for a term of 14 years), Garneau installed them in each of his restaurants. His daughter Barbara was born the year her father filed for the patent and remembers growing up in the spotless kitchens and dining rooms of her father’s businesses.
“He had that typical entrepreneur mind—he was always thinking of the next great idea.” Kelley says. These common things we use every day, somebody, somewhere had an idea and they had the guts to take it to fruition. My dad was one of them. There wasn’t one thing he thought that he couldn’t make or do.”
At 15, Garneau got a taste for the restaurant business as a “soda jerk” when he began forming dreams of his first restaurant, “The Beanery,” which opened 1949. The six-stool, 20-foot by 15-foot diner served American classics like the hot dog with curb service. By 1952, he opened his first American Style Smorgasbord restaurant.
When the smorgasbord style became less trendy, he turned each of his restaurants into steakhouses called the Golden Spike, the first of which opened in 1954. The railroad theme (there was a toy train set up at the bar that delivered your drink) came from Garneau’s interest in Promontory Summit in Utah, the point that completed of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. At the height of his business, he had six successful restaurants: four in Pittsburgh, one in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where Garneau raised his family, and one in South Florida. Garneau died in May of this year at his home in Florida at age 90.
Garneau’s invention effectively changed the standard for food safety in self-service environments. Even though there isn’t evidence of a direct causation between Garneau’s patent and food-safety initiatives, as far back as the early ’60s, the FDA regulated the presence of food shields. “The 1962 Model Food Service Sanitation Ordinance and 1976 Model Food Service Sanitation Ordinance also has very similar language,” David Steigman a communications representative of the FDA stated in an email to Smithsonian.com. “Instead of ‘salad bar food guards’, the term ‘counter protective devices’ and ‘salad bar protective devices’ were used in 1962 and 1976 respectively.” The NSF’s Food Service Equipment criteria for the design and construction for “counter guards” go as far back as 1965, and perhaps even earlier.
The most current law, the 2013 Food Code, under section 3-306.11 states that: “FOOD on display shall be protected from contamination by the use of PACKAGING; counter, service line, or salad bar FOOD guards; display cases; or other effective means.”
All 50 states have adopted food codes patterned after one of the six versions of the FDA’s model (1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009, and as of last month 2013), which include requirements for protecting food on display that resemble Garneau’s original design. Though each state’s regulation remains in line with the FDA’s guidelines, it is up to state, local and tribal agencies to regulate and inspect retail food establishments. The degree of coverage and specific dimensions of “food guards” vary. New Jersey for example follows the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Food Guard requirements which state that a sneeze guard must be positioned 14 inches above the food counter surface and must extend seven inches beyond the edge of the utensil on which food is placed.
According to Elizabeth Dougherty, director of inventor education at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are only about 100 patents filed in the area of food storage, safety and care—a small number when you consider that there are eight million U.S. patents total. After Garneau’s patent in 1959, there have been some innovations in the field with minor changes in the original design.
“The late ’50s does seem to be the era in time when the sneeze guards started to become an object for innovation and invention,” Dougherty says. “Prior to this time, there are very few documented patents in this technology area.”
The saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention.” It took a Midwestern restauranteur to realize that without something to protect them, everyone’s favorite buffet foods were defenseless from the attack of a 40 mph sneeze.
November 25, 2013
A few years back, when she was the director and librarian of the Pilgrim Hall Museum, Peggy Baker came across a fascinating document at a rare book and ephemera sale in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a four-course menu for a luxurious dinner at the Hotel Vendome in Boston for November 29, 1894 – Thanksgiving.
Appetizers consisted of Blue Point oysters or oyster crabs in béarnaise sauce. The soup is consumee Marie Stuart, with carrots and turnips; or, a real delicacy, terrapin a la gastronome (that’s turtle soup to you).
The choice of entrees included mousee de foie graise with cauliflower au gratin, prime ribs with Yorkshire pudding, Peking Duck with onions and squash and…a nod to the traditionalists…roasted turkey with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.
Then, salad—at the end of the meal, as they do in Europe—followed by a plethora of desserts: Petit fours, plum pudding with maple brandy sauce, Neapolitan ice cream; mince, apple and pumpkin pie, and almond cake with maple frosting. To round out the meal, coffee or sweet cider with assorted cheeses and nuts.
Baker’s discovery of this belt-busting tour de force sent her on a mission to shed light back on a long forgotten chapter of the history of this holiday; a time when wealthy Americans celebrated their Thanksgivings not in the confines of the home with family, but at fancy hotels and restaurants, with extravagant, haute cuisine dinners and entertainments.
“I was thoroughly entranced, having no idea any such thing existed,” recalls Baker. She began collecting similar bills of fare from other establishments, in other cities.
“It was like an anthropological expedition to a different culture,” recalls Baker, “I wasn’t aware people dined out as a regular annual event for Thanksgiving. It was just so foreign to me.”
Baker amassed more than 40 of these menus, which she displayed at the museum in 1998, in an exhibit called “Thanksgiving a la Carte.” Baker retired in 2010, but the pieces from the exhibit can still be viewed on the Pilgrim Hall Museum website. (PDF)
The reason a Thanksgiving Day spent anywhere but home seems so jarring today, is due in large part to the power of a painting: Norman Rockwell’s 1943 “Freedom from Want”—part of the famous “Four Freedoms” series that Rockwell painted as part of the effort to sell War Bonds. Published on the cover of the March 6, 1943 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, the painting depicts a kindly-looking, white-haired patriarch and matriarch standing at the head of the table, as hungry family members—their smiling faces only partially visible—eagerly anticipate the mouth-watering turkey dinner that’s about to be served.
But Rockwell’s idealized Thanksgiving celebration is not the way it’s always been; it could even be argued that the idea of a tightly-knit family celebration at home would have been unfamiliar to even the Pilgrims.
“The meal we harken back to in 1621, is a totally anomalous situation to the way we think about it today,” says Kathleen Wahl, a culinarian and 17th-century food expert at Plimouth Plantation, the living history museum of the Pilgrim period in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “You have about 50 English people whose families were torn apart, by death or distance. It’s like a very modern, make-do family. Family is your neighbors, it’s whoever happens to be in the situation with you.”
Those survivors of the first winter in the New World celebrated the harvest with the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and about 90 of his men. While there were no restaurants or catering halls in 1621, this was about as close as you could come without a waiter taking Squanto and Miles Standish’s drink orders. “The original Thanksgiving dinners was an `out of home’ experience,” Wahl argues. “I think going out is more in the tradition of the 1621 event.”
According to James W. Baker, author of the 2009 book Thanksgiving: the Biography of an American Holiday (and husband to Peggy), part of the celebration has always involved events outside the home. Thanksgiving Day Balls were popular in New England in the early 19th century—although they followed a day that included church services and a meal at home. “The dinner was just one small element along with these other things,” said Baker, “but over the years it’s swallowed up the other things.” The primacy of the meal continues in more recent times. Things like the Thanksgiving Day parade, the high school football game, the local foot race, have all become common holiday events in various parts of the country, but they are usually done in the morning, allowing participants to race home for the family dinner.
It seems to have been during the Gilded Age when the Thanksgiving banquet at the luxury hotel or restaurant first became popular. This coincided with a general movement into fashionable new restaurants by the upper class. “Before then, you stayed home because you didn’t want the riffraff to see what you were doing,” says Evangeline Holland, a social historian who writes about the late Victorian and Edwardian periods on her website edwardianpromenade.com “But with the rise of the nouveau riche, people in England started dining out at restaurants and Americans followed suite.”
What better day to flaunt what you had than on Thanksgiving? “With the Gilded Age, everything is over the top,” says Stephen O’Neill, associate director and curator of collections at Pilgrim Hall Museum. “Thanksgiving is very much a celebration of abundance, so I think they sort of used that as an excuse to promote these extravagantly large dinners.”
The affairs were held at such famous, luxury hotels and restaurants as the Vendome, Delmonico’s and the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Even luxury cruise ships got into the act, offering elaborate Thanksgiving Day dinners to their seaborne passengers. The upper crust in smaller communities had them, as well, usually at the fanciest place in town.
The Waldorf, which opened in 1893, probably gets the prize for the most outrageous celebration. In 1915, the hotel erected an elaborate, mock “New England barn” in its grillroom for Thanksgiving Day—complete with, if the press reports are true, live animals and a dancing scarecrow. Well-heeled, urban diners feasted and danced, paying an odd tribute to the rural, New England roots of the holiday. As garish as it may sound today, the event was a smash.
“The Thanksgiving Day revel attracted one of the largest crowds that ever attended an affair at the hotel,” gushed The New York Times.
What changed all that? Baker thinks it was the combination of Prohibition in the 1920s and the Great Depression of the following decade. While some restaurants continued to offer grand Thanksgiving Day dinners, the practice had declined to the point that by the mid-20th century, as Rockwell’s painting suggests, it seemed almost un-American to have Thanksgiving Dinner anywhere but around grandma’s table.
“When my father came back from World War II, he was going to have nothing but the full homemade Thanksgiving dinner around the family table,” recalls Peggy Baker with a laugh. “He did relent enough to let my mother buy a pie from the store…that’s only because she wasn’t good at making pies.”
But some say that in the 21st century, dining out on Thanksgiving could be in again. In a 2011 survey, the National Restaurant Association found that 14 million Americans dined out on Thanksgiving; and anecdotal evidence suggests that more restaurants are open for the holiday, to accommodate greater demand.
“It is still a very domestically oriented holiday,” O’Neill says, “but I think now, especially with smaller families or families that are spread out a lot, it is much more fluid and adaptable. Whether it’s at the family home, or someone else’s home, or a restaurant, it’s now more of a ‘let’s just sort of have a big dinner’ holiday.”
Although probably not one with turtle soup and duck liver on the menu.
November 14, 2013
Rene Redzepi was 25 years old when he opened his first restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen, and 32 years old when it was crowned the best restaurant in the world. Noma, which stands for nordisk mad, or Nordic food, held that title from 2010 to 2012, serving a scrupulously seasonal menu of local and foraged ingredients including sea buckthorn, ramson flowers, puffin eggs and ants—a far cry from the meatball platter at Ikea. Redzepi is singlehandedly responsible for putting Nordic cuisine on the map, but after ten years at Noma, his influence extends much further than that. He has used his worldwide celebrity as a platform to promote innovation in food, from new culinary techniques developed at the Nordic Food Lab to shifts in food policy discussed at the MAD Symposium, an annual gathering of chefs, farmers and food professionals. In 2012, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world—and just last week anointed him a “god of food,” alongside his friends and fellow chefs Alex Atala and David Chang.
Tonight, Redzepi speaks at a Smithsonian Associates event about his new book, A Work in Progress, which documents one year behind-the-scenes at Noma. We asked the chef about creativity, the role of food in society, and the state of female chefs in the restaurant industry.
The new book includes a copy of the journal you kept in 2011, your daily recap of how things were going at Noma. What was your process in writing that journal?
It was quite a painful thing. In an everyday life that’s filled with so much discipline—waking up and cooking breakfast and lunch for the kids, and then going to work and being organized and being disciplined, and then coming home—you really just want to have a drink and go to sleep. But then you had to be disciplined again. I never intended it to be a book, actually. I did it for myself, to see if I could find some sense of who are we, why are there good days, why are there bad days and what type of restaurant are we, basically. Then my book editor read parts of it, she liked it and then it became a book.
At the same time, it was also a weird experience because I’m used to working in teams, and doing this thing, you’re all alone. It was a very lonely thing to do. It’s tough, standing there at the end of the night, looking at a screen, just waiting for the words to come out. But it really did give me a lot of new insight. This idea of coming home and being able to distill the day, understanding what made it a good or bad day, really has given me a better understanding of why I do the things I do.
You’ve said that you felt “restricted” after Noma was crowned the world’s best restaurant and that this journal was a quest to understand creativity and where it comes from. What were some of the conclusions you drew from writing the journal?
One of the conclusions is that success is a fantastic, smashing thing, especially accolades—but the accolade is not the mountaintop. It’s not the highest thing to achieve. That was what I needed to shed off in the process of writing the journal—that it’s a great stepping-stone, something you can use on the way. But if your only goal is to achieve accolades, you will quickly find yourself out. I thought maybe we had reached that mountaintop. That’s what people were telling me: “What now?” And there I was, 32 years old, thinking, “What do you mean, what now? I’m 32 years old!” To me, it wasn’t the mountaintop that everyone was telling me [it was]. But it confused me for a while. So writing the journal, the conclusion was let’s just play around again, be fearless. There’s nothing to lose; don’t get attached to the thing. That’s the most important thing I got out of it—just being open to breaking the mold that made your success.
How do you stay creative on a day-to-day basis?
Today it’s very much team-minded. Before the journal, it wasn’t so much; it was mostly decisions that I made all the time. But in trying to understand the process, I could see that the team was a good way of exhilarating everything. You’re also making it easier, if you have people to rely on and sort of comfort you at bad moments. It’s very much built on team effort now—conversations, brainstorm sessions. And, of course, ever-changing seasonality and weather—that’s also a big guiding force.
How would you describe your management style in the kitchen?
I used to be a control freak. I grew up thinking that as a cook, you are the big control freak who doesn’t care about anything besides the prosperity of your kitchen—and anybody who doesn’t follow along, just fall behind and leave. But once you go back and read everything [that happened] during a year, you can see that what really makes the good days good is when you actually feel good. When there’s fun involved. And the bad days are always the ones where you don’t handle situations well. There will always be bad moments. There will always be big failures. But you just need to deal with it well, as opposed to being a little angry idiot. So the journal made me change my management style quite a bit. It was a big step to me, from being trained in a very old way of cooking and stepping into a new thing. But it changed the restaurant, and I could never see myself going back to the traditional kitchen style.
You have a lot of career changers on your staff—an ex-banker, a Hollywood dropout, a lawyer and others who didn’t come in with culinary experience. What do they bring to the table?
There are so many fantastic aspects to gain from people who are somewhat involved within food culture. Right now, in the Nordic Food Lab, we have a graduate of the Yale Sustainable Food Project. It’s certainly not cooking, but his understanding of issues that surround the meal adds different layers to the research and to our base understanding of what food can be. It makes our restaurant better. The way I understand innovation today is that the more we are open to new, valuable information, the more we study history, memories or these new experiences, and bring them into the now—that’s when something new really happens. I try to be as open to all these factors as possible.
Food seems to be everywhere these days—in TV, politics, symposia like your own. Is it possible to take food too seriously?
No. I don’t think we take it too seriously at all. On the contrary, sometimes the discussion is a little bit stupid and not serious enough. But the thing is that food is not just food. If you want to say that, you’re kidding yourself. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned statement, even—a classic, Westernized, Protestant statement [of] food as sustenance and please don’t try to make it anything more than that. If that’s the level we choose to look at it, then what do you really need? To me, food is one of the things that makes life most livable—just like having a comfortable place to live in. Do we really need it in order to stay alive, in the same way that we just need to food to sustain us?
At the same time, there are so many critical issues, such as sustainability and agriculture, that surround food all the time. I think we are also realizing, more and more, how important the meal is. I know that now that I have a family. It’s easy to come across as some sort of romantic, when you talk about the importance of the meal and the family aspect, but I really believe that it’s important and I can see that it is.
So I don’t think it’s a bad thing that you take food seriously. When it’s treated as a fashion or as a way of generating huge revenue through bad TV programs, then it’s probably a bit too much. But putting food in a cultural light and valuing it as an important part of our cultural upbringing, I think that can’t be taken too seriously. I think it’s a good thing.
What are some of the ideas and innovations in the food world that you’re most excited about right now?
In the past five years, the exploration within fermentation is definitely the most exciting thing. That’s going to continue for a long time and maybe just become a natural, integrated part of any cuisine in the future. We forget bread and brewing coffee are fermentation. There are new explorations happening that might give us some new flavors on par with those.
I want to ask you about the Time magazine story in which you were named a “god of food.”
Yeah, I haven’t even seen it yet!
But you’ve heard the criticism?
No, I haven’t! Ever since I arrived in America, people have been talking about it. But it’s a typical American thing that everybody in America thinks that everybody [else] understands what’s happening in America. But no, I haven’t. I actually saw [the issue] on the airplane coming here. I arrived here yesterday and then this morning somebody said that there’s been criticism of it. But in Denmark they didn’t even talk about it, nobody wrote about it. What’s going on? I’d love to understand what’s going on.
Basically, the article profiles important leaders and innovators in the food world—people who are changing the way we eat and think about food worldwide. The controversy is that only four of the people profiled are women, none of them chefs, so people are asking, where are the female chefs? I know you weren’t involved in writing the article but—
I didn’t even know they were going to put us on the cover! They don’t tell you these things. They say, “Ah, we can see you [and Alex Atala and David Chang] in town at the same time, can we take a picture of you? We’re writing about friendship.” And then, two months later, you’re on an airplane and somebody tells you you’re on the cover of Time magazine.
Which female chefs do you think should have made Time’s list?
I can tell you that I met yesterday, for the first time, Alice Waters. I was totally starstruck. I was almost—I didn’t know what to do. To me she is a definite food “hero,” food…god, if you will.
But there are so many extraordinarily powerful women who deserve credit and attention. Last year at the MAD symposium, we had Vandata Shiva [who was featured in the article], but of course she’s not a cook. Then there’s Margot Henderson, who runs very quietly a restaurant called Rochelle Canteen in London, but she gave a very powerful talk. And I read the memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton but I’ve actually never visited the restaurant. Every time I come to America, it’s always an in-and-out trip. . . . If there’s one girl who will be [a “god of food”] in the future, it’s my pastry chef, Rosio Sanchez [also briefly mentioned in the article], who’s from Chicago but of Mexican descent. She’s extremely good.
When I started 21 years ago, women in kitchens were a total novelty. Now, 8 out of 24 chefs in our kitchen are women. I’ve stopped thinking about it so much. Although if there are periods where we get too male-dominated in the kitchen, I always try to create a balance and get more women in the kitchen.
Because they add something different?
Yeah, there’s no question about it. It’s very important, that balance. In many ways the style of cooking that we do fits more with the sort of delicate touch of a woman as opposed to this big, rumbling male with his big, clumsy hands. I’m exaggerating here, but you know what I mean. And the sensibility in flavor—women are a bit sharper in finding these small, delicate tones here and there, when tasting stuff. Kitchens are also notoriously macho. It’s a good thing to have more females in the kitchen to add balance and to take that a bit away, not to soften things up but to bring the discussion to a more serious tone.
Do you think there are more women now because the culture in the kitchen has changed, or because there are more opportunities for women? Why do you think it’s changed so much in your lifetime?
I don’t know. I think there are more opportunities. It’s not so much of a blue-collar trade that it used to be, ten years ago. When we started operating Noma, it wasn’t unusual that at least once a year, somebody would come to me and say, “Hey, I’m not coming to work for the next six months, I’m going to jail.” It sounds crazy, but that’s the way it was. It was like seeing one of those old-fashioned movies of steel plants, where men were working with fire and shouting dirty jokes at each other, fighting and drinking. Not that long ago, kitchens were very much like that. I think things are slowly changing—from guys leaving to go to jail, to having a Harvard dropout in our cuisine. So I think the whole environment has become more friendly—for anybody, really. It used to be you’d become a cook because you can’t be anything else.
Now that you’ve met Alice Waters, do you have any other food heroes that you still want to meet?
One that made me very sad that I never met was Charlie Trotter [who died last week]. I never got to meet him; I only texted with him. That’s another thing about the trade that we’re horrible at—celebration of icons and people who really did something. If they don’t have the latest, freshest new thing, then they just get forgotten. I remember in the 1990s there were two things you read. One of them was White Heat, by Marco Pierre White. The other was books by Charlie Trotter.
Where will you be dining while you’re in the U.S.?
I’m going to Alinea for the first time. [Alinea owner Grant Achatz] and I are actually old-time pals, but we never visit each other’s restaurants, so I’m an Alinea virgin and I’m really looking forward to it.
Redzepi will speak at the S. Dillon Ripley Center on Thursday, November 14, at 6:45PM, with book signing to follow. The event is sold out, but tickets may become available. Visit smithsonianassociates.org for more information.
October 7, 2013
One of my favorite pastimes is joining the Sunday morning hordes outside San Francisco’s Ton Kiang, a popular dim sum restaurant in the city’s Outer Richmond neighborhood. So when the opportunity recently arose to visit Hong Kong and not only dine on the bite-size delicacies but actually learn how to make them, I jumped at the chance.
Hong Kong is dim sum’s cultural epicenter and here, the cuisine is king. The name dim sum, which means ‘to touch the heart,’ derives from its roots as a simple snack food offered with tea to the weary travelers of Asia’s Silk Road. Even today, dim sum and tea go hand in hand, and going for dim sum in Hong Kong is known as going for yum cha, which translates to ‘drink tea.’
Cantonese immigrants first introduced dim sum to the U.S. during the mid-1800s, and the cuisine’s varied selection and small, convenient portions eventually caught the attention of Westerners. Still, although there have been about 2,000 types of dim sum since its inception, most dim sum eateries in the States stick to several dozen offerings that appeal mostly to westernized palates and incorporate easy-to-find ingredients, such as sui mai (pork dumplings), wah tip (pot stickers), and ha yeung (crispy shrimp balls). In Hong Kong, however, chefs have the advantage of utilizing a larger variety of tropical vegetables from nearby Asian countries, as well as catering to a clientele that’s grown up on dim sum and tend to be more adventurous in their tastes. This means exotic treats like Sun Tung Lok’s baked sea conch shells, or steamed hairy crab roe with pork dumpling at the InterContinental Hong Kong’s Yan Toh Heen.
For over a decade, Peninsula Hong Kong has been offering weekday workshops in dim sum making as part as their larger Peninsula Academy, a series of location-specific workshops that range from paper mache and Chinese puppet mastery to insights into the region’s contemporary art scene. The hour-and-a-half-long course takes participants behind the scenes of the luxury hotel’s 1920s Shanghai-inspired Spring Moon restaurant and into its industrial kitchen to learn the art of crafting both shrimp and vegetable dumplings. Henry Fong, Peninsula’s dedicated dim sum chef, has been working in the culinary world for nearly 20 years. He is also the workshop’s teacher and will be leading our group of six in our efforts to mix, roll and wrap restaurant-style cuisine.
With so many dim sum eateries across Hong Kong, it takes an extra something to stand out. To keep his clientele happy—and his creative juices flowing—Fong hits up local farmers markets and specialty stories like the region’s popular City’s Super on weekends, searching out fresh, new ingredients to incorporate into his menu. He says it’s the endless variety that makes dim sum more interesting to him then other types of cuisine. Though well-versed in creating traditional dim sum favorites like wah tip (pot stickers) and lo mai gai (sticky rice and meats wrapped in lotus leaves), Fong also likes coming up with innovative creations by mixing the conventional with the unusual, such as drumstick-shaped steamed dumplings filled with carrots, spider crab leg and pumpkin; steamed vegetarian dumplings packed with locally grown imperial fungus and topped with gold leaf; and baked crispy buns filled with minced Wagyu beef, onions and black pepper.
As the workshop begins, Fong provides us each with an apron and invites us to gather around a large stainless steel table. He then begins mixing what will be the translucent skin for shrimp dumplings. First, he measures out equal portions of corn starch and high protein powder and pours them into a bowl together, and then adds some boiling water and a small bit of vegetable oil. Next he begins working the mixture with his hands. As he presses, scoops, and turns the mix repetitively it becomes thick and doughy, almost like marzipan. Fong then offers each of us a try.
Once the dough cools, Fong rolls it into a long, thin, rope-like stretch and slices off half-inch pieces, using a blunt stainless steel Chinese cleaver to flatten them each into paper-thin circles. When it’s my turn, Fong shows me how to press down on the flat side of the cleaver with the palm of my hand, turning it as I go. My first attempt at creating a dumpling skin is nearly perfect, though my excitement is short-lived. As it happens, wrapping a shrimp dumpling is not so easy. Fong demonstrates, topping the skin with a teaspoon-size portion of dumpling filler—a blend of finely minced prawn meat, shredded bamboo shoots, and chicken power with some salt, sugar, and vegetable oil—and using two fingers, quickly creates a dozen uniform folds across its top, almost akin to a fan.
“The trick,” he explains through a translator, “is to not let the two sides touch in the middle.” When through my creation looks more like a shrimp-nado than dumpling, though it’s still perfectly edible (and delicious), which I find out soon enough. Someone then asks Fong if there are any natural dim sum makers. “Not too many,” he says, laughing. “If there were I’d be out of a job.”
For the next 45 minutes we continue honing our shrimp dumpling skills, and also give vegetable dumplings (easier to fold because they require less dexterity) a go. Once we’re through, Fong steams them all on a stove top. After five minutes, they’re ready to eat. Along with our own creations, Fong also treats us to plates of roast pork buns, custard balls, and—for the group’s vegetarians—mushroom dumplings. He then offers each of us a cup of jasmine tea.
We are weary travelers, after all.
Where to get delicious dim sum in the States? Fong offers his recommendations for a range of price levels:
Less expensive: “The food is good quality and comparable to dim sum in Asia,” says Fong.
365 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA
Moderately expensive: “There is a great variety of dim sum,” says Fong, “and the choices are the same as what we offer in most restaurants in Hong Kong.”
14 Elizabeth Street
New York City, NY
Most expensive: “Every dim sum dish is hand-made with the finest seasonal ingredients and the taste is authentic,” says Fong. “Also, the food presentation is outstanding.”
529 Hudson Street
New York City, NY
September 10, 2013
The American superhighway system is dotted with some truly bizarre and unique roadside attractions. There are dinosaurs, Cadillacs stuck in the ground and kitschy souvenir stops with advertisements of questionable taste. But for those drivers with some extra time on their cross country trips, they should add these large, statue versions of everyone’s favorite foods to their itinerary. We’ve narrowed down the cornucopia of foods to 10 must-see, “World’s Largest” food-related attractions for your hypothetical (or real) adventure.
1) Strawberry—Ellerbe, North Carolina
The Berry Patch, off of old Highway 220, in Ellerbe, North Carolina, got its start as a small patch in 1995 run by the appropriately monikered Berry family. In 2002, they built the self-described “World’s Largest Strawberry” to house their homemade ice cream shop. The 24-foot tall building is made from sheet rock and polyurethane foam molded to its berry shape. There are a few other self-proclaimed largest strawberries: one worth highlighting is this 130-foot tall berry water towerin Poteet, Texas.
2) Peach—Gaffney, South Carolina
Once you hit I-85 West leaving from Charlotte, North Carolina, toward Atlanta, Georgia, look up. The world’s largest peach structure in Gaffney, South Carolina, a peach-painted water tower also known as the Peachoid, stands at 135 feet tall and holds one million gallons of liquid. The giant peach (No, James and his friends do not live inside) was commissioned by the Board of Public Works in Gaffney in 1981. The foundation used no less than 10 million gallons of concrete and the 60-foot leaf along the side of the peach weighs seven tons. As the story goes, the people of Gaffney picked the peach tower because at the time of its construction, the local economy was dependent on peach orchards. The water tower served as a (large) reminder that Georgia, known as the “Peach State,” produced fewer peaches than Cherokee County. Today, South Carolina produces over 200 million pounds of peacheson average a year, second to California. (Georgia is the third largest producer).
3) Peanut—Ashburn, Georgia
Floodlights shine on the World’s Largest Peanut located off of I-75 in Ashburn, Georgia. The peanut, which hovers above an impressive crown, was built in 1975 and designed by A.R. Smith, Jr. to honor the state’s official crop. (Georgia produces almost 50 percent of the total United States peanut crop). The monument became an official state symbolin 1998.
4) Field of Corn—Dublin, Ohio
On an acre-and-a-half plot in Dublin, Ohio, 109 concrete ears of corn stand at six feet, six inches apiece—an agricultural community in transition. Artist Malcolm Cochran, created this field of statues in 1994 as a memorial for the now-fallow corn field that once occupied the land. On this site, Sam Frantz and his family had been a leading corn hybridizer from 1935 through 1963. It’s “not unlike a cemetery —and a surprising roadside attraction in the tradition of coffee shops that look like a giant cup and saucer or diners in the shape of hamburgers,” Cochran said in an email. Head to the Osage Orange trees at the west side of the location to learn more about the town’s agricultural history.
5) Egg—Mentone, Indiana
There isn’t a whole lot to see driving through north-central Indiana, until you get to Mentone: the self-proclaimed “Egg Basket of the Midwest” and home to what the town considers the World’s Largest Egg, a 3,000-pound concrete structure in a bank parking lot near the town’s center. The structure was most likely built in 1946 to promote the Mentone Egg Show.
6) Popcorn Ball—Sac City, Iowa
In 1995, Sac City, Iowa (locally known as the “Popcorn Capital of the World”) built the first of three giant popcorn balls—a 2,225-pound mound of syrup and popcorn. That same year, a team of Boy Scouts beat the city’s record and by 1997, the original Sac City ball was blown up at the Sac County Fair. But in 2004, Sac City went at it again when a local popcorn factory made a 3,415-pound ball, currently housed in a small building off of Highway 20. When the 3,415-pound record was beaten, in 2009, construction of the latest and greatest popcorn ball weighing in at 5,000 pounds began. Two hundred fifty-three volunteers gathered in Sac County to construct the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. (Ingredient breakdown: 900 pounds of popcorn, 2,700 pounds of sugar and 1,400 pounds of Dry syrup mixed with water). It held the record until this August when a group at the Indiana State Fair, built a 6,510-pound popcorn ball, beating Sac County’s- record by 1,510 pounds, but the Indian ball was pulled apart to feed livestock at the end of the festivities. Sac City’s ball remains the largest popcorn ball still intact.
7) Watermelons—Green River, Utah and Luling, Texas
If you want to see giant melons of the water variety, you’ve got two choices: the watermelon tower in Luling, Texas and the 25-foot slice of painted wood in Green River, Utah. The water tower in Texas presides 154 feet over a watermelon patch—a tribute to the local melon industry. Each year at the Watermelon Thump festival (named for the way you thump a melon to test its ripeness), locals enter the seed spitting contest or claim the “Thump Queen” crown. Green River’s melon is less like a tower and more like a parade float. The formerly motorized melon slice makes appearances during the region’s Melon Days festival each year. Both places claim to be the watermelon capital of the United States.
8) Pistachio—Alamogordo, New Mexico
In the middle of the southern New Mexico desert, along U.S. Highway 54, a 30-foot-tall pistachio stands as a monument to Tom McGinn, founder of McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch. “I wanted to erect a proper monument that would represent his enormous passion for the creation of a pistachio farm in the bare desert,” Tim McGinn, the founder’s son, said in an interview with the Alamogordo News in 2009. The giant nut is covered in 35 gallons of paint and is anchored by nine feet of concrete. McGinn based the design off of a nut hand-selected from his crop of pistachios.
9) Donut—Inglewood, California
Homer Simpson would go bonkers for this roadside sculpture built in 1954. You may recognize the massive pastry on top of Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood, California from Randy Newman’s video “I Love LA,” or from the film Mars Attacks. The drive-in style building, designed by Henry J. Goodwin in 1953 has several locations in the area—four of the original giant donuts survive, most of which were constructed with a 32 and one fifth-foot diameter. A fun thing about a giant donut: sometimes, you can throw basketballs through its center.
10) Artichoke—Castroville, California
Castroville, California, is the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World” and the 20-foot tall artichoke made of rebar and concrete built in 1963 by Ray Bei, founder of Ray Bei’s Giant Artichoke Restaurant and Fruit Stand, is a stunning reminder of the region’s main crop. A pit stop here offers artichokes prepared pretty much any way you can imagine, though fried is probably your best bet. The annual artichoke festival takes place in May to celebrate the Monterey Bay County’s famous food. Fun fact: in 1948—11 years before the festival began—a young starlet named Norma Jean, later known as Marilyn Monroe, was crowned the first Artichoke Queen in Castroville. The sash she wore is now on display in the Castroville Chamber of Commerce.