Cannot believe 2012 is coming to a close -- it's really incredible how fast the year flew by! With that being said, today I am so very excited to share with you the last Q&A session for the year: Francis Lam of Gourmet, Salon, Gilt Taste, and Top Chef Masters fame. He also happens to be my cousin -- what a funny, small world, right? True story! Not gonna lie -- it can be really intimidating to have such a talented, multi-faceted, award-winning (he has been featured in the past seven annual editions of Best Food Writing anthologies) food writer in the family. A lot to aspire to, that's for sure! But in all seriousness, Francis is one of the coolest and nicest people I know. He really knows quite a bit about writing (studied Creative Writing as an undergrad at the University of Michigan) and all things culinary (graduated at the top of his class during his time at the Culinary Institute of America), and has always given me helpful advice when I struggle with either, whether it is learning to write about food for the first time or figuring out where to get the freshest raw sea urchin in the city. It was through his writing (some of my favorites: "Chasing Perfection", "Getting to Know Him," and "A Restaurant That's Really This Good" from Gourmet; "What Makes Sushi Great?" and "What the Notorious B.I.G.'s Lyrics Taught Me about Food" from Gilt Taste) that truly helped me understand the inevitable relationship formed between food/eating and emotions. I can only hope to be lucky enough one day to have an ounce of Francis's eloquence, especially when it comes to articulating experiences in the world of culinary delights.
I know how unbelievably busy he is, so I really appreciate him for taking the time out of his jam-packed schedule to answer my silly little questions. Please follow him on Twitter (@Francis_Lam) if you don't already do -- your day will be better for it. Thank you so much again to Francis for participating in this month's Q&A! Enjoy!
© Pableaux Johnson
FAVORITE ALL-TIME RESTAURANT
This is, of course, hard to say. There are a few obvious contenders, though -- Alinea, which made giggle and want to cry, involuntarily and simultaneously. WD~50, which taught me, a hotshot culinary school grad, that I don’t know anything about cooking. Yee Li, a Chinatown char siu and roast duck joint that was reborn, like a phoenix, from the ashes of my childhood favorite, Big Wong. Higgins, in Portland, Oregon, where I had my ass handed to me for five months as a cook, and where I learned a hundred lessons on how good food can be, how much I respect cooking, and how to be as a person in the world.
MOST REGULARLY FREQUENTED SPOTS
I used to be a lot more wide-ranging, but the ravages of old age and a ladyfriend who doesn’t leave our neighborhood to go to work means we eat a disproportionate number of meals in the Frankies Spuntino / Seersucker / bad Thai takeout circuit.
DRINK OF CHOICE
Water, sometimes with bubbles, and sometimes with a lime. Gotta hydrate.
SOMETHING YOU SECRETLY INDULGE
Bad waiters, by still tipping them 20% almost no matter what.
DISH YOU MOST ENJOY PREPARING
If we’re talking about the martyrish pleasures of slaving over a stove so that you can feel good about your generosity and nobility, ratataouille. If we’re talking about testing yourself, omelets. If we’re talking about just making something I really like to eat, pretty much anything braised.
THE HOMEMADE DISH YOU ALWAYS LONG FOR
Beef tongue stewed with five spice! Also, weirdly, I remember bits of canned corn and black pepper in there. It’s been decades since I’ve had it, and I still miss it.
GASTRONOMIC GETAWAY/ADVENTURE OF CHOICE
I love Chicago; I think it’s my favorite restaurant city -- the combination of skilled cooks, willingness to experiment, and awesome hot dogs really gets me amped up. But really any getaway is a gastronomic getaway -- even if the food isn’t mind-blowing in the obvious sense, it’s still the clearest way I know towards getting to know a place and its people.
Greg Higgins, Grant Achatz, Michel Bras, Jackie Wong, Soyoung Scanlan, John Willoughby, Ruth Reichl, Fuchsia Dunlop, Elizabeth Andoh
MEAL YOU WISH YOU CAN REPEAT BUT SOMEHOW CANNOT
It’s usually about first times, isn’t it? You can have food as good, company as pleasant, but it’s hard to have the sense of wonder of a first time once you’ve had it. In this case, I’d say my first time at Alinea, my first time cooking with my friend Chuck (who later, I went to cooking school with, and who now owns the great sandwich shop Cutty’s in Boston), my first time eating mediocre vegetarian food at a place called Seva with my friend Matt, where we laughed so hard we literally fell out of the booth.
Mid-grade fake food. I mean, fake fake food, like macaroni and cheese out of a box with orange powder, is real good, right? I can get with that. And of course, real macaroni and cheese is great. But in between? Like Velveeta and shells? Awful.
FAVORITE DESSERT OF ALL TIME
Pineapple upside down cake. Or maybe banana pudding. But I rarely resist a hot fudge brownie sundae. But I’m going to stop with these have-it-all-answers.
FAVORITE COOKBOOK/COFFEE TABLE BOOK
I have to say, actually, The Dean and Deluca Cookbook is probably the most influential cookbook in my life. Is it the best? Almost certainly not. But when I was just learning about food in the 90s, it was the one I happened to have, and page after page taught me new stuff. I mean, if I reread it today, I might disagree with everything in it now, but it made me realize there was a whole world I knew nothing about out there.
CULINARY WORDS THAT NEVER LOSE THEIR PANACHE
Well, I think all words have their own swagger, so I don’t want to single anything out. But I’ll tell you one word I NEVER use: sinful. Eff people who call food sinful.