My name is Christopher and I am a foodaholic. I do not mean to poke fun at or trivialize alcoholism, however, I do believe that addiction to alcohol is similar (not the same) as addiction to food; no doubt that I am highly addicted to the consumption of “good” food. I will not, however, be seeking a cure or remedy.
[ foo-duh–haw-lik, –hol-ik ]
— a person having an excessive, often uncontrollable craving for food.
A few things right up front:
- I have felt this way since I was a small boy.
- If I were told that I could eat bland food and live another 20 years or eat delicious food and only live another two, I would choose the latter.
- I believe I was born with the ability to distinguish between good food and mediocre food.
- I dream about food more than I dream about sex. That wasn’t always the case.
- I am perfectly content to dine out alone — food and wine being the perfect dining companions.
- I choose most my friends based on their love and knowledge of food (there are a few exceptions; calm down Julie).
- I love lists and menus are sort of similar to lists. I love menus.
- I like how my taste in food evolves.
- I like to grow food.
- I love how food brings people together.
“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child
A Bit of Background
I consider myself a food snob. I will not eat just for the sake of eating. I eat for the flavor, taste, and for the pure pleasure of excellent food. I love texture and spice and I love street food. I am a carnivore; unless I’m told I will die tomorrow unless I cut meat out, I will eat meat until I die. A good steak and a glass of wine gives me more pleasure than poker and I love playing poker.
The food I eat does not necessarily have to be deconstructed, molecular, Michelin star, five star, pure gold leaf, rare, expensive, fortified, modern, home grown, top chef cooked, hand selected or from a high-end restaurant . . . it just has to be good. I love rich food, healthy food, straight from the garden or sea food, food truck food, restaurant food, street food, pasta, more pasta, ethnic food, prepared food, my food, cookbook dishes, friend’s food, family food, chef’s food, and snack food.
I first got to know good food at home and in the homes of family members. My father worked in an Italian restaurant six days a week most of his adult life and he often took us out to dinner on his day off; there were a lot of us in his immediate family.
There are so many types of cuisine and/or street foods that I love, it would be impossible to name them all. Italian will always be my favorite cuisine; although I was raised on Southern Italian, I passionately love almost all Italian food. I also love Thai, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Moroccan, Jamaican, Scandinavian, Southern BBQ, fried chicken, hamburgers, frankfurters, in no particular order.
Dad’s mom taught him how to cook. My father taught me how to enjoy food, how to source good food, why handed down recipes matter, and how food can take you out of a funk. He was passionate about cooking and feeding people. My dad’s cooking made me happier than just about anything else.
Mom’s Side of the Family
My mother had very little family. Her mother was Russian. My grandmother loved Eastern European food, but she was too old and frail to cook when I entered the picture. My mother’s brother was a butcher. He loved meat and he knew how to cook it. Other than that, he was a horrible human being: self-absorbed, big gambler, verbally abusive, homophobic, and a bully. Did I mention that he was horrible?
My mom made a handful of good dishes. My father tried to teach her how to cook, but my mom did everything fast and without much consideration. There were certain foods she enjoyed, but sauteed broccoli rabe (garlic, red pepper flakes, and extra virgin olive oil) was probably her absolute favorite. It is for this reason that I order it whenever I see it on a menu and I saute it whenever I can find it in a market (I’ve never seen it in Portugal where I live).
Dad’s Side of the Family
My dad and his family were born and raised in Italy. Dad had four sisters (Mary, Rose, Grace, and Alice) and they were all amazing cooks. When we got to eat at any of their houses I would be up all night the night before. I would think about what I would be eating and I would shiver with anticipation. I only really knew two of his four brothers (Tony and Nicky) and honestly couldn’t tell you whether or not they cooked, but Dad cooked.
I can say without a doubt, that my father was the best cook I have ever met in my life. I know that sentiment has a great deal to do with how I felt about my father, but he instinctively knew how to make food taste good. He mostly cooked Italian dishes, using only fresh ingredients from the best markets and food sources.
I have several friends who are excellent cooks. I love invitations to their homes and I love their food. I cannot name them for obvious reasons. Some friends are afraid to cook for me. It’s sort of sad because making the effort is everything and I’m not as fussy as people think.
After years in academia, I fell upon a position at the French Culinary Institute (FCI). There my obsession with food was out-of-control. I ate food prepared by students in our kitchens or at L’Ecole, our restaurant, nearly five days a week. It was also my responsibility to dine out at restaurants owned by former students, alumni chefs, and jury (chefs who judged student finals), new hotspots, and restaurants that might be looking for new talent. I had an expense account that never lasted very long. It was like a game and I played it well. I worked out twice as hard so that I could eat and not feel guilty. It didn’t work, I did feel guilty, I was consumed by guilt. I left the FCI and the guilt went away. Sixteen years of obscene eating and drinking.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Cooking makes me happy, it calms me down, it satisfies me in so many ways, it provides an opportunity to feed people I care about; food is my crack cocaine. I never take food for granted. I was born with a stomach issue that kept me from eating many types of foods and drinking many beverages. Surgery fixed this problem five years ago and now I can eat or drink anything. This surgery was available thirty years ago, however, not recommended by most gastrologists until recently. I consider myself fortunate to have found a good surgeon in Maine and I am forever grateful for modern medicine and good health insurance.
Breakfast is different everyday, however, I admittedly love cookies or cake in the morning. I don’t do it every day, but I do it a lot. It’s the coffee cake combo that does it for me. Never more than a couple of not-so-sweet cookies or a small piece of cake — lemon pound, chocolate layer, carrot, orange, banana bread — I try not to discriminate. Eggs on occasion, oatmeal, avocado toast, pancakes — I love it all.
I’ve been making lunch my “big” meal for a few years now. I prefer to cook, but I do go out on occasion. I like to go to the market early in the morning and choose what I’m cooking for lunch. Yesterday I spotted gorgeous veal steak at the local butcher; I grilled that with eggplant and roasted potatoes with fresh thyme from my terrace. Not a bad lunch.I paired all that with a Portuguese red. You can get a bold and beautiful red here for four euros.
I like leftovers for dinner. Something I prepared for lunch the day before or frozen leftovers. I also occasionally prepare a charcuterie plate with Portuguese cured meats, cheeses, some sort of fig or honey spread, olives, and toasted baguette (there is a French bakery in Tavira, a few towns over, where I buy my bread and rolls and freeze them). French bread will always be my absolute favorite. When I travel to France, I buy a fresh baguette almost everyday. A French pastry as well; they’re hard to resist.
Kitchen gadgets are the best. I splurge on good pots & pans and all of my kitchen appliances are high-end. Try to sell me the most expensive jeans or sneakers; fat chance.
Beer, Wine, Soda and Spirits
I hated beer until later in my 30s. I would only have a beer with pizza or a burger. I dated a Spaniard who loved beer and that changed everything. I started trying beer from all over the world and now I have to say that I like it almost as much as I like spirits . . . almost as much.
I couldn’t drink white wine until five years ago (stomach issue); now I drink it all the time. However, red wine is my true love. I enrolled in a couple of wine courses at the FCI, but I have a lot to learn (that part is fun). I would have to say a good French Bordeaux is my favorite, followed by Italian Amarone, Spanish Rioja, California Cabernet, Portuguese Alentejo and South African Syrahs. There are dozens of other wines and grape varieties I love to drink. Pair a great wine with excellent cuisine and you have heaven on earth.
Spirits make me happy, but there are a few I favor: Kentucky bourbon, French armagnac, Russian vodka, Cuban rum, brandy, and Swedish aquavit (snaps).
I often concoct my own crazy cocktails, I make homemade limoncello, and I have a fairly nice collection of wines (the wine refrigerator helps). I am not a connoisseur of anything. I know very little and I like what I like.
Sweet Versus Savory
I will leave it at this: a good savory dish will always be my first choice, but I love dessert and I enjoy baking. Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies with walnuts are my all-time, absolute favorite sweet.
Famous People I Knew (know)
My position at the French Culinary Institute and my involvement with the James Beard Foundation, afforded me the opportunity to work with, dine with, party with and/or meet, the following famous people (yes, I am name dropping): Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain, Isabella Rossellini, Larry Kramer, Joan Rivers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, John Lithgow, Rosemary Clooney, Samuel Jackson, Joan Allen, Jacques Pepin, Andrew Soltner, Al Franken, Star Jones, Christine Baranski, Brooke Shields, Paul Bocuse, Lidia Bastianich, Alice Waters, Marcella Hazan, Joan Nathan, Barbara Fairchild, Massimo Bottura, Dana Cowan, Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, José Andrés, Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Aarón Sánchez, Ferran Adria, Bette Midler (30 seconds of bliss), Marcus Samuelsson, Al Roker, Anne Burrell, Ina Garten, and others. They were not all nice people, but I like to think I held my own around them. Several of the people I named were gracious and lovely; a few became friends.
Food is and will always be the greatest love of my life; Alejandro a close second.
“There is no sincere love than the love of food.”
— George Bernard Shaw
A Handful of recent food and beverage choices:
Liverpool in two weeks to see a friend and Beatles sights/attractions. Toulouse in April, Berlin and Amsterdam, end of April and May, Geneva in June, Milan in July, Nantes and Pomic in August, and a Northern Europe Norwegian Line Cruise in October. I’m cutting back, so that I can be home more with Paco and the country I have come to love. I’ll write about some of it and keep other parts to myself.