How we got to eat pizza, chop suey and buffalo wings explored in the book ‘Food Americana’
I bet you didn’t know East Coast oysters are a foot long. Or this fried chicken was one of our original fast foods, sold to passengers through train windows in the post-Civil War era.
Flip through David Page’s âFood Americana: The Remarkable People and Incredible Stories Behind America’s Favorite Platsâ (Mango Publishing, $ 20), and you’ll learn fascinating facts you never knew about enchiladas, pizza, roast duck, bagels, the barbecue and other dishes you crave every week.
It is filled with anecdotes, cultural history, recipes and a host of anecdotes. Page, a former journalist and creator of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” knows how to research and has spent two years storing a lode of knowledge and presented it, wiry-eyed, with Calvin Trillin’s clarity. .
A two-time Emmy-winning producer, he was a top news specialist for the network based in London, Frankfurt and Budapest. He has traveled across Europe, Africa and the Middle East “covering some of the world’s greatest stories and developing a passion for some of the world’s most incredible foods”.
Page covered the revolution in Romania, interviewed Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi, and was there to tell Americans what it was like to walk through the Berlin Wall the night it opened. He also relished the dining experiences on his travels, recounting the night in Vienna where he asked the local team to take him to a favorite restaurant and instead of eating schnitzels he ended up in a barbecue in Texas.
Filled with facts and figures, âFood Americanaâ is always a cinch to read, so we had to find out how Page researched like a mad professor and still managed to pull out this fun, freewheeling feast. .
Q: How did this book come about?
A: I kind of fell into the role of a food journalist because I needed a job. â¦ I had opened my own production companyâ¦ and I did not receive any. So rather than starve to death, I called a friend, Al Roker.
Q: The Al Roker?
A: Yes. Al had worked for me when I was running the (weekend) show âTodayâ. Al had started his own production company and I called and I said, âHey, I’m starving. You have something ? He said, âI do a lot of things for the Food Network. Want to do some of that? I said of course and all of a sudden I was a food journalist. I started to feature the Food Network on some of my projects which eventually resulted in âDiners, Drive-Ins and Divesâ, from which I then created a syndicated series called âBeer Geeksâ. And then I looked around one day and said, you know what? I better write that damn book.
Q: There is an incredible amount of reports in this book. How did you do ?
A: I approached the book as a journalist and applied the same standards to it that I would have applied to any of the producers who worked for me when I was in charge of the investigative unit at ” 20/20 â. One of the things I’m most proud of is that I do a bit of debunking. I referred to the burger at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven as something they claim to have been the first burger in America. I think it’s really important to try to separate myth from reality when you are reporting – frankly how can I say that politely? – there are a lot of legends and misrepresentation when you dig in the food court.
Q: Oh yeah. This story about the janitor who invented Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos recently caught fire.
A: This is largely what has caught the attention of the times. Everyone accepts that the Anchor Bar invented the Buffalo wings. But as I explained in the book, there was a restaurant that made Buffalo Wings before the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, a place known as Wings and Things (no connection to the chain) run by a guy named John Young who according to his daughter ate a lot of wings and other parts of the chicken growing up poor and African American in the South.
Now Young’s wings were different from the variation the Anchor Bar eventually produced, which are wings broken into two pieces, served with blue cheese. Young served his wings in one piece with something he called Mambo sauce. But the point is, arguably, the first Buffalo wings weren’t made at the Anchor Bar, unless you define Buffalo wings as that particular style of wing.
Q: How long did it take you to write the book?
A: Because this was my first book, I decided to make 10 to a dozen different foods without thinking about how much work it would take for each one. Finding the time to research a chapter – that’s almost enough for a book on its own. The work therefore lasted almost two years to the day.
Q: In the ice cream chapter alone, you talked to the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Jerry Greenfield, you interviewed Tyler Malek, who is at the forefront of alternative flavors, and Amy Ettinger. I interviewed her when she released her book; she’s done a ton of reporting on ice cream. How did you get these people?
A: To be a journalist A .: You have to be curious. And B: You don’t have to be afraid of rejection. My biggest shock was when the folks at Mel Brooks said he wanted to speak to me at my request for the bagels and lox chapter. You have to do your research, that is, read everything that has been published on the subject. I read all or part of 200 books for this book. Researched the Internet. I have spoken to a number of authors and a number of other experts in these fields. And you know how it goes, person A recommends person B.
Q: Hey, detour: a lot of people ask me to recommend an old-fashioned Chinese restaurant. In the book, you distinguish between American Chinese cuisine and traditional Chinese cuisine. Do you think old school restaurants just died out?
A: No, they haven’t disappeared. And by the way, I don’t say “traditional” I say “as eaten in China” because even in China food is evolving and one of the most popular dishes in China these days is scrambled eggs and tomatoes. I don’t have the statistics, but it feels like a lot of Chinese restaurants are closing because parents don’t want their kids to work so hard. And kids don’t find it attractive either. I’m speculating here, but guess the pandemic hasn’t been kind to family-owned restaurants operating on a tight margin. â¦ I think the most interesting thing I wrote in the book is that Chinese American cuisine pushes the boundaries, using tastes, textures, flavors and smells closer to what there is. in China.
Q. So you don’t shed a tear for chop suey or sweet and sour pork with pineapples and maraschino cherries?
A: I’m not gonna cry for Chop Suey. However, I will tell you that in my opinion, well done Chinese American cuisine is value cuisine and it is great.
Q: So what’s the next step? I can see a TV series like “Finding Your Roots” only for American comfort foods like mac and cheese, pepperoni rolls, and donuts.
A: If anyone would like to opt for the book, please contact me. I don’t do a TV production, but I actually pay for my daughter’s school, which costs all the money you have.
Q: Take out food for our readers?
A: Eat great food from someone who doesn’t care and cooked it from scratch. For example, during my daughter’s undergraduate graduation, I was the designated eater at 10 a.m. So I crossed the street and there were two storefronts. One of them had a huge queue by the door and on the street, obviously graduation folks. The other had no one so I went to the other. It was a bodega, and I ordered a breakfast sandwich for each of us and watched the guy behind the grill do one of the most perfect things in the world: a bacon sandwich with eggs and cheese on a terrific New York roll. And I took them out. When leaving, the queue was no shorter for the other store. The other store was a Starbucks where all the people lined up to get conventional microwaveable plasticine products passing as food. I must tell you that I do not understand.
Author: David Page
Editor: Mango Publishing Group
Price: $ 20 or less, available in paperback at amazon.com.