Cooking Jim Gaffigan Food: A Love Story

ISBN 13: 9780804140416

Food: A Love Story

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9780804140416: Food: A Love Story

“What are my qualifications to write this book? None really. So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book.”
 
Bacon. McDonalds. Cinnabon. Hot Pockets. Kale. Stand-up comedian and author Jim Gaffigan has made his career rhapsodizing over the most treasured dishes of the American diet (“choking on bacon is like getting murdered by your lover”) and decrying the worst offenders (“kale is the early morning of foods”). Fans flocked to his New York Times bestselling book Dad is Fat to hear him riff on fatherhood but now, in his second book, he will give them what they really crave—hundreds of pages of his thoughts on all things culinary(ish). Insights such as: why he believes coconut water was invented to get people to stop drinking coconut water, why pretzel bread is #3 on his most important inventions of humankind (behind the wheel and the computer), and the answer to the age-old question “which animal is more delicious: the pig, the cow, or the bacon cheeseburger?”

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About the Author:

JIM GAFFIGAN is a stand-up comedian, actor, and bestselling author of Dad is Fat. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Jeannie, and their five children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CURRICULUM VITAE
 
What are my qualifications to write this book? None, really. So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. Okay, to some I might not be considered that fat, but the point is, I’m not thin. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating, I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book. I’m not talking about someone who is merely in good shape. I’m talking thin. Skinny. I wouldn’t trust them skinnies with food advice. First of all, how do you know they really feel pas­sionately about food? Well, obviously they are not passionate enough to overdo it. That’s not very passionate. Anyway, I’m overweight.
 
I’ll admit it. I consciously try not to take food advice from thin people. I know this may not be fair, but when Mario Batali talks, I always think, Well, this is a guy who knows what he’s talking about. He actually has experience eating food. This is why some sportscasters wonder what’s going on in a player’s head during a tense moment in a game, but the sportscaster who was once a player knows what’s going on in a player’s head. When I talk about food, I like to think I’m like one of those sportscasters who used to play profes­sionally. I’m like the Ray Lewis or Terry Bradshaw of eat­ing. I’m like the Tony Siragusa of eating. Well, that’s a little redundant.
 
When a thin person announces, “Here’s a great taco place,” I kind of shut down a little. How do they know it’s so great? From smelling the tacos? If they only ate one taco, the taco could not have been that great. Or maybe it was great, but the thin person cared more about the calories than the taste: “I had to stop at one taco. I’m on a diet.” A taco that won’t force you to break your diet just can’t be that great. Fat people know the consequences of eating, but if the food is good enough, they just don’t care. Overweight people have chosen food over ap­pearance. When a fat person talks about a great place to get a burger, I lean in. They know.
 
Speaking of thin people, another person it makes no sense to take advice from is the waiter. Why do fancy restaurants always hire thin, good-­looking people to be the waiters? “I’ll have the hamburger, and I want someone who is at least an 8 to bring it over to me. Can I see some headshots?” Why would we care what the waiter looks like? Even if we did, why would we take the waiter’s advice? We don’t know him. He is a stranger. “Well, he works there.” Does that make him have similar taste in things you like? Does that make him honest? Not to sound paranoid, but the waitstaff does have a financial incentive for you to order something more expensive: “Well, I highly recom­mend the 16-­ounce Kobe Beef with Lobster and the bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon.”
 
What restaurants really need is a fat-­guy food expert. Many fine-dining establishments have a sommelier—­a wine expert—­to assist in wine selection, but if a restaurant really cares about food, they should have a “Fattelier.”
 
FATTELIER: Well, I’d get the chili cheese fries with the cheese on the side. You get more cheese that way.
 
ME: Thank you, Fattelier.
 
Although they can’t be thin, the food adviser can’t be too fat. If they are morbidly obese, then you can conclude that they will probably eat everything and anything and do not have dis­cerning taste. This is not to say that they won’t have valuable views. I’d still trust an overly fat person over a skinny one any day. The best adviser would have a very specific body type: pudgy or just a little overweight. This makes it clear they have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with food, but not a clini­cal problem. They are eating beyond feeling full. Sure, I am describing my own body type, but that’s why I am qualified to write this book about food. What other credentials do you need, really? Stop being a snob. Read the book already.
 
 
 
STEAK: THE MANLY MEAT
 
As a child I was confused by my father’s love of steak. I remem­ber being eight and my dad ceremoniously announcing to the family, “We’re having steak tonight!” as if Abe Lincoln were coming over for dinner. My siblings and I would politely act excited as we watched TV. “That’s great, Dad!” I remember thinking, Big deal. Why can’t we just have McDonald’s? To me, my father just had this weird thing with steak. I thought, Dads obsess about steak the way kids obsess about candy. Well, my dad did. I’d watch him trudge out behind our house in all types of weather to the propane grill after me or one of my brothers barely averted death by lighting it for him. He would happily take his post out there, chain-­smoking his Merit Ultra Light cigarettes and drinking his Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch alone in the darkness of Northwest Indiana. He’d stare into the flame like it was an ancient oracle relaying a prophecy that solved the mysteries of life.
 
Given the sheer joy that standing at the grill gave my father, I was always amazed by how bad he was at cooking a steak. Maybe it was the grilling in virtual darkness, or maybe it was the Scotch, but his steaks were usually really burnt and often had the flavor of cigarette ashes. At the table he would try to justify the charred meat in front of the family: “You like it well done, right?” Again, my siblings and I would politely lie. “It’s great, Dad. Thanks.” I think I actually grew to enjoy the taste of A.1. Steak Sauce mixed with cigarette ash. A.1. was always on the table when my dad would grill steaks. It seems everyone I knew had that same thin bottle of A.1. It always felt like it was empty right before it flooded your steak. Ironically, the empty-­feeling bottle never seemed to run out. I think most people still have the same bottle of A.1. that they had in 1989. Once I looked at the back of a bottle of A.1. and was not sur­prised to find that one of the ingredients was “magic.”
 
By the time I became a teenager, I generally understood that steak was something unique. It had some kind of a deeper meaning. I still preferred McDonald’s, but I realized steak was certainly not something my father would’ve been able to eat growing up as the son of a denture maker in Springfield, Il­linois, in the 1940s. I remember thinking that maybe eating steak was actually my father’s measure of success. He wasn’t poor anymore. He and his children could afford to eat burnt steak. Even in my twenties, when I would go home to visit my father after my mother passed away, he and I would always eat a cigarette-­ash-­infused steak that he had overcooked on the grill. Many years later I realized that following my mother’s death, my father pretty much ate steak every night. Probably because my mother was not around anymore to say, “Well, obviously you shouldn’t eat steak every night!” When I think back to my father eating steak day after day, year after year, I can only come to one conclusion: my father was a genius.
 
I don’t know what happened, but steak makes perfect sense to me now. I was really overanalyzing it as a teenager. My fa­ther was not cooking steak on the grill to get away from his family or eating it daily to prove to himself that he wasn’t poor; my father was eating steak because consuming a steak is one of the great pleasures we get to experience during our short time on this planet. This was probably one of my most profound coming-­of-­age realizations. Steak is really that amazing. Steak is so delicious, I’m sure the first person to go on a stakeout was eventually disappointed: “Been sitting in this car all night and still no steak! Not even a basket of bread.”
 
I’m actually relieved I inherited my father’s love of steak. Where I was raised in the Midwest, all the men around me seemed to love three things: fixing stuff, cars, and steak. I learned that a real man loves fixing stuff, cars, and steak. Well, at least I’ve got one of those three. If eating steak is manly, it is the only manly attribute I possess. I’m not handy. I can’t fix things. Whenever something breaks in our apartment, I just look at my wife sheepishly and say, “We should call someone.” I don’t even call. My wife calls. I can barely figure out the phone. When the handyman comes over, I just kind of silently watch him work. I don’t know what to say. “You want some brownies? My wife could bake us some brownies. I’d bake them, but I don’t know how to turn the oven on.” I try to act like I’m working on something more important. “Yeah, I’m more of a tech guy. I’m really good at computer stuff ..... like checking e-­mail.”
 
I’m just not manly. I don’t know what happened. The men in my family are manly. My dad and my brothers loved cars. I mean LOVED cars in a manly way. They’d talk about cars, go to car shows, and even stop and look at other people’s cars in a parking lot. I barely have an opinion on cars. I do know that trucks are manlier than cars. The most manly form of trans­portation is, of course, the pickup truck. My brother Mike has a pickup because he’s a MAN. Pickup commercials just give me anxiety. There’s always a voice-­over bellowing, “You can pull one ton! Two tons! You can pull an aircraft carrier!” I always think, Why? Why do you need that? I only see people taking their pickup trucks to Cracker Barrel. My brother Mike, like many other pickup owners, never seems to be picking anything up in his pickup. I find this confusing. It’s like walking around with a big empty piece of luggage. “Are you about to travel somewhere?” “No, but I’m the type of guy who would.” To be fair, I really can’t judge. I don’t own a pickup—­or even a car, for that matter. Whenever I go back home to Indiana to visit my brother Mitch, who is car obsessed, I rent a car and drive to his house from Chicago. We usually have the same conversation.
 
MITCH: What kind of car did you rent?
ME: I think it’s blue.
MITCH: Is that four or six cylinders?
ME: (pause) It has four wheels. I think. Wait, cylinders aren’t wheels, right?
 
But steak ..... steak I get. If eating steak is manly, then I’m all man. I’m like a man and a half. I love steak so much, it’s actually the way I show affection for other men. “You’re such a good guy, I’m going to buy you a steak.” Men bond over steak. “We’ll sit and eat meat together and not talk about our families.” I recently toured for two weeks with my friend Tom. When I returned home, Jeannie asked, “How’s Tom’s family?” I don’t know. I only spent like twelve hours a day with the guy. I know he likes a medium-­rare rib eye. What else is there to know?
 
I order steaks from Omaha Steaks. Yes, I order my meat over the Internet, which I’m pretty sure is a sign of a problem. I guess I don’t want my steak shopping to cut into my steak-­eating time. Ordering Omaha Steaks is very simple. It’s like Amazon.com for beef. A couple of days after I place my order, a Styrofoam cooler shows up. It’s the same type of cooler that I imagine they will deliver my replacement heart in. Omaha Steaks is nice enough to provide dry ice in case I’d like to make a bomb or something. Occasionally, when I grab my Omaha Steaks cooler out of the hallway I’ll make eye contact with a neighbor, who I’m sure will later tell his spouse, “Jim got an­other box of meat today. That apartment will be available in a couple weeks.” The only problem with Omaha Steaks as a company is that you can’t get rid of them. Once you order from them, they are like Jehovah’s Witnesses calling all the time.
 
OMAHA STEAKS REP: Hey, you want some more steaks?
ME: I just got a delivery yesterday.
OMAHA STEAKS REP: How about some rib eyes?
ME: I don’t need any more steak, thank you.
OMAHA STEAKS REP: How about some filets? You want some filets?
ME: Really. I’m fine with steaks.
OMAHA STEAKS REP: Okay, I’ll call tomorrow.
ME: Um .....
OMAHA STEAKS REP: Hey, you want some turkey? Ham?
ME: I thought you were Omaha Steaks?
OMAHA STEAKS REP: You want some drywall?
ME: Aren’t you Omaha Steaks?
OMAHA STEAKS REP: I’m right outside your window. I’m so lonely.
 
I could never be a vegetarian for many reasons, but the main one is steak. Sure, bacon, bratwurst, and pastrami are pretty amazing, but steak is the soul of all carnivores. Steak is the embodiment of premium meat eating. I’m a meat lover, and steak is the tuxedo of meat. The priciest dish on most menus is the “surf and turf,” the steak and lobster. Who are they kid­ding? The steak is clearly driving the steak-­and-­lobster entrée. The steak is the headliner. There are way more people going for the steak and the lobster than people going for the lobster and the steak. The people who want the lobster are just order­ing the lobster. Lobster’s appeal is all perception, and steak is truly extraordinary. Steak has its own knives. There aren’t steak restaurants. There are steakhouses. Steak gets a house. There’s no tunahouse. Tuna gets a can. I love a steakhouse. It’s really the perfect environment for eating a steak. They always seem like throwbacks to another era. A time when kale was just a weed in your backyard. All steakhouses seem to be dimly lit and covered in dark wood. They are usually decorated with a combination of red leather and red leather. You know there is a huge locker full of hanging carcasses, like five feet away. The waiters are no-­nonsense pros. They approach in a gruff manner:
 
WAITER: (deep, scratchy voice) Welcome. Let’s not beat around the bush. You getting a steak? We serve meat here. Want some meat?
ME: Yes, ma’am.
 
At Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn, the waiter usually won’t even let you order. “You’re all getting porterhouse.” Um, okay.
 
Some steakhouses show you the meat raw. At places like Smith & Wollensky, a tray will be wheeled out with different cuts on it. One by one the waiter will pick up a glob of raw meat and thrust it at the table. “You can get this. You can get this.” Men are such visual animals that they’ll point at the fat-­swirled hunk of flesh and grunt, “That one.” It’s all very simple and primal. At other restaurants, fancy non-­steak items are prepared in a code of complexity: “Al dente.” “Braised.” “Flambéed.” But the way steak is cooked is understandable even to a monosyllabic caveman: “Rare.” “Medium.” “Well.” You barely even have to know how to talk.
 
Of course, vegetables are also served at steakhouses, but they are called “side dishes.” Like their presence there is only justified by the existence of steak. They’re the entourage of the steak. And you can take them or leave them. The sides are not included with the purchase of steak. They are à la carte in steakhouses, like napkins on Spirit Airlines.
 
Sides are never called “vegetables,” because what is done to vegetables in steakhouses makes them no longer qualify as vegetables.
 
GRUFF WAITER: We have spinach cooked in ice cream. We also have a bowl of marshmallows with a dollop of yam. And our house specialty is a baked potato that we somehow stuffed with five sticks of butter. We also have a “diet potato” that is stuffed with only four sticks of butter.
 
Everything about a steakhouse is manly, so it’s no surprise that sports heroes own steakhouses. I’ve been to D...

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