19 February, 2015

Eat Me: the food and philosophy of Kenny Shopsin by Kenny Shopsin and Carolynn Carreño [Louise, Central Library]

Any restaurateur worth his kosher salt has a cookbook out, but this is something else. It’s part-memoir, part-recipe book, and part-philosophical ranting and raving: it's Kenny Shopsin’s take on food, people, family, and what a restaurant should be. His food is famously quick, easy, and made with as few ingredients as possible. He’s a regular New York kook, and the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.

Shopsin’s started as grocery store, and when the rent went up it became a restaurant with the addition of some tables but from the sounds of it pretty much everything else stayed the same. The shelves were still crammed full of ingredients and all the stuff you need to prepare food but Kenny just added some bungee cords to prevent the tins from falling on people.

There are some rules about going to Shopsin's, but not your usual dining out rules like ‘wear shoes’. Don’t come into his restaurant with crazy ideas about how you want your meal prepared. Or, give it a try but you might end up with no food at all. Food intolerances are not tolerated. Parties of no more than 4 people at a time. Did you come in a group of 5? Bad luck for you. No cell phones. No smoking. No, wait, smoking is OK just not around customers on the list next to this ‘Smoking is OK!’ sign. Did you eat everything on your plate? No? Was something wrong? OK 'cos Kenny is going to shout at you from the kitchen.

Kenny sometimes refuses to serve people. Sometimes he just has a bad feeling about them. He doesn’t like people saying “I’ll have what that person is having” – you gotta have some imagination, people! There are literally hundreds of things on the menu and Kenny is cooking it all and he doesn’t want to cook the same thing all the time. Literally. Hundreds. The menu is chaotic. It would change between one and four times a week but the one included in this book has over 900 items. It is 6 pages long, with a few pictures (not of the food) but mostly a lot of words.

Eggs every way: Egg Nachos, Egg Pizza, Egg Guacamole. Any kind of pancakes you can think of: Mac n Cheese Pancakes, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pancakes, Postmodern Pancakes (bits of pancakes on a pancake!!) all made with Aunt Jemima Frozen Pancake Batter. Salads where the main ingredients are meat and cheese. Weird international salads: Thai Cobb salad, Mexican Cesar salad. Soups. Sandwiches. Burgers. YUM! I’m getting hungry. Maybe I’ll have some Chicken Tortilla Avocado Soup with a side of banana guacamole while I contemplate the sign in Shopsin’s that reads “all our cooks wear condoms”. Wait, what? Bless that cantankerous old New Yorker. He's still going strong today.

Title: Eat me : the food and philosophy of Kenny Shopsin

Author: Kenny Shopsin and Carolynn Carreño; foreword by Calvin Trillin

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2008

ISBN: 9780307264930

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