The Five Questions: Steven Shaw- Founder of eGullet talks Hand Sliced Corned Beef and Pastrami
October 27, 2010
I first met Steven Shaw when he came to speak during a class I took at the International Culinary Center at the French Culinary Institute in NYC. I was taking a series of food classes around NYC. My teacher at the time was Alan Richman who is a food journalist with a basketful of James Beard awards. I had a strange idea that I wanted to have a website. (Do they call them blogs, I’m still not sure what a blog is?) I had aspirations of publishing my food journalism. I wanted to take Steven’s class, so perhaps he would introduce me to some of his contacts. Maybe I could get some work, I do support myself on my writing, not well, but I try damned hard to make a living doing what I love…
Getting someone else to give up their contacts of course is a pipe dream. The only person who is going to help me get published is myself.
In the process of pitching people on what I did for a living, (writing about food) I discovered that a person can take all the classes that they want to learn how to do something. In the end if you don’t have talent, you won’t find work in this notoriously closed business named writing.
Andy F. Smith my professor at the New School taught me that if you have passion for writing then you should be able to at least support yourself on your writing. Not at a Park Avenue, NYC level, but you can make a living doing what you love. Steven Shaw more or less said the same thing, although I’m sure his passion for discovery in the food business is not his only means of support. It’s tough to do what you love. This business takes commitment and real guts to be a success.
Please tell me when I get there!
1. You grew up in New York City. Where is your favorite place for a corned beef sandwich. How do you like yours prepared?
As far as I’m concerned once you place corned beef on an electric, spinning-blade deli slicer it is ruined. As far as I know, Katz’s is the only deli that slices its corned beef by hand. Therefore, Katz’s is not only my favorite but also the only place where I find the corned beef tolerable. Which is not to say I eat a lot of corned beef. I’m far more committed to pastrami. If I have corned beef at Katz’s it’s always part of a three-meat platter with pastrami, corned beef and hard salami. That’s my favorite way to eat it. If I must eat mechanically sliced corned beef, I prefer that it be concealed under a blanket of cheese in the Reuben format.
2. There are a great number of Blogs that have populated the REAL TIME Web, your site: eGullet is one of the most famous. How do you keep your content fresh in a changing internet landscape?
Most of our content, we don’t create. Our members create it. What those of us with stewardship over the enterprise try to do is create the preconditions for great content. We’ve learned a lot from the mistakes of others, from the academic work of Professor Clay Shirky, and from our own experience of almost a decade doing this since before it was cool. We control membership at the access point, so that joining our organization requires enough effort that the average spammer or crackpot won’t bother. We provide active but, we think, low-key moderation so that the more sophisticated spammers and crackpots can be reined in. We try to keep our technology fresh in order to facilitate content creation.
We have a great team of volunteers, the smartest and finest people I’ve ever worked with, who work tirelessly and accept a lot of abuse and not enough gratitude. They are paid wages in yogurt. And we rely on critical mass: even some popular bloggers come to our discussion forums when they want to engage in discussion rather than just potificate.
3. Is there anything you eat that brings a tear to your eye when you are enjoying it? Who does this dish remind you of?
A lot of people are very dish-oriented, but I don’t get emotional about dishes as such. I react to the overall meal and dining experience. For example, a while back I had an absolutely exquisite evening at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. We toured the grounds before sundown, had aperitifs on the deck, the staff repaired the heel on my wife’s broken shoe, the ingredients were as fresh and fine as ingredients can be, cooked as well as humans should be allowed to cook. It wasn’t about any one dish, though. I’d have to consult my notes to tell you in detail what we ate.
4. If you could be anywhere in the world right now where would that be?
When you got there what food/drink would you like to enjoy?
I’m a family man. I don’t care where I am so long as I have my wife Ellen and son PJ with me. If you can arrange to reincarnate our late, beloved bulldog Momo that will be great too. We’d eat at an outdoor cafe where dogs are allowed. I’d have a BLT, on toast with extra mayo and the bacon crispy, and share bits with Momo. And as long as we’re in the realm of fantasy, I’ll have a grapefruit. I really miss grapefruit since starting on Simvistatin.
5. What is your favorite cookbook right now. Are there any foods you have not yet tried, but want to?
I think cookbooks are not structured in the service of inspiration. That’s why the whole idea of cookbooks is silly. I rarely follow other people’s recipes and use cookbooks only for ideas — yet, The Flavor Bible, by Page and Dornenburg, is a towering achievement.
It is the epicenter of inspiration in the cookbook world today. You look up any ingredient, and you can read what the best chefs in the world are doing with it.
I really should have tried human breast milk when I had the chance. When we packed to get ready to move out of our last apartment, there was still a small bottle of it left in the freezer from when our son was younger. I held it, weighed my options, ran some hot water and poured it down the drain.
Thank you Steven for sharing your thoughts with me. If you really want to find hand sliced “smoked meat” may I please suggest Mile End in Brooklyn. Try it and tell me what you think!
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
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