Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In Like a Lion...Out Like a Lamb

March was kind of a doozy for me.  For much of the month I (along with a small army of volunteers) was involved in the planning and execution of a number of events for the Int’l. Association of Culinary Professionals, the worldwide association of food people (sorry, I don’t like the term foodies) which held its 2012 conference in NYC.  Every year’s is in a different city; 2011’s was in Austin, TX and next year’s is in San Francisco.  But this year was NYC’s turn to host, and Judith Klinger of Aroma Cucina fame, a friend on mine who sits on the board of directors as well as being this year’s host city chairwoman, asked if I’d like to “volunteer.”  She knows me well – knows how much I like to work and even more how much I like to work for no pay.  

All kidding aside, the event was a smashing success and I look forward to “volunteering” in the future (if Jude can find me). My "job" this year involved my friend Jeff A. (husband of said chairwoman) and me planning, organizing and executing a number of events for groups of conference attendees during their down, or non-conference scheduled, time. These were called optional events. 

One of the optional events that Jeff and I planned was a Lower East Side Jewish historical culinary tour…and that’s a mouthful.  This involved Jeff and me meeting, at the ungodly hour of 9 AM, with 20 or so people at the hotel where the conference was being held in midtown Manhattan, many of whom were arriving that morning, and then schlepping those same folks downtown to our first stop. Now when I say schlepping, I mean I had never had the pleasure of leading a group that size, many of whom had never been to New York before, onto the subway for the trip; it was like a Marx Brothers’ movie. Just getting them all through the turnstiles was a regular riot. 

Of course when your first stop is here...

You rush to be on time. And once there, we were not only treated to smoked salmon on mini bagels, their incomparable whitefish salad (known in some circles as crack salad) and pickled herring, but an even greater treat – that of being given an historical perspective of Russ & Daughters and the neighborhood by none other than a 3rd generation Russ, Mr. Mark Russ Federman, a real mensch. Oh, and that’s also where we met our special tour guest, Ruth Reichl (another mensch!) – who was along to offer her insight (and to nosh!). Needless to say, it was (both the food and the schmooze) a real smash with our guests.  Take a look at just a small sampling of what's on offer at Russ and Daughters...

From Russ, we moved on to the Tenement Museum, where a guided tour awaited our group…and if you’re planning a visit to NYC and have never been to this particular museum – GO! The history contained within that small building on Orchard St. is amazing – over 6,000 people lived there at one time or another, and the blood, sweat and tears they suffered so that their kids could have a better life is sure to move you.  

On and on we went…to the Pickle Guys and their “Borscht-Belt” humor; as a matter of fact, they were grating fresh horseradish for Passover and everyone’s sinuses get a good cleaning.  Here's our group clamoring for pickles...

To Kossar’s Bialys, where we got to taste bialys, bulkas and pletzels, along with a lesson on the difference between a bialy and a bagel; you don’t know?  You’ll have to visit...

And then back up to Houston St. and the final stop on our tour: Katz’s Delicatessen, where another dozen or so people (including the food science writer Shirley Corriher and her husband) were awaiting our group and…lunch! This part of the tour was billed as lunch with Ruth Reichl, and Ruth’s charm, wit and knowledge enthralled the group…at one point, I wanted tell everyone to leave her alone to enjoy her pastrami; by the way, Ruth and I conspiratorially ordered some “moist” (the good stuff) pastrami, which we smilingly wolfed down…

I mean, if you’re gonna eat pastrami, what’s with the lean?  While at Katz’s we were also treated to a nice talk by one of its owners, Alan Dell; he talked and we ate!  

And posed for a photo with Ruth and his son Jake...

As lunch wound down, Jeff and I enjoyed a celebratory Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.  And then we hopped on the subway to head back to the hotel.  After that amazing morning, we had another group to meet for an afternoon tour; our day was far from over…and the conference was just beginning. 


  1. Thanks, Mitch, for bringing back so many wonderful memories from that special day. Your tour was a smashing success!

    Mazel tov,

    Rodger Helwig

  2. It was such a fascinating, memorable trip - a real highlight of IACP for me. Many thanks again to you and Jeff!

  3. You did a super job on that tour, Mitch. Thanks again. Loved having it led by Ruth Reichl. What a privilege!

  4. Great recap Mitch! I heard nothing but raves about the tour.

  5. I'm going to have do this tour myself when I'm in town in July.

  6. Oh Mitch... you doth protest too much! You love working for no pay, especially when it comes to a neighborhood you know and dearly love.
    I've heard such good things about your tour...I'm jealous I couldn't be there!

    Hey, didn't you used to live in San Francisco?? Surely you want to volunteer for the SF conference!
    Bacci & un'abbraccione for all your hard work and energy.

    1. We had some BIG fun planning this, huh? Great to hear how much people enjoyed it. Now I hear my better half is trying to rope you in for SF. Could be some laughs! I'm in, if you are!

  7. @Judith & Jeff - San Francisco is my 2nd favorite city (in this country). Would be glad to help...let's see if I can schedule Sig Eater and me to be there.

  8. Inspiring, Mitch! And mouth-watering too. ;-)

  9. I didn't know corned beef or pastrami could ever taste THIS good. And what food for thought to visit the Tenement Museum. A most savory tour that I will always remember!

  10. Fun post but if you're looking for any sympathy from me for your hard work when the end result was spending a day on the Lower East Side, you're just not going to get it from me :-). I did attend IACP but wasn't able to get to NY early enough to join that tour, but I was green w envy. Last April, I took my kids there for the first time and put my mom on the phone with us who grew up on the Lower East Side so she could guide us through. We made it to Russ and Daughter's and Katz's and Yonah Shimmel's (with a detour to the Doughnut Plant) but I can't believe I missed the Bialy store!

    Fun post and thanks for all of your hard, unpaid work. I resemble that.