Tales of a Supertaster

Super Taster

Being a supertaster was the last thing on my mind when my dentist said, “Don’t eat anything for the next few hours,” snapping off a pair of latex gloves and dropping them into the trash. “You could bite your cheek or tongue. Could be nasty.” I’d been white-knuckling it in the chair for almost an hour because I had to get a filling regrouted. Owing to a pain threshold of a third grader, I insisted he dope me up as much as possible. The result was my mouth was numb from the divot of my upper lip all the way back to my right ear. I rubbed my fingers across the side of my face; it felt as if I were touching the stubble of an unkempt stranger. “Remember —” he called after me as I walked out of the office.

2006 Bert Greene Award

Winner

Best Food Writing 2006

Featured in

“No eating, got it,” I said and headed to my favorite burger joint. I’ve downed hundreds of thousands of meals in my life without incident, I reasoned, I’m sure I can manage another.

As I took a bite of my cheeseburger, I experienced that curious post-dental sensation, as if I’d lost muscle control on the side of my face. I couldn’t tell if the food was being demurely chewed or was dribbling down the doughy-feeling chin of that stubbled stranger. But an even curiouser thing happened: On the numbed side of my mouth, I couldn’t taste anything. It was as if my taste buds had been Novocained, too. I wasn’t about to let a little anesthesia keep me down—there was food at stake here—but after a few more bites, I gave up. The anxiety of wondering if I looked like a slobbering Saint Bernard proved too much, and I headed home. Read more »

Playing with Fire: Sweating it out with Barbecue Pit Master Ricky Parker

Traveling west between Nashville and Memphis, across the rhinestone buckle of the Bible Belt, I headed deeper into the South’s other and equally worshipped belt—that of barbecue. Every few miles, advertisements for pulled-pork sandwiches shared billboard space with promises of salvation from ministers who looked as if they should be presiding over a congregation of used-car salesmen, not sinners. Stapled to telephone poles were handmade signs with the letters “BBQ” and a hastily drawn arrow underneath.

2006 Bert Greene Award

Finalist

Few things other than barbecue could wrench me from the familiar comfort of my air-conditioned New York apartment and drop me into western Tennessee, especially in the torpid heat of late June. It wasn’t because of any abiding love for the food, but rather because of a colossal, unmitigated lack of understanding. Having been raised in New England during the culinarily unenlightened ’60s, I took anything my father put on our hibachi to be barbecue. Steak? Yep. Hot dogs? Certainly. And while you’re at it, why not grilled cheese made with Velveeta? But later, as the cult of pork crept north, I found myself at swank eateries downing Kansas-, Texas-, and Memphis-style barbecue, and I was none the wiser. It seems no two people who have ever huddled over a pit have agreed upon what animal to cook, how to cook it, whether to sauce it, or when to season it. There isn’t a technique that confounds me more, and, considering how barbecue is suddenly the food of the moment, I figured I needed to learn more.

I contacted my friend southern food writer John T. Edge, a short, wiry man whose face has the scrubbed shine of a just-opened lichee nut, and asked him where I could go to learn about barbecue firsthand. Read more »

Grilling with the Steak Whisperer

When Waldy Malouf, owner of Beacon Restaurant in New York City, broke his ankle in several places, I couldn’t have been happier. Nothing against Malouf. If anything, he’s a friendly bear of a guy, unlike the pan-throwing heathens I had the bad luck to work with when I was a waiter. Nor was it thinly veiled sadomasochistic tendencies that warmed me inside when I got word of his misfortune. Rather it was something far more sinister: grilling season. It was fast approaching, and I couldn’t present my claque of culinistas with yet another platter of incinerated chicken breasts. Because Malouf had to hang up his tongs temporarily, thanks to a cast that came up to his knee, I did what any desperate cook would do. I ambushed him at home, in Connecticut. Read more »

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