—Barry Estabrook, The Atlantic
“Kaminsky’s manifesto makes the not-altogether-depressing argument that some of us might be able to tame our gluttonous appetites (and maybe even slim down) by focusing on eating foods that deliver maximum flavor . . . Culinary Intelligence has nothing to do with shame, and everything to do with the idea of enlisting pleasure as your dietary ally.”
—Jeff Gordinier, The New York Times
“If you don’t want to be part of the obesity and diabetes epidemics in this country, read this book. Food-lover Peter Kaminsky lost weight and transformed his own diet without giving up delicious, nutritious, flavorful foods and he provides an entertaining roadmap for how hedonism and health can co-exist quite happily.”
—Arthur Agatston, M.D., preventive cardiologist and creator of the South Beach Diet
“Peter Kaminsky’s book shows that eating better definitely doesn’t mean compromising
on fantastic ingredients and delicious meals. It’s a great guide to how to make the most of your food.”
“Is Peter Kaminsky a double agent? For 20 years, he eats only the world’s best food, 'happens' to discover the cure for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, and comes home to tell us to cook our own food, have lunch, and eat leftovers? A savvy, audacious book—long overdue.
—Bill Buford, author of Heat
“For most people, good health and hedonism make strange bedfellows. But for Peter Kaminsky, eating for pleasure is eating for longevity: the two go hand in hand, and happily. His brilliant new book, Culinary Intelligence, isn’t formulaic or abstemious. It’s a culinary doctrine deeply rooted in flavor, making cooking and eating well something to look forward to.”
“Peter Kaminsky’s rules for taking pounds off and keeping them off are based on a really good idea: Flavor per Calorie. That works for him and should make dieting a pleasure.”
—Marion Nestle, New York University, co-author of Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics
“Peter Kaminsky knows food from every angle there is. Culinary Intelligence breaks new ground by weaving together fascinating stories, wonderful insights about the way we relate to food, and practical advice for eating better and truly enjoying it more.”
—Kelly D. Brownell, Professor of Psychology, Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University
“Peter Kaminsky’s Culinary Intelligence is the ultimate food-lover’s handbook, full of mouth-watering prose and smart, practical advice for a new generation of conscientious eaters. With every turn of the page I was inspired and encouraged to make realistic, healthy choices, without the fear of sacrificing the pleasures inherent in eating well. This book will forever change the way you think about food and no doubt help us all tread a little lighter, on our plates, our palates and on the planet.”
—Gail Simmons, author of Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater
About the Author
Peter Kaminsky wrote Underground Gourmet for New York magazine for four years, and his Outdoors column appeared in The New York Times for twenty years. He is a longtime contributor to Food & Wine, and the former managing editor of National Lampoon. His books include Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine, The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass, The Elements of Taste (with Gray Kunz), Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way (with Francis Mallmann), Letters to a Young Chef (with Daniel Boulud), Celebrate! (with Sheila Lukins), and John Madden’s Ultimate Tailgating. He is a creator and executive producer of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, on PBS.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Some people are born with perfect pitch. I’m not one of them, but I have something akin to that when it comes to food. I was born with a taste in my mouth, in much the same way that a songwriter is born with a tune in his head. Taste and its kiss- ing cousin, aroma, affect me powerfully. When my downstairs neighbor browns onions, the sweet and sharp scents rise up through the stairwell of our Brooklyn brownstone, carrying with them memories of my grandmother’s brisket, my moth- er’s smothered chicken, or a street vendor’s sausage sandwiches at the Feast of San Gennaro.
In the DNA lottery, I inherited a very acute palate and an equally sensitive sniffer. Just a pinch of tarragon hits me like the blast of a steam room. A couple of drops of sesame oil focuses my attention the way the scent of a trembling pheasant agitates a bird dog. I’m not saying that I can tell you what kind of oak dropped the acorns that fed the pig who ended up on my plate as a slice of Spanish ham. But I could never confuse the flesh of such a noble hog with the bland waterlogged ham from a factory-raised pig.
This obsession with taste can be a little maddening to friends and family, especially when we go to a restaurant. If, for exam- ple, a waiter passes by with a plate of coq au vin, my head will snap around as I breathe in the seductive smells. At such times I’ll check out of the conversation, trying to determine exactly which herbs and spices are in a dish. It’s not that I need to be right. It’s a compulsive culinary crossword puzzle that I conduct with myself. I can’t help it.
This isn’t bragging. I’m stating a fact about myself that I only fully recognized when I was well into adulthood. Until then, I thought everyone was like me: assaulted all day long by fusil- lades of flavor and irresistible aromas. It took me a long time to realize that not everyone inhaled and ingested their way through life this way. In fact, only about 4 percent of the population has this, er, gift—and it explains why so many of us turn out to be chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers, winemakers, restaurant critics, cookbook authors, and bloggers of the alliance of press and pan- try that I call the “foodoisie.” In a way, it’s their destiny for the same reason that tall men with impressive leaping skills become basketball players, smaller men with great eye-hand coordina- tion become golfers, socially awkward undergrads become Inter- net billionaires. For those of us who end up in the food world, to borrow a phrase from nouvelle-cuisine master Alain Senderens, “the table beckons.” Always.
For the first half of my life, I was not fully aware that I was a member of the foodoisie. True, I loved food—eating it and cooking it—but it was a hobby, not an occupational hazard. When writing about food became my occupation, the professional pursuit of pleasure put on pounds and screwed up my body chemistry. The choice was clear: mend my munching or fast-forward to Judgment Day. In terms of a healthy diet, I real- ized that although I ate wonderful rarefied food I was still a typical American in my eating habits, because, whether you are scarfing down scoops of Cherry Garcia with butterscotch sauce or dining on béarnaise-bathed filet mignon and butter-browned potatoes Anna, it all puts you on a glide path to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and all other so-called diseases of civilization. Maybe better to call them “illnesses of indulgence.”
This book is the result of my truly insatiable appetite for the pleasures of the table and my equally strong urge to survive. Rather than forgo health on the one hand, or hedonism on the other, I believe that the two can coexist quite happily.
The event that brought me into the full-time food world occurred on December 18, 1994. Two days before, my daughter Lucy and I caught a dozen blackfish off Coney Island. Before then, my résumé was as typically wide-ranging and inconsistent as any freelancer’s. I had been an itinerant humor writer, shuttling between magazines such as National Lampoon (where I was managing editor) and the life of a joke writer and producer of comedy television. It was a wacko, nerve-racking way to make a living, raise a family, and, on the first of most months, pay the mortgage. To balance out this unsettled existence, a generous act of fate guided me to the serene pastime of fishing. It took over my life, converted me into a hunting-and-fishing journalist, and eventually led to my own “Outdoors” column in the New York Times.
In 1994, I wrote a series of columns called “A Season on the Harbor.” Each month I reported on a different fishing excursion in New York City waters. It may come as a surprise to some, but the Big Apple has 578 miles of coastline once you stretch out all the curves and crannies. It is home at different times of the year to hundreds of millions of striped bass, bluefish, shad, weakfish, lobsters, oysters, clams, and mussels. Researching those columns was heaven to me: casting into acres of striped bass beating the waves to a froth off Runway 9 at JFK (where jets with low- ered landing gears came haircut close), or laying my rod across the gunwales of my boat to take in a fireworks display over the Statue of Liberty with no other soul in sight.
In early December, for the last piece in the series, Lucy and I went out for blackfish, a local quarry that looks like a mahimahi that has been mugged and left for dead. Looks notwithstand- ing, it is quite delicious. On a blustery but fishable day, we boarded a local pay-to-fish boat out of Sheepshead Bay, Brook- lyn. The regulars huddled inside the cabin, stowing their rods in the corner and settling into the more consequential business of penny-a-point pinochle. On deck, next to Lucy and me, an affable angler named Eddie Dols pulled in fish after fish. Eddie was generous with his knowledge and showed us how to detect a bite. He had spent his working years as the keeper of Olaf, the walrus at the Coney Island Aquarium. Lucy and I left the boat with two dozen blackfish fillets in our cooler.
The next day, I had scheduled my annual Christmas lunch with my college roommate, Vinnie Farrell, at ‘21’ Club in Man- hattan. The chef was Michael Lomonaco, who has since gone on to numerous television appearances and is in the history books as the guy who went to pick up his eyeglasses rather than taking the elevator to his restaurant in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. I knew Lomonaco as a fellow fisherman, with whom I had shared advice on tackle, lures, and general fishing lore.
I phoned him with a request.
“Hey, Mike, I caught a bunch of blackfish. If I bring them in, could you cook some for me and Vinnie? You can sell the rest.”
“No problem,” he answered, as I knew he would.
The next day found me waiting in the coat-check line at ‘21’ Club, with my little red Igloo cooler in hand and Frank Gifford and Ethel Kennedy just ahead of me. All in all, the ritziest coat- check line I’d ever been on.
“Did you bring your lunch?” Gifford asked in jest.
“As a matter of fact, I did.” With that we fell into conversation. I learned that Gifford had taken the occasional striper off Long Island Sound, near his Connecticut home.
Lomonaco invited me into the kitchen. This took place before images of the controlled chaos of restaurant kitchens had become a staple of television programming. True, I had flipped burgers in summer camp in the Poconos, and worked as a counterman at Cohen’s Famous Knishes in West Orange, New Jersey, but it was not until that day at ‘21’ that I got my first glimpse of a world-class restaurant kitchen firing on all cylinders.
Like other kitchens I would get to know in the coming years, Lomonaco’s moved at Mach 2: everyone shouting over each other yet somehow communicating, pans clanging, meat sizzling, the door to the dining room swinging in and out as hot plates left the kitchen and trays of empties returned. It was a symphony of aromas barely registering before they were replaced by new sensations: the perfume of rosemary on veal chops, wine clouds billowing off a superheated pan, the sizzle of burning sugar, the crackle of crisping meat, the scent of salmon so fresh it smelled like a sea breeze, and—since this was ‘21’ Club, where money was no object (or maybe the only object)—healthy helpings of the season’s last white truffles.
Because we were friends, Mike liberated a few shavings of those costly beauties for an extra course of bay scallops to go along with the blackfish, which he dredged in seasoned corn- meal crumbs and sautéed in clarified butter. He served the fillets atop a bed of black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed fennel, and a sprig of fresh dill. The confluence of the holiday season, the setting, and the fact that my daughter and I had caught the main course combined for the most wonderful blackfish that anyone could ever hope to eat.
After that sublime meal, the story basically wrote itself. My editor at the Times, Susan Adams, liked the piece so much that she prevailed on her boss to give my story most of a page, which was unusual for the “Outdoors” column. They even ran two pic- tures with it: Eddie Dols reeling in a fish, and Lomonaco flip- ping pans in his chef’s whites.
I received more letters on that one piece than all the letters combined for everything else I have ever written, with the exception of a column I wrote about 9/11. Something in this lucky turn of events spoke to me loud and clear: I needed to let my inner food guy out and find him a writing job.
Then, obeying E. B. White’s maxim that people in New York must “be prepared to be lucky,” I got lucky when the...