I’ll Have What He’s Having: Our Interview with Jeff Gordinier, Esquire’s Food and Drinks Editor
If you happen to be a player hater by nature and a food writer by profession, it would be easy to hate on Jeff Gordinier. When he was writing about food for the New York Times, his byline was inescapable—he was in the best rooms, with the best access, interviewing all the best chefs. Nowadays, Gordinier’s reach is global; he’s covering food and drink for Esquire. When we caught up with him, he was “beyond jet-lagged,” having just ricocheted through Norway, France, Mexico, the Arctic Circle, Los Angeles, Tennessee, Italy, and South America. And that was just for his day job. Gordinier’s also writing Hunger, a book about Chef René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s hallowed Noma.
Trigger Warning: If you’re inclined to player hate, stop reading this now.
But here’s the thing. When he finally drops his bags, he does it in Westchester County—and then he eats in all same places that we do. Better still, Gordinier has deep and unsneering thoughts about Westchester’s dining scene. Quoth the man: “I don’t know. When I talk about all these places, I just get excited.”
On White Bread
“People find out that I live in Westchester County, and they leap to this assumption based on decades of suburban literature that it’s incredibly white bread. People just assume that I live in a white bread community with no interesting culinary options. That assumption can be far from the truth. I mean, I think that there’s terrific Korean food, Japanese food, Middle Eastern food, Greek food. There are really dynamic young chefs pushing the envelope and creating food that’s delicious and restaurants that are entertaining, but, also, taking some risks and bringing their voice and perspective to the enterprise of cooking.”
“I don’t know if people around here realize how fortunate they are with Campbell Meats because Matt Campbell, as you know, worked at Craft. And worked at The Marrow. He’s a savant when it comes to meat—when it comes to making pâtés and charcuterie. I have learned so much from that guy and his team that when I go into Campbell Meats, I’m like, ‘You know what? I want something different. I want a steak, but not a predictable steak.’ And he’ll go, ‘Well, here’s this other cut that you may not have heard of.’ Or ‘Have you considered this cut of lamb?’ He introduced me to a cut of pork called coppa and, oh, my God, I roasted that and it was a dream.”
CP the Cook
“I think that Christian Petroni is a superstar. He’s an incredibly charismatic guy and funny and he knows how to run a restaurant, but also, he’s an incredible cook … I recently went to Fortina in Rye Brook. I had a blast … It’s just a really fun and dynamic restaurant that could easily be in East Village.”
On WASPs and Chicken Salad Sandwiches
“I’m thinking of Suzanne’s Table in Irvington; she’s a friend. But she makes, I believe, the best chicken salad sandwich I’ve ever had. And I’m very picky, as a WASP, about my chicken salad sandwiches. I just loathe, when you’re eating a chicken salad sandwich, if you get gummy pieces of ligament or skin. Or if the chicken hasn’t been prepared correctly and you get a tiny piece of bone. For some reason, that’s terribly unpleasant … it kind of negates the whole sandwich for me. And she just prepares it beautifully, like, the chicken is cooked perfectly, it’s tender, it’s cut up correctly, and then she has some dried apricots in there, I believe some walnuts. It’s nutty and fruity and salty—it’s just great.”
The Best Restaurant in Westchester (According to Ivan Ramen)
“I’m at Dobbs Diner all the time. You know one of the things that’s interesting about Dobbs Diner is that Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen loves Dobbs Diner. Like, it appeared in his ‘Chef’s Table’ episode … He loves it! I’ve had talks with him about it, and he told me that he seriously thinks Dobbs Diner is the best restaurant in Westchester.”
Dumplings Make People Happy
“Fantasy Cuisine is like the default position that my children and I take. When we can’t think of where to go or what to do and I just feel too tired to cook, we hit Fantasy Cuisine. It’s very close to me, and I think Fantasy Cuisine is underrated. I mean, those dumplings are excellent. I don’t love every dish on menu, but I think those dumplings are amazing. And dumplings make people happy, children in particular.”
Duck Mole (and Rene Redzepi)
“I love the spirit at La Chinita Poblana. I love how welcoming they are, but, also—they do a duck mole poblano, just a Puebla-style mole on a roast duck, that is the single best Mexican dish in Westchester County. It’s unbelievable. It’s sticky, it’s fatty, it’s roasted perfectly—and I give them a lot of credit for serving a duck mole. You would see that in Mexico, and you might see that at Cosme—in fact, they do a duck carnitas at Cosme—but you wouldn’t necessarily see that for a Westchester County audience.
“Do you want to hear a funny story? There is a guy at La Chinita Poblana named Roberto, he’s the general manager. And I went in there one night—this is a true story, it’s very weird—and I was scrolling through my pictures on my phone. And Roberto goes, “Yo, where have you been traveling?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, well, you know—I was in Copenhagen.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, wow—my best friend lives in Copenhagen. He works at a restaurant called Noma.’
“I’m not kidding! I’m like, ‘What the fuck do you mean that your best friend works at Noma?’ I’m, like, ‘I’m in a Mexican restaurant in Irvington, New York, man—and you tell me your best friend works at Noma? And I was just at Noma? That’s bizarre!’ I don’t even know how to process this … but it showed me that the global reach of Rene Redzepi can never be underestimated.”
A Good Night
“Michael Psilakis was in MP Taverna one night like, ‘Dude, do you want to try some steak? I’m experimenting with adding some Greek steaks to the menu.’ … So, he cooked up these steaks and he put all this lemon on it, which is so simple, but, like, a game changer. It was like, lemon on a steak—of course! I mean, actually, it’s brilliant; the lemon and the salt together make that steak just like tremble with delight. And then we sat and drank far too much wine together. It was a good night.”
Sublime vs. Slimy Nubs
“When friends visit, I take them to Irvington Delight for those incredible grape leaves because my friend, Amal, she and her husband grow the plants to harvest the grape leaves to stuff them. I mean, it tastes completely different from those slimy nubs that you get at the Greek counter at the supermarket. These are sublime and bitter and have almost a chewiness to them. Oh! And I take friends there, and they say, ‘Wait—this looks like a bodega.’ I say, ‘I know, but I’m telling you: These are the best stuffed grape leaves that I’ve ever had.’”
“I love Chutney Masala. Navjot Arora is a friend of mine, and I would be remiss in not mentioning that fact, because I eat there a lot. And my kids love it. My kids were turned on to Indian food by Navjot. He actually serves a goat brains dish at the recent incarnation of Chutney Masala, and I give him credit for doing that. I applaud his courage.”
“This is a very Californian, ’70s–’80s guy aspect of myself—my family moved to California in ’78—but I love malls. I mean, I unabashedly feel at home in shopping malls. I don’t resist them or have cynicism about them the way sophisticated media people are supposed to. I’m in heaven in them.
“To me, Ridge Hill is a delightful place. The open air … it’s very much like a place called Fashion Island that I grew up going to in Newport Beach. So, I like to go to Ridge Hill and hit the Apple Store and go to Elevation Burger with my kids and have a little fast food and then go to a movie: I’m not ashamed.
“I also love the Palisades Center because they have East, which is this conveyor-belt sushi place. My son Toby and I are very into conveyor-belt sushi. I will admit, though—and I don’t want to slag on anybody—but sometimes I grab one of those things and it’s just like a globby, fried, sweet disgusting mess. You know, like, ‘Why did I just grab the big Thunder Mountain roll? Why did I do that? This is revolting.’” (Laughs)