Some people malign it as casserole. Others simply love to hate it. But as a native Chicagoan and lifelong enthusiast of all variations on the tomato pie, I don’t care what people say: I’m here to defend my city’s most infamous dish. Scratch that: I’m…
Month: August 2019
[Illustrations: Biodiversity Heritage Library (Sea Urchins, Oyster)] You did it! Another week down! In case you missed the last one or the one before that, we’re putting up a post very much like this one every Friday afternoon, to celebrate the fact that the week…
Okay, so it may not be as essential to your liquor cabinet as gin or whiskey. You can, of course, make plenty of drinks without Campari. But of all the liqueurs in our collection, this bitter, herbal, and fruity aperitif is one of the bottles we reach for most often. Deep-red Campari, equal parts sweetness and bitter punch, adds bold flavor wherever you pour it, whether you’re sticking with a tried-and-true Negroni or attempting something a bit more unusual. Start with one of these 21 cocktails, and then work your way down the list, one happy hour at a time.
We’ve made a habit of going into bars and just asking for “something bitter and sour.” More than once, the bartender’s answer has been this rosy cocktail, made with gin, fresh lemon, Campari, and a little Cointreau to sweeten. It’s a crowd-pleaser: bright and juicy, fresh but not sugary.
If you’ve spent time in Italy (or read the New York Times’ unpopular take on the subject), you’re probably plenty familiar with the orangey Aperol spritz, often enjoyed as part of an aperitivo hour that includes an array of snacks. This Campari version is a little bolder, but still plenty refreshing. Here, the Campari is cut with both club soda and Prosecco; it’s great with a salty olive garnish and fried snacks on the side.
A simple Paloma is a beautifully easy thing. But this is not that drink; it’s something delicious in its own right. We begin by whipping up a homemade grapefruit cordial, burying grapefruit peels in sugar and letting them macerate, before adding fresh lime and grapefruit juices, salt, sugar, and a little water. Once your cordial’s ready—and it’ll last several weeks, so it’s fine to do your prep work in advance—you’ll mix it with tequila, lime, and seltzer, plus Campari, which is really grapefruit’s best friend.
Negroni devotees are an intense lot. They get tattoos representing the recipe—III, for one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one part Campari. They sample every possible sweet vermouth available. They debate adding a touch more gin to dry out the drink a bit. They set their garnishes on fire. And the Negroni’s a cocktail that rewards this customizing—start with the basic equal-parts version, and tailor it to your taste. Then get going on the countless Negroni variations, a few of which you’ll find as you keep reading here.
What happens if you’re making a Negroni, but you swap out the gin for whiskey? You get the cold-weather cocktail you didn’t even realize you were craving. Rye or bourbon makes the bittersweet drink more robust, for a warming and rich winter sipper.
This powerful drink, usually made with spicy rye whiskey, is drier than the Boulevardier, since it calls on dry vermouth instead of sweet. It’s aggressively flavored and a touch boozy, so Campari newcomers may want to take it slow. But if you’re already enamored with the bitter liqueur, you should definitely add this to your list.
If you’re looking for a pre-dinner drink that’s not too strong, say hello to this concoction—essentially a Negroni without the gin. That is, Campari and sweet vermouth, up or on the rocks, plus an important touch: bubbles. Prosecco or Cava will work just fine.
The Americano is even lighter than the Sbagliato; it’s made with club soda instead of sparkling wine. The flavor comes from bittersweet Campari and sweet vermouth. Be sure to open up a new bottle of vermouth if yours is starting to smell oxidized—and, once you’ve cracked the seal, keep that vermouth in the fridge for best results.
Ask a bartender what’s going on in cocktails right now, and you’ll likely hear that everyone just wants to have fun again. Throw out your vest and suspenders, get rid of that silly mustache, and pull out the blender, because frozen cocktails are back…and this time, they’re really tasty. Chilling the mixture of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in the freezer ahead of time limits dilution, for a less watery slushy once you add the ice and blend.
The Negroni doesn’t need any extra ingredients to be great, but the addition of a little absinthe makes for an intriguing concoction. The absinthe makes the Quill a little more herbal than the Negroni, while the anise flavor teases extra interest out of the Campari, gin, and vermouth, without overtaking the drink.
The magic of the Quill, but lighter, thanks to a little fizzy club soda and Prosecco. Instead of sweet vermouth, this drink boosts the bitterness of Campari a bit with Cocchi Rosa, a quinine-laced aperitif.
Invented by Toby Maloney of Chicago’s Violet Hour, this wild ride of a drink brings together three bitter bottles: Campari, Fernet Branca, and bittersweet, vegetal Cynar. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
We’ve just started to see this cocktail on more drink menus, and we couldn’t be happier about it. This drink is easy to love, and it’s also one of the best uses of Campari we know. The bittersweet stuff is brightened with lime and fresh, tangy pineapple juice, while the base of the cocktail is rich blackstrap rum. Canned pineapple juice won’t measure up to the flavor you’ll get from fresh—if you don’t have a juicer, you’ll have to get to work muddling.
This fancy and festive spin on the Jungle Bird starts with rum that’s been infused with lime zest and roasted pineapple. The infused aged rum pairs beautifully with a little dark rum, Campari, and sparkling wine—it might be the most elegant tiki drink you’ve ever tried.
The Hemingway Daiquiri is made with lime and grapefruit, rum, and a touch of maraschino liqueur. This tequila variation calls on the same kinds of citrus, but swaps out the sweet maraschino for bittersweet Campari. It’s a compelling combination.
Sangria can be a little same old, same old, but this one’s something special. Campari boosts the citrusy flavors of the fruit and wine and cuts the drink’s sweetness nicely. A little bourbon adds a kick, plus a hint of vanilla flavor from barrel-aging.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a summer cocktail more refreshing or simpler to make than this one, designed expressly with fans of LaCroix in mind. We pair Campari with the tangerine version of the ubiquitous sparkling water, plus fresh orange juice to bolster the drink’s citrus flavor and lime juice to cut through the bittersweet aperitif.
This cocktail gives the classic fall-weather-friendly Boulevardier a run for its money. Instead of sweet vermouth, this recipe calls for a mix of liqueurs—orange-flavored Ferrand’s Dry Curaçao and warmly spiced Amaro Ramazzotti—in addition to a generous pour of whiskey, a dash of bitters, and, of course, Campari.
If you like lightly bitter drinks, but find a classic Negroni a bit too much for your taste, try this twist on a sour, invented by Douglas Derrick of Ava Gene’s in Portland, Oregon. It subs in a pre-batched Negroni (gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth) for the whiskey or Pisco typically found in a sour. We’ve found that this cocktail gets the best flavor—bright, tart, and herbal—from Plymouth navy-strength (high-proof) gin.
Created by Pete Stanton of New York’s Ai Fiori, this summery drink is no lightweight, thanks to the combination of smoky mezcal and bittersweet Campari and Punt e Mes. A little fresh grapefruit juice and club soda help to brighten it up. Don’t let its pretty, rosy appearance fool you.
This autumnal Negroni variation deviates from the standard equal-parts Negroni formula, combining two parts apple brandy—definitely use the high-proof, bonded stuff here, such as Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy—with one part each Campari and sweet vermouth. If you’ve got a fall cocktail party coming up, this one can easily be scaled up for a crowd. (Read more on prepping drinks for a crowd in our guide to batched cocktails.)
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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] When I set out to conquer the ins and outs of making the best pistachio ice cream, a dozen rounds of testing inadvertently blessed me with a near-lifetime supply of homemade pistachio paste, a thrifty byproduct of milk-soaked pistachios leftover from the…
2. For the Dough: In the stand mixer bowl from the last step, whisk the flour, yeast, and salt until thoroughly combined. In a quart-sized liquid measuring cup, combine the pistachio paste, Greek yogurt, milk, and pistachio oil, mixing by hand or with an immersion…
Like a great deal of food media in America, the world of restaurant criticism has a long history of hiring white writers and closing its doors to people of color. So it was exciting to see the San Francisco Chronicle break the mold last year when it hired Vietnamese-American food writer and podcaster, Soleil Ho, to be its lead restaurant critic. If that wasn’t cool enough, Soleil also happens to be a fellow graduate of Grinnell College, the small progressive liberal arts college in Iowa that I attended a mere 40 years before she did. For all those reasons and more, I had to have Soleil on Special Sauce.
At Grinnell, Soleil remembers “having to petition dining services to leave soy sauce out for breakfast, and they didn’t understand why we needed it. And I had to make my case like, ‘No, soy sauce and eggs is a thing that people eat.’” Vocal as she was about food, though, she didn’t start out wanting to be a food writer. “When I entered college, I wanted to get into physics. I was really into quantum physics,” she recalls. But cooking always had an undeniable allure. “Oh, I used to be so into Iron Chef when I was a kid. I loved the bravado of it, of peeling eels alive and all of that stuff. And that’s what really attracted me to that.”
Learning to cook came later, initially from reading, watching TV, and dining out, and eventually from working in Portland as a line cook. It was during her line cook days that she started her groundbreaking podcast, Racist Sandwich, with Zahir Janmohamed. “We wanted the show to be a reliable place within food media for people to find these stories that seems like they only ran on special occasions. You know, like you’d only read black stories in February during Black History Month, or you’d only read LGBTQ stories during June, Pride Month, those sorts of things. And we wanted to cover that stuff all the time and not feel like those stories were an exception or tokens or anything like that.”
We covered so many interesting topics during the first half of our conversation we never even got to her San Francisco Chronicle gig. For that, you’ll have to wait until next week. In the meantime, you can check out her bylines for the newspaper right here.
You Could Be on Special Sauce
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Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike.
Soleil Ho: When I entered college, I wanted to get into physics. I was really into quantum physics and was reading the History of Time and all of these other books.
EL: And then what?
SH: Got a job at a sandwich shop.
EL: Today we are talking to Soleil Ho, the new and groundbreaking restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Soleil is also the co-creator of the terrific podcast, Racist Sandwich. Is that still on the air? Or no, when you left?
SH: It’s in the works. We took a hiatus after I left, just because they had to figure out all their stuff.
EL: Got it, okay. Soleil’s also written a book called Meal, or co-written a book, I should say. Welcome to Special Sauce, Soleil Ho, a fellow Grinnell College alum. How many times have I gotten to say this on Special Sauce? Never.
SH: Thanks for having me.
EL: It was so much fun researching this podcast. Where do I begin? There’s so much I want to talk to you about. Can you stay for like eight hours?
SH: I do have to file a review today, so I don’t think so.
EL: Okay. All right, all right. You know, that’s what all the restaurant critics say to me. So tell us about life at the Ho family table.
SH: Gosh, it had so many iterations. But the main way to frame it is my mom was a single mother for most of my childhood. And so she would oftentimes allow my sister and I, my younger sister and I, to order from the array of takeout menus and delivery menus that we kept in this one drawer in the kitchen.
EL: Where were you living?
SH: New York City, in Manhattan.
EL: In Manhattan. Okay.
SH: And so she would fan them out and we would pick and my sister and I would fight over, you know, we want Italian this night or Indian or Thai or Vietnamese or Mexican. And that was often what we would end up eating because she was just too busy to cook.
EL: That’s weird because she’s a chef, right?
SH: Nowadays, yeah. She worked in fashion for most of my life. And then when she air-quotes retired, she decided to move to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and open a restaurant.
EL: Because that’s what everyone does who works in fashion. They air-quote retire, move to Puerto Vallarta and open a restaurant.
EL: So you mostly ordered takeout? That was what the Ho family table was like growing up?
SH: Yeah, mostly takeout. And you know, sometimes she would cook. And when she did, she would dip into the Gourmet Cookbook or … I mean, she had Aquavit by Marcus Samuelsson on the table, all of this sort of stuff. And she always would look at cookbooks and recipes in the magazines and stuff like that for inspiration.
EL: And she’s Vietnamese American, right?
EL: Were you one of those kids who just were naturally curious about food? If she was cooking, would stand up on a chair to watch her?
SH: No, I was a bookworm.
EL: That is quite a revealing confession, Soleil.
SH: Yeah, I was actually more interested in reading. But when we’d go to restaurants, I was so fascinated by the entire procedure.
EL: And did you explore the New York City food scape much?
SH: I did, yes. We lived in Midtown for a time and so we walked around the neighborhoods a lot. and I would always peek my head into restaurants and read menus, because they always had the menus like plaster in the window, you know?
EL: Did you like those Japanese restaurants that would actually have the dishes in plastic?
SH: I still do. Those are so cool.
EL: I do too. And there’s a name for that. I don’t know what it’s called. But I want a museum exhibit or a gallery exhibit of that stuff.
SH: Yeah. Actually when I was in Tokyo this past fall, I went to the street where they make all that stuff, which is called-
SH: Kappabashi. These artisans make the plastic food and it’s … There’s so much work involved.
EL: So I read that when your mom did cook Vietnamese food, you were embarrassed by the broadly, weirdly fishy dishes. Is that true?
SH: Yeah, I would have friends over sometimes, and I just didn’t know how to explain the food to them. I didn’t have any Vietnamese friends growing up, so the other Vietnamese kids I knew were in my family. And so that was just what we knew. But having to articulate the difference was a challenge for me, and so I just didn’t.
EL: So you just hoped that they would ignore the broadly, weirdly fishy food.
SH: I had the attitude of like, “Oh, you wouldn’t like this.” So, you know, it’s okay.
EL: Which is the attitude you sometimes get in Chinese restaurants many, many years ago.
SH: Yeah, I would’ve been a terrible waitress as a child.
EL: So you ended up at Grinnell College, where you probably succeeded in escaping those broadly, weirdly fishy dishes, that’s for sure. Because there’s no broadly, weirdly fishy food in Grinnell, Iowa.
SH: No, I ended up making a lot of food for myself there, because sad to say, the food at the dining hall was not up to par for me.
EL: You know, I’m speaking about 50 years after the fact. It kind of sucked back then. It was probably a marginally better at least when you were there.
SH: Oh, I’m sure. But it just wasn’t enough. Like I remember having to petition dining services to leave soy sauce out for breakfast, and they didn’t understand why we needed it. And I had to make my case like, “No, soy sauce and eggs is a thing that people eat.”
EL: And so what did you do food-wise? First of all, did you teach yourself to cook? Or did you watch the Food Network? How did you learn to cook?
SH: Oh, I used to be so into Iron Chef when I was a kid. I loved the bravado of it, of peeling eels alive and all of that stuff. And that’s what really attracted me to that. But I learned how to cook … Gosh, I think from reading. And I think from … yeah, watching TV, and of course from eating things too, just eating out at restaurants. And so I had a certain palette that I carried with me. And so when I went to school, I just fended for myself a lot of the time.
EL: Let’s face it, the eating-out options at Grinnell, Iowa were really limited. Could you still get the donuts at the Danish Maid Bakery two in the morning?
SH: Yeah, yeah. You know, I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, so that didn’t appeal to me too much.
EL: What about the loose meat sandwiches at the Maid-Rite?
SH: Ugh. It’s good for some people but not for me.
EL: So what did you do when you went out?
SH: Honestly, I had a really good friend who lived off-campus and I would just go to his apartment and cook constantly. And so I’d be there making pho and zucchini bread and breads and all kinds of dishes that I wouldn’t have space for in the dorm kitchens. And so, yeah, I would just bring my groceries to his place and just cook.
EL: And then you told me, I think, you worked at that one supposedly legit restaurant in Grinnell?
EL: As a line cook? As a server? What did you do?
SH: As a server. So the restaurant was called Phoenix Cafe, and it was really the one restaurant with tablecloths. And I went and decided that I would get a job as a server there because I wanted to learn how to talk to people. Really.
EL: A useful skill, I think, in life.
SH: Yeah, before that I had a really hard time approaching strangers. Like, in fact, I would ask my little sister, who was about five years younger than me, to order food for me at restaurants because I was too shy.
EL: When you and I had lunch, I didn’t think of you as shy at all. That was only a couple, a few months ago.
SH: Exposure therapy worked.
EL: Exposure therapy worked. So you graduate from Grinnell, I assume you’re still bookworm.
EL: And what did you think you were going to do after college?
SH: I didn’t know because that was when the recession hit, right?
SH: When I entered college, I wanted to get into physics. I was really into quantum physics and was reading the History of Time and all of these other books. But then I ended up being really interested in history. But of course when the recession hit, I was like, “Oh shoot, I chose wrong.” So I ended up working on a farm and trying to just wait it out to see what would happen next.
EL: Where was the farm?
SH: It was in Minnesota, just outside of Alexandria.
EL: And what did they grow?
SH: Vegetables. So it was an organic CSA and so they would just-
SH: Yeah, distribute the-
EL: What’s the name of that program that college students go on?
SH: Oh, the WWOOF thing?
EL: Yes. WWOOFing.
SH: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yeah, it was part of that.
EL: You were a WWOOFer! Wow. So you did that for a year or so and then what?
SH: And then I moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota and got a job at a sandwich shop, because that was what was around. And then I started interning for a magazine, an online food magazine called Heavy Table. So that was my first entree into food writing.
EL: So you were both writing about food and working in restaurants or sandwich shop or whatever.
SH: Yeah, yeah. I just kept working in restaurants, moving from place to place from there.
EL: Was your mother pulling for quantum physics at this moment?
SH: No. Although before I got a job-job as a cook, I did call her and just tell her, like, “How do you feel about this? Are you okay?” And she was really happy. Because she has always been a gourmand and loves the restaurant world, and so she was all for it.
EL: Sounds like you have a pretty cool mom.
SH: Yeah, I do.
EL: So you ended up writing, which I haven’t read a lot about. You ended up co-writing this book with, I guess, a graphic artist named Blue Delliquanti.
EL: Called Meal, which has been described as a graphic novel on culinary mentorship, queer romance and eating insects. Okay, you got to go through each one of those.
SH: Yeah, it’s a grab bag if you just lay it out in that way. But the narrative does bring it all together in a satisfying arc.
SH: And so it’s about a chef, or I guess like a young cook, named Yarrow. She moves to Minneapolis from Petaluma, California. And she’s chasing after this chef, this world-famous chef who specializes in insect cuisine and who’s trying to open a restaurant in Minneapolis. And so she tries to get a job at this restaurant but she gets rejected. And she’s trying so hard to be approved of by the chef. And along the way she meets some really cool people. One person in particular catches her eye and so there’s some romantic tension. And yeah, it all comes together in this really neat way.
EL: Before you wrote the book then, you were cooking in many other cities, right?
EL: So you ended up cooking in New Orleans and Portland, Oregon, and then eventually with your mom in Mexico. Tell us about that journey.
SH: I kind of had this idea where, as someone who’s working in restaurants, I wanted to learn as much as possible about all kinds of approaches to food. So I didn’t have a singular vision of what I wanted to specialize in, like Japanese cuisine or haute cuisine or anything like that. I just wanted to work at as many different places as possible. Which sounds kind of silly, but I did learn so much from all the places I worked at. I tried my hand at molecular gastronomy and making ramen and making bistro food, and all of those experiences taught me so much about how restaurants work and how many shapes and sizes a kitchen can take.
EL: And did you end up as a chef de cuisine or were you always just a line cook?
SH: I definitely moved up the ranks over time. Although managing people is just …
EL: Not your strength?
SH: It’s not fun. I find myself really invested in people, and so that can be hard when you’re trying to manage people.
EL: Where did you spend the most of your time cooking?
SH: I think-
SH: No. New Orleans, actually.
EL: New Orleans. Oh, I love New Orleans. And so where were you cooking in New Orleans?
SH: At a restaurant called Bayona in the French Quarter.
EL: Got it. So you worked for Susan Spicer?
EL: Who is sort of one of the founding mothers of contemporary New Orleans cooking, I would say.
SH: Absolutely, yeah. And at the time I think the restaurant was entering its 25th year of operation. It was pretty amazing.
EL: And did you then delve into sort of the Leah Chase universe and the Willie Mae Seaton universe? You know, I used to go to New Orleans all the time because I had an advertising client, Barq’s Root Beer, which at the time was owned by two young guys in New Orleans. And so it was the greatest gig ever because I got to just eat in New Orleans. Although it was often in August, when their bottlers’ convention was, but so what? And I got to know all these people. Did you explore all the culinary traditions of New Orleans?
SH: Yeah, I spent a lot of time in the Treme, a lot of time in East New Orleans too where the Vietnamese and black communities really melded together, and of course uptown. I just spent a lot of time all around the area and in Gretna, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Charles. It was really fun. I remember one of my favorite memories of living down there was going mushroom-hunting in the state park north of Lake Pontchartrain, jumping off of the trail and dodging snakes while looking for chanterelles.
EL: So did you get to try Willie Mae Seaton’s fried chicken or Leah Chase’s gumbo?
EL: How could you not do that? In fact, I would have ended the podcast if you had said no.
SH: Yeah, I think that would have really slammed down any cred that I have.
EL: It’s true. And did you know my friend Lolis Eric Elie when you were down there?
SH: Where …
EL: Lolis ended up being a staff writer on Treme, David Simon’s television show. But he grew up in Treme and actually did a great documentary about the neighborhood. And his dad was a prominent civil rights lawyer in New Orleans.
EL: And yeah, his dad just died. He has a fascinating history, and now he’s a television writer. He also went to high school with Wynton Marsalis, and he ended up going on the road as his road manager and wrote a book, a great book about barbecue, called Smokestack Lightning.
SH: Oh wow. Cool.
EL: That if you’ve never read, you really should. It’s really a great book.
SH: I’ll check it out.
EL: What about Portland? What was that scene like for you?
SH: Oh, it was really interesting. Portland has a lot of middle-ground restaurants, not a ton of fine dining, which I found really interesting. But there are so much influence from San Francisco, the Bay Area of course, because there were a lot of transplants moving up there, and a lot of diversity in cuisine. Although, at the time I found it really interesting as a person of color moving in and kind of encountering the present dynamics, as far as class and race and just geography and how that manifested in Portland. I thought that was really a lot of information to take in, and so-
EL: Yeah, there has been a fair amount of pushback about sort of Andy Ricker being the face of Thai cooking in America even though he’s not Thai and … How do you make sense of all that?
SH: For me, what makes sense is it’s not about the individuals. It’s not about Andy. He’s doing what he does and what he loves to do. And the critiques should, and I think have been, more about media and who the media goes to for talking-head type stuff or for expertise and who they rely on to speak for all matter of issues. Those are political choices as well.
SH: So I think that is really the crux of those critiques, is yes, he’s great, but don’t just ask him for his opinion about Thai food, you know?
EL: Yeah, it’s interesting. I don’t know if you’re … Did you ever see Francis Lam’s piece about that in the Times?
EL: I don’t think it was on purpose, but we would all gravitate to the people who would give us the quickest and easiest quotes.
SH: Right, yeah. And as a critic, I find that yeah, it is more difficult to seek out people who aren’t media-savvy. You know, like they won’t let you into the restaurant to take pictures, for instance. Or they won’t want to get on the phone. But you really have to work hard at it. And a lot of times when you have a deadline, you don’t have the luxury of time to do that. I get it.
EL: No. So you’re like, “I need a quote about Thai food. I’m going to go to Andy Ricker. I have a cell phone. End of story.”
EL: So was Portlandia true to life? Did you know the name of every chicken that you cooked?
SH: Definitely not. Although people did have a lot of questions. As diners, people were really well educated in that way. So yeah, there was a lot of questioning and a lot of inquiry.
SH: I think a lot of times it felt performative as well. Right? Because you got a lot of questions about the manner of slaughter but not a lot of questions about the labor and the people involved in making these things or harvesting these things. No one was asking, “So how much do your servers get paid?”
EL: Yeah. So you always saw food through this sociopolitical lens.
SH: Yeah. I mean, honestly, right? We live in a society, which is such a me, me thing to say, but it’s true. Everything that we do is contingent on these greater ideologies that rule everything around us, how we see things, how we phrase things, what even appears before us and makes it through the grinder of all the gatekeepers that lead up to the moment of consumption, if that makes sense.
EL: Yeah. By gatekeepers, you mean the chefs.
SH: Right. Chefs or even food writers, PR people … Like the whole system is interwoven. And if you think about it in terms of movies, for instance. Movies are mass culture and they tell us a lot about what’s acceptable in our culture. And they go through so many gatekeepers to appear in the form that we see as consumers.
SH: And food is the same way.
EL: Yeah. You know, when I started Serious Eats in 2006, it was because, Soleil, I’d had it with gatekeepers. And by gatekeepers, as a writer, I’m talking about editors.
EL: I hated it. I spent more time pitching than I did writing. It’s a terrible thing. So how did you end up in Puerto Vallarta cooking with your mother?
SH: Well, she needed help. She wanted to open a restaurant that she wanted to actually eat at. Not to say that the restaurants in Puerto Vallarta are bad, but she didn’t have any Asian cuisine that she liked down there. So, you know, places that served pho and places that served really good food that wasn’t interpreted through a purely commercial lens. And not to say that that’s bad, but she just wanted something more, as someone who came up in New York and wanted a little bit of that.
EL: And she enlisted your help.
EL: And you dropped everything and went to Puerto Vallarta?
SH: Pretty much. I mean, how do you say no to your mom?
EL: I think that’s going to be the title of this podcast. How Do You Say No to Your Mom?.
EL: So how long did you stay down there?
SH: About two years.
SH: Yeah, so we really built the restaurant from ground up. It used to be a house, and so there was a ton of construction. And the restaurant still exists. She opened a place across the street too, which is really funny-
EL: Wow, she’s becoming a mogul.
SH: Yeah, a one-woman restaurant group-
EL: It’s the Ho Restaurant Group.
SH: Yeah, yeah.
EL: You came back. And is that when you launched Racist Sandwich? Or did you already launch Racist Sandwich?
SH: I launched it in Portland. I met my collaborator at a dinner party there, and-
EL: His name is Zahir Janmohamed.
EL: How about that for pronunciation first time out?
SH: Pretty good.
EL: Thank you.
SH: But yes, Zahir and I met at a dinner party. And he is like a bonafide journalist and was asking me all these questions about what it’s like to be a chef, what’s it like to be a chef who was a woman of color, all of this stuff. And he wanted to make a podcast out of all of those things that we talked about.
EL: So give us what would be a typical Racist Sandwich podcast, like who would the guests be?
SH: Sure. At the beginning they were all local to Portland. And so we would reach out to folks who we thought were doing cool stuff. And usually it was people of color, like Bertony Faustin, the first black winemaker in the Willamette Valley, was our first guest. He was great. And then we had Han Ly Hwang, who ran a Korean food truck called Kim Jong Grillin, just a few blocks away from where Zahir lived. And so on and so forth. And so, usually chefs, people who made stuff, people who worked in the industry. And then food writers. And then we expanded it to people outside of Portland because we learned how to use our mixer in that way. So the podcast really was … We grew with it because we didn’t know anything about the technology or the equipment or any of that stuff. And so, as we learned more, the scope expanded.
EL: So would you say that it was about a combination of sort of race, gender and class within the food world?
SH: Yeah, we wanted the show to be a reliable place within food media for people to find these stories that seems like they only ran on special occasions. You know, like you’d only read black stories in February during Black History Month, or you’d only read LGBTQ stories during June, Pride Month, those sorts of things. And we wanted to cover that stuff all the time and not feel like those stories were an exception or tokens or anything like that.
EL: Did you learn a lot doing Racist Sandwich? What did you learn?
SH: Oh my gosh. Yeah, I learned to always have a spare recorder.
EL: Okay. That’s a very key and important piece of advice.
SH: Yeah. I learned to always ask people to pronounce their names first before I said a single word.
EL: Yeah. My producer Marty Goldensohn, he taught me that early on, like back in our radio days.
SH: Yeah, yeah. And kind of an extension of why I became a server at a restaurant, but I really learned how to talk to people, strangers, because I had to do it all the time.
EL: And doing it in a microphone wasn’t scary to you?
SH: It was a little bit, but I think I took to it pretty well. Yeah, it feels natural at this point. It’s really funny how that happens.
EL: Let me guess. You probably didn’t make much money doing Racist Sandwich.
SH: No, although we had some pretty successful crowdfunding campaigns.
EL: You are just doing what you love to do. That’s what crowdfunding campaigns are, right?
EL: Serious Eats was kind of a crowdfunded campaign. I just couldn’t tell people that. But then Racist Sandwich’s audience grew, right? Pretty organically but quickly, right?
SH: Yeah, we had a pretty niche subject. And so people came to us specifically for what we wanted to talk about and because we had straight talk about race and class and gender within food media and the food industry, which was pretty hard to come by at the beginning. But now I think it’s a lot more widespread in the mainstream publications, which I think is really cool.
EL: And did you also have non-people of color on Racist Sandwich?
SH: A couple of them, yeah. Some tokens.
EL: Token, I like that. I like that. Soleil, we haven’t got to your current gig at the San Francisco Chronicle. We have definitely changed things up, and we will get to that in the next episode. But we do have to leave it here for now. So thank you, Soleil Ho, for hanging out with me.
SH: Thanks, Ed.
EL: And we’ll see you next time, Serious Eaters.
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