FERN’s Friday Feed: Tom Colicchio’s life in food

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

A chef’s journey

FERN and Switchyard

“[M]y father seemed to sense that food was my destiny. That summer, he got me a job at the snack shack at the Gran Centurions Swim Club, in Clark, New Jersey, where my parents were members. I started with scooping ice cream and working the register but soon took over grill duties,” writes Tom Colicchio. “Seeing my enthusiasm, my dad brought a bunch of books home from the library at work, including Jacques Pépin’s La Technique. The book was brand new then … but there it was, and it changed my life. The most important lesson: Lots of recipes simply don’t work … Instead of following recipes, Pépin argued for developing a basic set of techniques to master—how to make a stock, how to skim it, how to make consommé by creating an egg white raft to clarify the stock. Mastering these techniques … unlocked something in my brain. I thought, ‘Wow, all that text in those magazines that I’ve been trying to get through, all they’re teaching me is how to braise a lamb shoulder?’ Well, now I know how to do that—and now that I can braise a lamb shoulder, I can probably braise anything. It’s all the same technique.”

A fast-food toy and time regained

Oxford American

“The Camaro itself is a chintzy thing my father gave me when I was a boy, with paper-clip axles and … the name HARDEE’S stamped on the trunk,” writes Paul Reyes. “The scars and scratched paint prove I was rough with it, staging all kinds of wrecks at 1:64 scale. But what, exactly, were the scenes? All that comes to mind now are dizzy, impression­istic pulses. I’ve studied the toy to death, drained its surprise, and I’m left mostly with a big truth it has shaken loose: Fast-food restau­rants, for all their ills, are the dreamlike sets on which time with my father is locked. They are how I got to know him. He built them—Hardee’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken—all over the South, and he loved it, and I inevitably got sucked into this enthusiasm, and their creation, by virtue of the fact that I was around, that I was his son, and in a father’s steps a son follows for a while, even if at a distance … Hardee’s, meanwhile, remains the Oz among them, a source of wealth and suf­fering and confusion evoked by this matchbox racer, somehow resur­rected by my mother’s powers from my nervous childhood, from the last years I spent at all with toys.”

20 farming families use more Colorado River water than some states

ProPublica and The Desert Sun

“As the Colorado River snakes through the deserts of the Southwest United States, its water is diverted to cities, states, tribes and farmers along its course. Drought, climate change and growth have taxed the river in recent decades, and the federal government has called for cuts,” write Nat Lash and Janet Wilson. “But the water still flows. Officials have drawn down reservoirs to ensure the water promised to Southwestern states and Mexico is there. California gets the most. That’s because no group is owed more of the river than an irrigation district in the Imperial Valley, one of the driest stretches of California desert. ProPublica and The Desert Sun found that a majority of the water consumed by farms in the valley goes to just 20 extended families. They used about 1 in every 7 drops that flows through the Lower Basin of the Colorado River, or about 387 billion gallons.”

Why we dine out (or don’t)

The New Yorker (audio)

“In the years since the pandemic began, the experience of dining out has been utterly transformed. Coveted tables now disappear seconds after they’re released, and influencers dictate what’s in demand—or even what’s on the menu. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz make sense of our new culinary landscape. The hosts are joined by Hannah Goldfield, who covers restaurants and food culture for The New Yorker. Together, they consider how TikTok is changing the way we eat, and how the rise of Resy has introduced a sense of scarcity and competition into the reservation game.”

The great cajun turtle heist

Texas Monthly

“The sale of alligator snapping turtle meat was banned in Louisiana in 2004 … but Colo, Viola, and other local sellers had no trouble finding a wide array of buyers for their catches, including a former starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, an auto mechanic, and a local businessman who has since been elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives,” writes Sonia Smith. “Bayou legend has it that there are seven kinds of meat on an alligator snapping turtle, including turkey, fish, pork, and veal. The way to cook one depends largely on what part of Louisiana you find yourself in. In New Orleans’s Creole cuisine, turtle is most often served in a hearty soup. Cajuns are fond of serving it in a ‘sauce picante,’ a spicy, long-simmering, tomato-based stew. ‘The fastest way to get someone to a supper around here is to say “turtle,”’  Jimmy Mistretta, a Lake Charles developer and restaurateur … told me … ‘You just can’t imagine the effect it has on people.’”