Book Review: The Food Life
A Memoir and Cookbook by Fairway's Steven Jenkins
A couple of weeks ago I sat with Steven Jenkins, one of the owners of Fairway Market, and the author of a new memoir-cum-cookbook, The Food Life (Ecco/Harper Collins, $29.95, hardcover with color and black and white photographs, with 40 recipes by Mitchel London).
For those who are New Yorkers, I don't have to explain the phenomenon, the force, the bravado that is Fairway. But if you don't live here, Fairway is a unique collection of grocery stores; the most iconic is located on Broadway and 74th Street, on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
New Yorkers don't have the mega-supermarkets and Costco-type stores as in the suburbs. Instead we have small specialty markets (fish, meat, cheese); bodegas (open long hours, selling essentials like Haagen-Dazs, lottery tickets, milk, Advil, power bars); what some call "gourmet" markets that have a highly edited, often pricey inventory (imported charcuterie, coffees, olive oils and condiments, bakery goods, artisanal and luxury foods); a few shrunken supermarkets that are about one-tenth the size and one-tenth the selection of a suburban market; Greenmarkets, food coops and CSAs; one notably popular on-line grocer; and ethnic markets in neighborhoods with or without large ethnic populations.
And then there's Fairway. It has it all (except the pricey part).
Shopping at a Fairway is both a challenge and a joy. The aisles are narrow. The shelves are stacked to the high ceilings. The staff takes up precious aisle space continuously refilling shelves and bins regardless of how busy the store. The customers treat shopping as a blood sport. But there's a prize for stepping onto Fairway's saw-dusted floors -- and that's to shop in a store that has been built, stocked and managed by New Yorkers who truly love food.
In the Fairway legacy, Steven Jenkins is the person who built the cheese department and during his journeys to find great European cheeses, also discovering ingredients that define the food cultures of France, Spain, Italy, Greece and more. He not only found them, he brought them home to share with us. If you're a city cook who's been on the hunt for guanciale, verjus, Marcona almonds, harissa, piment d'Espelette, unfiltered olive oil, white anchovies, high fat French butter, or any other no-substitutions-please-I-must-have-the-authentic-thing, you probably found it at Fairway and that's because Steve found it first.
What I loved best about my conversation with Steve Jenkins was talking with someone who has passion. You'll hear it in his voice and read it in his engaging book. I hope you'll take the time to listen to his story of leaving Columbia, Missouri in a quest to become an actor, only to join and take up arms in what became New York's food revolution. He is a man of strong opinion (good that he is!), conviction, kindness, and most of all -- appetite.
No matter where you shop, and whether you're a Fairway veteran or not, I hope you enjoy listening to one of the people who makes New York a world class food city and a great town for home cooks.