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Korean BBQ Wunderkind Deuki Hong’s Dumpling-Happy Homecoming

 

Deuki Hong’s Popcorn Chicken Dumplings, available for a limited time at Mimi Cheng’s
Deuki Hong’s Popcorn Chicken Dumplings, available for a limited time at Mimi Cheng’s

Fans of chef Deuki Hong, who left New York City for the West Coast in January, may want to visit Mimi Cheng’s this month. The Korean-BBQ wizard is back in town to join forces with the downtown dumpling specialists for a unique collaboration: Popcorn Chicken Dumplings. A riff on the popular popcorn chicken dish at Sunday Bird, Hong’s Korean fried chicken concept in San Francisco, these new treats feature ginger-scallion chicken dumplings and Korean rice cakes that are deep-fried and served with sweet, pungent gochujang sauce. In other words, “popcorn chicken” is a bit of a misnomer. “The deep-fried rice cakes are the pop element of the popcorn chicken,” says Hong. “They puff up, so they’re crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.”

It’s a welcome homecoming for the chef, who developed a cult following at Baekjeong, the Koreatown BBQ joint that put him on the map. On paper, there seemed little reason for him to leave: The restaurant was crushing it, with both high-profile chefs and celebrities like Maria Sharapova and Chris Rock dropping in to sample Hong’s handiwork. At 27, he’d made it, and that’s pretty much why he left. “I got very comfortable, to be honest,” admits Hong. “And I was very uncomfortable with the fact that I was comfortable. I can’t be at that right now. I want to push a little harder and grind a little bit more, and then maybe I can get all that.”

Hong may have left the Big Apple for the Bay, but forgive him his trespasses, as he maintains an unstoppable fervor for our fair city. “I miss everything: the people, the community. There’s just something about this city,” says Hong, who starts every service at Sunday Bird by playing Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind.”

“People think I’m joking, but if you come at 12:01, you’ll hear [the song] playing,” he says. “My heart is in New York.”

His goal, however, is to open a new Korean BBQ restaurant in San Francisco, for which Hong is currently scouting locations. Until then, at Sunday Bird it’s just him and his guy Sergio, who helps with the dishes. It’s a stark contrast from his days at Baekjeong, where a team of 21 helped slam out service for upward of 600 people a day. Not that the limited focus has made things easy. “I’ve messed up so much [out there] — maybe I didn’t feel settled, but whatever it was, the dining community has been so forgiving. Being from New York, I promise you that would never happen here,” he adds, laughing. “The concept of grace and mercy exists in San Francisco, though it’s a very educated dining community, which I appreciate, as it keeps your bar high.”

At Mimi Cheng’s, where Hong’s dumplings will be on offer through the month, they’re even throwing a homecoming party in his honor. “I asked Hannah and Marian [Cheng, of Mimi Cheng’s] to not do an event, and when I saw the invite I was like, ‘I hate you so much,’ ” he says jokingly of the restaurant’s sisters, whom he met a few years back when all three were honored at Zagat’s 30 Under 30 event. “Their position was that they wanted to throw a party and gather all of our friends. I said, ‘Fine, but we’re not going to do service or anything like that, right?’ I just want to see all my friends and literally do nothing. So we’re just going to catch up and say ‘what’s up.’ ”

Mimi Cheng’s East Village
179 Second Avenue, 212-533-2007

Mimi Cheng’s Nolita
380 Broome Street, 212-343-1387
mimichengs.com

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Restorative Taiwanese Comfort Food Lands at Mimi Cheng’s in Nolita

Taiwanese food acolytes will rejoice upon learning that Mimi Cheng’s, the good-for-you dumpling emporium with two outposts downtown, has added to their Nolita menu the classic dishes Beef Noodle Soup and braised pork over rice (lu rou fan), which they’ve dubbed Formosa’s Pride. Credit goes to the sisters Cheng, Hannah and Marian, for upping the game and bringing to Gotham salubrious versions of this nourishing Taiwanese fare.

“These are two dishes we loved growing up,” says Hannah, the older of the two, noting that their versions are made with pasture-raised meat, so you can feel good about what you eat. “It’s hard to find the Formosa’s Pride [made] with really good ingredients and that stopped us from eating it when we went out. And it’s hard to find Taiwanese beef noodle soup that’s good because a lot of times people make a cheap version so the soup is watery.”

The rather earnest-sounding name Formosa’s Pride stems from an uproarious debate a few year’s back when a food magazine published that the dish lu rou fan originated in China, and not Taiwan, the tiny island Republic east of China over which it claims to retain control. “The Taiwanese government handed out a thousand bowls of [pork over rice] for free to establish that it actually belonged to Taiwan,” says Cheng, laughing. “Don’t mess with Taiwan and their food!” Their riff on the classic has the ground pork braised with shiitake mushrooms in a soy-based sauce, resulting in a pleasantly chewy, sweet umami-laden rush of flavors, served over a clean bed of baby bok choy and steamed white rice.

For a dish that has a festival named after it in the homeland, the sisters were determined to come up with a version that deserved “to be called Taiwanese beef noodle soup,” says Cheng.

Their rendition simmers bone marrow to make the rich broth that envelopes the fresh wheat noodles and leafy Taiwanese greens that turn pulpy as they sit; pickled cabbage and thinly sliced scallions top the dish, providing a fresh, reinvigorating hit of flavor.

Taipei, the capital city in the north, is known for it’s snacking culture, or xiao chi (small bites), which is more about the constant, perpetual state of eating in Taiwan, rather than the portion-size. “The last time we went [to Taipei], my fiance, who’s a big guy, said, ‘I can not keep up with you guys in terms of eating,’” says Cheng. “Every two hours there was a new spot we had to hit. Time is so limited [when we’re visiting], and there are so many good food options that you don’t want to miss out.”

Hannah and Marian Cheng, bringing Taiwanese comfort to hungry New Yorkers
Hannah and Marian Cheng, bringing Taiwanese comfort to hungry New Yorkers

The sisters hope to roll out additional menu items inspired by their own childhood or the dishes that leave them yearning upon visits to Taiwan. “Everything’s kind of trial and error [with our menu] because some dishes we’ve worried that people will find them too weird, but what we’ve come to realize is that New Yorkers, they love authentic food. And they’re tired of the same options that every restaurant has—no one needs another kung pao chicken or orange beef, they want something authentic. That’s what we love about opening restaurants in New York, it gives us the ability to roll out dishes we love.”

Along with the new menu additions, the girls have rolled out their March specials, a Macro Bowl of brown rice topped with colorful vegetables and a lemon tahini sauce, and the Super V, a vegan dumpling of carrots, chives, cabbage and shiitake mushrooms.

“You’re supposed to feel good after you eat food,” opines Cheng, whose Instagram is littered with photos at boutique fitness classes all over town. “The food in Taiwan is healthy and made well. The copies here are not good copies. So we’re trying to take that reputation back and bring it back home.”

Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings
380 Broome Street
Between Mott and Mulberry
212.343.1387
mimichengs.com

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Eight Reasons Why It’s a Great Time to be an Okonomiyaki Lover in NYC

Hailing from the south of Japan (predominantly the cities of Osaka and Hiroshima) and popular all over the country, okonomiyaki are one of the world’s great comfort foods. The savory pancakes start with a seasoned white-flour-based batter and can include whichever meats, vegetables, or starches its creator desires (most often mountain yam, cabbage, and pork belly). In Japan, some restaurants let diners griddle their own, and in Hiroshima, there’s even a four-story food court “theme park” devoted to the dish. While New York City hasn’t given any food the amusement park treatment, it does have two restaurants that specialize in it, and a number of places around town serve excellent variations.

Whereas it was once difficult to find even traditional varieties, New York City is currently experiencing an okonomiyaki boom that’s led to some creative riffs on the robust junk food. Ivan Orkin may have kicked things off last year with his insane, inspired “Lancaster okonomiyaki” — a waffled swatch of Pennsylvania pork scrapple sauced and garnished in Osaka fashion that’s since disappeared.

But at Bar Goto (245 Eldridge Street, 212-475-4411), chef Kiyo Shinoki complements eponymous barman Kenta Goto’s flavorful, sophisticated drinks with stylish, pillowy cakes served in rectangular cast iron skillets. The watering hole’s signature offering is a surf-and-turf Hiroshima-style number with pork belly and squid, and Shinoki even channels American comfort food with a three-cheese (white cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan) okonomiyaki studded with beech mushrooms and umami-rich sun-dried tomatoes. Both pancakes ($12) arrive drenched in zig-zags of sweet brown sauce and mayonnaise, with bonito flakes and pickled red ginger on the side.

Ganso Yaki's thick pancake
Ganso Yaki’s thick pancake

Pay your respects to the more ubiquitous Kansai style — whereby the ingredients are mixed into the batter beforehand — at Otafuku x Medetai (220 East 9th Street, 646-998-3438) pervasive Japanese restaurateur Bon Yagi’s modest East Village storefront specializing in okonomiyaki, takoyaki octopus doughnuts, and taiyaki — fish-shaped cakes holding sweet fillings. In business for fifteen years, the shop serves up archetypal soft cakes ($9) griddled dark brown and crowded with pork belly or shrimp, buried under liberal squirts of Kewpie mayonnaise, Worcestershire-like “okonomiyaki sauce,” the dried seaweed powder called aonori, and wispy bonito flakes.

For a tonier conventional version, don’t miss the paunchy rounds ($10) at Ganso Yaki (515 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn; 646-927-0303), Harris Salat and Tadashi Ono’s rollicking Boerum Hill izakaya. There, the okonomiyaki are quartered and presented in small, high-rimmed cast iron pans, giving them the appearance of quiche or Southern spoonbread on the plate. The flavors are all there, however, suspended in an airy pancake with pork belly and cabbage fused together on the grill.

In Hiroshima, the locals favor a stacked design, with layers of ingredients piled on top of one another rather than mixed into the batter. Doused in sweet brown sauce, spicy mayo, and a heap of bonito flakes, the sassy flapjack at Mocu Mocu (746 Tenth Avenue, 212-765-0197) starts with a paper-thin pancake ($9) and piles on cabbage, thinly sliced pork belly, and a tangle of yakisoba noodles under a runny fried egg. The gallery, shop, and restaurant also cooks up duos of baked, waffle-like okonomiyaki ($6.25), which sandwich fillings like herb-rubbed chicken and coconut shrimp.

Okiway's "Mexican Osaka"
Okiway’s “Mexican Osaka”

Okiway (1006 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-417-1091), which stylists Vincent Minchelli and Amanda Jenkins opened in Bushwick over the summer, trades in classic and nouveau okonomiyaki. From the brightly lit open kitchen, chef Michael Arrington sends out pancakes topped with sticky sweet American BBQ pork ($15) and one geared toward pescatarians ($16), studded with plump mussels and topped with a bullseye of tartar-like mussel mayo. The former Morimoto chef’s “Mexican Osaka” ($15) successfully deviates even further with cilantro, avocado, chorizo, and dueling splashes of chipotle mayo and cilantro crema.

Over in Williamsburg, Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi of quirky Jewish-Japanese restaurant Shalom Japan (310 South 4th Street, Brooklyn; 718-388-4012) top their super-crisp version with pastrami shavings and bracing sauerkraut for a trip down deli-memory lane.

And at buzzy Long Island City ramen-ya Mu Ramen (12-09 Jackson Avenue, Queens; 917-868-8903) Per Se vet Joshua Smookler’s pancake bears so little resemblance to the original that he puts “okonomiyaki” in quotes on the menu. The blini-size, cornmeal-scallion cakes support a fancy jumble of flaky smoked trout, micro shiso, foie gras maple syrup, and glistening jewels of briny trout roe and tobiko. It straddles the line of categorization, but is no less delicious for its boundary pushing.

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Survive Summer’s Dog Days With Haute Wieners at Huertas’ Hot Dog Window

Forget Greenmarket rarities — if you want to taste seasonality in action, eat a hot dog during summer. New Yorkers adore their frankfurters, whether plucked from vats of cloudy poaching water or graciously constructed with quality ingredients instead of the tornado of barnyard trimmings that standard tube steaks usually comprise. Starting with the meat cylinder–slinging immigrants of early-twentieth-century Coney Island, our city’s diverse, ever-expanding culinary identity has awarded its hungry denizens with all manner of hot dogs and toppings. This summer, chef Jonah Miller and manager Nate Adler of Huertas (107 First Avenue, 212-228-4490) have hedged their bets on a weekend to-go counter dealing in bun-bound sausages and frozen drinks.

Miller makes the chistorra links himself, something he’s done since Huertas opened in April 2014, serving them in bite-size pieces stuck with toothpicks as part of the restaurant’s menu of pintxos, or small, inexpensive nibbles. Before he and Adler did away with the back dining room’s $55 prix-fixe menu, he paired a lamb version with seared slices of lamb leg. But he didn’t start plunking the thin, garlic-and-paprika-packed sausages (made with pork now) into potato buns until the beginning of this year. And even then, they’ve remained a “secret” off-menu item. Now Adler and Miller have a cash register set up by one of the restaurant’s front windows to take advantage of the warmer weather. Sadly, it’s a limited operation, serving weekends only from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The cheffy snack arrives layered with Basque-inspired condiments befitting the restaurant’s raison d’être. Generous squirts of garlicky aioli and sweet, relish-like piquillo pepper mostarda line the bun, and the whole thing bursts with spicy, porky unctuousness. Its flavors are clearly Spanish, yet the delightfully messy sandwich eats with an unmistakable American bravado. Consume it right there on the street with a cup of frozen horchata in hand, or take your bounty to a stoop nearby. Sure, an order of two sausages and a drink costs roughly three times as much as the recession special at Gray’s Papaya, but these puppies have serious bite backed by virtuous ingredients.

Sherry cobbler
Sherry cobbler

Huertas offers two kinds of slushes: one with alcohol and one without, both whirring away in their machines on top of the bar. Per Spanish tradition, the restaurant favors tiger nuts for its horchata, which give the drink a caramel color and toasted-almond flavor. Last week the nuts spoiled, so Adler switched to a peach creamsicle. Mixed deftly with prosecco for a frozen bellini, the frosty fruit beverage pulled its weight. The other machine held an icy sherry cobbler packing a boozy, fruity punch. And while all of the drinks go well with the frankfurters, you’ll have to stick to the virgin varieties if you plan on parading your meal around town. Both dogs and frozen drinks go for $6 each, or $10 for any combination of the two.

“We wanted to have some fun this summer,” Adler says. Mission accomplished.

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Skip Your Summer Diet: Check Out Mile End’s Poutine Week

Fries, cheese curds, and gravy may be the equivalent of Christmas in July to traditionalists, but that isn’t stopping Mile End co-owner Joel Tietolman from delivering presents. The Montreal-inspired delicatessen with Jewish roots is in the thick of poutine week, running from July 13 to 19, and will be extending the festivities via a weekly rotating guest chef menu from July 20 to August 16. The specialty poutines are available during brunch, lunch, and dinner for $18 each at both Mile End locations.

“In Montreal, there are restaurants that just serve different kinds of poutine,” Tietolman tells the Voice. “However, one big benefit of working with guest chefs to create a signature meal is that it allows for some one-of-a-kind creations. Dale Talde suggested a lobster tom yum poutine. We’re going to have lobster in a Jewish deli.” He smiles. “That doesn’t usually happen.”

Additional dishes include Andy Ricker’s (Pok Pok) sweet potato, fish sauce gravy, and fried-scallion topping, Hugue Dufour’s (M. Wells) classic Italienne meat sauce, and Billy Durney’s (Hometown BBQ) jalapeno-cheddar sausage gravy with pimento cheese. The deli is also running a contest following the end of its guest chef series where creative types can submit an original recipe, with the winning entrant nabbing a spot on the deli’s menu.

Scroll through the photos below to find the poutine that’s right for you, before they disappear:

Josh Ostrovsky's go-to poutine includes bacon.
Josh Ostrovsky’s go-to poutine includes bacon.

 

Philly cheesesteak poutine
Philly cheesesteak poutine

 

The Zac Brown Band would approve of this one.
The Zac Brown Band would approve of this one.

 

Motherland's poutine features hearty lamb merguez.
Motherland’s poutine features hearty lamb merguez.

 

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Favorite Dishes, #86: Pougi at Loi Estiatorio

As soon as you step in the door of Loi Estiatorio (132 West 58th Street; 212-713-0015), a waft of fresh herbs, cucumbers, and something indescribably savory fills your senses; it’s an olfactory welcome mat into chef Maria Loi’s elegantly simple restaurant, where she serves a modern take on the rustic food of her Greek homeland.

Loi’s pougi appetizer is an ode to her childhood; growing up on a farm in the small village of Thermos, her mother would offer guests whatever was in the kitchen, and in their house that often meant yogurt, feta, olive oil, tomatoes, and oregano. She’d combine the ingredients, wrap them in a type of butcher paper called hasapoharto, and put it in the oven, to be served warm with her homemade pita bread.

Loi’s version of her mother’s dish comes to the table wrapped in a clear plastic pouch with a side of crisp pita slices; the top of the pouch is snipped by a server and the contents spilled into a small bowl. The warm temperature of the mixture is a sensual delight — this isn’t the typical cold dip, such as tzatziki, that you’d expect — this is a bowl of creamy feta, thick homemade Greek yogurt, roasted grape tomatoes, and pungent dried herbs with a golden, liquid ring of olive oil, as fragrant and delicious as a Mediterranean breeze on a field of wild oregano.

Fork in the Road is counting down to our Best of New York City issue in October. We’re combing the city every day, one dish at a time, to guide you to the most delicious food in NYC. These are our 100 Favorite Dishes for 2015, in no particular order, save for the top 10.

Here’s our countdown up to now:
#100: Laminated Blueberry Brioche at Dominique Ansel Kitchen
#99: Egg Shop’s Golden Bucket Fried Chicken
#98: Ramen Lab’s Torigara Shoyu
#97: Cannoli at Ferdinando’s
#96: Breakfast Sandwich at Dimes
#95: Banana Royal at Eddie’s Sweet Shop
#94: Fletcher’s Burnt Ends
#93: Almayass’s Mante
#92: Empellon Taqueria’s Fish Taco
#91: El Rey’s Sardine Tostada
#90: General Tso’s Pig’s Head at the Cannibal
#89: The Vegetarian at Meat Hook Sandwich Shop
#88: The 21 Club’s Creamy Chicken Hash
#87: Deep-Fried Olives at Via Carota

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All the Mexican Snacks Your Heart Desires at Ridgewood’s Guadalajara Deli

Guadalajara Deli (566 Seneca Avenue, Queens; 718-456-3698) operates without fanfare, in a square room, with tables pushed against grocery shelving. A neon blip from the digital jukebox portends bawdy tunes. There are bins of tamarind in their dry husks, armloads of dried chiles, and shrunken jamaica flowers waiting for tea. Mole poblano, refrigerated in plastic pint containers, is a collusion of chiles, seeds, and chocolate, concentrated to an ebony paste. Days of preparation have reduced the sauce to a base of an easy grab-and-go dinner; it can turn a couple pounds of chicken legs into a meal in twenty minutes.

Or, one can sit and have a meal from a menu that goes on for miles: eggs scrambled with cactus, joined by pools of beans flanked by tortillas; the antojitos — tostadas, huaraches, quesadillas, sopes, picaditas, chalupas, nachos. There are tacos, tortas, cemitas, tamales of course, and larger, sedate plates of braised, meaty things like chicharrón en salsa verde and chiles rellenos and orange rice.

Plates emerge, unhurried, from the hidden kitchen. The barbacoa is supple and pleasantly iron-rich. The pozole, after doctoring it to your liking…is exactly how you like it. For parties interested in the famed meat stew (birria) of Guadalajara on the menu, the owners are not from Guadalajara, but chose the name for how it rolls off of the tongue.

Barbacoa taco at Guadalajara Deli
Barbacoa taco at Guadalajara Deli

Guadalajara Deli, 566 Seneca Avenue, Ridgewood, New York 11385, 718-456-3698

Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes about Mexican food for the Voice.

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The Proper Ale to Hit the Campaign Trail Comes From Carton Brewing

It’s been less than a week since Hillary Clinton made her 2016 presidential campaign official, and the excitement already threatens to drown the city. Do you find yourself gasping for air? With frontrunner candidates now emerging from both major political parties, we can finally get down to that eighteen-month-long horse race of speculation dubbed “election season.” Sweet lord, this calls for a stiff one. Like with most everything else in life, there’s a beer for that. In this case, it’s GORP — a beer brewed by the friendly folks at Carton Brewing specifically for hitting the trail. Drink up, America. You’re going to need it.

For those sad souls deprived of a proper childhood, GORP stands for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts. The classic snack mix for long hikes along the Appalachians also contains M&M’s, for good measure — they tie things together in flavor far better than they fit in the acronym. To evoke fond memories of outdoor adolescence, northern Jersey’s most experimental microbrewery added peanuts and chocolate to a porter that’s fermented on black raisins. The resulting 8.4 percent ale doesn’t just taste like its namesake, it’s actually made from the exact same ingredients.

Although its dark brown appearance borders on opaque, the so-called “trail ale” boasts more transparency than any candidate shaking hands on the campaign trail between here and Iowa. It’s also full of much more substance, offering dark, roasted notes of malt and subtle hints of oak and nut before fading away in a graceful bow of vanilla. American politics will be dominated for the better part of a year by the traveling circus car of would-be presidents catering to their respective bases. They would serve themselves well to embrace the overall sense of balance delivered in a pint of GORP.

As the presidential election cycle threatens the specter of interminability, GORP is but a seasonal release that will be gone almost as quickly as it arrives. It’s now back on tap across the city — from the neighborhoods of Hillary Clinton’s new Brooklyn campaign headquarters to the other boroughs beyond. Don’t delay — while the politicians are out there shaking hands and holding babies, ease the pain at your local craft-beer hideout. Drink early — and often.

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BjornQorn: Bard Grads Cook Up Solar-Popped Popcorn

In the epic quest to find the perfect snack, New Yorkers may want to take a turn into Brooklyn to buy a bag of BjornQorn, a bold popcorn looking not only to become your go-to nosh but maybe even to save the world.

Former freshman dorm-mates at Bard College, Bjorn Quenemoen and Jamie O’Shea combined Bjorn’s corn-farmer roots and Jamie’s solar technology to cook up a healthy, low-emission, high-flavor snack. BjornQorn is made with organic corn, popped in a solar kettle, and flavored with nutritional yeast — an ingredient not well known in the world at large but a favorite seasoning among vegetarians and vegans for its cheesy, nutty flavor and high protein and vitamin levels.

We caught up with Quenemoen and O’Shea to talk popcorn, love at first sight, and the “dirt cheap kits” they’re developing to bring their solar-cooking technology to places like Senegal and India.

Can you explain the process of making the BjornQorn, from the kernel to the store?
We watch the forecast for clear days and then head out to our facility at Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson. We swing our kettle in and out of the solar basin every five to seven minutes as the sun tracks across the sky. Once it’s too low, we stop. Then we season the popcorn with my family-farm recipe, bag it up, put it in inventory, and fill store and online requests. We generally deliver on cloudy and/or rainy days.

You mean in the summer, right? What months are you doing this?
Year round: The sun shines all year! But we make less per day in the winter due to shorter days.

Do you remember when you met? Was it love at first sight?
Quenemoen: I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but I was intrigued by his long, blond Fabio hair.

O’Shea: Bjorn was well known for his popcorn even in our freshman dorm. He’d wear these ridiculous orange Thai pants, put on calypso music, and pop all evening. I’ve been thinking about growing that Fabio hair back recently.

Bjorn, you’re a corn farmer’s son. What was it like growing up on a corn farm, and did you always plan to go into the family business?
Growing up on a corn farm was like growing up by a sea you can’t swim in. Flat dirt roads are not conducive to skateboarding or biking, so it was hard to get away. But I did develop an affinity for digging. Luckily or not, I get to stoke that affinity every time we construct one of our giant solar basins. (Thanks, Jamie.) My parents always said, “Kids that work on the farm have missing limbs,” so they steered me clear of the equipment during my upbringing. I turned to music in high school through college and into my twenties but found myself searching for creative ways to reconnect to the land back in Minnesota. Now I go back in the fall to help my father with the harvest and I get to drive all the crazy machinery.

Jamie, how and why did you develop your solar popping technique?
I came to BjornQorn with an inexpensive method of building big, curved mirrors which focus sunlight to create high temperatures. So I needed to find something to heat with this invention. I knew Bjorn was getting ready to start a popcorn business, and I convinced him it would be nifty to heat his popcorn kettles using sunlight. As it turns out it, it not only made great popcorn, it added a special quality we couldn’t achieve otherwise. Really, I lucked into a promising design, using materials and techniques I was working with as an artist. A big but simple problem with the solar industry is the expense of mirrors, but our mirror basin is very affordable. We plan to take it all over the world for lots of different uses. Solar cooking requires no fuel and produces no emissions.

Tell me about that addictive flavor.
You can thank the yeast for that. It’s a cultish flavoring with deeply committed fans. Its robust nutritional profile results in what I like to call a happy post-Qorn glow. Not many snacks can do that. Like anything, though, you have to source high-quality and fresh ingredients or you’re going to end up with bland flavor and less nutrients. The sunlight also imparts a very even heat onto our cooking surface, so our kernels end up crispier.

You guys are developing “dirt cheap kits” that could produce the same kind of heat as range-top stoves. What more can you tell me about the project?
These kits are a smaller version of the mirror basin that BjornQorn uses, and they can be constructed by hand in under a day, with less than $20 in materials. We hope to bring them places where energy is scarce. We’re talking with groups in Senegal and India now. There are lots of solar cooking projects out there, but ours is the only one that is both dirt cheap and powerful. You could use them to fry, boil, roast, pasteurize water, or, of course, pop popcorn. We’re especially excited to work with other small food businesses abroad.

Can you please explain this speed-movie-watching hobby? How long does it take to watch a full-length film? Do you make up the stories? What is your favorite movie to speed-watch?
Quenemoen: I have been known to speed watch sub-marginal films. You don’t get any audio at that rate, but you do get to create and argue about what the plot might be, and it only takes about a half-hour. I recently watched the Antarctic thriller White Out at about 4x-to-8x speed. I have no idea what actually happened in that one particularly. And it’s a great way to enjoy BjornQorn, of course.

Want to try BjornQorn? For locations and online ordering go to bjornqorn.com or follow Quenemoen and O’Shea’s progress on Facebook.

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What Can You Do About the Coming Cicada Invasion? Eat them! (With Recipes)

The common cicada, as it looks just before you eat it

Unless you’ve been hiding underground for the last few months, you probably already know that New York City is due for a cicada invasion. Indeed, the cicadas themselves have been concealed deep in the dirt as they’ve undergone their 17-year life cycle, and are only emerging for the purpose of having sex with other cicadas – which might make the coming infestation seem even more gross. Imagine a sky darkened with flying pests, splooging indiscriminantly from the skies. What can you do besides hiding in your apartment and waiting for the cicadas to leave? Eat them!

Go ahead! Make an insect pizza.

Many have noted that, in the food-challenged world of the future, insects may become a primary food source. Indeed, there are few bugs more meaty than cicadas. Taxonomically speaking, they’re classified as Tibicen linnei of the order Hemiptera. Also commonly known as locusts, they have lacy, transparent wings, an elongated proboscis, and bug-eyes on either side of their heads. Cicadas don’t sting, but they often mistake human limbs for tree limbs, and can land on you and start sucking, though they won’t do any real damage. Over 2,500 subspecies have been identified so far, and all are characterized by the loud buzzing sound they make, which can drive folks crazy.

If you want to really freak out, consider this quote from the Bible, Revelations Book 9:

Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces…

In West Africa, cicadas are sometimes known as “desert shrimp.”

Nothing better than sauteed locusts and guac on a taco

The Jerusalem Post informs us that locusts are the only bugs both kosher and halal: God wants you to eat them. It goes on to note that the best way to cook them is by boiling, after which they can be incorporated into any recipe you want, including cakes or stir-fries. Talking about the place of cicadas in Hebrew history, Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, a senior science lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, notes: “Traditionally they were caught, or more accurately rounded up when they were stationary on the ground in the cool desert night. Those who are used to eating them think they taste really good.”

How to incorporate the flying nuisances into favorite recipes? Well, the easiest thing to do is put them on a pizza. First remove the wings and legs, which tend to get stuck in your teeth.

Here’s a recipe from Cambodia, quoted by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization:

“Take several dozen locust adults, preferably females, slit the abdomen lengthwise and stuff a peanut inside. Then lightly grill the locusts in a wok or hot frying pan, adding a little oil and salt to taste. Be careful not to overcook or burn them.”

A recipe for locust adobo originated in the Philippines:

“Slowly cook in soy sauce, vinegar, crushed garlic, bay leaf, and black peppercorns, and brown in the oven or pan-fry afterwards to get the desirable crisped edges. This dish originates from the northern region of the Philippines.”

And finally, here’s a recipe for cicadas from Mexico:

(1) Roast 40 locusts for 10 minutes at 180°, then remove the wings, legs and heads and toss with the juice of 1 lemon, 2 cloves of garlic and salt to taste. (2) Mash 2 avocados and spread on 6 tortillas. (3) Sprinkle with locust torsos and enjoy. Serves six.

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