Peter's Blog May 2nd, "Eat The Street"

I keep ruminating on my experience on Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, Queens, during the IACP Conference week (see my previous posting on this, dated April 7th). As I described then and re-read about the various street food taste bursts that we discovered there, I also continue to recall that at nearly every truck or cart one particular phrase kept coming to me: "They're pursuing the American dream."  I even projected myself 10, 20, and 30 years into the future, imagining the children and grandchildren of some of these street venders with brick and mortar restaurants of their own, or other businesses, making films, or running medical practices -- these street venders were like my great parents, working their butts off to lay a foundation for those to follow. Some might keep the food carts going, or expand upon them, but I'm sure many will say, "I'll never work that hard again; instead I'll work smart."

I recalled a vignette I told in "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," when I revisited after 30 years the favorite pizzeria of my childhood and discovered the son of the owner still working there; he never liked pizza as a kid, but he loved cheese steaks and so he dedicated himself to making the best cheese steaks in the world much as his dad had done in making the best pizza.  And he succeeded, opening the store only four days a week so that he could have a life while still making a decent living and earning the accolades of foodies everywhere. Meanwhile, his brother and sister, both of whom I also remember working there as kids when I was a kid, had decided they wanted no part of the place and moved on in different diections with their lives.  The American dream....

I think about this now because I just read an interesting article in the current issue of Newsweek by Daniel Gross called, "Listen, The U.S. Is Better, Stronger, and Faster Than Anywhere Else in the World."  He spells out a rather optimistic analysis of the economic recovery that, while not yet complete, nevertheless has outpaced most predictions by the so-called experts, and has certainly outpaced the recoveries in every other developed  country during the same time period. Without trying to recap the article the bottom line, according to  Gross's implication, is that the USA is still the best place in the world to live because here, unlike in no other place, it is still possible to achieve your dream, and everyone else in the world knows it.

So, this was my takeaway after a day of joyful, gluttonous eating and drinking of Tibetan Momo's, pan Latino tamales, street tacos, quesadillas, pandebobo's, ceviches, and rum-filled caraljillo's: that there is motivation at work within the souls of each of the venders, not just to make a living but to build something for the future. It may be a humble beginning (and humbling experience to encounter) but, as we've all learned from our Native American as well as other cross cultural social studies, most traditional cultures think seven generations ahead.  What I find exciting, beyond the American Dream scenario I saw on Roosevelt Ave., is how this ethic is filtering into the first generation counter-culture street food businesses, not just the immigrants but also long term, perhaps even privileged young multi-generational Americans.  It reminds me of the idealism of the 1960's, the back to the earth movements and the like; that the American Dream is not something that is handed to us but is something that must be grabbed, reached for, and worked for. It means so much more when it happens that way.

 

Comments 

 
#1 Jack Damon 2012-05-03 19:09
Peter,
Thanks for all you do, you inspire me. This is my first year operating a mobile wood fired pizza oven and I'm so excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. After many years in the corporate rat race, I've started a new career. So many challenges and there is so much I don't know. But I've been reading your books and everything I can online. So far so good, but I will get much better. My youngest son is 22 and working at a fine dining restaurant 2-1/2 hours away and learning a lot from the owner/chef. I wish he was here working with me now, but I'm happy he is learning and following his own dream. Someday we'll work together growing the pizza business. Thanks again. Jack
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#2 Peter Reinhart 2012-05-05 11:58
Hi Jack,
It's amazing how many fine dining chefs, after they make their mark in the white tablecloth world, return to pizza to express their deepest passion. I imagine one of these days you and your son will set the world on fire with your pizzas and other wood-fired creations. Keep us posted!
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#3 Jack Damon 2012-05-08 12:43
Peter
I'm doing a private party for 100 folks at a local craft brewery this Saturday and my son is coming in to work with my wife, my niece and myself. A real family affair, I'm very excited. I like the opportunity to make more money that comes with doing the large festivals, but the uncertainty of how many people to plan for has been difficult. The smaller private affairs seem to allow for more creativity and of course you know how many people you need to feed. Anyway, this weekend will be fun, handcrafted beer meets handcrafted pizza!
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#4 Peter Reinhart 2012-05-12 04:28
Jack,
Let us know how the event went. Sounds like fun (for the guests) and creative, challenging work (for you).
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#5 Jack Damon 2012-05-13 15:28
Hello Peter,
Had a great day making pizzas at the brewery yesterday. One of my favorite aspects of doing this is interacting with the guests as they sample the various pizza creations. Even though I'm confident our pizzas are delicious, it's always fun to hear people I've never met tell me how much they love it! Their excitement is contagious (or maybe it's the other way around!) The hostess had asked that I do a dessert pizza, so I made my version of a Bananas Foster pizza. It was a big hit. I combined butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, Cruzan Rum Cream, a little banana extract and sliced bananas. I stirred and simmered that, adding just a little flour to thicken it. I then par-baked the crust and spread the banana mixture on the crust. Next I topped that with some fresh banana slices and dollops of ricotta cheese to add some creaminess. Back in the oven to warm the cheese and brown the fresh bananas. So much work, yet so much fun. And a chance to experience it with family!
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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

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