Look, even with the pay cut and the whole Big Brother-blocking-my email thing, being a magazine editor is still a much better job than anything else I could be doing (which, given my resume, is either making lattes or folding laundry.) Because folks assume I will give them publicity in the form of print editorial, a blog mention or at the very least, hot air from my big mouth, I get invited to all kinds of interesting functions, and if there’s food involved, you can guarantee I’ll be there. I’ve never turned down a free meal in my life, even before the economy turned down.
And that’s how Monday night El Yenta Man and I came to attend the most unkosher dinner ever, sponsored by the East Coast Shellfish Grower’s Association. With a dozen or so different stations manned by some of the best seafood chefs in the country, “Romancing the Clam” was a gastronomical tour of the ocean’s edible bivalves, including a raw bar that had people slurping and murmuring about the subtle differences in briney flavor between South Carolina and New Jersey species. (Insert a joke here about the particular seasonings provided by nuclear power plants.)
At culinary events like these I always seek out Savannah foodie Tim Rutherford, because he always knows so much about the cuisine and also because he outdrinks me so I never need worry about my reputation. Yet even his sophisticated palate was impressed by one dish in particular, the geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”) presented Vietnemese-style, shredded with julienned carrots and roast peanuts with a sweet chili kick. It was tasty, but y’all, this has got to be the most hideous creature on the planet:
I know, how could I eat something that looks like Snuffleupagus’ ding dong, right?
Which brings me to a few words about my halachic issues: By Orthodox standards, I’m pretty treif. I have half-heartedly tried to keep kosher in the past, but I could never get around the poultry problem (I’ve gone around and around with Rabbi Singer on why chicken parmesan won’t be on the menu at his house because it mixes milk with meat, something I will never understand because chickens don’t lactate.) While I am respectful to the point of awe of people who switch over their kitchens for Passover and buy their beef in bulk, my efforts at following the Torah’s dietary laws have come down to one point: I don’t do pig.
Which the more I think about it, is totally hypocritical. Kashruth says Jews may eat any animal with cloven hooves that chews its cud, but as far as forbidding goes, it doesn’t single out swine over, say, camels. And although all shellfish are verboten on the basis that have neither fish nor scales, shrimp doesn’t give me the willies like pork does. Like a lot of secular Jews I know, I guess rather than follow the ALL the rules, I make this one gesture at “eating” Jewish, and if I examine it with any rationality, it’s pretty dumb. Skipping the bbq table doesn’t make me a more pious Jew when I’m heading for the oysters Rockefeller.
That’s what was going through my Pinot gris-soaked keppe when I came upon the clams with dinosaur kale and garbanzo beans flavored with spicy chorizo sizzling away in front of chef Peter Hoffman of Manhattan’s Savoy Restaurant. In the South, so much is flavored with bacon, and I’ve always imagined God giving me an approving nod when I skip the collards at Mom & Nikki’s. But faced with a cute Jewish chef from SoHo who has been championing seasonal menus crafted from local ingredients long before it got trendy, I figured God already rolls Her eyes all day long at my inner spiritual negotiating and dug in.
Fabulous, fabulous. Peter and his lovely wife, Susan Rosenfeld, were such a complete delight and I look forward to our next trip to NYC so we can experience the smells of Savoy exclusively, and I hope they’ll return to Savannah with their kids so they can experience a little more of our offerings beyond the historic district. In spite of my sycophantic nerdiness and El Yenta Man’s chattiness, they must have liked us a little bit, too, ’cause Peter presented the unused ingredients from his dish to us. Either that, or he just didn’t want to shlep a bunch of clams back through airport security. Whatever the reason, we closed down the clam party and left with a bag full of forbidden foods.
Looking at the chorizo in the fridge the next morning, I wondered if I’d crossed a line that I never hop back over. But at dinner that night as I was sopping up with a piece of bread the remains of saucy noodles with clams, kale and sausage that EYT cooked up (babeleh, that dish could have stood up to any of those at the clam party chefs, yo!) I realized I am more interested in culinary adventures in this life (see Muppet penis, above) than I am following rules that don’t and never have defined me.
And though I still hope to be invited to your next Tybee Island oyster roast, you probably won’t see me at Blowin’ Smoke macking down on the pulled pork sandwich any time soon. This is a small town, and I got’s a reputation to keep.