Munchies feed for https://munchies.vice.comenMon, 21 Jan 2019 14:00:00 +0000<![CDATA[Perfect Cassoulet Recipe]]>, 21 Jan 2019 14:00:00 +0000Servings: 4
Prep: 30 minutes
Total: a couple days tbh


for the confit duck legs:
1/2 cup herbs de provence
9 tablespoons sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
6 duck legs and ribs
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups liquefied duck fat
1 bay leaf

for the cassoulet:
4 cups dry cannellini or tepary white beans
2 pork trotters
2 pounds pork skin
1/2 cup pork fatback
2 cloves garlic
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup duck fat
olive oil
6 confit duck legs and ribs, thigh bone removed
6 toulouse or other mild, uncooked pork sausages, cut in half
1 rack pork ribs, cut into single ribs


1. Confit the duck legs: In a small bowl, combine the herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Spread the spice mixture evenly over the duck legs and ribs. Rub the meat with the garlic. Cover, and let rest in the fridge for 2 days.

2. Heat the oven to 300°F. Add 1 tablespoon of duck fat to a large skillet over medium-high heat and sear the duck legs and ribs until golden brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Place the duck in a small baking dish with high sides and cover with the remaining duck fat. Seal with foil and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat on the legs just begins to pull away from the bone when prodded with a fork. We are only cooking the legs about 2/3 of the way for this recipe. But, if you wanted to finish the confit, cook the legs for 1 hour more. Remove the foil and let cool completely in the fat, about 2 hours. Whether partially or fully confited, the duck will keep in the fridge, completely covered in the fat, for up to 3 weeks.

3. Make the cassoulet: In a stock pot large enough to hold the beans (as they expand by 20 percent during soaking), soak the beans in a LOT of water to cover (we did about 18 cups water!) for 6 hours, or until they stop expanding, checking to make sure they are submerged in water the whole time and adding more water as needed. Do not drain the beans.

4. While the beans are soaking, start the stock: Add the trotters and skin to a large stockpot with 26 cups water and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for 2 hours, or until the trotters are beginning to fall apart. Strain the stock, setting it aside, and pick the meat from the trotters, discarding the fat, bones, and skin. Reserve any picked trotter meat. You should have at least 12 cups stock.

5. Place the fatback and garlic in a food processor and pulse it into a paste. Transfer to an airtight container, season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

7. Bring the pot of beans and its soaking water to a boil over medium-high. Boil for 5 minutes, then drain, discarding the water. Transfer the beans to a heavy-bottom pot. Add the garlic-fatback paste and enough stock to just cover the beans (about 5 cups). Season with the sea salt and bring to a boil. Cook until the beans are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes, then turn off the heat. The beans should be just tender, but not fully cooked or falling apart. (Adding the salt at this stage prevents the beans from getting too creamy and falling apart later.) Now you are ready to build the cassoulet.

8. Heat the oven to 350°F. Rub the inside of a large casserole pot or high-sided ceramic baking dish with the duck fat and a thin film of olive oil. Add a scoop of beans and a ladleful of stock. Then layer in about one-third of the trotter meat, duck legs and ribs, sausage, and pork rib bones, distributing them north-south across the baking dish— this will make the cassoulet easier to serve at the table. Top the meat with another scoop of beans, enough stock to just cover the beans, and a second layer of meats. Add another scoop of beans, stock to cover, and the remainder of the meats. Top with the remaining beans and stock to not-quite cover, reserving about 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of stock to add while the cassoulet cooks.

9. Place the dish, uncovered, in the oven with a baking sheet underneath to catch any liquid that bubbles over. Cook for 4 1/2 hours, ladling in stock every 30 minutes just to barely cover the beans. After each addition of stock, press down the crust with the back of a spoon. After a few hours of cooking, a crust will start to form on the top from the proteins that are starting to caramelize; just ladle stock over the crust and around the edges. The cassoulet is done when the tip of a knife can be inserted from crust to the bottom of the baking dish without any resistance. Let the cassoulet cool for 30 minutes before serving.

10. Finish the dish by grinding pepper over the top. Use a knife to cut through the crust and a large spoon to scoop it out, making sure each person gets a little bit of everything. Leftover cassoulet is amazing. When completely cool, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, gently warm, uncovered, at 300° for 20 to 30 minutes, until warmed through.

59vjg5Paul KahanFrenchdinnerstewduckRecipebeanscassoulet
<![CDATA[I Want to Eat This Tree Fungus That Looks Like Mac and Cheese]]>, 18 Jan 2019 17:00:00 +0000“Wavy,” “bright orange,” and “shiny” are all words I’d use to describe the gooey curls of Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese. All of the same terms would, oddly, also apply to a common tree fungus, which looks, according to one Redditor, like someone just spilled mac and cheese while hiking along.

In the picture posted to Reddit, a mass of undulating orange swirls sits in front of a dark background. When you scan past the slick, brightly-colored blob, you’ll see—alas—stalks, bark, and shrubbery. But if you zoomed in far enough on the orange stuff, it wouldn’t look out of place on a microwaveable tray. Put it next to some chicken tenders, even, and it looks like something I’d eat while stoned, after a trip to Wawa.

This pseudo-mac and cheese fungus is known, scientifically, as Tremella mesenterica. Its common names better reference its appearance—like “witch’s butter,” “yellow brain,” and “golden jelly fungus”—but are sadly lacking in noodle references. A jelly fungus, it’s similar to the black wood ears you might find in Chinese cuisine. And like noodles, Tremella mesenterica is apparently edible, but only after boiling, and it’s said to be pretty flavorless.

Because leaving this blog at that would be a little thin, I took to Twitter to find a mycologist who might indulge my admittedly-silly inquiry into the fungus. Dr. Megan Biango-Daniels is a postdoctoral scholar at the Wolfe Lab at Tufts University, a lab that works with the microbes in fermented foods like kombucha and cheese.

While I didn’t expect Dr. Biango-Daniels to specifically know why it looks like Stouffer’s—I’m not sure scientists are necessarily pursuing the highly-specific thoughts of Redditors after a few tokes—I figured she could share a bit about why it looks the way it does.

MUNCHIES: Is T. mesenterica a common fungus? If so, where is it most likely to be found?

MBD: T. mesenterica is a jelly fungus that is common in the U.S.. I'm from the east coast, and I usually see it in the spring when it's cool and rainy. Sometimes called 'witch's butter', it's yellow-orange and feels like Jello. I usually find it growing on dead branches and twigs in the fall or spring, when it's rainy.

Why is T. mesenterica shaped like curls as opposed to the stem-and-cap shape of mushrooms?

MBD: Fungi have evolved different forms of 'fruiting bodies' to suit how they spread their spores, a process scientists refer to as dispersal. Spores are the microscopic structures used by fungi to reproduce and spread. They are so small they can be spread great distances, especially if they are carried by the wind.

Are fungi in the Tremellaceae family considered mushrooms?

MBD: Sort of. When someone says mushroom, you probably picture something with a stipe (the word for the stem part of mushrooms) and a cap, but fungi are super diverse and that's just one form.

Is there an evolutionary reason why the fungus is bright yellow? Is there a benefit to the fungus being eye-catching if it's not necessarily tasty?

MBD: I'm not aware of the evolutionary explanation for color in mushrooms, or this species specifically. However, flowers often have bright colors to attract pollinating insects. While mushrooms are not pollinated, one idea is that their colors help attract insects or animals that spread spores through contact.

So, I can’t really tell you why T. mesenterica looks like mac and cheese. But maybe it looks so weird because hungry freaks like me will be entranced by it, want to poke it, and will then spread its spores so the fungus can pop up on more dead trees.

For a treasure trove of things that look like stuff you want to eat, but are slightly less edible, might I suggest r/ForbiddenSnacks, the finders of this tasty nugget. Consider, for example, a dirty hose that looks like it's a day away from making some bomb banana bread, or these shavings from an old dresser that I wanna scoop up and squish into a potato roll.

Alright, mac and cheese for dinner it is.]]>
43zg3bBettina MakalintalRupa BhattacharyaMUSHROOMSCheesefungusWTFMac and Cheeseforbidden snackstremella mesentericawitch's butteryellow brain
<![CDATA[It's Friday, January 18, and Women Allegedly Can't Eat Alone at This Upper East Side Bar]]>, 18 Jan 2019 16:47:42 +0000 Welcome to Off-Menu, where we'll be rounding up all the food news and food-adjacent internet ephemera that delighted, fascinated, or infuriated us this morning.


  • New York's Nello is maybe banning women from sitting alone at their bar? Earlier this week, a creative executive named Clementine Crawford wrote in Drugstore Culture about how she had tried to sit at the bar of the very expensive Upper East Side Italian joint, but was told all patrons had to eat at tables, at which point she "gave them [her] two cents of unsolicited advice." She claims to have seen a man eating at the bar, however, and writes that, "[a]fter further interrogation, it transpired that the owner had ordered a crackdown on hookers: the free-range escorts who roamed the Upper East Side, hunting prey in his establishment." Crawford is sort of obscuring the key details here—namely what exactly was said to her regarding this new policy—and when she confronts the manager he doesn't mention anything about sex workers, although they did have an "explosive argument." Nello didn't return either Page Six or the Daily Meal's request for comment, but to be safe, all solo women should go elsewhere for their $79 veal milanese.
  • Perdue just recalled 68,244 pounds of their ready-to-eat gluten-free chicken nuggets because the company received several complaints from customers who found pieces of wood in their nuggets. Honestly, those people deserve a prize of some kind for correctly distinguishing wood from the rest of the nugget interior.
  • The not-racist (that we know of) Philly cheesesteak institution Tony Lukes has plans to open seven locations in New York (one in each borough plus Long Island and Yonkers).
  • Dr. Sarah Taber, who identifies herself on Twitter as a crop scientist and ex-farmworker, doesn't want anyone feeling too smug about eating "ugly" produce. The movement to cut down on food waste by encouraging consumers to get comfortable purchasing fruit and vegetables with cosmetic abnormalities is, in her words, "a big honkin wad of bullshit that self-promoting foodies get away with bc nobody knows better." Ugly produce, she explains, often isn't wasted—it's turned into sauces or salsa or juice or sold at less high-end grocery stores. That last point is similar to something that was raised in a New Food Economy op-ed in August, namely that "ugly" produce is what ends up in food banks to be distributed for free and that companies who have found a way to sell this less desirable product are in fact just exploiting a market inefficiency for their own gain. It's worth noting that one such company, Imperfect Produce, wrote a rebuttal to that accusation on their own blog.

Not News

There's always cocaine in the plastic green bananas with sequential numbers written on them in Sharpie.

Something Nice

Happy Friday, all.

Buy This Bouquet

Reese's bouqet

Valentine's Day is just a bunch of corporate consumerist bullsh—how many peanut butter cups in Walmart's Reese's Extravaganza Bouquet? 36?? Hope you're reading this, husband.

wjmexnHannah KeyserRupa BhattacharyaFarmchicken nuggetsproducecheesesteaksOff-Menu
<![CDATA[PA Cops Underestimate How Many People Will Volunteer to Get Drunk for Free]]>, 18 Jan 2019 16:15:00 +0000 When you’re shitfaced—and you know you’re shitfaced—the last thing you want to see is a cop standing in front of you, telling you to follow his flashlight with your eyes, JUST YOUR EYES, DON’T TURN YOUR HEAD. But one Pennsylvania police department has learned that people will actually get stupid-excited about a field sobriety test, especially if it’s scheduled in advance.

In a Wednesday afternoon Facebook post, the Kutztown Borough Police Department in Kutztown, Pennsylvania said that it was looking for three volunteers who would be willing to drink hard liquor on the city’s tab, in exchange for letting officers put them through a standardized field sobriety test afterward.

According to the cops, willing participants just have to be between the ages of 25 and 40, have no previous history of alcohol or drug abuse, have a clean criminal record, and have a way to get home after the training session. Oh, they also have to be OK with drinking to excess on a Thursday afternoon. (Weirdly enough, that list of qualifications doesn’t seem to be multiple choice).

By the next morning, the Facebook post had been shared more than 1,000 times, had collected 700-plus comments, and Kutztown Borough Police Chief Craig Summers may have started to regret putting his phone extension on the internet. (If the Facebook comments are any indication, he may or may not also wish that he could drink every time someone asked if there would be an area for spectators).


As new and exciting as this sounds, it seems to be a pretty standard practice when officers are being trained to assess drivers’ sobriety. “We wanted to give these guys a real experience, as far as with a field sobriety test with an intoxicated person,” a spokesperson for North Augusta (South Carolina) Public Safety said, when local officers tested their skills on boozed-up volunteers. “The design of this class is to help these trainees spot impairments on real-life people who are under the influence, but right at the legal limit, which is .08. These volunteers are at the level where we typically see drivers who say they're good to drive when they really are not."

When several other Pennsylvania police departments let civilian volunteers drink in front of them, it was part of a multi-day training session that also involved classroom work. “I think this just adds an additional level of realism and just a practical experience for [the officers] to be able to physically test somebody who we know in advance what their alcohol level is,” Bucks County Director of Law Enforcement Training Richard Vona said at the time.

So what we’re saying is look at your local police department’s calendar, and maybe you can get a couple free shots and learn whether you can stand on one foot or not. But call your own cops—Chief Summers has already said he has enough volunteers.

7xnzq9Jelisa CastrodaleRupa BhattacharyapolicePennsylvaniaBoozedrinkingduis
<![CDATA[How 'Tacos for Teachers' Embodies Los Angeles]]>, 18 Jan 2019 15:30:00 +0000“A taco, it could be argued, is the basic unit of consumption in Southern California, the parcel of corn and spice and animal whose masters line our boulevards, a food whose reach extends from the meanest barrio streets to the heart of Beverly Hills. When we move to New York or Paris, it is tacos that haunt our dreams; when we are hungry after a night of dancing, it is the taqueros who nourish us, who appear precisely where and when we need them the most.” —Jonathan Gold

When I was growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, we could leave the house, and in less than ten minutes we’d be at Taco Deli (for carne asada tacos), Tortas Mexico (for tortas al pastor), La Cabañita (for steaming bowls of scarlet posole), Los Gringos Locos (for tableside guacamole), or Doña Maria (my sister and I regularly fought over the multi-colored corn chips—this place had the most perfect salsa we could imagine.) If we drove into the city, the options became virtually limitless.

Photo courtesy Max Belasco.

But why has this campaign received such an overwhelming response? Max Belasco, the chair of the local Democratic Socialists of America’s Labor Committee, acknowledges that the name is cute, and that helping educators is something most people can get behind, but ultimately he thinks there’s a simple answer: “It’s because tacos, and taco trucks specifically, are such an icon of Los Angeles. They’re everywhere...LA is such an epicenter for [political] struggles and contradictions...People say, ‘We have to worry about immigration! If we don’t we’ll have a taco truck on every corner.’ And that, for me, and for most Angelenos, well, it’s the dream.”

That dream seems to be resonating with people from all corners of the United States. The GoFundMe page is full of testimonials from people from places like Chicago and Kentucky and as far away as Germany.

Russom, part of the ISO team that first hit upon the idea for the fundraiser, believes it’s the sign of a rising tide: “I think people were inspired by the teachers’ strikes last year. They’re really excited to see that in the second-largest school district in the country, we’re going to continue this fight. We’re going to continue this fight in a city with 85% Black and brown students who have been systematically underserved. We’re going to continue this fight in a state that’s run by Democrats, and a city run by Democrats who still have failed to provide enough resources for public education. People want to see this struggle to fully fund our schools, to create the schools that kids really deserve… Public education is the place where we as working class people put our hopes and dreams for the next generation. Kids and parents come into the system with huge expectations for what public schools can do for them. They have every right to those high expectations, so we need to fight for the kind of schools that will help young people reach their full potential.”

All surplus funds from the campaign will go to the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. Rodriguez, who grew up in LAUSD schools and whose sister regularly gets letters asking to help her kids’ teachers buy school supplies, says that, “We’re getting involved because we really do care about public education. We’re not teachers, but we can identify with their struggle.”

She’s clearly not the only one.

You can donate to Tacos for Teachers here, and learn more about the strike here.

zmab84Lizzy Saxe Rupa BhattacharyaLACaliforniaLos AngelesTacoslaborlausdteacher strike
<![CDATA[Man Builds Actual Bomb in Restaurant to Show We're All Too Cavalier About Bomb Threats]]>, 18 Jan 2019 15:00:00 +0000Editor's Note: This story was updated at 5:26 PM with comment from the Des Moines Police Department.

In what feels like a discarded script from an cable-network drama, a man who believed that everyone is so preoccupied that he could sit in a public place and casually build a bomb decided to prove his point by doing that very thing.

On Tuesday evening, 40-year-old Ivory Lee Washington took a seat in the Akebono 515 sushi restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa, and started pulling several items out of a sealed container. He moved from table to table undisturbed, and when Akebono’s manager noticed that he was periodically plugging something into the power outlets, he assumed Washington was just charging his phone.

At 6:40 PM, when no one had called 911 to report his behavior, he called the Des Moines Police Department on himself. According to KCCI, Washington initially told officers that his DIY explosive device was a fake, but the bomb squad was called to the restaurant to collect it anyway.

“The device was an operable improvised explosive device. It would have detonated had he chosen to do so, and the potential of an accidental detonation existed as the device could have exploded if exposed to static electricity,” Sgt. Paul Parizek told MUNCHIES. “Following their diagnostic testing, the Des Moines Police Department Bomb Squad did detonate a sample of the explosive from the device. The device was legit."

If Washington had chosen to detonate his device, any customer within 25 feet of his table would’ve been injured, and those within 10 feet might’ve been killed.

“He claimed that he was taking this action to draw attention to the fact that society does not care about safety, and to also ‘test’ the police department response,” Parizek said. “I think he saw his action as necessary; he remarked that he had done the same thing earlier in the day in a suburb, and became frustrated when nobody called the police. He then came to the downtown Des Moines neighborhood because there were more people there.”

Akebono 515 did not close during or after the incident—although it was temporarily evacuated when the police department arrived on Tuesday night—and it was open on Wednesday, as usual. The Des Moines Register reports that Washington did not have a previous criminal record, and that his first court date will be on January 25.

He is currently being held in the Polk County Jail on charges of possession of explosive or incendiary material with intent. “This is an excellent example of the potential dangers of people in our communities not saying something when they see something suspicious,” Parizek added.

In November, Arthur Posey was arrested after allegedly threatening to “blow the bathroom up” at Willie’s Chicken Shack in New Orleans. When police officers took Posey into custody, he told them that he just meant, you know, that he was going to “blow it up” with an explosive bowel movement. They didn’t buy it: he was arrested on charges of “communicating of false information of planned arson.”

yw8mbmJelisa CastrodaleRupa BhattacharyaWTFIowaRestaurantsbomb threats
<![CDATA[Easy Pumpkin Soup Recipe]]>, 18 Jan 2019 14:00:00 +0000Servings: 4
Prep: 15 minutes
Total: 1 hour


for the vegetable broth:
1 yellow onion, halved
2 whole cloves
4 carrots, halved
2 ribs celery, halved
1 potato, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
kosher salt, to taste

for the soup:
1 pound 12 ounces|800 grams pumpkin, seeds removed and discarded, and cubed
4 cups|1 liter vegetable broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 small shallot, thinly sliced

for the yogurt mousse:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
A few drops of your favorite hot sauce

for the croutons:
6 tablespoons|90 grams unsalted butter
2 sachets chamomile
4 ounces|114 grams Italian bread, cut into 1-inch pieces


1. Make the vegetable broth: Stick one clove into each half of the onion and add it to a large saucepan along with the carrots, celery, potato, bay leaf, and 3 liters of water. Bring to a simmer over medium and cook for 45 minutes. Strain, then season with salt. Makes 10 cups.

2. Make the mousse: In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, soy sauce, and hot sauce. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Make the croutons: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium. Add the chamomile and toast for 30 seconds, then add the bread. Toss to combine and toast, turning the cubes as needed, until the bread is golden all over, 3 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.

4. Make the soup: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Add the shallot and cook until soft, 1 minute. Add the rosemary and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the pumpkin and the vegetable stock and bring to a boil over high. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the pumpkin is soft, 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Transfer back to a saucepan and season with salt,. Reduce until thick over medium heat, 12 minutes. Keep warm.

5. To serve: Ladle soup into bowl and top with a dollop of the mousse. Garnish with some croutons and serve immediately.

a3mqq8Marco GiarratanasoupchristmasvegetarianRecipeeasyfallpumpkinComfort Food
<![CDATA[How to Bartend When Your City Is Run by the Mob]]>, 17 Jan 2019 21:00:00 +0000A version of this article originally appeared on MUNCHIES Italy.

I was always a rather precocious boy: never too good at school, but never audacious enough to leave it. After all, it was the 90s. In those years, everything had a certain pretense of rebellion, an “alternative” quality to it. It was pervasive enough that trying to be "alternative" became the new norm, and for me that translated into spending hours upon hours at a “restaurant and wine bar” run by a barkeep who embodied all the stereotypes of his profession. He was grouchy, arrogant, and well-versed in the latest street gossip; a self-proclaimed professor of life.

I can’t say that I ever truly worked there. All that was entrusted to us neighborhood kids were various odd jobs, banal errands, small annoyances. More often than not, my role was to pour whiskey of dubious quality into white plastic cups. But from then on, my life turned into a series of jobs—real ones, this time—always within the hospitality sector. It’s a path that led me to opening my first bar in 2006, the first of many.

There was one customer who, somehow convinced that I hadn’t been respecting the order of the line, grabbed my attention by pointing a gun at my face and saying, “I think it’s my turn now.”

Living in Naples, my professional life has often gravitated north of the city, all the way up to Caserta. It’s a vast area filled with bars and clubs. There are endless contexts in which a bartender could serve hundreds of people in one night: concerts, local festivals, catering events, just to name a few. And these “high volume” events are the ideal entry points for those who want to enter the world of bartending. I’m talking about nights when the number of paying customers hardly falls below 1,500 to 2,000 people; where shifts are longer and crazier than you could’ve ever imagined. A coworker I bartended with often used to joke that if you worked less than 12 hours, you couldn’t really call that day a workday—you’d simply done your boss a favor and there was no way you could even ask to be paid. My personal record is when I worked for 12 hours straight and served just under 900 drinks. As far as customers go, it’s no surprise that I’ve really seen it all, given the numbers in question.

I’ll start with one customer who, somehow convinced that I hadn’t been respecting the order of the line, grabbed my attention by pointing a gun at my face and saying, “I think it’s my turn now.” There was also the time when a customer who was so annoyed at having to wait in line to pay attempted to rectify the situation by directly offering me 50 euros for a bottle of water.

The weirdest experience I’ve ever had, though, happened a few summers ago. A coworker told me that I was about to serve a customer who was a well-known member of the mafia. I went about my job making sure that each of his requests was dutifully and expediently carried out. When he came up to the bar, this 50-year-old man—a cross between Tony Montana and Tomas Milian—accompanied by two women, caught my eye, and with an air of superiority, leaned in and said: “Now, pour vodka into this glass. And don’t stop until I tell you.”

Done and done. I tilted the bottle and I poured as he turned around and continued to entertain the women. The glass filled up quickly, overflowing until it covered the bar in vodka that dripped off both sides of the bar and onto the ground. It was only then that he turned around; the bottle was virtually empty at that point. He looked at me with a mix of amazement and scorn before grabbing the glass and, pouring a little out onto the flooded bar, pointed his finger at me and said, “You asshole! But that was fun.” And then he left.

You learn a lot tending bar in a region where organized crime has infiltrated every aspect of life. Your job forces you to watch, to scrutinize everyone from your place behind the physical barrier of the bar, and you learn to understand. You start recognizing behaviors and body language. You learn to differentiate between someone who belongs to the Camorra and someone who doesn’t. The former has no need to make itself known; they rely on being recognizable, which is also why they refrain from engaging in displays of overly aggressive behavior. And everything flows as if this were completely normal. The intimidation of having one of these individuals in your bar, as it stands, does not require the weight of a gun.

Moreover, it’s impossible to pinpoint a certain trait of places where the Camorra might hang out. There's nothing that marks an establishment as having a “bad clientele.” There's no point in blacklisting bars where you might work,

because the customer’s decision where to go out at night isn’t ever really based on the locale alone. You’ll never find a place or part of town that’s clearly affiliated or frequented by the Camorra. Whether or not the bar is popular, though, is generally a good indication: it’s important for members of the Camorra to be seen, because it affirms their social standing without them having to resort to easy violence.

For example, there have been a few occurrences in which I became a pawn in a competition between two tables over who could order the most Champagne. If the first table ordered ten bottles, the second table was ready to raise them another ten, and so on. Just a little game that casually transforms into huge tabs, sometimes into the tens of thousands of euros in one evening.

I’d always joke to coworkers whenever a fight started right in front of us, “Oh good! There’s wrestling on TV tonight.”

But members of the Camorra aren’t the only difficult customers I have to deal with. There’s other types that warrant mention, the most complicated of which is the person who exists outside the world of the mob; someone who doesn’t understand the rules of the game. I’m talking about the guy who goes dancing twice a year and who doesn’t understand the unwritten rules of clubbing in Naples, such as the complex relationship between customers and bouncers. Security is critical in such environments. And for every person who’s capable of diffusing potential violence, there’s someone else who’s willing to escalate the situation disproportionately. Competent security guards do exist: they’re organized and trustworthy and good at managing large events. But there’s plenty of seasoned fighters who, once another bouncer has marked a problematic customer with a laser pointer, proceed to pick a fight, and then wonder why the customer is pissed off. I personally hope that this phenomenon loses steam soon, even though I doubt it will.

You might be wondering, but what happens if the customer in question is affiliated with the Camorra? And the answer is that security’s approach is extremely different. Bouncers will pass information back and forth over their radios, alerting one another that someone who needs to be handled with kid gloves has entered the venue. Often, the PR people for the event will inform them earlier in the evening that an expected reservation will require special attention. Sometimes that information falls through, though: in my distinguished bartending career, I’ve seen more than one security guard hide in a corner to escape the wrath of an armed customer.

In general, in the years since I started working in bars in Naples, I’ve witnessed a lot of violence. But the bar itself has always managed to keep me out of the fray, rendering me a spectator more than anything else. I’d always joke to coworkers whenever a fight started right in front of us, “Oh good! There’s wrestling on TV tonight.” And regardless, even if you take into consideration the differences between bars, all it really takes is a peek inside the bouncer’s box of items confiscated at the door to count the number of blades customers have tried to sneak inside.

At present, I own a small, curated cocktail bar where I can focus on the quality of my products and the relationship with my guests, who generally have nothing in common with the aforementioned folk. My bar has 14 seats inside and 16 outside, so it’s clearly a different ball game. I feel more at home here; I’m able to converse with my clients, keep the music on low in the background, take my time, and am able to offer my guests a relaxing evening where the emphasis isn’t on being visible.

The high rollers have to bring in the masses, move product, and make a ton of money without particularly taking care of anyone. It turns the bartender into a sort of machine, leeching at their energy and joy; over time, it’s a bit dehumanizing. At the beginning at your career, you’re more willing to put up with a lot. But these I find myself wanting more from my chosen profession.

Besides, I’m telling you all of this from behind a bar, over a single malt, surrounded by other easygoing customers during a chat that calls to mind an evening amongst friends. Now this, at least for me, is a bar.

zmdvw3Dario D’AvinoEnrico Nocera Madeleine GoldsmithRoberta AbateMeredith BalkusRupa BhattacharyaitalyNaplesCampaniabartendingthe mobCamorraRestaurant ConfessionalsMunchies ItalyMunchies International
<![CDATA[Australia Is So Hot That An Unattended Steak Cooked in a Hot Car]]>, 17 Jan 2019 20:33:43 +0000Parts of the United States might be bracing for an impending snowstorm—but elsewhere in the world, it’s summer and it’s balmy as hell out.

For example, residents of the Australian city Mildura can expect triple-digit temperatures over the next several days, topping out at around 106°F next Wednesday. It’s so hot that, according to one cafe owner, it’s possible to cook—nay, overcook—a steak in your car.

That’s what happened earlier this week, according to the owner of the Mildura Dockside Cafe, a riverside spot known for its boat rentals and brunch food. In a post on the cafe’s Facebook, the owner alleged to have left a porterhouse steak in a metal pan in their car. After five hours of being parked in the shade, the steak was “very well done upon my return,” the owner wrote.

The before and after pictures show a raw steak in a car, and then a cooked steak in the same pan. Judging by a picture of it cut, the steak looks to be cooked about medium well. “Looks tough… should have gone back at 2 [hours],” wrote one commenter.

If you’re wondering why there was a raw steak in a metal pan left in an unattended vehicle for five hours, the owner of Dockside was specifically trying to make a statement about the danger of hot cars. According to the website No Heat Stroke, vehicle-related heat has killed almost 800 children in the past two decades. “With this heat wave please remember never to leave children, elderly or animals in the car,” the cafe's owner concluded in their Facebook post. (MUNCHIES has reached out to the Dockside Cafe for comment; we have not yet received a response.)

Even though YouTube videos and Bill Nye have already proven that it is possible to cook an egg on the sidewalk or bake cookies on the dashboard of a Lamborghini, Dockside followers weren’t totally convinced by the steak story. “I’m sorry I’m calling bullshit,” wrote one commenter. “A car left IN THE SUN will get up to about 60 to 70 degrees C [140°F-158°F] inside. In the shade? Nope. Not going to get ‘well done.’” In response to the heated Facebook thread that resulted, the owner of Dockside told people to try the experiment for themselves.

Unfortunately, it’s a little too cold in New York right now to do that, so to confirm Dockside’s claims, MUNCHIES did a little digging. On Monday, January 14, when the steak bake is said to have occurred, the temperature in Mildura was above 100°F for most of the day. From 12 PM to 6 PM, the high was about 108°F.

We asked meteorologist Jan Null, whose work focuses on the way that cars heat up internally and runs the aforementioned No Heat Stroke, what that would mean for the internal temperature of a car parked in the shade. “With an outside air temperature of about 100°F (38°C) the air temperature inside an enclosed car would be on the order of 150°F (66°C),” Null wrote in an email to MUNCHIES. “You will have to ask a chef if it would slow cook to well done in that amount of time. This is based on a steak being out of direct sunlight.”

Next, we talked to MUNCHIES culinary director Farideh Sadeghin to find out whether a steak could cook to well done over five hours at 150°F. (It’s worth noting that although an internal temperature of 150°F is recommended for medium well, well done is really more like 160°F.)

“Mmm weird probably, like, in the oven. If you want to sous vide it, you could go lower,” she wrote over Slack. Upon clarification that the steak was being cooked in a metal hotel pan in a hot car, she responded, “So like, not sous vide tho. And like, from raw? That sounds awful.”

Still, when asked if she’d eat it, she wrote, “Well yes tbh.”

yw8mw5Bettina MakalintalHannah KeyserSteakcarsAustraliasummer
<![CDATA[This Fishmonger Is Making Invasive Species Easier to Eat]]>, 17 Jan 2019 19:00:00 +0000Ever since invasive European green crabs arrived in North America in the early 1800s, scientists from around the country have struggled to find ways to stop them from destroying the local clam populations. If the crabs get their way, they eat native soft-shell clams so aggressively that fewer than 0.01 percent of clams survive beyond their first year—well before they’re ready to be harvested for commercial purposes. But Vinny Millburn, owner and fishmonger of the NYC-based wholesale fish company Greenpoint Fish & Lobster, is pushing an alternative solution: crab stock.

“The [green crabs] are just everywhere,” Millburn explains. “All you have to do is put down a crab pot with some mackerel in it, or some other oily fish bait, and set them. You come back a couple hours later, pull them up, and they’re just full of crabs.”

Millburn started out selling the green crabs whole to various restaurants around New York. “There were probably a half-dozen restaurants that were taking [them], but they were only taking about ten, twenty pounds of crab at a time.” Now, though, Millburn buys the green crabs in 600-pound increments and makes tons of rich green crab stock. Then, Millburn and his crew freeze the stock and sell it for ten dollars per quart at their fish market on Nassau Street in Brooklyn. “They’re just not enough meat in the crabs,” he says. “Trying to pull the meat out isn’t worth it. Making stock is about all you can do with them.”


Millburn sources his green crabs from oyster farmers in Duxbury, MA, who he pays to trap and ship large quantities of the invasive species to his warehouse in Queens, NY. By paying a premium for oyster farmers to haul in green crabs—which usually bring in less than a buck per pound—he makes it worth the farmers’ while. “One of my main goals when I started this company five years ago was to serve sustainable and ecologically friendly options,” Milburn explains. “The best ones are invasive species, by far. I’ve been selling [green crabs] for about five years, but they’ve been an issue for much longer than that. It’s been something we’ve been pushing for a long time, but just this year, for some reason, people started taking an interest in them, which is great.”

Millburn works mainly in wholesale, but tries to push green crab stock on restaurant customers whenever he can. And apparently, it’s working. NYC restaurants that buy the stuff include notable spots such as Seamore's, Maialino, Osakana, and Charlie Bird.

Unfortunately, though, harvesting green crabs during the winter is a challenge—it’s just too cold. “But when they get active and start crawling back into the traps in the spring, that’s when we’ll really pull them out on take as much as possible,” Millburn explains.

But while Millburn is thrilled that the public is taking an interest in green crabs, he worries that they’ll go down the same path as lionfish and other “trendy” invasive species.

“Lionfish is always hot,” Millburn says, “but honestly, it’s a contrived market. Don’t get me wrong, the lionfish is absolutely detrimental to the environment and it’s best if we kill them all because they’re destroying the reefs and everything, but it caught on in such a way that normal people can’t get it.”

And when you do get it, Millburn stresses, it’s prohibitively expensive.

“Whole Foods, Publix, and Safeway have standing orders at docks for 10,000 pounds, and [the lionfish] all have to be caught by divers,” he explains. “At the end of the week, there’s maybe six or seven thousand pounds. You can’t fill 30,000 pound orders with that, so the market doesn’t react well. When the lionfish does make its way up to New York, it ends up being six or seven dollars whole, and then the filet ends up being around $30. It’s kind of hard to justify something that’s 30 dollars a pound—and that $30 isn’t even retail.”

At the end of the day, however, catching the invasive lionfish isn’t a bad thing at all. “It’s just a fish that you can’t really make any money on, so a lot of people shy away from that,” Millburn says. “I think getting awareness out about these species is great, but I think it’s best to consider them in a bigger picture of how we can be more responsible stewards of the ocean and the environment as a whole.”

To prevent these market spikes, Millburn wants seafood-lovers to change their habits in a way that positively affects the environment. “I think the question that I get asked the most is ‘Oh, you’re the sustainable seafood guy—what fish should I eat?,’” Millburn says. “And that’s the completely wrong way of thinking. It should be a more cohesive, holistic approach. There’s no secret fish that we can eat to undo all of the destruction unsustainable seafood has done to the ocean.”

Millburn encourages shoppers to ask questions and educate themselves on how external factors such as changing seasons alter the availability of certain fish. “We have people that come into our retail store every single day and just buy salmon,” Millburn says. “Which is fine, but you can’t have the same thing all the time and expect it to always be there. You have to be willing to listen to people when they tell you something is good, and be willing to take a risk on something you may have never tried.”

In addition to consumers changing their habits, Millburn also praises fisheries that practice sustainable aquaculture. “There’s a farm that I’ve been working with in upstate New York that’s farm-raising steelhead trout in recirculating aquaculture systems,” Millburn says. “And they’re in Hudson—nowhere near the ocean.” That’s something that’s really admirable, he explains, since raising fish inland takes a lot of money, time, and effort. “It’s very tricky,” he says, “so to be able to do it is an admirable thing. I just think that anyone that’s giving sustainable seafood a shot and thinking a little differently about the proteins that they consume is someone I admire.”

yw7a7bIan BurkeRupa BhattacharyafishsustainabilityInvasive speciesGreenpoint Fish &amp; Lobster Companygreen crabs