Free Food, Easter Dinner, and Sweet Spring Soup

SamplePhobic: Does Free Food Scare You?


Okay, here’s me outing myself as a geek. When I was cooking for a living, way back in the day, a member of our kitchen crew was earning his New York State Food Handler’s License. (The Department of Health now prefers the phrase “completing the food sanitation course” since the phrase “food handler” is inarguably icky.) Now, every professional kitchen is required to have at least one licensee on staff; and the nationally mandated certification program promotes food-safe practices and health-code compliance. Among cooks, fulfilling this requirement is about as scintillating as sitting through the DMV’s five hour course.

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But here’s me. At “family meal” (staff dinner), when the guys were all talking about their sexual exploits, I—the only woman—was left out, not to mention highly skeptical. Instead of joining in, I would pass the time by flipping through the food-handling text, and, oh, what fun lurked in those lurid pages. We’re talking lysteria, E. Coli, hepatitis, norovirus, salmonella—you name it, all in 1000-X magnification. Plus, this weighty thriller spun shocking tales of unsafe food handling always punished by deadly results. Needless to say, it was a page-turner.

But, suddenly attuned to the dangers of, say, salad, I became a kitchen nuisance. There I was, scrubbing the sink as some poor guy waited with a lettuce crate; next, I’m sticking my thermometer into the beurre blanc as it’s being served. I was perpetually sending the large, crank-style can opener to the dishwasher, so that none of the other cooks could find the thing.

Cue to me today, pushing my cart through a certain farm-themed market. There, centered in the vast current of the track-like aisle, across from the flatbed sized Frialators, is a thing that strikes dread in my germ-phobic heart: a big bowl of free sample potato chips. Folks, there are no sneeze guards protecting this bowl, no tongs, and no little plastic cups for individual portions. Hundreds of hands have reached into that bowl and fished around before selecting a chip. Perhaps a hand, having absently touched a lip or a nose, might opt for another chip—and, obviously, that hand had just been touching the cart handle.


Now, as I learned from affable Gabe Sganga, former Westchester County Principal Public Health Sanitarian, these free chips would not float in the restaurant world. You know those bowls of nuts or pretzels that welcome drinkers on bartops? Those bowls are supposed to be placed in front of each associated group of customers and then discarded—as if each group at the bar were an individual table. Yet, at this friendly cow place, the promiscuous hands of humanity are uniting in that bowl of chips.

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Markets fall under the control of the Department of Agriculture and Markets, so I chatted up Kwame Dua over at the Ag Department. It’s apparently all legal, though that neglected bowl should have been “monitored”—apparently for people committing potato chip-related atrocities. According to Dua, those might include double-dipping, sneezing—or whatevering—into the bowl. Though I find myself at the cow store fairly often, I’ve never seen a staffer attending those chips.

And though New York City currently is considering adopting a letter-grade system for publicizing the relative sanitation in restaurant kitchens, the Agricultural Department takes a very liberal, antinanny state approach to samples. While you might not choose to eat from a posted, say, C-grade kitchen (like tony Monkey Bar, which has since cleaned up its act), according to Dua, you’re consuming supermarket samples at your own risk. Food for purchase is held at a higher level of regulation than samples, though the Agricultural Department “encourages” markets to have a gloved staffer handing out individual portions of the product—which, indeed, is what happens with popcorn samples at this cow store.

Are you gonna eat those chips? Drop us a line; we’d love to know.


Shadadelic, Baby!
Are you spotting sunny, yellow forsythia blossoms on wintry branches? This annual, local harbinger announces that the anadromous (that is, partly ocean dwelling) shad are making their first trek up the Hudson to spawn. To get you in the mood for the delicacy of their gritty, salty roe, here’s a clip of a Hudson fisherman and his catch.

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Spring Pea and Edamame Soup at Sweet Grass Grill

Imagine the popping grassiness of sweet green peas made hearty and protein-rich with mild edamame beans. This chilled spring soup, which is brightened by basil, mint, and sparkling lemon and herbs, is making its seasonal reappearance at Sweet Grass Grill. After a long, cold winter, it’s like spring in your spoon.

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