Porchlight: Kitchen Confidential

by janet on June 17th, 2010

Do you listen to This American Life? Sometimes they broadcast episodes from The Moth, which is an event where people tell interesting stories. Porchlight is not that. It’s…almost that. Poor man’s Moth. I went with Choco and R2 and Lex to the Kitchen Confidential episode of Porchlight – their most popular event, which was standing room only filling the Verdi Club.

The performers were:

Nikki Silva, one half of the Kitchen Sisters (that NPR show). She told a story about how she randomly met the person who invented Rice-a-Roni (actually an Armenian pilaf adaptation). You can hear the story here, but the best part was hearing the old-timey jingle for Rice-a-Roni: “A de-LICIOUS break from potatoes!”

Saul Nadler, owner of Flora Grubb Gardens who talked about his time as Tom Brokaw’s personal chef at his ranch in Montana. He was cooking for the ranch hands when “You heard the one word you don’t want to hear when you’re on a ranch.” “Sushi?” I wondered. “Stampede!” he said. He told a funny story about putting Tom Brokaw (choking on a buffalo sandwich after heroically dealing with the stampede) in a sleeper-hold rather than correctly executing the Heimlich maneuver. I leaned over to Choco and said, “Henry Heimlich went to Cornell, you know.”

Cecilia Chiang, 90-year-old owner of The Mandarin. Apparently she rubs elbows with Alice Waters and James Beard and did for Chinese food what Julia Child did for French. She told a story about how, back when Chinese food was only chop suey, she ended up translating for two Chinese people who wanted to open a restaurant. Not understanding (a) American currency and (b) English, she somehow got into the situation where she wrote a check for the $10,000 deposit for the restaurant. The Chinese duo backed out, leaving Cecilia with her lost deposit, so she said “OK, I guess I have to open a restaurant now.” The rest is history, you dig? She also talked about how Jefferson Airplane came into her restaurant twice and gave her a lame tip of “two lousy cigarettes in an envelope!” lol.

Speaking of the skunk, the dreamy-accented Pascal Rigo (owner of Bay Bread i.e. La Boulange) told a hilarious story about how a famous producer’s manager in LA asked him to make rolls with $45,000 worth of marijuana baked in for a partay. As the rolls got baked, so did he, and when their K-9 unit copper friend came around to visit – well, HIJINKS! He also took a picture of us from the stage and crooned at us to “say fromage!”

Jerry Townsend, founder of Ghetto Gourmet, talked about the origins of the Ghet, which included, on the nights of the first dinner parties, driving around to their friends’ houses to get plates, around the neighborhood to find abandoned cabinets to use as tables and using towels as tablecloths. He also has a pitbull named Shinobi (sp?) and “fucking BLEEDS hip hop.”

The two mehs of the night were musician, Leslie Harlib, who sang campy food songs including the lyric “I just love his SAUSAGE / I just can’t do without my kitchen man.” And Dawn Agnew, maitre d’ at Gary Danko, who told a story about something.

On that scintillating note, go git yer tix to future Porchlights here.

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