One of the benefits of food writing is eating. (Yes, I did just link to myself.) This is often done during an interview. At Restaurant Daniel, I had a madeleine that would've impressed Proust. At the French Culinary Institute, I sampled a consommé with morels out of Jacques Pépin's bowl. That said, it wasn't all haute cuisine. At some point during my interview with Pépin, the old-timer talked about the basics:
I tell young chefs particularly ... to work in depth rather than spreading out. By this I mean that you can take five very modern dishes, like a lobster roll and a hot dog and a hamburger if you want and a BLT sandwich or whatever, it doesn’t matter. There is always a way of doing it better. For example, in Connecticut where I live, on Route 1, there is a small place called The Clam Castle in Madison. It just opened in the summer.... The guy does a lobster roll with, what do you call it, a Philadelphia roll, the flat roll--we actually invented it in Howard Johnson--the hot dog roll. So he browned them on each side gently in butter. There is a nice crust on the outside. He opened it, put like close to half a pound of lobster in good butter inside, salt, pepper, a bit of lemon juice. And Jean-Claude [Szurdak], after over 60 years as a chef, he’d [come] back to Connecticut and said, “Let’s go have a lobster roll.” He will remember that lobster roll. Likewise you will remember the greatest hamburger or hot dog or anything. You can always have a better mustard. You can always have a better bread. You can always have a better little thing. So, for a young chef, try to work in that direction, to do things better, rather than inventing a combination that no one has ever had.
Last Tuesday I went to The Clam Castle on Boston Post Road in Madison, Connecticut. The place is sort of a shack adorned with fishnets and harpoons. And for $12.99, I did in fact have one of the greatest lobster rolls ever. The meat was succulent and falling off the sides. (On the other hand, I would skip the clam fritters.) I also could not resist getting The Clam Castle t-shirt, which has printed on the back: "For Clamergencies, call 203-245-4911."
I think I'm having a clamergency right about now.
6 hours ago