Steven Shaw was the ultimate host.
Steven, who was known as much by his name as by his Internet handle, Fat Guy, died suddenly on Tuesday, reportedly from a heart attack. He was 44.
When eGullet was in its infancy, it was the online gathering place for food lovers of all kinds: amateur cooks, cocktail lovers, chefs, professionals. Early members included Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman, who contributed regularly to topics (and held court describing many drunken antics), and in the early days of No Reservations, eGullet groupies would get behind-the-scenes updates from shoots.
Steven was a lawyer who loved food so much he started his own restaurant review site, fat-guy.com. After his father died — also at a young age, also from a heart attack — Steven decided to pursue his dream of becoming a food writer. It worked. He was published in salon.com, the New York Times, Elle and Saveur, and won a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for his “A Week in the Gramercy Tavern Kitchen” in 2002, when Tom Colicchio was still chef there.
He published “Turning the Tables: Restaurants from the Inside Out” (Harper Collins, 2005), which looked behind the scenes in restaurant kitchens, and “Asian Dining Rules: Essential Strategies for Eating Out at Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Korean, and Indian Restaurants” (Harper Collins, 2009). He even wrote a story for us here at The Journal News. (It’s below the recipes at the bottom of the post.)
He was generous and encouraging to other food writers (like me) who were starting out at the time (he even introduced me to his book agent), and everyone learned from each other on the forums at eGullet.
Through others’ writing, I had vicarious experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe I would never visit (and a few that I would). I batted cocktail recipes around with the likes of Dale DeGroff and David Wondrich, and I met some of the innovators of the cocktail scene in New York, like Audrey Sanders of The Pegu Club and Phil Ward of Mayahuel.
I followed along as Steve Sando — aka Rancho Gordo — traveled to Mexico in search of heirloom beans, and watched as Grant Achatz, the innovative Chicago chef, chronicled the opening of Alinea. Nathan Myhrvold was a contributor to a topic on modernist cooking; it led to him becoming publisher of the 650-page tome on the same subject.
I read some of the first food blogs — chronicles of what people ate and drink, at the time — on eGullet. One of my favorites was by Lucy Vanel. She inspired me in shaping Small Bites and to start my own blog, Sour Cherry Farm.
I met other food editors, too — though not many. As Kathleen Purvis notes in her tribute to Steven, lots of so-called print people eschewed new media at the time, but we who were trying to straddle both were welcomed, and inspired. A few who still inspire me: DocSconz; Kara Newman; Monica Bhide and David Leite. There are many, many others. Thank you.
In 2005, eGullet.com became eGullet.org, and known as the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a non-profit organization whose goal is “to increase awareness and knowledge of the arts of cooking, eating and drinking, as well as the literature of food and drink.”
Steven was a part of that transition — and it led to the breakup with eGullet’s other founder, Jason. (Read more here: Remembering Steven Shaw. ) Both remained friends of mine, though mostly online. I loved seeing the lunches Steven made for his 8-year-old son, PJ, each day on Instagram. My heart aches for PJ and for Steven’s wife, Ellen Shapiro. Here is a wonderful tribute by his friend, Kelly Alexander, on TheDailyMeal.
Steven went on to be the head of community at Quirky.com, which was a perfect fit for this host, connector, community builder and friend.
Here is a piece I wrote in 2003 about a eGullet cocktail, created by Dale DeGroff for the community there. (I’ve taken the liberty of correcting the misuse of “pulling punches” in the original.) May we all raise a glass to Steven, and toast his contribution to the food community we share today.
Photo credit for Steven Shaw: John Sconzo; Photo credit for Flaming Gully: The Journal News.
A drink fit for food lovers
Dale DeGroff – the master of mixology, the king of cocktails – had a daunting task. DeGroff, the author of the recently released “The Craft of the Cocktail” (Clarkson Potter, $35) was participating in a question-and-answer chat online at eGullet.com, a Web site known for its spirited discussions on food by opinionated enthusiasts, when he was issued the ultimate challenge: To create a cocktail for the anti-cocktail set.
It’s not that the folks at eGullet don’t like a stiff drink. But some of them don’t see the point of numbing their taste buds with booze before sipping fine wines and dining on delicacies.
DeGroff had to convince them cocktails may numb your brain, but not necessarily your tongue. Some people say DeGroff’s tenure at the Rainbow Room – where he treated a cocktail like a composition and used the proper balance of fresh ingredients to compose the chords – was responsible for the cocktail renaissance we see today. He even worked with chef Waldy Malouf to present several cocktail dinners there, paired with Malouf’s Hudson Valley-inspired food. In other words, he’s already done a lot of convincing.
But knowing whatever he came up with would be tested (nay, prodded and poked) by the eGullet experts made this job a bit more difficult.
“I wanted a cocktail that would meet the challenge of the experienced palates in the group,” he says.
He says he didn’t want to get too esoteric, but when creating a drink specifically for lovers of food, you can’t pull any punches. He pulled this one right out of his carry-on bag after a trip to London, where he found an intriguing ingredient from Barbados called Velvet Falernum, a syrup infused with clove and almond that on its own tastes like a cough remedy.
Combine it, though, as DeGroff did, with orange vodka, lime juice, bitters and freshly squeezed orange juice, shake some nutmeg over it and light the oil of the orange garnish on fire (DeGroff’s trademark), and Velvet Falernum becomes the magic carpet upon which the cocktail sails through the air. The first thing to hit the palate is the fresh orange taste, which folds under the tongue, allowing the clove to bite. It’s a beverage with food flavors.
Because DeGroff thought the drink tastes like spicy orange with clove and nutmeg flavors, and because of that signature lighted garnish, he named it the Flaming Orange Gully, partly after the Web site’s mascot, Gully, a Keith Haring-ish character swallowing a mouse (a computer one, that is). The eGulleteers quickly shortened the name to FOG, which is also appropriate. Even though it’s a little sweet, it’s potent. Have more than two and you will become quite foggy.
The eGullet London contingent gave it a sample at a recent gathering where DeGroff taught the bartenders to shake it. The New Yorkers tried it last week at Beacon, where Malouf, now the chef and co-owner there, has it on the cocktail list – crediting eGullet with its inspiration.
Sample it there (it’s selling briskly) or do as the eGullet gang does, and make it yourself. The Velvet Falernum should be available in retail stores or online by spring, but until then, it’s not too daunting of a task to make it at home.
- 1 1/2 ounces Stolichnaya Ohranj vodka
- 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 ounce Velvet Falernum Syrup
- 1 ounce fresh orange juice
- Shake all ingredients well with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Garnish with a flamed orange peel and fresh grated nutmeg.
Before Velvet Falernum was available in the U.S., Dale DeGroff shared his recipe for it.
- Zest from 10 limes
- 10 cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- One bottle white rum
- Marinate first three ingredients in the rum for 24 hours. Strain and bottle the rum. Store in a cool place.
- To make syrup, add 8 ounces of rum marinade to 1 quart of simple syrup. Adjust to taste.
A story by Steven Shaw for The Journal News, published May, 2005:
Confessions of a Manhattan big-box shopper
Steven A. Shaw For The Journal News
Manhattan may have Broadway, MoMA, the Met, and the other Met, but if you want to buy toilet paper you may as well be living in the Soviet Union circa 1970. On the Upper East Side, where I live, Kleenex are sold by the box – one box – and Pampers are practically sold by the Pamper. But for those of us with cars, salvation lies in Yonkers, just 25 minutes and 16.72 miles north on the Major Deegan. Although, I must confess, my best time is 21 minutes.
To a Manhattanite, the faux grain silo at Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers is a beacon of hope, a shining city on a hill (literally), the antidote to narrow aisles and $5 boxes of Fiber One. The three stores on Stew Leonard Drive – Costco, Home Depot and Stew Leonard’s – offer everything one could need in order to survive the apocalypse. Toilet paper in 30-packs! 50-pound sacks of flour! Lumber! Trees! And those Pampers; so many Pampers all in one place, stacked by mini-forklifts up toward warehouse ceilings so high the occasional bird perches in the rafters and laughs at the Consumer Price Index.
Before heading out, we go to the Web. At stewleonards.com, we learn that this week Stew’s has cans of Diet Coke on sale, four 12-packs for $8. And maybe it’s time to plant the window boxes: extra-large flowering annuals in four-inch pots are just $36 for a dozen. Stew’s is also our old reliable for dairy products – phenomenally cheaper than in the city – and Stew’s bagels are quite good: you can see the big vat where they boil them right behind the counter. In the store, we eye the photo-cakes wistfully; maybe somebody will have a birthday soon. Costco has good coupon promotions this week: It’s time to buy the year’s supply of Degree antiperspirant and the decade’s supply of Ziploc sandwich bags. Home Depot has the best selection of air conditioners, and this year we’re getting a new one before a heat wave hits and they all get bought up.
The only remaining question: What to eat?
Will it be Costco’s $1.50 hot dog (a quarter-pound kosher all-beef frank on a baked-on-premises bun) including a 20-ounce soda with free refills? (Admit it: you save the cup and refill it again on your next visit.) Or, now that it’s warming up outside, will it be the $12.99 lobster dinner at Stew Leonard’s outdoor picnic area?
On the way home, we monitor 1010 WINS carefully for traffic alerts. There’s a Yankees game letting out. No problem; we’ll cut over to the Bronx River Parkway and loop back around on the Bruckner – added time, just 6 minutes, so we’re still going to get a good parking space. Everybody is happy, even our bulldog, Momo, who got to visit the baby animals at Stew Leonard’s Little Farm behind the store. And when my wife delivers our first baby in August, we’ll introduce the next generation to that wonderful place called Yonkers.
Now, where to fit all this stuff in our 900-square-foot apartment?