Long before the peril of Bruni’s pen, the sharp tongue and equally sharp palate of Mimi Sheraton made restaurateurs quaver. The Times restaurant critic from 1975 to 1983, Sheraton took on old guard superstars like André Soltner and famously demoted Le Cirque to a single star. Since then, she’s served as the critic for Time magazine (where she was assigned a three-week jaunt to take on dining in China), written countless books (including Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex?; Memoirs of a Happy Eater; Food Markets of the World; and From My Mother’s Kitchen) and a memoir, Eating My Words. She’s called Greenwich Village home for over 60 years, the past 44 of them in a West 12th Street townhouse she owns with her husband, but the only room they ever renovated was the kitchen. Not surprisingly it’s a living collection “I use it all,” says Sheraton, who entertains often–of some of the world’s most beautiful cookware: Scandinavian bowls, cast-iron cornbread pans and old tins from long-forgotten caviar dinners–not to mention a gorgeous view of backyard fruit trees. Sheraton’s got a trained eye for this stuff: She started her food-writing career while working as the home furnishings editor for Seventeen magazine, where she fortuitously shared an office with the food editor and made her way into the test kitchen. Luckily, she let Edible Manhattan into her own for a review.
EM: You’ve been watching Manhattan food for decades. What’s changed?
Since I first started writing about food, now it’s a huge difference. Mushrooms and lettuce, I would say, of all things have changed the most. The only mushrooms then were champignons, the only lettuce would be romaine, bibb, Boston and iceberg. Not mesclun, arugula, endive and radicchio. Now, no matter where you go, there are eight kinds of mushrooms.
And there are some things you can’t get anymore, things I miss. Certain kinds of fish you don’t see anymore, they’re not popular or profitable enough for most fish markets to bother with. There are some fish that are very, very cheap and were very small and you bought them in big quantities, and that’s not profitable anymore.
And then there are fruits that aren’t grown anymore. There used to be this fabulous Italian peach that came in August called percoche. It was a big cling peach, meaning it wasn’t a freestone. It was very orange, and you couldn’t really eat it raw. It was meant to be peeled and sliced and marinated in a big pitcher of red wine until dessert
time. I haven’t seen percoche in 30 years. The original Balducci’s used to sell percoche. They don’t even have it in Abruzzo, Italy, anymore. I was there and asked about it, and he said, “I haven’t heard of percoche in years.” He was very impressed that I knew it.
I also miss Jefferson Market. I used to shop at Jefferson a lot, but the family sold it to Gristedes. Usually the meat [I buy is from] Florence Meat Market. That’s a real custom butcher shop. I have gone there as long as I’ve lived here, and I’ve lived here 44 years–64 years in the Village, 44 years in this house. I really got to know them about 1995 when I wrote a story about living in Greenwich Village for 50 years for the Times, and I went in and interviewed them. And that was the first time I introduced myself to them. I said, “You know, I write about food.”
I wanted it to be open, so we don’t have doors in front of anything except the dishes. When we built the kitchen, we put all the pots on open shelves and everything we could hang up, we hung up.
I got the lights from a food photographer closing his studio. I had worked with him many times and bought these two fixtures we had made out of photographic reflectors. They’ve been there 44 years.
Wall of Pots and Pans
Well, a lot of them I bought in Paris. I went to the Cordon Bleu, and of course I’ve been to Paris many times. There’s a famous cookware shop there called E. Dehillerin and there’s a lot of equipment there of a certain kind. I don’t like modern gimmicks that are supposed to do 18 things at once, but I do like a lot of old cookware. The rest came from my husband, who was in tableware and sold wholesale that was mostly copper. It was so expensive to crate it and send it back, we asked how much would it be if we just bought it, so that’s what we did, and it was very inexpensive. And that’s why I have all of this hanging here. The higher it goes, you can imagine, the less I use it.
Soup Pot on the Stove
That’s one of my favorite pots; I don’t think Le Creuset makes that anymore. There’s a soup called a petit marmite, and a soup pot is called a marmite. I make a lot of soup; it’s my favorite thing to cook. Sometimes, when I have to work off energy, I look in the freezer and see what I could possibly make soup out of. The last soup that I made was a Danish cream of asparagus soup with veal dumplings. I always do a true, authentic Manhattan clam chowder for Thanksgiving. And I’m about to do chicken soup with matzo balls for Passover. And what else did I do? I did cabbage borscht just before the last bad snowstorm, just in the nick of time.
Watching Snowstorms from the Kitchen Windows
It is gorgeous- in fact, that round table [on the patio], the snow piles up and it looks like a big cheesecake. And when we don’t cover up where we put the umbrella, the snow forms with the hole in the center, so then it looks like an angel food cake.
This is a great one- it’s a Japanese knife for chopping vegetables. Most of them are French chef’s knives. These are paring knives; that’s for lemon rind. This is the knife my grandmother brought when she came here from Poland.
Mortars and Pestles
And these are [my grandmother’s], that she used for chopping nuts. When I was a little girl I would chop the nuts for her in these.
This [was] designed by a friend who is no longer with us. From a very famous restaurant- ware company called Sanbonet. This is about 30 years old, a prototype–see, you can adjust this to various heights so that you can cook the fish and open it. They’re very well-known in Europe. I serve in it but I don’t cook with it.
What’s Not in the Fridge
I don’t have a lot of food right now. This is what I have when I don’t have anything. I usually might have turkey, I might have chickens, I might have all kinds of vegetables. In the middle of winter I usually have a couple of soups that I make from the turkey carcass after Thanksgiving. We usually have a lot of sausages: liverwurst from Schaller and Webber, Italian sausages from Bleecker Street. I did get the eggplant and put it on the counter because I thought it would look pretty. I’ll use it for dinner tonight.
Obviously I love old cookware; you can see it’s all over. A lot of it is Scandinavian. Before I wrote about food, I wrote about design, and that was a period when Scandinavian design was popular so I traveled a great deal in Scandinavia. In between I would run out to the markets and restaurants and buy the cookbooks and so on. And they just always lasted. There was a very famous line made by Arabia called Kilta, and I still have a lot of Kilta pieces.
We usually have bialys. I get them from Kossar’s. Except I don’t like the bialys anymore; I buy what they call the mini onion disks. The bialys have become too bready; they don’t have enough onions on them, so I buy the mini-disks, which have poppy seeds and onions and not so much filler bread. Yeah, it’s really the big pletzels, but they do it in an individual size; they’re pretty big, we usually share one. I like them better than bialys.
I like cans and jars so I keep some that have nothing in them. This is one of my favorites; they don’t make this anymore; this was for German apple butter. It’s a whole embossed can; it’s a beautiful can. Saltpeter, that’s for preserving meat. This is tuna in olive oil, my husband’s a tuna-fish freak, so we collect it wherever we go.
Still Life with Eggplant, Zucchini and Onions
I love to cook ratatouille. In the summertime usually [the vegetables are] even nicer than this because I get them at the Greenmarket. I love the forms of the eggplant and tomatoes. I’m very interested in food still lifes. The Leica Gallery had an exhibit of my photographs a few years ago.
I have no microwave, I have no toaster oven; I don’t like any of that kind of equipment. If I want to toast a bagel or an English muffin, I use the broiler.
Photo credit: Carolyn Fong