Anyone who’s set foot inside a Fairway is familiar with the Bon Appetite-meets-MAD Magazine tone of the signage. I suspect Steve Jenkins writes a lot of those signs. In addition to being one of New York’s foremost cheese aficionados, Jenkins is a respected food writer who recently published his second book, The Food Life: Inside the World of Food with the Grocer Extraordinaire at Fairway. If you’ve read it, you’ll recognize the voice — somewhere between A Prairie Home Companion and Larry King Live — that perfectly captures the ridiculous-to-sublime Fairway experience.
The Food Life turns the supermarket tabloid on it’s head and invites consumers to consider a rare literary thing: a sensational supermarket memoir, virtually free of bold-faced names.
It tells the story of a bunch of New Yorkers with moxy who worked hard and made it to the top of the city’s fancy food layer-cake. In that regard, it also serves as a brief history of New York’s rise as a world-class dining city.
Jenkins himself started out as a small town kid who came to New York with stars in his eyes and took a job behind a cheese counter to pay the rent between acting jobs. In the late-70’s, he rose to head the cheese operation at Dean & DeLuca’s flagship Broadway and Prince Street store, ultimately moving to Fairway to become the man responsible for importing many of the cheeses (and oils, and olives, and vinegars and nuts) New Yorkers and, by extension, Americans, enjoy today.
Among other things The Food Life is Jenkins’ paean to food. In the hands of Fairway’s #1 cheesemonger a typical grocery list reads as follows:
“…fresh wild mushrooms; block butters from Normandy, Brittany, Poitou-Charentes, and upstate New York; bulk creme fraiche from Normandy, mascarpone from Lombardy; mozzarella di bufala from Campania; Ben’s fresh, gumless cream cheese and baked farmer cheese and pot cheese…”
Yes, it’s the kind of mouthwatering prose that’s currently referred to as “food porn” but Jenkins seems less like a panderer than a literate guy who’s been thinking about cheese for the last 30 years. And he calls it as he sees it, never shying from the politically incorrect or indelicate. The book is full of hilarious observations like the fact that Pecorino Romano smells like throw up.
I recently conducted a short interview with Steve Jenkins in Fairway Market’s cheese department and produced an interview between Steve and Zach Cohen, a devoted foodie and blogger.