So, a Gourmet writer with a sweetened condensed milk jones who’s admittedly spooned from the can? Indeed. Our mutual Elsie love is only one reason I’m hooked on the work of Francis Lam, a New York-based CIA grad who writes, cooks, travels, teaches food writing and, lucky for reading eaters, is frequently found in the pages of Gourmet. His addictive pieces feature an ear to the ground and two hands on the table, covering everything from Ginger Scallion Sauce to the dining habits of African cabbies. For lack of a better term I’ve tagged him food writer – but any Francis story is part chef, part jester, part observer of delicious condition. Be sure to ask him about perfect omelets, Egyptian koshary, and what’s on those three tattoos.
How often do you think about eating?
I suppose the cool food kid thing to say would be, “I think about dinner before I wake up,” or something like that. But you know what the real answer is? Too often. I’m serious. I’d rather I’d saved some of my brain cells for, like, how to show my parents that I love them instead of where I’m going to have a taco next.
I like my coffees fruity and bright when I’m drinking them by themselves, and a little richer and chocolate-ier when I’m having them with sweets, because those are the coffees that tend to bloom the flavor of flour and fat. I like my coffee almost always at around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I like my coffee then because I like it after meals, and also because if I have it in the morning on an empty stomach I will feel like a crazy person all day long. A crazy person. All day long.
Favorite hometown food?
I guess I’m not sure what you mean by “hometown,” but if you mean “where you grew up,” I’d take you to Livingston, NJ, and buy you some wursts at Kramer’s Pork Store, in large part because the other tenant in its building is Jerusalem West Kosher Restaurant. Many crises of conscience have been had in its parking lot.
Ever been served breakfast in bed?
If I have, it was served by my mother, and I was probably barfing either not long before or after. What I’m saying is that there was very little romance in it.
Your absolutely reliable, go-to dish for entertaining is:
I actually don’t have very many things I make over and over. Usually I buy something that looks good and cobble together a meal out of it and whatever happens to be lying around. But I guess the single thing I’ve fed to the most people is my late-season ratatouille. By the way, thanks for the opportunity for me to remember and go back to that post. I just found, fully a year and a half after I wrote it, that someone finally logged in to comment! They said, “Not too appetizing.” I didn’t even earn a complete sentence.
Food that makes you gag?
Apologies, but I’m going to recycle the answer I gave Ganda: “Mid-grade fake food. How do I explain? Take macaroni and cheese: Macaroni with real cheese? Delicious. Macaroni with orange powder made into a buttery slurry? Delicious. Velveeta? Fucking atrocious.”
Worst kitchen disaster:
We were a half-hour into dinner service when I realized the lunch prep guy was either delusional or lying when he told me he hooked up a whole bunch of mushroom strudels for me. It was totally my fault. I didn’t check. Now I was three orders from running out, the restaurant’s owner was coming in for dinner in 10 minutes, and my partner on the station burned herself going into the oven, dropping our last-ditch attempt at redemption all over the floor. I survived that night, but did not conduct myself with dignity or honor.
Three things in your refrigerator right now:
Parmigiano Reggiano, smuggled Chinese ham, an unsustainable quantity of butter.
Your idea of a romantic meal is:
One where the person you’re with wants to be there exactly as much as you do.
Secret snack of shame?
Screw that. You like something, own up to it.
Most ambitious thing you’ve done in the kitchen:
Telling my friend Christine that I wasn’t in love with her, but that if I thought it would be okay to, I would be in a heartbeat. I am. She is, too.
Best restaurant if you’re not paying:
I was going to go off on some whole long thing about the importance of quality, about how a truly great restaurant – no matter how expensive – always feels like a value, and about how I would love to be so grounded that I wouldn’t mind not having the things that I can’t afford, but: Daniel.
If you were a cocktail, what would you be?
I’m not sure, but I like the sophistication of gin, the masculinity of whiskey, and the complexity of digestifs like Cynar. But really I’m probably more like apple juice.
Extra Credit: Where is the world’s best pizza?
The world is a big place, but the best pizza I’ve ever had is at DiFara’s. Nobody cares about his pizza more than Dom DeMarco.