Robin Shulman’s must-read new book Eat The City features insight about how food and beverage production moved from the urban landscape of New York City to the farms and beyond, only to come back to places like Brooklyn and Manhattan in the past few years. She tells fascinating stories, and hones in on some of the current scene’s livelier personalities, like Brooklyn artist-butcher Tom Mylan. This excerpt kicks off with Mylan’s transition from local foods pioneer to Williamsburg’s burgeoning celebrity butcher.
Reprinted from Eat the City by Robin Shulman. Copyright © 2012. Published by Crown, a division of Random House, Inc.
Excerpt Pg. 102-104
Creative people were glutting the boroughs. Many took jobs as waiters and busboys and hostesses and line cooks. Some had artistic success. (“The guy who had the big afro in [the band] TV on the Radio was the world’s worst barista at Verb,” says Tom. “The drummer from Here We Go Magic was one of the best bartenders that Diner ever had.”) But most found the economy could not support their creative production. Many of Tom’s friends with English degrees and BFAs in photography and sculpture began to invest their creative energies in the food jobs that paid, instead of in the creative work that didn’t. Maybe that’s the point, Tom says: Food is an art the economy will sustain. “Food is culture,” he says.
At his new job sourcing food at Marlow & Sons, Tom canceled orders for European cheeses and sought out blues, bloomy rinds, and hard cheeses from farms in Vermont, Connecticut, and New York State. He also started making his own foods for the restaurant and store. He roasted end-of-the-season local chiles, soaked them in vinegar, and pureed them for a house hot sauce. He made peach bitters out of peach stones and grenadine out of the seeds of fresh pomegranates. Using milk from Evans Farmhouse Creamery, he figured out how to make yogurt after visiting online forums. “Most of the people who make yogurt are hippies,” he warned. “They’re not very technical or precise.”
“There are not that many people who get what’s in this shop. Either they eat out all the time or they’re artist types who subsist on beer and cocaine,” Tom told me matter-of-factly in 2006. “I’m interested in what is most special, most interesting, closest geographically, and closest with that thing in our heart.”
In the months that followed, Tom continued to ramp up his quest to master the fine arts of food. He made ricotta and ricotta salata cheese. He bought a still and began to produce delicate apple brandy from fruit picked nearby, and absinthe using homegrown herbs. He started a food blog under the name Tom Murda Murda Marcyville, after the Jay-Z song set in the Marcy Projects across from Tom’s place. “To get a proper crust on the steak you need to get the surface of that fucker dry and salty,” he wrote. “Anything less and you’ll be steaming it on that weak-sister, cut- rate, bullshitty stovetop in your apartment. Trust me. If you live in an average NYC apartment you have the same lame $270 gas stove I have and those bitches put out exactly jack and shit for BTUs (those are heat units).”
He came late to curing meat. There is something violent about tampering with the flesh of an animal, and for a guy into extreme-homemade foods it was the last frontier. Tom experimented with curing soft salted duck breasts and pork pancetta. Then he moved on to a whole prosciutto he hung in a drafty corner of the living room in the loft apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Annaliese Griffin, a writer. The meat had a profound perfume that at first filled the entire loft space, and then, after time, as the pork sealed itself in its hermetic preserve, could only be detected at close range. At night Tom and Annaliese would sit on a little couch by the window, smoking cigarettes, inhaling the cool air from outside along with the deep, pungent smell of curing meat. Tom worried that its core had gone rancid and maggoty, but a year and a half after he had strung up the pork, Tom cut into it and found a delicious, full-flavored, dry prosciutto, which he served to friends at Easter.
Read Klancy Miller’s review of Eat The City on Food Republic.