Maison Premiere’s Jacob Clark Has a Fridge Full of Polish Pickles and a Mystery Flask

When I enter the apartment of Jacob Clark, executive chef at Williamsburg’s Maison Premiere, I’m greeted by a very judgmental cat perched atop his refrigerator. Apparently Smoky (that’s his name) is actually quite friendly, but he’s just not a morning feline. In the living room, Clark’s fiancée, Ewa Zaniewska, sits on the couch with a small white dog, who quietly observes me from a distance. His name is Noodle. Bailey, another dog, is confined to the bedroom because he’s a jumper, and Twitchy, another cat, is roaming the cold streets of Bushwick “because he just has things to do,” says Ewa. Normally, when conducting these violations of personal space that we call Fridge Tours, I worry about annoying the hell out of the chef. Today, I think it’s the animals who are the most perturbed. So I got right down to the business of invading Jacob’s privacy so I could leave him and his menagerie to their day.

Name: Jacob Clark

Position: Executive Chef at Maison Premiere

Neighborhood: Bushwick, Brooklyn

How long have you been in this apartment? Eight years.

Since this is obviously reflective of both of you, I’m going to have to ask Ewa some questions, too.

Jacob: Honestly, it’s more reflective of her, she’s home more often.

Ewa: It’s a lot of Polish stuff.

Who does more of the cooking at home?

Jacob: Gonna be honest, it’s her. For the most part, when I come home, I don’t want to clean anything. She gets mad at me for how much food I order out.

But what’s this cured meat? I see you have two of them, so you must really like it.

Jacob: That’s Pick, I think it’s Czech? It’s a sausage; it’s really special. Do you want to try some? [Editor’s note: It’s a peppery salami made from Mangalitsa pigs, and it’s delicious.]

Ewa: It’s Hungarian. I keep it around for when we have people over and we have a cheese plate, or like a charcuterie board. I keep it well-stocked.

Where do you go for all of these imported European things?

Ewa: I do real estate, so I go all over the city—Polish neighborhoods, Eastern European neighborhoods. I’ll stop by and grab smoked fish, stuff like that.

Noodle the dog.

Pickled things from Ewa’s mother.

Jacob: We travel a lot. She’s from Poland, so we go to Poland often and take road trips. And she gets mad, because I bring too much stuff home to the US with me. Like I’ll fill up suitcases full of jars of preserves and pickled chanterelles and sausages. Bottles of vodka. Stuff you can’t find here. I have no idea how we make it through customs every time. Her family has a farm where they grow a lot of things and preserve a lot of things, so when we’re coming back, [her mother] just stuffs our suitcases full of jars of things.

More preserves from Poland.

What’s your typical alcohol situation at home?

Ewa: Usually there’s vodka in the freezer, but we just finished it. We always bring back Żubrówka, which is a Polish vodka with grass inside.

Jacob: But we drank it all. There’s some Polish beer back there. And some Texas beer, the Shiner. I’m from Texas, so I gotta have that. Otherwise alcohol doesn’t stay around very long.

Smoky the cat.

Some of the empty bottles that Ewa’s father sent back to the States with them.

Usually we have all these bottles that her dad sends back with us of liquors he makes himself. It’s all stuff from the farm, so like, gooseberries and the leaves from gooseberries, or strawberries. The first time I was there, we stayed up all night dancing and drinking until I passed out. Two hours later, her dad wakes me up and hands me a bottle of vodka. And I was like, “God, are you kidding me? It’s like seven in the morning!” And she’s like, “No, come on, you gotta do this!” So he takes me to his little basement, his little man cave, and there’s just sausages hanging everywhere and all these different types of vodka distilling everywhere. Then just wall-to-wall eighties Playboy centerfolds. So now when we come back, he fills my suitcase up with stuff from the man cave—sausages and whatever weird vodka he had going that month.

Fish stock and shrimp heads for gumbo.

If you’re ever the one cooking at home, what kind of stuff are you making?

Jacob: Usually things like gumbo or something like that, things that are easy to make in big batches. I have shellfish stock and shellfish heads in the back for that. But honestly our favorite thing to do is roast a whole chicken, right on top of some root vegetables—we don’t even cut ‘em up—in the oven. In two hours, all the fat from the chicken drips down on the veg. It’s the easiest thing—no labor, no knife work.

Testing what’s in the flask as Smoky looks on.

What’s in the flask?

Jacob: [sniffs] Whoof. Maybe whiskey? I haven’t opened this thing in ages. Oh my god, is this Goldschlager?! Why is there Goldschlager?!

Ewa: [laughs] From going sledding!

Jacob: Oh right! When it snows, we go to this one hill in Central Park and sit at the bottom and drink all day. I’m from Texas, where we don’t get snow, so when it snows, we’re like “Yeah!”

What’s the typical condiment situation going on in here? I see lots of pickles and condiments for cheeseboards.

Ewa: Hot sauces definitely. He made these pickled champagne grapes. Lots of barbecue sauces. Pickled chanterelles my mom made.

Jacob: Oh, this is my thing. I could take baths in ranch dressing.

Ewa: He could, its true. We ran out of ketchup for French fries and he used ranch instead.

Jacob: That’s not even that weird! But I put it on everything.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the suit of armor.

Ewa: Oh yeah, I saw him on the street here in Bushwick. So I called Jacob and was like, “There’s a knight just sitting here, what are we waiting for?” And I dragged him in.

Jacob: We don’t even notice it’s here anymore, it’s just the third roommate.

Well, thanks to all three of you for letting me be nosey today!

Bojangles’ Employee Fired for Writing V Rude Message in Icing on Cop’s Biscuit

It’s not at all surprising that local Raleigh, North Carolina news station WRAL has a Bojangles tag for its website. Of the fried chicken chain’s 758 locations, more than half are scattered throughout the Carolinas (and all of them have better chicken and biscuits than Popeye’s, don’t @ me.) But this has to be the first time it’s gotten to combine the Bojangles tag, the biscuits tag, and the caught-on-camera tag—and the first time it’s gotten to write the words “vulgar Bo-Berry biscuit” in a headline .

For the uninitiated, Bojangles’ Bo-Berry biscuits are a sweet and savory way to ensure that you’ll eventually have a favorite brand of diabetic compression socks. Bo-Berry biscuits are a denser, sweeter version of the regular Bojangles biscuits, and all of them have Mother Nature’s very own Bo-Berries baked in, and a reasonable amount of icing drizzled on top. You can purchase them in a six-pack, and on most occasions, they don’t tell you to fuck yourself.

But on Monday afternoon, sheriff’s deputy Daniel Pridgen was given a Bo-Berry biscuit that had been delicately iced with the letters “F U.” Pridgen told WRAL that he pulled into the drive-through at a Bojangles in Richlands, NC and ordered some of the Roast Chicken Bites from its lower calorie Bo-Smart menu. After sitting in his car for 15 minutes, he walked inside to ask why his meal was taking so long. He said that the staff apologized and gave him a box of complimentary Bo-Berry biscuits for his trouble.

When he got home and opened the box, he realized that one of the biscuits had its traditional zig-zag icing pattern, while the other said “F U” in two (honestly, still delicious) letters. “I am literally at a loss. How professional, Bojangles!” he wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post. “As I stand there and wait patiently (in uniform) while my other food is getting cold, this is the thanks I get from the lovely staff […] Pure hatred, I appreciate it. Unfortunately I didn’t notice until I got home to eat.”

To its credit, Bojangles acted swiftly: According to The (Jacksonville) Daily News , the employee responsible for the obscenity was “immediately terminated,” and the manager of the Richlands location contacted Pridgen within half an hour of seeing his post. (“I’ve really got no complaints,” he told the paper.)

In a statement, Tands Inc—which operates more than 50 Bojangles restaurants in eastern North Carolina—again apologized for the tainted biscuit. (MUNCHIES has reached out to Bojangles for additional comment but has not yet received a response.) “This type of behavior is not consistent with our values or our culture, and it will not be tolerated at any Tands restaurant,” a Tands spokesperson said. “We apologize to anyone who was offended by the actions of this former employee.”

But… but… surely he still ate the Bo-Berry biscuit?

No, North Koreans Aren’t Fighting Starvation by Eating Their Own Shirts

If you’re drumming your Apple Pencil against the edge of your desk while you think about some of the most fashionable cities in the world, first of all, stop that, because Apple Pencils are expensive as hell. Then, you can start weighing Milan and Paris and New York against each other, because they’re all OG style capitals, and they all made you feel completely disheveled every time you appeared in public.

Even if you spend hours considering the flex of several hundred cities, Pyongyang isn’t going to cross your mind. And why would it? When Kim Jong Un appears in public, he always looks like he’s stolen a suit from Chairman Mao and borrowed shoes from Herman Munster. But according to two catalogs published by North Korea’s not-at-all ominous sounding Clothing Research Center, both men and women in the ultra-isolated country have gotten governmental approval to start dressing slightly more fashionably. What the Center’s glossy pages don’t suggest—despite what you may have read online in the last few days—is that starving North Koreans need to start eating their own shirts.

“Kim Jong-un’s edible fashion range: tasty looks for 2019 ” writes The Guardian. The Stranger ’s headline states “North Korea Launches Edible Clothing Line .” And New Zealand’s Newshub says, “North Korea releases edible clothing to ‘avoid starvation .’” Sounds pretty dire, right?

Earlier this month, Pyongyong-based graduate student and tour company owner Alek Kim wrote two pieces for NK News focusing on the fashion culture in North Korea. He had gotten his hands on two catalogs published by the Clothing Research Center, and sold only in the kind of bookstores and magazine stands that don’t attract many foreign customers. Kim explained that the Center is part of the Ministry of Foodstuffs and Daily Necessities Manufacture, which supervises the manufacture of products from kitchen staples like soy sauce and gochujang to everyday consumer goods like toothpaste and soap.

The Center itself designs the standardized school uniforms for North Korean students, trains runway models, hosts fashion shows, and works with clothing factories and tailors. “As the only center of its kind in the country, it sees its mission as to ‘make Korean women more beautiful,’ and ‘take responsibility for the cultural advancement of the country’ through ‘creating and spreading designs that meet the needs of the times and the tastes of the people’,” Kim wrote .

And yeah, it also produces these catalogs of “state-approved styles” for everyday wear, which include suits for both men and women, high heels, casual shirts, jackets for all four seasons, and conservatively cut bathing suits. (It also has a handy section with diagrams illustrating how to iron a skirt, or explaining what to do if your clothing gets blood-stained).

In his analysis of the men’s catalog, which has the catchy name of “Men’s Clothing: Shape and Design Materials,” Kim highlighted the fact that men’s casual wear tends to be limited to either a short-sleeved button-down shirt or a long-sleeved button down shirt. (Jeans and shirts with “words or faces” printed on them are forbidden by the state). The catalog includes a photo of two stiffly posed male models, both gazing wistfully into a future that may involve crew neck shirts.

“Clothing made from artificial flannelette fabrics composed of trace elements such as high-grade protein, amino acids, fruit juice, magnesium, iron, and calcium, as clothing worn by people engaged in sailing, outdoor exploration, and mountain climbing, can be eaten to avoid starvation in the event that food has run out,” the text accompanying the photos reads.

OK, so… a little creepy.

But—BUT!!!111!!—Kim says that this is neither clothing for everyday wear, nor does it mean that the state suggests that its citizenry should prepare to start chewing and swallowing their shirtsleeves. “It’s more of an interesting factoid to just fill some space and add some flavor to the catalog,” he told MUNCHIES. “There is no suggestion that these edible shirts are available in North Korea, let alone refer to the actual items in the catalog. I have seen no reference to this edible clothing anywhere else in North Korea, so I am pretty sure it is assumed by North Korean readers that this is a scientific development that has happened overseas and isn’t available yet. It also ties in with state ideology that emphasizes the promotion of science and technology.”

Kim also pointed out that both the food and the economy in North Korea have seen improvement in recent years, and are not as dire as they have previously been. “This is not a trend or anything that is actually happening in North Korea,” he repeated. “It’s just one little isolated ‘Did you know?’ bit of flavor text.”

No pun intended.

It’s Wednesday, January 30, and It’s So Fucking Cold You Can’t Even Order Delivery

W elcome to Off-Menu , where we’ll be rounding up all the food news and food-adjacent internet ephemera that delighted, fascinated, or infuriated us this morning.

News Earlier this month, Starbucks celebrated Alexander Hamilton’s birthday by featuring a playlist of Hamilton and Hamilton- adjacent songs for a full week at their over 14,000 US locations. This was probably a nifty Easter egg for any history buffs or musical theater fans who came in to grab a latte, but for the thousands of employees who had to listen to the same dozen or so songs on repeat for eight hours at a time, it was something more like low key auditory torture. Grub Street noticed a Reddit post from a barista who complained, “If I have to hear Hamilton one more time I’m getting a ladder and ripping out all of our speakers from the ceiling,” and spoke to several other Starbucks employees, all of whom confirmed that themed playlists make the job feel like Groundhog Day. But both the OP and the other employees that Grub Street spoke to said that, as far as single songs go, nothing is as prevalent or annoying as Peter Bjorn and John’s 2006 whistle-heavy earworm “Young Folks .” If you want to subject yourself to the same experience, the exact playlist Starbucks is using is available right now on Spotify . ThinkProgress has an inspiring feature on the years of organizing and agitating that went into the formation of the Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU). As of December, three separate locations of the Oregon and Washington chain have voted to unionize and have started bargaining their first contract with management, making it the largest federally-recognized fast-food workers union in the country. With temperatures in the Midwest currently rivaling those in Antarctica , restaurants around Chicago have announced closures today. But remember, if you can’t stand the idea of going outside to grab a bite to eat, think about how the delivery guy feels. A GrubHub spokesperson told Eater that restaurants may suspend delivery service to protect staff at their discretion. And if you *can* get someone to bring you food, tip generously. But if you happen to be in Wisconsin, and are willing to brave the Hoth-like conditions, Mullen’s Dairy Bar in Watertown has been offering free ice cream cones whenever the temperature dips below -20 degrees ever since they first opened in 1932. It’s a little absurd, but consider this: Crank the heat before you embark and get your free cone to go—it definitely won’t melt before you make it back home. Not News KFC announced on Tuesday that they’ll be testing a Cheetos-topped sandwich in select markets around South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. I gotta say, I’m not mad at the idea, but why not just bread the chicken in crushed Cheetos directly and cut out the middleman?? Something Nice

I realize that by delighting in and sharing a commercial created for the Super Bowl, I’m participating in the vast capitalist network that serves to inoculate the NFL against increasingly valid criticism, but, you guys, it’s the Backstreet Boys!!!! And those pink jumpsuits are a great look.

Buy This Bucket

Imagine ordering and eating cotton candy within the confines of your own home, away from the context of a fairground or sporting event. If that sounds more delightful than strange to you, then, first of all, I admire your undiminished capacity for childlike joy, but also, Dylan’s Candy Bar has you covered.

Ariana Grande’s New Japanese “7 Rings” Tattoo Actually Says “Barbecue Grill”

In addition to an extremely large social media following and a very long fake ponytail, Ariana Grande has dozens of tiny impulse tattoos. With at least 35 of them as of this round-up a few weeks ago, the pop star clearly isn’t shy about sharing her ink with fans and haters alike, who obsess over what they mean and why she got them. Some of those tattoos might be more regrettable than others—say, the multiple tattoos from her whirlwind relationship with Pete Davidson—but Grande’s latest tattoo might be setting a new bar for regret potential.

Yesterday, Grande debuted her newest tattoo in a now-deleted Instagram post. The tattoo, on her palm, is meant to say “7 rings” in Japanese Kanji, in reference to her newest single, which debuted at the top of the Billboard charts .

Grande’s tattoo currently reads “七輪.” As commenters have weighed in online, it should actually read “七つの指輪 ” in order to accurately translate to “seven rings.” And as Twitter users quickly pointed out, Grande’s tattoo as it stands actually reads “shichirin ,” the Japanese word for a type of barbecue grill.

After the Chinese lettering tattoo trend of the 90s resulted in so many bad, mistranslated tattoos —and hopefully some regret—we’d think that people would learn from those mistakes, and maybe at least hit up Google Translate before putting them on their body.

Omitting characters in the middle of the phrase was actually intentional, Grande claims, because the tattoo hurt too much as-is. “I wouldn’t have lasted one more symbol lmao,” she wrote in a Twitter thread that has also been deleted, but still exists in screenshots.

According to Grande, it doesn’t matter too much because the tattoo is “99% gonna go away.” That was apparently told to her by tattoo artist Kane Navasard , who also did Grande’s Pokémon tattoo earlier this month . Many tattoo artists warn that palm and hand tattoos don’t come with a guarantee —they’re known to fade quickly since hands go through a lot of wear and tear.

Despite its incorrect phrasing, Grande is taking the tattoo in stride. “It’s my favorite one now tho so pls leave me and my tambourine grill alone. Thank u,” she tweeted. (The fact that all of her original Instagram and Twitter posts about the tattoo have been deleted might suggest a little buyer’s remorse.)

Luckily, of all the phrases you could incorrectly translate onto your body, there’s nothing not to love about Japanese barbecue.

Seeing ‘Sexy Images’ of Women Makes Men Hungry for Meat, Study Says

Is meat sexy? That’s not an attempt to fit into the all-too-horny news cycle, we promise—it’s literally the focus of new research out of Australia . In a study focused on “sexual motivation,” two marketing researchers concluded that the answer is yes: When straight men have sex on the brain, they want meat more, because they think it makes them more desirable to women.

Over 1,600 male and female participants from Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom took part in the three-part study, which involved looking at “sexy images” or imagining “romantic” situations and then choosing between meat and non-meat foods. (To cut down the number of variables, the researchers excluded participants who didn’t identify as heterosexual, and anyone who didn’t eat meat.)

The research was conducted by Eugene Y. Chan and Natalina Zlatevska, who are marketing professors at Monash University and the University of Technology Sydney, respectively. The pair outlined their findings in a manuscript for the journal Food Quality and Preference .

Your mind might be in the gutter, but the “sexy images” didn’t involve any actual nudity. They were described as similar to Victoria’s Secret or old-school Abercrombie & Fitch ads. After participants saw either “sexy images” or scenery, in the first part of the study, they chose between beef jerky and vegan jerky. Men who had seen images that were sexy chose beef jerky more than men who had just seen scenery. Women, overall, were less likely to choose beef jerky, even if they had seen sexy images.

The second and third parts of the study provided similar results. Men who had participated in “sexual scenarios” chose meat more than men who’d seen or imagined non-sexual imagery. Women, however, chose meat and non-meat items about the same, regardless of sexual content.

Altogether, the study concluded that when the thought of sex has been floated, men want meat more. According to the researchers, that’s because of evolutionary tendencies: since men use status markers to seem more desirable to potential mates—and since meat has long been tied to strength, status , and masculinity —it follows that men would be drawn to meat after thinking about mating.

“The link between meat and status is grounded in evolutionary drivers of consumption,” Zlatevska said in a statement to MedicalXpress . “Cavemen consumed meat in order to be strong, healthy and powerful enough to survive the harsh environment. Royalty and the nobility also consumed meat because it signified wealth.”

Meanwhile, the finding that women were less drawn to meat after seeing or thinking of sexual imagery might be because women rely less on status to appeal to men and more on things like beauty and health, the researchers concluded.

Since both Chan and Zlatevska focus on marketing, they see the applications of this work mostly in terms of food ads. Ads for meat emphasize masculinity and sex appeal, they wrote, which strengthens the links between meat, social status, and desirability. (That’s obvious in campaigns like Kraft’s Devour, which uses sexual suggestion to sell frozen dinners meant for men and recently cut down a Super Bowl ad since the original was a little heavy-handed with the porn references.)

“Our research suggests an unintended consequence of today’s sexy ads,” Chan wrote to MUNCHIES in an email. “They might stimulate people’s sexual appetite, if you will, and in turn increase men’s liking for meat, which at an extreme is bad for our physical health and for environmental sustainability.”

So, since sex and meat are so closely linked, they pointed out, ads that use sex appeal to sell sustainability—or lower meat consumption—might be shooting themselves in the foot. By relying on horny advertising, they might actually just make men more hungry… for meat.

Biang Biang Noodles Recipe

Servings: 4

Prep: 20 minutes

Total: 1 hour


3 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour or high-gluten noodle flour

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup room temperature water

3 tablespoons vegetable oil (Canola is good), plus more to keep the dough pieces from sticking

1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 leaves Napa cabbage, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic puree

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1/2 celery rib, diced

1/2 stalk chive flowers, diced Directions 1. Making the dough: Place flour into a stand mixer with a dough hook attached. In a Pyrex container, or a container that has a mouth to pour, stir salt into the room temperature water until dissolved. Start the mixer at a low speed. Slowly add the salt water from the side of the mixer, until all of the water is evenly incorporated. Keep running the mixer until the sides of the mixing bowl are flour-free and the dough is nice and smooth. If the dough doesn’t seem to be coming together, you can add up to ¼ cup more of water, but be patient! Alternatively, if mixing by hand in a bowl, add the water ¼ cup at a time, using your hands to knead the mixture into a ball of dough. Knead until a dough is formed, approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Remove the dough from your mixing bowl and knead on a floured board. You’ll need to use a bit of muscle, as the dough will be quite tough at first. But it will get smoother and springier the longer you work it. Knead until relatively smooth and springy.

3. Cover with a moist towel, and let rest for 5 minutes. Then, knead the dough for a minute or so with clean hands on a floured board. Let rest again for another 5 minutes. Repeat this rest-then-knead process twice more. In total, you should have rested the dough 15 minutes, and kneaded it on a board three times.

4. Flatten the dough into a rectangle to the best of your ability, and cut the dough into 3.5-ounce pieces (about 6 pieces for one batch of dough). Use a rolling pin to roll each piece into flat rectangles, a little over ¼ of an inch thick, 4-5 inches long, and about 1.5 inches wide.

5. Brush the pieces of the dough with vegetable oil, and place sideways in a container without overlapping. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. You should rest the dough at least an hour before using it, but you can store it in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

6. Pulling & Cooking the Noodles: These noodles cannot sit after being pulled, and are best eaten fresh. Be prepared to immediately boil them, sauce them, and serve and slurp them down. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

7. Each serving of noodles will require two pieces of dough. Take the pieces out of the refrigerator, and warm them with your hands by flattening them on the counter.

8. Keep pushing the dough into an evenly flat rectangular shape until it is about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. Then grab the ends of the rectangle with your thumbs and forefingers (as if you are checking if a bill is counterfeit in the light), and start to slightly pull and bounce the noodle flat against the counter, in an up-and-down motion.

9. Keep pulling and slapping the dough against the counter until the noodles are almost 4 feet long. Be careful not to pull too quickly or grip too tight, as you’ll break the noodle. If the noodle does break, just grab onto the broken part and try to pull from there.

10. When the noodle is the right length, pick it up at the middle and rip it into two pieces like string cheese, making sure to pull all the way until it reaches the end, without pulling it all the way through. Make sure to even out the ends of the strands if they are too thick.

11. Throw the noodles into the boiling pot of water and stir with tongs to make sure they do not stick. They should be “swimming” in the water.

12. Boil for 2 minutes. If the water is about to spill out, lower the fire slightly until it calms slightly, but keep it at a boil. Add cold water to the boil if necessary, but your total boiling time should be capped at 2 minutes.

13. Transfer the noodles to a small saucepan with the black vinegar, soy sauce, salt along with the cabbage. Put the garlic purée, chili powder, diced scallions, celery, and chive flowers all on top of the noodles in a little mound. Heat up the 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small pot on the stove just until smoking point, be careful not to overheat. Once the oil is at smoking point, pour onto the little mound of aromatics on top of the noodles, and then mix together immediately and serve.

This Durian Costs $1,000, But It Definitely Still Stinks

There’s a lot you could do if you had a thousand dollars to burn. You could buy over 200 grande lattes at Starbucks—and even spring for up-charged nut milk. You could take yourself and a date out to eat at the Michelin-starred Alinea, for dinner and a decent wine pairing, and still have enough money left over to pick up some soft serve on the way home. You could almost buy an iPhone XS.

Or, if you happened to be in Indonesia, you could buy one single durian. Keep in mind: That thousand won’t cover airfare or accommodations to get you to Indonesia—literally just that one piece of fruit.

A new variety of durian called “J-Queen” is now available in Indonesia, the Guardian reported earlier today , but it’s so rare that a single piece of the stinky-ass fruit will run you 14 million Indonesian rupia. Converted, that’s about US $993, as of this writing. At least two of the fruits have already been purchased.

The variety fetches such a high price because, according to the Indonesian blog Coconuts Jakarta , there’s currently only one J-Queen tree, and it produces fruit just once every three years. Compared to the standard durian, the J-Queen’s fruit is both rounder and more yellow in appearance. It reportedly tastes like “peanuts and butter” and has earned awards in durian competitions around Southeast Asia.

The J-Queen, while expensive, is presumably still pungent like a normal durian, which could limit what you can do with it once you’ve splurged. In some places, public durian-eating is banned because of its smell, and in November, durian stank up an airplane’s cargo hold so badly that it forced flight delays while the crew unloaded it.

The J-Queen’s price has earned a lot of attention online and in real life. Coconuts Jakarta called it a “viral sensation,” and reported that people are lining up at the only shopping center where it’s sold to take a selfie with the prickly produce. (Personally, the fear of dropping and ruining a $1,000 fruit would keep me from any social media stunting, but you do you.)

Not all of that attention has been good, however. The Guardian pointed out that the price of a single J-Queen is over three times more than the average monthly income of a person in Indonesia.

The hybrid’s inventor told Indonesian news website Tribunnews that the J-Queen is intended to “improve the welfare of farmers.” But right now it’s only benefiting him, since he specifically told CNN that he hasn’t shared the seeds with other producers. Beyond that, not only are Indonesian durian farmers largely unfamiliar with the J-Queen, the Guardian wrote, but it costs about 70 times more than even the other rare varieties that they currently grow.

It might sound over-the-top to spend a thousand dollars on a durian, but that’s nothing compared to previous specialty fruit sales. Last year, in Thailand, a durian of the Kan Yao variety sold for 800,000 baht , or over US $25,000. And a pair of special melons in Japan raked in over $27,000 when sold in 2016.

All of which makes me feel less guilty about splurging on Honeycrisp apples over the cheaper, but slightly less good Fuji .

It’s Tuesday, January 29, and There’s an International Craft Beer Grifter Afoot

W elcome to Off-Menu , where we’ll be rounding up all the food news and food-adjacent internet ephemera that delighted, fascinated, or infuriated us this morning.

News Kentucky Sports Radio has the story of a “craft beer con man” named Steven Foster who has spent the past decade-plus talking his way into a job as brewmaster for at least ten different budding breweries all over the world only to disappear and leave his business partners in a lurch when people realize…his beer is bad. Foster has given different backstories (and sometimes even different names) at different points in his grifting career, but KSR has sketched out a rough timeline based on various reports of farms and breweries that had to shutter suddenly after working with him. Far be it from me to tell a scam artist how to do his job, but after you’ve dedicated something like a dozen years to lying about being able to make beer, you’d think he could just…learn to make better beer? At this point, Foster has to be trying to not get better, right? Amy Schumer’s baby shower cake has pubes and a butthole and should be served to sex-ed classes.

A lot of outlets are saying that the Washington D.C. baker who wrote “Build that Wall” on a Valentine’s Day cookie apologized after the obvious backlash. But, uh, did he? Edmonds Bakery owner Ken Bellingham told NBC affiliate King 5 News that the cookie was intended to be “a joke,” that he “[doesn’t] think building a wall will solve our problems,” and that the response has been “more hateful” than the cookie itself. None of which is an apology. “I try to be funny,” he said by way of explanation, after apparently failing to comprehend that treating hateful, racist rallying cries as a punchline is, in fact, precisely the thing people took issue with. Russian post offices are now selling beer as a way of “increasing the viability of post offices and attracting additional money,” which is sort of funny and cute; and also as part of an effort to “give the public access to high-quality, legal alcoholic beverages…because over 1,200 people are poisoned by low-quality alcohol every year,” which is…less so. Not News Unless you are scooping it out of the jar with your hands and smearing it around the inside of your cabinet, you have not been “storing peanut butter wrong all along.” Please stop hacking my home and writing headlines that make it sound like you’ve been peering through my windows to assess my food storage habits.

Something Nice

Vice has a new meme game show and it has nothing to do with food, but it is very funny and will make your day better.

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Can a Bar Feel Like a Bar Without Booze?

As these nights tend to begin, I was sitting in a bar. It was Halloween weekend, and all the requisite signs of revelry were around me, including across the room, where a woman with long blonde hair was throwing herself into a rendition of “Hand in My Pocket ” by Alanis Morissette. Arriving at the verse where Alanis sings “I feel drunk but I’m sober,” she twisted the lyrics ever-so-slightly. “BUT I’M FUCKING SOBER,” she screamed joyously.

Her adlib sparked uproarious cheers from onlookers, because she wasn’t the only one. The bar in front of me was fully stocked with non-intoxicating substances, and the expertly-mixed $11 cocktail I was sipping didn’t have a drop of alcohol in it. I was at a booze-free pop-up spot in New York City’s Williamsburg called Listen Bar —a four-day trial run for a permanent concept slated tentatively to open in 2019, though it’s lagging behind its ambitious fundraising goal—and everyone around me (as far as I could tell) was stone-cold sober, and ecstatic to be so.

Listen Bar’s founder Lorelei Bandrovschi was also elated—she had dreamed up the concept on a hunch that the free-wheeling fun of a bar on a lively weekend night could be captured without the booze, and as she saw it, the events of the night were proving her right.

“I want to bring a bit of ease into not drinking, because that is something I think that is missing from the experience,” Bandrovschi told me. “The other thing I want to bring is rowdiness and fun and the things that alcohol has claimed for its own, which I actually think are totally human things that we all have in us and we all want to express and release.”

She continued: “When, on Saturday night, people were dancing on tables I just completely lost my mind, because that was the validation I had been looking for.”

Her dream may seem an irregularity, but Listen—which also hosted a Dry January happy hour series at Von Bar in NoHo—is one of three alcohol-free bars coming to New York City in the next year. Getaway Bar in Greenpoint and karaoke bar Mini Rex in the Lower East Side—a divided concept with a booze-stocked bar in one room and a sober bar in another—both have plans to open in the first quarter of 2019. Each is slightly different, but looked at collectively, they signal a possible reimagining of the role alcohol plays in our social lives, in our gathering spaces, and in our concepts of fun.

It also prompts us to wonder whether the spirit of bar-going—the lack of structure and glut of spontaneity that draws us to bars—is separable from the loosening properties of alcohol. I, a relatively new teetotaler, wondered as I sat there, sipping on some fennel-sage-tonic concoction, the lucid frenzy whirring around me: What makes a bar a bar?

Bars—specifically the booze-serving kind—have long played a vital role in American life as gathering spaces (and quite obviously, in the lives of many other groups of humans long before that). In colonial America, the tavern served the role of the ancient Greek agora—a public space where citizens came together to share ideas, iron out disputes, and even drum up revolution. They were so central to life that from those early days through westward expansion, settlers putting down roots in a new town would build a bar before any other structure, explained Christine Sismondo, a humanities lecturer at Toronto’s York University and author of America Walks into a Bar , which details the unique historical and cultural significance of the spaces.

“The American bar became such an institution,” Sismondo told MUNCHIES. “Every town built the bar first, so you would have at least one place to go, even if it was to settle legal disputes or sell your wares.”

These early American bars served more illustrious purposes as well—the American Revolution was conceived and discussed in taverns, leading the Green Dragon tavern in Boston to be dubbed the “Headquarters of the Revolution” by historians. Far from a fluke, argues Sismondo, revolutionaries would continue to incite change from bar stools, a more recent example being the Stonewall riots of 1969, made possible by the solidification of a gay community through clandestine bar meetings.

But how important was the format of the drinks served? It’s impossible to know, of course, how history may have been altered if the Green Dragon had served $11 alcohol-free cocktails instead of beer—one can imagine it would have closed swiftly, given what a ludicrous amount of money that would have been then—but Sismondo believes there is something to be said for the unifying nature of alcohol.

“Alcohol makes you sort of open up,” she said. “A lot of people think the reason humans as a social animal have managed to construct small groups that got along well together….they sort of fix that to the rise of beer.”

The argument is intuitive and commonplace: drinking lowers our inhibitions, relieves us of social anxiety and self-consciousness, and by extension facilitates bonding with fellow bar-goers. The breaking down of social barriers can make a bar a “magical” place, argues Sismondo.

Still, the ease and effectiveness of booze as a social lubricant is not an ironclad argument for its necessity in bringing humans together. It’s possible we’ve been socialized to believe alcohol is mandatory in social settings, that we’re doomed to flail awkwardly in conversation without it and, more to the point, that a nocturnal gathering space just won’t make room for fun and frivolity without its influence. Indeed, some would argue that our ancestors did us wrong, and we’ve been socialized to our detriment.

I have something of a personal stake in the booze-free bar gamble. I stopped drinking, at least for the foreseeable future, on New Year’s Day 2018—the date’s symbolic significance, bizarrely, a total coincidence—because alcohol seemed to be taking more from me than it was giving back. Giving it up has, for the most part, been a relief.

But it has also induced a sense of loss I can’t shake, and I’ve realized what I miss is not only booze but bars. I miss the ease of a bar, the walking in whenever and leaving whenever. I miss the invitation to leave your life at the door and the unknown on the other side—you never know who you’ll sit next to, who you’ll fall into conversation with, what serendipity might unfold. Sismondo, in our interview, noted the freewheeling nature of a bar that lent itself to moving in and out of conversations quickly, and the “leveling” nature that deterred drinkers from pulling rank during spirited discussions.

Now bars, spaces I once loved, are spaces that are no longer for me—they are spaces for people who drink. When I go to a bar, I am on the periphery, an observer of the shared activity and bonding ritual rather than a participant. Then there’s the social pressure to imbibe and the anxiety that comes with resisting that pressure. I worry over my demeanor when I decline booze—was I light enough, unbothered enough? I worry people will think I’m haughty or holier-than-thou. I often hope my glass of seltzer will be mistaken for a gin and tonic. In short, much of the ease that came with bar-going is gone for me—it went out the window when I gave up drinking.

The thing is, I had accepted all of this. Giving up a deeply ingrained habit means re-negotiating what your life looks like in the aftermath, without it, and it’s all but guaranteed that it will look different. Just as I’ve had to find new (healthier!) ways of managing my anxiety, I’ve had to find new ways of unwinding after work and new ways of socializing on weekends. And I’ve had to accept that something I once found solace in now a source of mild discomfort. I’ve found it’s best to recognize and accept the things I miss about drinking—to accept I may never stop missing them. The benefits of sobriety I’ve reaped over the last year far outweigh those lingering disappointments.

So I’ll admit I was cynical when I first discovered Listen Bar. I rolled my eyes at what I saw as an unnecessary attempt to make everything for everyone—bars are not made for non-drinkers, I thought, and that’s okay!

It hadn’t once occurred to me that it might be possible to take back any of the things I lost when I gave up drinking. It hadn’t occurred to me that some of the things I attributed to booze and booze alone could possibly exist elsewhere.

If you choose to look, there are a smattering of signs that American consumers are thirsty for more alcohol-free options, and are more open to the idea of turning traditionally debauched rituals on their heads than they might have been in the past. In New York, hundreds are already turning out for coffee and juice-fueled sober raves at 7 AM, taking a phenomenon synonymous with drug use and making it wholesome. Data shows Americans—in particular, millennials—are drinking less , and beverage companies are churning out zero-proof options in response. UK-based beverage company Seedlip has made a name for itself crafting non-intoxicating spirits with herbs and spices, and its popularity has caught on at traditional drinking establishments looking to ramp up their offerings for teetol patrons—Saxon + Parole, a Lower East Side eatery known for its cocktails, recently expanded its booze-free drinks menu to include intricate Seedlip cocktails, and the number of patrons ordering booze-free drinks has grown by about a quarter, according to bar director Maxime Belfand.

Bandrovschi is part a set of who wants us to believe that we can expand outside of our collective understanding of what a night out means.

“The quintessential serendipity of New York, that sort of walking into a bar and not knowing if you’re walking in for 20 minutes or for six hours, that’s something we want to cultivate,” said Bandrovschi. “I think that kind of no pressure, no plan is what we love a bar for.”

Bandrovschi, who identifies both as a drinker and as “a person who really enjoys not drinking,” began to reconsider her relationship to alcohol five years ago, when a friend challenged her to give it up for a month. She discovered drinking had always been more of a reflex than a choice—if she was honest with herself, she didn’t always need or even want to do it, though the surrounding culture would have her believe that she did. The longer she went without booze, the more she enjoyed the sense of control and confidence she found in abstaining.

But the simple act of saying no made going out with her friends a relentless obstacle course in setting and reinforcing boundaries—bars, as I’ve personally discovered, are simply not for non-drinkers. Bandrovschi cut to the core of my experience as a sober bar-goer; she also made me wonder, for the first time, if my thinking around the potential of nightlife spaces was limited. “I had to manage my experience of not drinking, versus experiencing spaces that are as thoughtfully built around that experience as everyone has when they go out and want to drink.”

The alternatives for non-drinkers are few and incomparable to the bar experience; your house is well, your house; coffee shops close early; restaurants require dining, and their table turnovers resist unorganized, hours-long hangouts. If you’re looking to meet new people, the unstructured environment of a bar more readily lends itself to striking up a conversation with a stranger. That’s the serendipity Bandrovschi is talking about—that’s what she wants to reclaim for the abstaining.

Sober stylist (and soon-to-be bar owner) Karin Elgai’s vision for Mini Rex and Juicebox Heroes—the sober side of the establishment—is much the same, if a little more distinctly activist. Whereas Bandrovschi consciously avoids the word “sober” to avoid the impression she is promoting a lifestyle, Juicebox Heroes is billed explicitly as a “sober” bar and even plans to host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings during the daytime. Elgai is clear that her bar is for anyone who is not drinking for whatever reason, and she isn’t evangelical about sobriety, but the struggle of recovery was very much an impetus for the launch—she noticed nights out for karaoke with fellow teetotalers were cut short due to the temptation to relapse, and she wanted to create a space for them.

“I’ve been getting nothing but support from people in the recovery community because we do feel like we need a nightlife space, and we just don’t want to eat every time we go out,” said Elgai.

“I really hope more bars come up and say, ‘Hey, sober people need options too,’” she added. “We’re done hanging out in diners.”

Alcohol-free bars are not a new concept, but they have never been acclimated into the mainstream—sobriety, after all, has never been the default position for adults , and has always required an explanation. The temperance movement gave rise to temperance halls (booze-free taverns meant to replace bars), but they were tethered to the zealotry of the movement and tended to fail, Sismondo explained, never managing to rake in the patronage of a traditional tavern. Recent takes on the alcohol-free bar in America have tended to follow a similar model in that they are attached to a broader movement or moral imperative; Canticles Lounge, for example, a sober lounge in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is affiliated with the nearby Antioch Baptist Church, though it maintains it is open to all, and is headed by the church’s Reverend (I interviewed him about it at the time for the Brooklyn Paper ). The Other Side , a sober bar in Crystal Lake, Illinois, was born when the local recovery community needed a place to hang out at night and so made one themselves—it hosts 12-step meetings during the day and even owns affiliated sober living homes. The bar open to everyone, said founder Chris Reed, but it is ultimately rooted in the mission to serve people in recovery; it’s not just a bar minus booze. Both of these spots were covered like one-off phenomena (Edible Brooklyn ’s coverage of Canticles and The Other Side’s smattering of launch stories reflect this), no doubt because that’s how they were perceived: as anomalies with no ties to a broader cultural significance.

Even with The Other Side’s ties to 12-step culture, Reed’s findings in running a booze-free bar closely mimic those of Bandrovschi’s trial run for Listen—that it is in fact possible to manufacture the vibe of a bar without the alcohol.

“People start to get wild, people start to get stupid, people start talking over each other,” said Reed. “The idea alcohol is some social lubricant…that’s total bullshit, it really is. It’s almost entirely about the environment you’re in.” Such a claim bodes well for bars without booze as a concept gunning for mainstream appeal. But if this is true now, then it has always been the case. What could have changed to make a city like New York suddenly hospitable to a booze-free bar with no agenda?

The last few years have seen an increasing cultural trend towards “wellness”—an admittedly vague concept that is nonetheless a booming industry, and one that is expected to continue growing. A preoccupation with health and well-being necessarily leads to an increased circumspection about consuming vast quantities of a dehydrating substance proven to wreak havoc on the body. The science of alcohol’s ill effects have been well-documented—the social consciousness around it, however, has lagged, only to see peaks in conversation around things like medical studies, or evocatively written articles .

But that consciousness is catching up, in large part due to the wellness fixation, noted Ruby Warrington, founder of the sober event series Club Soda NYC (“Soda” is Warrington’s acronym for “Sober or Debating Abstinence”).

“As the wellness scene gets more and more mainstream and people are investing a ton of money, time and energy into practices that make you feel good , [when] you go out on the weekend drinking it really shines such a light on the actual after-effects and the actual costs of drinking,” said Warrington, who is gearing up to release a book on her experiences dabbling in sobriety, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All On the Other Side of Alcohol .

Warrington also speculates that as people have become increasingly open about their desire to abstain apart from the assumed reasons (addiction, pregnancy, religiosity), that has opened the gates for an increased introspection about imbibing, and an increased willingness to take a break or abstain altogether. She started Club Soda NYC in 2016 to encourage that deepening of thought, and the events have consistently swelled in attendance since she first hosted a modest gathering of fewer than ten friends in her living room.

“It’s not even so much that people are afraid to say they don’t want to drink—for a lot of people, it’s not even in their consciousness,” Warrington said. “The more people who speak out, ‘I don’t drink, and this is why,’ I think more and more people will feel confident about making that choice for themselves.”

More consumers may choose not to drink, but not everyone in the mercurial hospitality industry is convinced that fact alone will prove a sustainable business model (especially in New York, where it’s a feat for any business to contend with skyrocketing rents). Jim Kearns, veteran bartender and beverage director of conjoined West Village cocktail bars Slowly Shirley and the Happiest Hour, says he gladly mixes booze-free versions of cocktails for his abstaining patrons, but he hasn’t seen much demand for those options and he would hesitate to make it a business model.

“I think non-alcoholic options have a place in NYC nightlife, but I have my doubts as to whether a bar that doesn’t serve alcohol at all will succeed in our city,” Kearns wrote in an email, adding that, although he is sober, he personally enjoys the “lively atmosphere alcohol can engender.”

“Frankly, I still don’t know if I can imagine a bar environment that doesn’t serve booze,” he wrote. “But I’m curious to see how it works!”

His skepticism is understandable—New York City is awash in liquor . The Lower East Side, where Elgai will open her karaoke joint, is notoriously bar-heavy. Plus, there isn’t yet an instructive model in the United States for areligious, sober-ambivalent booze-free bars. The nearest equivalent is in London, where a vegan eatery and alcohol-free bar called Redemption began as an experimental pop-up in 2013 and has since spawned two (soon to be three) brick-and-mortar locations.

London, like New York, is known for a frenetic nightlife that goes hand-in-hand with booze. Co-founder Catherine Salway wondered if she could convince people to come out and enjoy themselves without inducing a hangover—and she has, in ever-growing numbers.

“For generations, socializing and alcohol have been absolutely, inextricably linked,” said Salway. “And what we’re saying is, it doesn’t always have to be that way.”

The joyful karaoke and the elated cheers at Listen Bar, coupled with the perhaps slowly turning tide of sobriety as a trend, indicate that maybe it really doesn’t. That’s not to say that a place like Listen will perfectly replicate the bar experience sans booze—it doesn’t, and that’s okay. Your inhibitions aren’t going anywhere, but it’s nice to have them. It might be slightly more awkward to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but no one ever died from awkwardness. I still had a nice rapport with the bartender and still ended up chatting with a handful of other bar-goers. I didn’t leave my life at the door, but I felt a little of that ease I thought I’d never get back.