Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

I am a Food Criminal

In Cooking, Grocery, Marketing on September 25, 2009 at 1:43 pm


My parents are Haitian immigrants and they raised me to obey the law and set an example of leadership.  Their advice served me well for the first 40 or so years of life but a recent experience has converted me to the dark side. I am not ashamed to have joined the ranks of New York’s felonious underworld. The following is the story of how I came to be a food criminal.

Last August, I attended an industry event in Lower Manhattan. It was hosted by the National Association of Specialty Food Trade, the sponsors of the Fancy Food Show.  It was there that I first experienced Alili Morocco’s harissa. Business events are often cold and impersonal; I expected no better when I entered the conference room. There was a food table and so I helped myself to the offerings so lavishly provided. After spreading a little harissa on a piece of french bread, I chomped away.  The first bite ignited a culinary explosion inside my mouth; the second bite caused me to tell somebody. Within minutes, the room was sticken with harissa-fever. Everyone tried it and we all experienced something profound.

We live in a world that values conformity, convergence to the mean and (quite frankly) blandness. It was uncommonly refreshing to experience the unique and bold blend of spices that make up Morocco’s third greatest export (behind Wm Shakespeare’s Othello & Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca). The harissa shook us all up. That shared experience was the ice-breaker that ultimately brought us all together.  Suffice it to say, we had an extremely productive meeting.

At the close of the session, everyone shook hands, exchanged business cards and went on their merry way.  I, on the other hand, had a more grandiose plan. It isn’t fair for industry professionals to have sole exposure to this North African delicacy; it belongs to the people! Fancying myself a Robin Hood of the kitchen, a Babyface Nelson of spices and a culinary Jesse James, I swiped an unopened jar for my personal consumption.

I shared it with some colleagues and often bring it to picnics, brunches and dinner parties.  In doing so, I have rescued countless palates from the gastronomic mediocrity of most processed foods. Just as Robin Hood “stole from the rich and gave to the poor,” I steal from the enlightened and give to the bland. My harissa campaign, if you can call it that, is to “Spread the spread.”

As the Alili Morocco brand is not yet carried in local New York supermarkets, I have had to get creative in order to satisfy my harissa addiction.  I frequent their website to learn about upcoming trade shows. At the ones I attend, when nobody’s looking, I apply a five-finger discount toward the acquisition of my next harissa supply. So far, I haven’t been caught and I doubt that this public confession will alert the authorities.  After all, who reads my blog?

I am a food criminal. So goes the story of my entry into a life of crime.


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Desperate Housewives

In Business, Interesting, Marketing, New York, Sports on September 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm

"I feel like shoving this ball down your fuckin' throat!"

Serena Williams using a tennis prop to express herself

Amidst a lot of hullabaloo, Kim Cleijsters won the US Open; why hasn’t anyone congratulated her? The weekend headline should have been about the triumph of a first time mother who returns to the workforce and regains championship form. Her achievement should be a celebration for all women who struggle to balance family and career. Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods and CafeMom should be lining up to sign her to an endorsement deal. But that is not likely to happen. Instead, we are left to read about a superstar athlete who lost her cool after finding herself on the wrong side of an unjust penalty.  The following is my post-mortem on an unfortunate incident that ended terribly wrong. Or did it?

Was Serena wronged?

Yes, in fact the line judge who so ineptly called a foot foul should have been issued a lifetime ban from the USTA.  She is not fit to judge a dog contest much less a world class tennis match. Good riddance.

Was Serena right to argue the call?

Yes. At her level, she has the right to expect decency from the officiating crew. She is not a novice to the game. Bad calls impact performance which in turn impact endorsement negotiations. As the highest grossing female athlete in history, she has the right to protect her earning potential from the squintingly lack of attention afforded the line judge.

Should Serena have used profanity in lodging her complaint?

It’s debatable. John McEnroe was extremely effective in using profanity to call attention to judicial indiscretions that might otherwise have been swept under the rug. His antics have also set the tone for an illustrious career after tennis. On the other hand, her choice of words were vulgar and unbecoming;  I would have preferred for Serena to responded differently when playing the sport of kings in the county of Queens.

Was the USTA right to fine her?

Absolutely! In fact, the $10,500 fine may not have been enough.

Should we still be talking about it?

Again it’s debatable. Serena Williams is extremely popular among young girls and her actions matter. It is interesting that on the same weekend that Serena stood up for judicial fairness, Peggy Olson’s character on “Mad Men” walked into Don Draper’s office to demand equal pay. By design or circumstance, we may be witnessing next wave of the women’s movement as confident women exercise their deserved authority.

In New York alone, the oft maligned candidate for the office of Manhattan District Attorney, Leslie Crocker Snyder (left, with husband Fred), is on the eve of taking the top job in law enforcement. Running in the same Democratic primary, Melinda (“I told him to stick it”) Katz (below) may very well win the nomination to become the city’s next chief financial officer. However attractive we may find them, their looks do not define them. Both women have abandoned a Betty Boop approach in favor of a confident presence, fact-based analysis and decisive actions to define their careers. In a country that failed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, women are taking matters into their own hands with neither apology nor reservation. Could Serena’s assertiveness be viewed in a similar light?

There has been talk of further sanctions against Serena and if that occurs, it will only reflect a failure of our compassion for someone who made a mistake. In all, many mistakes were made. But the only real loser was the quiet woman who showed up, did her job and won the match. For this, Kim, we should all be sincerely sorry.


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Obama-to-Congress: Go Deep!

In Healthcare, Interesting, Politics, Sports on September 5, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I am a huge fan of football and I can’t wait for the start of the 2009-10 season.  In one year, the Jets, my Jets, lost a Hall of Fame quarterback to injury, retirement, indecision, free agency; fired their Mangenius head coach; and parted ways with standout receiver Laveranues Coles. Ten years ago, I would have written off the season, calling it a rebuilding year. But the NFL has changed. The Jets, instead of rebuilding, may only be reloading. I won’t participate in conjecture and speculation but the early talk is that of the Jets winning the AFC East and perhaps even making it to the Superbowl. One can only dream, right?

That dream, however, has a fighting chance of becoming a reality because NFL rules, which are a reflection of NFL values, dictate so. The league used to be dominated by a few teams but this is no longer the case.  The championship returned to the city of Pittsburgh but there are no guarantees the Steelers will even make the playoffs again.  Is this progress? I don’t know… but what is happening in football is as American as the proverbial “apple pie.”

There are less dynasties in the NFL because the league has instituted policies, many of which resembling socialism, to protect the viability of its brand. The college draft, salary caps and free agency transfer power from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have less’ or ‘have nots.’ The net result is a game that is fairly played, less disparity between the best and worst teams and a national hope that any team can beat any other on ANY GIVEN SUNDAY.

Compared to MLB, the NHL & the NBA, the NFL appeals to a wider audience, is watched more frequently, generates more revenues and grows much faster. Football viewership has expanded from once on Sunday locally to 2 games locally and 3 nights per week nationally. Its national games are bid on by 7 television networks and countless other local TV and radio stations. Off-the-field coverage has expanded from highlights during the evening news to integrated networks of out-of-home-, television-, radio- and print-media channels. In 2010,  league expansion will add 4 more teams in Orlando, LA (finally), Portland & San Antonio. In short, the NFL is its own mini-economy and football has become America’s game.

Just as I am excited about the upcoming season, I have counterparts from first place Pittsburgh to 0-12 Detroit who are equally anticipating a competitive season. It is nothing short of amazing that the NFL’s embrace of a few seemingly socialist policies can have a positive impact on a capitalist economy.

I am going to withhold my opinion on the current healthcare debate but I do have an opinion on what is an what isn’t America. On that note, I will conclude with a simple homework assignment… Please answer the following:

If Football = Socialism and Football = America, can Socialism = America?


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