And now a plug for Far Flung and Well Fed: The Food Writing of R.W. Apple Jr., the new collection of around-the-world food pieces by my dear friend and mentor, the late great Johnny Apple (who I met in 1980 in London when he was the New York Times London Bureau Chief and I was a college kid there).
Johnny taught me – by example – to always take time during a reporting trip to ferret out terrific places to eat, places that often led to further insights about a place (not to mention a good meal). For Johnny, a terrific place didn’t always mean the most exclusive, expensive, and gourmet place. Sometimes it meant the best Serbian restaurant in Milwaukee (The Three Brothers) or the best ice cream in Cincinnati (Graeter’s) or the best cherry pie in Northern Michigan (at a hut along the side of the road).
Over the years, until his way-too-early death in 2006, my husband and I had several always-memorable meals with Johnny – and sometimes with his lovely wife Betsey – often in Des Moines when Johnny was covering the Iowa presidential caucuses that he helped make so important. His enthusiasm for food – the production, cooking, dining, you name it – was infectious and took him to all kinds of places, including an Iowa hog farm on a frigid winter day in 2000 for a story he wrote on Iowa pork, inspired in part, I like to think, by a meal we had at a Des Moines restaurant (the now-closed Bistro 43). He liked the restaurant’s pork dish so much that he invited the young chef to join us and peppered him with questions. Johnny’s subsequent story on Iowa pork producers ended up including that chef’s pork recipe (a nice break for the chef, which I admit, I nudged Johnny to include. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/03/29/dining/an-iowa-heirloom-pork-with-real-flavor.html?pagewanted=1)
Another time, I gladly did a little sleuthing for Johnny at the Iowa State Fair, securing the name and contact info of the winner of the fair’s tough cinnamon roll competition in 2004 for a story Johnny did on Midwesterners’ sweet tooth. (This story appears to have made it into Far Flung and Well Fed.)
In October, 2005, Johnny emailed an invitation to meet him – on very short notice – in Kansas City for dinner My gut instinct was to decline – KC was a three-hour drive each way, the meal was on a weekday, and we’d need a babysitter. But I’m so glad we accepted. Johnny was in fine form and we had a wonderful get-together and meal (at the now-closed 40 Sardines in Overland Park). It was the last time we saw Johnny.
For more about the book, check out the very entertaining interview on NPR last Saturday with the warm and funny Betsey Apple: http://www.npr.org/templates/player/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=122169240&m=122169207