Apparently, Joseph Checkler, a Brooklyn-based journalist, wasn’t happy with the egg sandwiches that are served at Midtown Manhattan delis.
He took his grievance to the crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter. His goal was to raise money to print instructional flyers, which, he felt, could help the chefs of these fine establishments make the sammies, the correct way. He found sympathizers.
This happened the past August.
The press was quick to pick up on it. Checkler and his cause made a tour of media outlets with the speed of an Aussie bush fire. He was socked, mocked, and thrown brickbats at. At any rate, he garnered a heck of a lot of publicity. He may as well. August is, after all, National Sandwich Month.
Others roared: who’s Checkler, anyway, to tell us what how hot a griddle should be or what a perfect scramble should taste like? He’s no cordon-blue chef. Plus, some thought, he was being whiny.
Perhaps his kvetch has the aura of a first-world concern, too trivial to air publicly. Or, it could be that the language in which he couched his mission was pompous. “I will save the adequate, but under-achieving N.Y.C. egg sandwich,” he wrote in his manifesto.
But he may have had a point.
Places that Checkler had in mind are run by folks with foreign names. They’re not the exception. They’re the rule. It’s no secret that the city’s low-end fast-food sector is dominated by immigrants from South Asia and Latin America.
Take Subway. Take Dunkin’ Donuts. Take Burger King. Walk into any of these chains, and you’re most likely to discover that your server is non-American.
That statement isn’t made in disparagement.
He or she can’t be faulted for not being familiar with the nuances of American fare. By that token, an American couldn’t be chastised for knocking out an inauthentic Caribbean curry.
I appreciate these men and women who stand long hours on their feet, working in hot kitchens, fixing us a snack.
But while that is so, I also think that often, what we get is less than what we’d like. Yet, when we’re hungry, we have little choice, but to helplessly scarf down whatever we’re offered.
Checkler’s complaint may, in theory, extend to all so-called all-American nibbles.
I was at a Häagen-Dazs parlor in Manhattan’s University Place on a stingingly hot day. I’d ordered a sundae—with no whipped cream. The server, a young woman from Bangladesh, draped in a head-scarf, nodded coyly, and set off. The order arrived with a pagoda of the fluffy white topping.
Clearly, she’d misunderstood. Or, the poster, on the wall behind her, of an oversize ice-cream, with a sweet peak as tall as the Everest, may have loomed on her mind at the time.
Elsewhere, at a Subway, a sandwich, invariably, turned up soggy, either because there was a mound of wimpy lettuce or the tomato slices were one too many or the dressing was in an embarrassing excess.
There, as I requested the Nepalese server to go easy on the banana peppers, she cocked her head to one side slightly, and giggled, probably laughing at my flimsy demand.
But then, I stepped into her shoes momentarily, and tried to see what she saw. Why was an immigrant asking a fellow immigrant to make an American grinder, better? See the logic?
Often, it’s not that these workers don’t know what they’re doing. Besides, they can always take a quick peek at a cheat sheet that tells them the order of the ingredients and the proportion of each.
But not everyone follows them to a tee. That’s one tine of a two-pronged problem.
The other is that, at the end of their shift, when they go home, pooped out, they take off their uniforms and caps, and sit down to have their native dinners. If you’ve never tasted polenta, you’re less likely to know how polenta should be made. So it goes.
Recently, South Korea-based bakery chain, Paris Baguette, which has 3,000 locations globally, opened a storefront in its namesake city. Its bakers, however, are all … French.
No, not all American grub need be made only by Americans. I’m not suggesting that, at all. I’m neither a purist, nor a guardian of gastronomy, but I feel that diversification of a cuisine (think: macaroni and cheese with a hint of cumin and cilantro) is one thing; the dilution of it, quite another.
There’s a grain of truth in Checkler’s gripe.
Another day, I walked into a Nathan’s, famished. A bevy of north Indian women stood behind the counter, yammering, though, ready to take my order. I was filled with warmth at the sight of these ladies, but my appetite turned a tad cold. Could I trust them to do my hot dog well? I didn’t wait to find out. I scrammed to the Auntie Anne’s next door.