Tag Archives: MUNCHIES

Garlic Shrimp Are Extra-Amazing When Wrapped in Banana Leaves

You know what are awesome? Shrimp. There’s a reason why we love a “cocktail” comprised solely of cold, cooked shrimp—they’re sweet, juicy, and snappy enough to enjoy on their own. 

And hell, when rolled around in some fat and garlic? Well, there’s hardly anything better than that. 

But suppose you could take things a step further, adding a special kick with a spicy chile pepper sauce and wrapping the dish in banana leaves to make sure all of those amazing herbs and spices infiltrate every bite. That brings us to this dish from Flavio Solórzano. 

Start by making a buttery, peppery garlic oil, then make a sauce with cocona fruit, aji charapita peppers, oregano, ginger, and cilantro. We’re talking huge flavor. Gargantuan. 

Season your shrimp with soy sauce, ginger, salt, and vinegar, toss ’em in banana leaves, add the sauces, and serve over grilled plantains. 

That’s how you take garlic shrimp to the next level. 

RECIPE: Grilled Jumbo Shrimp in Banana Leaves

Shrimp may be small, but think big. 

Eating Competitions Killed Two People This Past Weekend

Eating competitions are an American institution, but can we all finally agree that they are pretty damn dangerous?

This past weekend, two tragic and needless competitive-eating-related deaths occurred within 24 hours of each other. A 20-year-old college student and a 42-year-old Colorado man died in separate choking incidents tied to eating competitions: one involving pancakes; the other, doughnuts.

Caitlin Nelson was a student at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut who died Sunday after participating in a Greek-life-sponsored eating contest. She was said to have eaten four or five pancakes when she stopped breathing. Caitlin was said to have multiple food allergies, although it’s not clear whether they contributed to her choking. To make the story even more horrific, Caitlin was the daughter of a Port Authority police officer who died on 9/11.

READ MORE: I Can’t Be a Food Writer Because I Nearly Choked to Death

Earlier that same day, Travis Malouff, 42, collapsed in the lobby of a Voodoo Doughnut in Denver and was declared dead of “asphyxia, due to obstruction of the airway,” according to the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner. He had been participating in a donut-eating challenge before he died.

About Caitlin Nelson’s death, the Fairfield, a Connecticut police lieutenant. Bob Kalamaras told the Associated Press, “It’s a tragic event that started out as something fun. It was just a tragic accident.”

But was it really? Or shouldn’t we Americans—who invented the so-called “sport” of competitive eating and propelled it to worldwide fame with the Nathan’s Hot-Dog Eating Contest—know better by now?

Eating competitions are tied to a panoply of risks, especially for those who participate on the regular. Sure, there’s weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels, and hikes in blood pressure that the pros contend with. They can also develop stomach paralysis or gastroparesis, which occurs when a person too often stretches their stomach beyond its normal capacity. Water intoxication and stomach perforation can also happen.

READ MORE: How to Competitively Eat Almost Anything

According to a 2007 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “successful speed eaters expand the stomach to form an enormous flaccid sac capable of accommodating huge amounts of food.” Nice, right? The scientists concluded that “professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting, and even the need for a gastrectomy.” 

Their conclusion: “Despite its growing popularity, competitive speed eating is a potentially self-destructive form of behavior.”

OK, you might say, neither of the two unfortunate people who died this weekend were professional competitive eaters. But choking is a real risk for all participants—Injury Facts 2017 reports that choking is the fourth-leading cause of unintentional injury death—and it happens frequently at eating competitions. Earlier this month, a 23-year-old Korean college student died in a bathroom stall at a recreation resort after participating in a pie- and ramen-eating contest. The list of people worldwide who are known to have died in eating contests is a long one, indeed.

So even though eating contests may seem like tons of fun, maybe they’re not. At the very least, this past weekend leaves us with food for thought. 

Edible Chopsticks Are Now a Thing and They Taste Like Furniture

Turns out, chopsticks are still ripe for innovation, even after more than 6,000 continuous years of use in pretty much all of Eastern Asia.

In what will surely go down in the annals of history as an achievement as momentous as the harnessing of electricity, Japan’s Marushige Confectionery company has recently unveiled edible chopsticks that are meant to be both environmentally friendly and to preserve age-old Japanese agricultural practices.

Oh, and they also happen to taste like furniture.

Marushige’s chopsticks are made with igusa (soft rush) reeds, the material traditionally used to make tatami, the floor mats found throughout Japan. RocketNews24 reports that the Nagoya-based company is openly billing the chopsticks as being “tatami-flavored” and that they hope the creation will promote the cultural significance of igusa, which has seen a decline in cultivation and use in recent years.

Igusa is by no means normally considered a food ingredient in Japan, and is said to have a bitter, grass-like taste.

So far, Marushige Confectionery has found two restaurants—Casa Afeliz Ginza and Umato, both of which are located in Tokyo—that are willing to offer the chopsticks and have their customers act as guinea pigs. It’s not clear at the moment if Marushige also plans to sell the chopsticks outside of the participating restaurants.

READ MORE: A Tech Company Hopes These Edible Drones Will Help End World Hunger

These newfangled chopsticks are by no means the world’s first edible cutlery. Back in 2016, Indian cutlery company Bakeys unveiled a line of “sweet”, “savory”, and “plain” spoons, all of which were edible and made of rice, wheat, and sorghum. At the time, Bakeys expressed interest in also expanding to a line of edible chopsticks, but have yet to do so.

Just in case you were under the impression that edible chopsticks that taste like furniture are pretty much the last thing humanity needs—far behind portable goldfish walkers and the inevitable resurgence of Pogs—consider that back in 2013, it was estimated that China produces more than 80 billion disposable chopsticks a year. That’s a lot of garbage. 

And despite that huge number, China is still faced with an acute chopstick shortage that has led to a rise in disposable chopstick imports from companies in the US.

READ MORE: Researchers Have Developed Edible Food Packaging Made of Milk

All that is to say that the world is most certainly in dire need of more chopsticks made from alternative materials. Guess the future tastes a hell of a lot like traditional Japanese floor mats.

Delivering Bread in Cairo Is a Balance of Life and Death

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in March 2015.

Aish baladi, like the Nile, is a source of life. The handmade bread is an Egyptian staple, which at one point existed in 82 varieties. In Cairo, its ubiquity is made possible by the network of agalati—bread carriers—who deliver the bread to the restaurants, ful (fava bean) carts, and street stands of the metropolis. The coarseness of the bran and wheat turns the bread into a magnet for dust and the city’s airborne toxic elements, but that doesn’t stop anyone from eating it. The art of the agalati is in carrying large trays of bread on their heads as they maneuver through the manic streets of Cairo on a bicycle, like lunatics sailing into the tempest on arowboat.

At Regala, a Downtown Cairo bakery illuminated only by a few fluorescent bulbs and the flame of the oven, the floor is covered in bran, which is almost indistinguishable from sawdust. Some of the eight men who work there choose to work barefoot, teasing each other and only turning to me once they have mustered the boldness brought on by their camaraderie. Others, like Mahmoud, try to follow the conversation over the shaabi music blasting from their headphones.

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The outside of Regala bakery in Downtown Cairo. Photos by Amir Makar.

Inside the bakery, the dough is tended to with delicacy, but with the swiftness of a fast food joint. Regala bakery produces 24,000 loaves a day, equivalent to 1.5 tons of flour. Ali, a 24-year-old man who holds a technical degree, dreams of quitting the job. His long eyelashes are fringed with flour, as if he himself had recently come out of the oven. “I don’t like standing all the time and taking no breaks,” he complains, as one of the guys prostrates next to him for a rushed, two-minute prayer.

“The subsidized bread is not enough for everyone,” says Ahmed, the owner of Regala. Egypt is the world’s biggest consumer of bread and importer of wheat, with Cairo spending $3 billion a year on imports. The government’s costly subsidy system has been in place since the 1960s to keep bread prices low. Today, a loaf of subsidized aish baladi is 5 piastres (less than one US cent) and reaches roughly 50 million Egyptians. Recently, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implemented a smart card system to hold bakeries accountable and eliminate graft at the ground level.

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The dough before going into the oven, covered in bran

Cheap bread is considered a human right for more than 80 million Egyptians. “Bread, freedom, and justice” has been both a rallying cry and the yeast fermenting social unrest in Egypt for the last half a century—from President Anwar Sadat’s attempt to lift the bread subsidies in 1977, to the inflation of food prices in 2007 to 2008 and the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. If people can’t have their bread, they take to the streets.

In Egypt, aish is the word for bread, but it is also the word for life. When Egyptians are under stress, people say akl el aish murr—”eating bread is bitter”—a proverb that more accurately tries to say: Unemployment is high, economic opportunities are scarce, corruption is ripe, marriage and food are expensive, traffic is unbearable, etc. But Egyptians are not ones to complain.

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Trays of dough are stacked up, waiting to be thrown in the oven.

For Ahmed, who sells bread at market price, bread tastes bitter. “I make about 10 percent profit,” he says about his bakery. “The price of gas and flour are too expensive.” A subsidized, 50-kilogram sack of flour costs eight Egyptian pounds, but 162 pounds for Ahmed. A tank of gas—taller than Ahmed’s youngest worker, 13-year-old Mustafa—is between 80 and 90 pounds.

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Faran, a baker, handing the trays of dough to Mahmoud before they go into the oven.

At 7 PM, the men are swarmed with work. The time is just after the Maghreb prayer, and the demand for bread is running high with many Cairenes hunting for dinner. Customers materialize in front of the bakery, extending one pound and leaving shortly after with four loaves of bread. A taxi driver parks in front, pays 25 piasters and sets off with his loaf; the engine never stopped running.

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Mahmoud, 22, places the dough in the oven.

“You are riding in a sea of death,” said 22-year-old Mahmoud, one of the agalati responsible for satisfying Cairo’s vital bread demand. The bread delivery boys transport the loaves through the city’s infamous traffic, mass of pedestrians, and narrow back-streets of downtown Cairo on trays up to 2.5 meters long and weighing between 30 to 35 kilos. They do so by balancing the trays on their heads, with one arm stabilizing the tray and the other maneuvering the bicycle.

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Mustafa, 13, is in charge of placing the freshly baked bread in trays and taking them to the front of the bakery.

The job of the agalati is extensive and crucial. Without them, bread would not be available on every corner and forsaken fast-food stand. The men must fight to keep their balance and hold their ground among the sea of vehicles. “There is no respect from the cars,” says Ahmed, who at 39 still does bread deliveries. The risk of the agalati never reaching his destination is always present, but death is the least of his worries. Ahmed is confident that drivers try to be careful “because they know the bread is all we have,” he said with a tinge of complacency.

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Ali is in charge of selling the bread to customers.

“We learn how to bike by watching others,” explained Ahmed, an approach that applies to every worker at the bakery regardless of his task. “It’s up to your eyes and your mind,” he said.

Ultimately, bread deliveries are a daring game of dexterity. When asked how long it takes to gain the skills of the agalati, Ahmed shot the question back at me with disdain: “Well, how long do you think it takes?” The agalati’s journey to the double-decker, 30-kilo tray is gradual. It may take a lanky Egyptian teen up to a year to reach such mastery—and countless falls, after which he brushes the dust off the bread and places it back on his tray.

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Ramadan must wear a rolled-up scarf to balance the tray and protect his head.

The agalati have specific routes and average between 50 to 80 bread deliveries a day. The journeys can take anywhere between ten to 30 minutes, back to back. “Carrying the bread is painful,” said Ahmed, pointing to the back of a worker named Ramadan to illustrate the pain that travels down to the middle of his spine. But someone has to do it.

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Ramadan places the double-decker tray of bread over his head with the help of Ali.

For Ahmed and the agalati, little has changed since the Revolution. “People who steal still steal. People who take bribes still take bribes. Everything is still the same,” said Ahmed.

“Bread is still the basis of Egyptian life,” he continued. “Even when you don’t have money, you eat bread.”

Business Is Booming for Restaurant that Banned Young Children

In the competitive and fiscally risky business of restaurants, incentives have always been used to drum up new customers, whether it be happy hour specials, two-for-one appetizers, or the promise of a meal undisturbed by children. The latter has lead to a big spike in business—and a helping of controversy—for one North Carolina eatery.

At Caruso’s—a Moorseville Italian restaurant where, according to their website, “proper attire” is required to eat at the “traditional, classy, intimate” space—a no-child policy put into effect in January has lead to an uptick in customers seeking a quieter, tantrum-free dining experience.

According to manager Yoshi Nunez, once children under the age of five were banned from the restaurant, the daily customer count quickly rose from 50 to 80. Taking a cue from other successful kid-free dining establishments—such as the Australian spot that did its best-ever weekend sales after enacting a similar policy—Caruso’s adopted the rule after receiving numerous complaints about screaming, crying, and iPad-wielding children from the restaurant’s patrons.

“I had several customers complain, get up and leave because children were bothering them, and the parents were doing nothing,” owner Pasquale Caruso, himself a father of two, tells the Mooresville Tribune, noting that this behavior made the restaurant feel like “a local pizzeria,” rather than the upscale dining experience they were advertising.

The restaurateur claims he was “starting to lose money and customers, because I had very young children coming in, throwing food, running around and screaming.” After word of the new policy got out, diners took to the restaurant’s unofficial Facebook page to weigh in on the decision. Some took offense to the policy, like user Glen Peterson, who commented: “Now that you have banned small children, who is next: blacks, Jews, native people? Shame on you!”

READ MORE: My Restaurant Job Made Me Hate Kids

However, the majority of comments heaped praise on Caruso’s for the decision. “When my husband and I go out to dine, we also do not want to hear children crying or misbehaving,” writes Nancy Shroudy, a mother who suggests upping the age limit to ten.

For the most part, commenters agreed that parents who don’t know the time and place to bring along their offspring are the real ones to blame, including Betsy Bennett Weaver who writes: “I’m the parent of 5… don’t bring little ones to a nice restaurant and expect them to quietly sit still for an hour. They CAN’T DO IT.”

As for the kids of North Carolina, they’ll have to get their calamari fritti and fettuccini elsewhere—might we suggest somewhere with crayons or a mouse mascot?

MUNCHIES has reached out to Caruso’s for comment but has not yet received a response.

We Asked Bourbon Country Experts for Their Favorite Hangover Cures

I am in pain, a lot of it. It’s 8 AM in Louisville, Kentucky, the capital city of bourbon country. About an hour outside of town are America’s most prized bourbon distilleries. I am in so much pain because of the products they distill, and yet, according to the experts around these parts, there doesn’t seem to be any way of avoiding this fate.

Yesterday started casually enough with a 9 AM tour of the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, a picturesque town nestled in the green rolling hills of the Bluegrass State. Jim Beam produces 50 percent of the world’s bourbon, which is a goddamn lot of bourbon.

Jim Beam produces 50 percent of the world’s bourbon. All photos by the author.

That’s a lot of bourbon!

Fred Noe thieves some bourbon straight from the barrel.

If there’s a guy who knows a thing or two about drinking whiskey, it’s Fred Noe. He’s the seventh-generation master distiller of the Beam brand, and started learning the family business when he was about five years old.

With the rise of American whiskey’s popularity, Noe ended up living quite a different life than his forefathers who started the company in 1795. He’s traveled all over the globe, spreading the word of whiskey, and never found a helpful cure for hangovers in the process.

“I don’t think there’s any cure for a hangover. I haven’t found one,” Noe told me in his disarming Kentucky drawl. “I’ve heard all of them and tried everything. Greasy food? That just gives you indigestion. I think drinking a lot of water helps, to be honest. An absolute cure? No.”

As Noe got older, his drinking habits changed as hangovers got worse. In his twenties, he could drink until three in the morning and make it to work by 6:30.

Fred Noe leads a whiskey tasting.

“When I was younger I thought I had to drink every drink with every salesman and every account. I learned you can’t do that shit. The human body’s hard to kill with good clean fun, but you can sure make ’em limp a little bit,” he said. “As I hit 40, things kind of slowed down as far as getting over feelin’ bad. When I hit 60, I make damn sure I don’t feel bad. Sleep becomes more important as you get older.”

Noe took us through a tasting of Jim Beam bourbon before heading downstairs to a conference call. I chugged my water.

Haymarket, where you’re probably ordering whiskey.

Back in the city, it was time to take advantage of the endless opportunities for amazing bourbon sampling Louisville has to offer. One of those places is Haymarket, a dive bar that happens to have more than 400 whiskeys on its menu. I drank about 399 of them and a sad, single cup of water.

Next was The Silver Dollar. I drank bourbon cocktails and asked bartender Kyle Gadgis about hangovers while Dolly Parton crooned from a record player.

“Brunch for hangovers seems to be a really big thing,” Gadgis said of observing hangover-fighting customers. “They take a shot or two, eat some greasy food, and then they’re fine.”

Gadgis personally goes for an ibuprofen, a packet of Emergen-C, and fast food.

“Fast food the next day is helpful. It’s greasy, kind of gross,” he said. “If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, you want to feel worse. It’s like a self-loathing kind of thing, too.”

The Silver Dollar, one of Louisville’s many, many great drinking spots.

In no way did I need to keep drinking more bourbon, but it was off to Freddie’s 220, another classic dive. It’s cash-only, so I fumbled around with my wallet looking for bills to pay for the poison.

While it was way too late to take any of the advice to heart, I asked Freddie’s bartender Jack Heazlitz if he had any tips for fighting a hangover. He laughed.

“Other than hair of the dog? I generally just recommend having a bloody mary,” he told me.

Heazlitz will make himself a bloody mary at home, then walk to a diner near his house for scrambled eggs and bacon. “It’s a good place to get some breakfast and nurse your hangover and get ready to face the day.”

The cash-only Freddie’s 220, open until 4 AM.

Freddie’s stays open until 4 AM, but by 2:30 it was best for everybody’s sake to call it a night. I went home and chugged three glasses of water as though that would help. If the pros of bourbon country didn’t have any cures for hangovers, I considered myself doomed.

This Mac ‘n’ Cheese Burger Is So Decadent that It’s Actually Making the Internet Mad

“Sorry, we do not have the nutritional info for any of our menu items,” Zombie Burger writes on its website. “Go ahead and live a little.”

That’s probably for the best, considering some of the items that are constructed in the kitchen of its Des Moines, Iowa location. There’s the Undead Elvis burger, which is topped with peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, egg and mayonnaise; and the They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara burger, which uses a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches as its bun. But the burger that has grabbed the internet’s full attention is called The Walking Ched, and yes, it is ridiculous.

“I’ve never wanted to fuck a samdwhich [sic] till I ate the walking ched,” one satisfied Zombie Burger customer said, according to a Twitter user who overheard her.

“Last time I was at Zombie Burger, I had one of my friends with me and she said the Walking Ched was like ‘sex in her mouth,'” another commenter tweeted.

We can’t comment on the mouth-sexiness of the Walking Ched, but we can tell you what’s in it. Its beef patty is buried beneath bacon, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, mayonnaise and macaroni and cheese—and all of that is sandwiched between two breaded, deep-fried macaroni and cheese buns. So, to reiterate, THE BUNS ARE MADE FROM DEEP FRIED MAC AND CHEESE, which makes it sound less like a standard menu item and more like something a mouthy carny would dare you to eat at the state fair of your choice.

According to the Des Moines Register, the Walking Ched is one of Zombie Burger’s top three sellers. “It’s sort of like a mac and cheese overload,” executive chef Tom McKern told the paper. ( Sort of?) He and fellow chef George Formaro got the idea for the burger thanks to a container full of take-out mac-n-cheese which, when Formaro pulled the leftovers out of the fridge, had congealed into a solid patty. He realized he could deep fry the cheesy pasta blob and put a cheeseburger on it. Obviously.

The apocalyptic-themed restaurant is an Iowa fave, with five locations, but it went full on phenom after being featured in a Tastemade video on Facebook. The 84-second long clip shows how the burger is made (warning: a PVC pipe is involved), and people have feelings about it. There are more than 25,000 comments on the video, and most of them seem to be foreigners shrieking “This is why you’re fat, America and [Insert My Country Here] would never eat this because we live on organic lamb faces and our own unfulfilled dreams.”

The foreigners may be right, because this actually isn’t the only American-as-all-hell restaurant that offers a deep fried mac-n-cheese-bunned burger. California’s Pig Pen Delicacy advertises itself as “the Home of the Mac’Cheese Bun,” Chicago’s RockIt Burger Bar has its own Mac & Cheese Attack, and Datz Restaurant in Tampa sells the Cheesy Todd, which has a bacon-jalapeno mac-n-cheese bun. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Regardless, the Walking Ched seems to be the only one that dumps an extra scoop of mac-n-cheese onto the burger, between those two already quite excessive buns. But if you’re going to make the trek the Iowa to try the thing, at least you knew what you were getting yourself into.

What Two Decades as a Restaurateur Has Taught Me

I opened my first restaurant, Fork, in Philadelphia in 1997. When I think back on what makes me most proud, it’s getting to work and learn from hundreds of talented staff that I have been fortunate enough to have pass through my place. I sound like a mom, but that’s what I consider my biggest accomplishment—seeing the many people who have successfully grown through my restaurants. Building a community together with them and our customers has been a big part of my story as a restaurateur.

Besides the obvious young cooks or servers who have gone on to become chefs or managers or opened their own restaurants, it is rewarding to see people express their love of food and hospitality in many ways. For example, an eight-year old son of a patron grew up to fall in love with wine and is now Fork’s dining room manager. A former busboy, who started here in college, became the art director of his own company and is helping us with branding. A porter from Mali who didn’t speak English worked with us for six or seven years and became a cook. We sponsored him for a green card. Sadly, he moved, and we ended up losing contact. But ten years later, I received a letter from him thanking me for everything and updating me on his life. These are the kind of corny stories that bring me joy. So many things intertwine, and to an extent, you become interdependent on all of the amazing folks who have entered your life.

It never struck me that I couldn’t pursue any career. If I wanted to be a restaurant owner, I could be a restaurant owner. Why not?

Personally, I’ve never considered what I do a job. It’s more of a lifestyle. In addition to Fork, my other restaurants are a.kitchen + bar (at AKA Rittenhouse Square), High Street on Market, and lastly High Street on Hudson in New York City. I’m involved with each place every single day, no matter what, either in person, by phone, or via email. And after 20 years, I still enjoy the thrill of a busy dining room. I love service, being in the weeds, and being the host of the dining room. And that struggle for day-to-day survival I felt early in my career is still there, too. I’d like to think that some day I’ll reach a place where it’s no longer like that. But restaurateurs get bored easily, so once you get to that point, you miss the exhilaration of opening a new place or changing things up. A lot of times, a new restaurant kind of reinvigorates everything for your organization. It brings a lot of excitement, with new team members and fresh energy—so that’s something that I love. But then, while I’m in it, I might think, Oh my God, why am I doing this again?

Failure has never been an option for me. It’s not in my vocabulary. I grew up in a household where my father’s expectations of me were extremely high—always wanting me to be the top student in the class, always having to be the best at whatever I did. It never struck me that I couldn’t pursue any career. That mentality of not being bound to anything liberated me from the pressures of any stereotypes. If I wanted to be a doctor, I could be a doctor. If I wanted to be a lawyer, I could be a lawyer. If I wanted to be a restaurant owner, I could be a restaurant owner. Why not?

I’m American. I was born and raised here. It’s in no way strange for me to open and own American restaurants, but a lot of people expect me to have Asian-influenced restaurants instead.

And that’s also been the foundation to my approach in life. I’ve never seen myself as a woman competing in a man’s world. I’m a competitive person by nature, and want to compete with the best, no matter who they are or whatever field it may be. This has been true while I’ve worked in other industries that were male-dominated as well, and attended business school back when there were a lot fewer women. And as an Asian-American woman who grew up in a suburban town, I’m used to being in the minority. Maybe that’s why it didn’t affect me much.

Asians are all over the food scene now, but when I started, there weren’t many in the segment I was in. The majority back then worked in Asian restaurants or possibly family businesses. Over the years, people have been surprised when they’ve met me or learned I was the owner of Fork.

And that’s the thing: I’m American. I was born and raised here. It’s in no way strange for me to open and own American restaurants, but a lot of people expect me to have Asian-influenced restaurants instead. But I guess that is American food, too!

I get a lot of young people asking me how can they get into the food business, and my advice is to make sure they work in a restaurant if that’s where they want to be. Find somebody you want to be like, a sponsor, and don’t be shy about introducing yourself. I didn’t make it 20 years by doing it alone. People helped me, so it’s inherent in me to try and make connections for others. Ultimately, that’s what a restaurant is: a community of like-minded people.

As I celebrate a landmark anniversary of 20 years in the business, I’ve learned that you have to accept change because you can’t control it. You have to just be able to adapt. And what I’ve realized is the longer I’m in the industry, the less I really know. When we opened, I thought we were just going to be a little neighborhood restaurant, so it’s really an honor to have been named a semi-finalist for Outstanding Restaurateur by the James Beard Foundation this year. It’s not something I ever considered in the realm of possibility. To get into that category, you need an amazing team, period. I rely on smart-thinking, talented people who have the same vision to help bring it all to fruition.

And of course, I’m looking forward to having a huge blowout party with everyone this year! It’s going to be a big celebration, to make sure that all of the people who’ve helped us along the way know how much we appreciate their support and business.

As told to Tae Yoon.

This Is Why You Crave Crappy Food When You’re Tired

The last time I ate a Cinnabon, it was while I was sitting on the edge of a hard plastic airport seat, waiting to board an ungodly 6 AM flight. I was barely awake enough to hand my boarding pass to the TSA agent, but the smell of fresh-baked (or recently defrosted) cinnamon rolls was enough to convince my eyelids to open slightly. Come to think of it, the past three or four Cinnabons I’ve eaten have been jetlagged airport terminal impulse buys—but according to some scientists, that’s not surprising at all.

Researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine recently presented a paper suggesting that being sleep-deprived makes your brain more sensitive to food smells. To prove their hypothesis, the scientists studied the brain activity of participants after two very different nights of sleep.

According to Science News, the participants were partially sleep-deprived, periodically interrupted during the night and limited to four total hours of shut-eye. The next day, they were asked to rate the “pleasantness and intensity” of both sweet and savory high-calorie food smells, like potato chips and—yes!—cinnamon rolls. They were also asked to rate a number of non-food smells, like the scent of decidedly inedible fir trees. While the participants sniffed, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the activity in certain areas of their brains. Several weeks later, the smell test was repeated, but the participants were allowed to sleep a full eight hours the night before.

“When tired, participants showed greater brain activity in two areas involved in olfaction—the piriform cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex—in response to food smells than they did when well rested,” study co-author Surabhi Bhutani told Science News. “That spike wasn’t seen in response to nonfood odors.”

What does that mean? For starters, it means I can’t be held responsible for those early morning Cinnabinges. To the researchers, though, it could help further understand the correlation between sleep deprivation and weight gain. “The neural mechanisms in underlying sleep-dependent increases in appetite and food intake are currently unclear,” the authors wrote.

They’re just the most recent group of lab rats who have tried to untangle the connections between being tired and being overweight. In 2013, a group of psychologists from the University of California, Berkeley examined the relationship between sleep deprivation and cravings for high-calorie foods and discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, that yes, people who are sleep-deprived want to stuff their faces with terribly unhealthy things. PubMed has a stack of similar studies with provocative titles like “Acute sleep deprivation enhances the brain’s response to hedonic food stimuli” and “Acute sleep deprivation increases portion size and affects food choice in young men.”

READ MORE:  Here’s a New, Scientific Excuse to Eat More Cinnamon Rolls

I’m no scientist, but all of that probably means I should either book a later flight or pick the airline that doesn’t board right beside a Cinnabon. Either way, this is your fault, Brain.

Skip the Pizza and Make This Cheese-Stuffed Bread Instead

“With a little bit of practice, you can have a delicious gut bomb made from scratch in about an hour.”

So says Florian Pinel, who gave us this recipe for the Georgian (the country, not the state) cheese bread known as khachapuri

You think you know a thing or two about a fresh-baked crust filled with gooey mozzarella, right? Surely we must be talking about (what seems like) the most beloved food on Earth: pizza.

But imagine something a little fluffier, a little more buttery, with soft hunks of warm feta mixed into its cheesy interior and perhaps even a baked egg as a crown. Suppose that it came not from Italy, but from Georgia, the nation nestled on the border of Europe and Asia.

Intrigued yet? This is your new favorite snack: . And sure, it bears a passing resemblance to other cheesy breads you’ve favorited on Pinterest, but it’s also an edible phenomenon all its own.

Its crust is leavened to doughy perfection, and its shape is often more football-ish than round. And while we have nothing but mad love for pizza, a staggering 88 percent of Georgians would rather chow down on their beloved khachapuri. For good reason, we might add—it’s delicious.

RECIPE: Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread)

On top of making your house smell like the cheese ward of carb heaven, this recipe is straightforward and simple with great rewards. Make a simple dough of flour, egg, yogurt, salt, and butter, let it rise, then stuff it with the double-whammy mozzarella-feta mixture. Bake it with an egg on top if you wish, for a little extra richness.

So skip the pizza tonight and make this instead. Your midnight dollar slice will still be there for you tomorrow.