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Monday, July 15, 2024

Before You Go: John Gray on ‘Food & Friends’

The CRL columnist shares some stories about both.

Quick, you’re trapped on a desert island and can only pick one food to eat every day for the rest of your life. What do you take? Pizza? Steak? I’d have to go with chicken parmigiana. Why? First of all, it’s delicious but more importantly, it gives you options. When you get sick of the cheese and sauce you can always scrape it off and have plain old chicken. Of course, eating strawberry cheesecake every day is also an attractive option.

The theme of CRL is “Food & Friends,” so I thought is might be fun to share some stories about both. While I love chicken parm, my absolute favorite thing in the world is fresh bread and cheese. Two hundred years ago when a weary traveler sought refuge in a tavern, the inn keeper was likely to put out fresh bread, a wedge of cheese and a goblet of ale. Those were the days.

The best I ever ate in my life was when I was a busboy at the old Turf Inn in Colonie. I worked the night shift and they had a deal with the staff. If you got there early they’d set out all the food that didn’t get eaten the night before, free. Day old prime rib and lobster were the usual fare. That’s fine dining for a college kid who considered McDonald’s a treat.
The least I ever ate was when I used to travel to New York City on business with my old television pal Chris Kapostasy. Chris loved the trendy spots where the prices were big but the portions were small. I soon understood why celebrities were so skinny. Chris laughed when we got back to Penn Station and I’d buy a muffin for the train ride home.

In some parts of the Capital Region, my name is synonymous with gourmet food. OK, that’s a lie but I do have a pizza named after me—Smitty’s in Voorheesville. About 20 years ago, I was shooting a story there and they let me make my own pizza with my favorite toppings. It’s loaded with all the stuff your doctor forbids. They put it on the menu for a week and it was so popular that, like hot cheese on the roof of your mouth, it stuck. Decades later, it’s still there.

Some people say they can’t cook. Not true. My mom always said, “If you can read you can cook.” I’m proof. When I was about 40, I decided to make homemade chili. I Googled recipes and stole ideas from Emeril, Flay and Rachael Ray, smushed them all together and wa-lah—Gray’s Firehouse Chili. Granted, I went a little crazy on the peppers and the first batch would have made the fire-breathing dragon on “Game of Thrones” blush.
Magnet for friends

Food is a great magnet for bringing friends together. It’s funny though, no matter what you buy, make or spend, party guests always gravitate toward the comfort food. Garbage bread is always gone before the shrimp. I was invited once to a millionaire’s home and despite having the fanciest food on the planet, everyone loved the mini hotdogs the best. I almost felt sorry for the guy; then I remembered he had an indoor pool and the emotion passed.

We love food so much there’s a TV channel dedicated to it. Like most people, “Chopped” is my favorite despite the ridiculous premise. I mean when in the real world would you be forced to combine octopus, twizzlers and pop tarts in a single dish? It’s fun watching them try though.

Being a man, I’m also a huge fan of Giada but after 612 episodes I can’t recall a single dish she’s ever made. I’m not sure if that’s an indictment of her or me. Probably me.

While I went on earlier about bread and cheese, I must admit my new obsession is sushi. I can’t get enough. It’s also a meal you can eat alone without feeling self-conscious. You just park yourself at the sushi bar and watch the chef create this edible art. Speaking of which, can we pass a law outlawing waiters from taking away half the dishes and silverware on the table when you tell them you’re alone? They make such a noisy production out of it that couples at the other tables give you the “Don’t have any friends?” look.

Three nicest words
You’ll notice I didn’t go on about who has the best food or recipes. The reason is simple. Your mom or grandmother likely did and that may be the best part of cooking. Even after we lose loved ones, you can turn on the stove, stir up some memories and a part of them is always with you in that kitchen. Whether we be young or old, sometimes I think the three nicest words to hear are “supper is ready.”

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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