How The Kiwi Changed New York’s Food Scene

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OF COURSE, New Yorkers being New Yorkers, they couldn’t just bow to the national agenda. Gary Waldron, a Bronx-born IBM manager, refused to quietly tend his own garden; instead, working with the nonprofit Group Live-In Experience, he planted one the size of a city block in the East Tremont section of his neglected native borough, setting it among the torched buildings and slumlord tenements, with the goal of giving jobs to disadvantaged youth. It was an added bonus that the tarragon and basil they cultivated turned up at the likes of Le Cirque and the Four Seasons; the restaurant Lavin’s touted them on the menu as “Herbs de Bronx.” (It was an unlikely crossing point for the two New Yorks: those uplifted by Reagan’s tax cuts and gospel of prosperity, and those not.)

On the Upper West Side, residents were still in mourning for their neighbor John Lennon, who was shot in early December 1980, under the archway of the Dakota co-op he called home. A few blocks away, at her tiny takeout shop, the Silver Palate, Sheila Lukins — a neighbor of Lennon’s at the Dakota, from whom Yoko Ono ordered pecan pie daily in the months after his death — was starting a different revolution, showing home cooks how to make polished dishes that didn’t require the convolutions of French technique. “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” published in 1982 by Lukins and the shop’s co-founder, Julee Rosso, would become one of the best-selling cookbooks in history. Even now, New Yorkers continue to consult its stained and creased pages to make chicken Marbella for dinner parties and Passover seders, leaving the bird to wallow overnight in vinegar, green olives, capers and prunes before roasting and then bearing it triumphantly to the table, wafting the scent of the Mediterranean.

But not every flavor beloved in the trickle-down years has retained its aura; some, particularly those associated with nouvelle cuisine, quickly soured. New York magazine’s longtime restaurant critic Gael Greene lamented in her 2006 memoir that her early praise of white chocolate mousse triggered “an avalanche of soapy white chocolate.” Boozy, caffeinated tiramisù, whose origins are traced back to Treviso, Italy, infiltrated the menus of Italian restaurants throughout New York, where the dessert remains today, its light dimmed but still occasionally capable of dazzling. Uramaki, an inverted form of sushi roll with rice outside and nori within, is said to have been improvised by a Japanese chef in Los Angeles to assuage 1970s-era diners squeamish about seaweed, and has since been viewed by purists as slightly suspect. But it did not seem out of place at Midtown’s Hatsuhana in 1983 when The Times anointed it with four stars — one of five restaurants in the city at the time to receive the honor — transforming sushi in Manhattan from an expensive, forbidding novelty into an enduring status symbol.

Soon, Starbucks, a small chain of stores based in Washington State that focused on selling whole coffee beans, would brew its first latte. By the time its first Manhattan storefront opened on the Upper West Side a decade later, the city had entered the age of the multinational corporation, when everything distinct and unique had become a commodity.

Still, something of that early ’80s restive spirit has stayed with us. During the breakdown of the ’70s, families with means fled to the suburbs in even greater numbers than their ’50s and ’60s forebears. What saved the city was immigration, replenishing the population with 854,000 new arrivals between 1980 and 1989. (Midway through the decade, whites of European descent lost their majority.)

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Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/t-magazine/food-1980s.html

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