Serious Eats

'Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin'

20080810-shopsins-cover.jpgI loved the thread about Shopsin's, and the interesting thing is that every commenter is right on some level. I have known Kenny Shopsin for 25 years, and he is profane, unreasonable, more than occasionally rude, charming, funny, and totally ridiculous—sometimes all simultaneously.

He's also a really good cook who can make me laugh, even while insulting me. Does that make me a masochist? I don't think so. So based on all the above, I was thrilled when we received an advance copy of Kenny's cookbook-memoir-philosophical tome, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. I knew it would be like Kenny, endlessly fascinating, sometimes infuriating, and totally engaging.

Kenny Shopsin: Love Him or Can't Stand Him

When it comes to Kenny Shopsin, the world is divided into two camps. Some people think Kenny is an angry, unreasonable jerk who tries to piss off customers and would-be customers. Others think Kenny is an idiosyncratic, prickly, and smart fellow who is an undeniably talented chef and devoted family man.

People of the first camp will find lots in the book to confirm their worst fears. And people like me, who have come to like and respect Kenny—since nobody short of his immediate family can claim to understand him—will find plenty in the book to deepen our appreciation. The weird thing is, both sides might be right.

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What Type of Book Is This?

Ostensibly, Eat Me is a cookbook, but it's also equal parts memoir and philosophical tome. We'll be giving it away mid-September (when the book hits stores) in our Cook the Book series, but until then, let me leave you with a few choice quotes from the book, along with an account of my most recent encounter with Kenny.

Classic Kenny Quotes

My approach at Shopsin's is the exact opposite of "the customer is always right." Until I know the people, until they show me that they are worth cultivating as customers, I'm not even sure I want their patronage.
The brilliance of my restaurant is my ability to control my clientele. The thing that makes my restaurant special is my relationships and interactions with my customers—and the way they relate and interact with one another. With the wrong people here, those interactions don't happen, so to keep the wrong people out when I don't like them. I probably axe at least one party every day—and usually more than that.
I enjoy cooking and giving what I can to my customers, and, in turn, my customers don't just enjoy giving me money, they enjoy receiving what I have given them. Once we've established a rapport, we're absolute equals in my restaurant. But I guess I shouldn't expect newcomers to understand this. In all fairness, they're right and I'm the asshole, because my way is hardly the traditional you-give-me-the-money-I-give-you-a-bagel. I want more from them. I want a relationship.

Learning to Love Kenny

See, Kenny just wants to be loved, like the rest of us. He just has a funny way of showing it—a way that can be off-putting to say the least. I think it's worth the effort to get past his irascible facade, his constant shower of expletives, and crude sexual references, and eat at Shopsin's when you can.

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My Recent Kenny Encounter: 'F--- You, Ed'

When I visited Shopsin's this weekend to tell Kenny how much I enjoyed the book, he greeted me with an "F--- You, Levine" and a big smile. I wanted to order a cheeseburger and a Jew Boy (a barbecued brisket, Swiss cheese, and grilled onions sandwich) along with an order of Hatch chili cheese fries. True to form, Kenny refused to make me the two sandwiches (the cheeseburger is a sandwich in his opinion). The Jew Boy turned out to be a fabulous choice and the fries had a terrific not-too-spicy tang with a modest cheese coating.

Kenny had followed the talk topic on Serious Eats about the customer he threw out. He seemed to get a kick out of the banter—at least I think he did. I asked him to sign my book. He wrote, "F--- You, Ed. Ken."

Only the blanks were filled in. Now that's what I call a relationship.

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