Paul Mones

BARON AMBROSIAWhat do you call a guy who: 

  • loved food so much he made his mother get him a subscription to Gourmet when he was in elementary school;  
  • paraded around in a purple suit when he was 11 and wears a version of that same suit 25 years later;  
  • is from rural Connecticut but is now so much a part of the fabric of the Bronx that Ruben Diaz Jr. the Bronx Borough president has named him a cultural ambassador;   
  • has an encyclopedic knowledge of the eclectic Bronx cuisine that includes the best places to eat Dominican, Liberian, Albanian, Sierra Leonean and old time Arthur Avenue Italian food;  
  • drives round in a purple tricked out roadster;
  • regularly hangs out with a Haitian voodoo queen and  sees himself as the incarnation  of a mischievous  voodoo spirit who loves to drink  rum laced with hot peppers;  
  • will never eat at a restaurant if it has a Zagat rating and  has the longest running food show on Bronx Cable TV and now has a special on  the Cooking Channel -  The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia?

There is only one answer – you call him Baron Ambrosia.

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ImageThere’s no denying it – I am a pork-man through and through. Though I am not one of these 20 or 30 something dudes with a pig’s head tattooed on his forearm who from time to time is adoringly featured on Food Network, pigs and me go way, way back. Though I am a Jew, blade-cut pork chops, pickled pigs feet, Canadian bacon, rolled pork butt, breakfast sausage and the piece du resistance of my childhood – spare ribs (usually slathered in Duk Sauce – a sugary, vaguely fruity tasting, thin jelly with chunks of plums and something I later learned was ginger, that came in a tall jar with a label featuring a racist caricature of a smiling buck-toothed Chinese man wearing a coolie hat and sporting a queue [the Chinese government abolished the queue in 1911 but it seemingly persisted on labels of Duk Sauce at least through the early 1970’s]) were a staple of my New York childhood.

I carried on my affair with pigs when I went to the pork bastion, North Carolina, for law school. One Saturday in the fall of 1974, I was invited to a ‘pig pickin’ in Chatham County, outside of Chapel Hill. I arrived early in the day, fascinated by the prospect of actually witnessing the roasting of a whole hog – a feat that had fascinated me since my mother told me the story about how the Chinese created roast pork: Many thousands of years ago there was this Chinese farmer whose barn burned down. Unfortunately, he was not able to save his beloved pigs so the morning after the inferno, he went to survey to what was left and was overwhelmed by the delicious scent. He bent down between the still warm embers of his barn and pulled a piece of charred meat off of one of his now roasted pigs and voila – roast pork.

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cooking101.jpgWhen my oldest son left for his senior year of college in September, he was leaving the comfort (or more likely uncomfort) of on-campus life and trading it for a 4-bedroom apartment. No longer able to rely on cafeteria food, he was going to have to cook for himself. Over the years I had taught him a few basic things about cooking but never really gave him anything resembling real lessons. I guess I was just hoping he was going to pick it up by osmosis. Though he has watched me cook over the years and picked up some basics I wanted to give him a little more formal culinary send-off. Starting in early August I began to think about what he liked to eat and what specific skills he would need to cook those dishes. We spent a few days going over the basics – heat control, knife techniques, etc. I also knew that there were certain basic tools and ingredients he would need for his kitchen. Stuffed into his luggage were three knives, a spatula, frying pan and pot. Finally, I drew up a few basic recipes and cooking techniques that I emailed to him. The result was a sort of mini- cooking "Cooking 101."

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One of the problems with sushi bars is that they have weaned us away from enjoying cooked fresh tuna. I know some restaurants serve grilled tuna studded with black pepper or accompanied by some exotic fruit salsa – de rigueur for any California joint that sells fresh fish. But really that’s about all the variety you get in most joints. But you are really missing something if you haven’t tried a real tuna fish sandwich. The great thing about sautéing tuna is that it really soaks up the flavors in which it is cooked. Here’s a recipe I have every summer during albacore season but you can use any fish in the tuna family. This recipe borrows from Italy, Mexico and Japan.

fishpic2.jpgTuna Ingredients

12-16 ounces of fresh tuna cut into 2 equal pieces
juice of 2 medium lemons
2 minced garlic cloves
2 green onions cut into about 1/4 inch pieces
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (about an inch piece grated)
2 roma tomatoes thinly sliced
1/4 cup minced Kalamata olives
1 small to medium minced jalapeño pepper
1 teaspoon Kosher or coarse salt
2 tablespoon sherry or sake
olive oil or grapeseed oil


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porkbelly.jpgSo what to cook for Father’s Day? Pork belly sliders have been all the rage for the last few years. Made über popular by food dude David Chang of Momofuko fame, this dish has popped up on menus throughout the US. And we know the French and the Germans also love their various preparations of this cherished cut of swine. However, truth be told, this deliciously rich delectable treat has been cooked in China for eons. But certain restaurants exploit the average human being’s addiction to fatty pork – you know which ones I’m talking about – these joints know their patrons can’t get enough of that heavenly mix of tangy sweet fatty meat all sauced up in basically a fancy hamburger roll, so they price these little ditties as if they were serving Kobe beef (even though belly is rarely more than 3 bucks a pound, if that.)

Pay 10 bucks or whatever exorbitant price for 2 ounces of pork if you must, but these are really easy to prepare for a crowd. And the great thing about cooking pork belly sliders is that there is really no heavy lifting in preparing them. In fact it is almost impossible to screw it up because pork belly can be cooked and cooked and even (as I have done on occasion) forgotten about and still come out perfect. The most important thing you need to know about this dish is that pork belly loves sugar and soy sauce – and so even if you screw up on the following proportions it will still come out just fine. (One note in buying pork belly look for the meatiest pieces.)

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