Can eating like Action Bronson make someone the man that he is?
For my whole life, I have been what moms in commercials call a “picky eater.” But I’m beyond what you probably consider “picky." For reasons that are difficult to explain, I've never eaten foods that are the staples of most American diets. Since I became conscious about what goes into my mouth, I have never had peanut butter, a taco, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, soup, ham, a hotdog, or fish, among many other less ubiquitous foodstuffs. I have also never eaten chocolate, or any other type of candy or gum. And I don’t mean this figuratively: I could not begin to describe what the taste profile difference between an M&M, a stick of gum, and a Skittle is. My childhood nickname was “The Bun Man” because at family gatherings I was known to put away six or seven rolls for dinner. All I can say to explain this is that I was a whiny, frightened kid and my parents fought their battles elsewhere.
Action Bronson, on the other hand, is not a picky eater. The Queens MC spent his formative post-high school, pre-getting-high-with-Riff Raff years working in kitchens and garnering the kind of knowledge that allows him to make incredible-looking post-Thanksgiving sliders for a magazine’s YouTube channel. He fills his mixtapes with vivid descriptions of food--prosciutto-wrapping other meats is a favorite reference--and you could make the argument that his ultimate message is about how great culinary culture is in New York, because even a mixtape rapper can afford to eat (or at least know enough to rap about) a wide variety of great food.
Because of my limited palate, the food references on Bronsolino’s mixtapes are as obscure to me as his professional wrestling references are to people who aren’t aware of the legacy of the Monday Night Wars (peace to Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart). I may have never tried most of the food he mentions, but Bronson is so enthusiastic about it, he makes me want to work up the courage to try the shit he’s rapping about.
Part of being a picky eater is constantly hating being a picky eater. It sucks being afraid your friends will want to eat at a restaurant that doesn’t have anything you want to eat (say, Qdoba). I want to change. So, following my 15th spin of the great Rare Chandeliers, I resolved to do just that. Instead of wallowing in my food-based cowardice, I am going to follow Bronson’s lead and eat something he mentions on Rare Chandeliers.
"Only green M&Ms placed in my dressing room/ Pineapple juice, roast turkey."--“Demolition Man”
Given the Thanksgiving holiday, it would have been convenient if I had never had turkey. But I have, and I hate it. It’s the Coldplay of poultry: It’s something everyone has experienced, and only really boring people really like.
Being picky is the lowest form of cowardice when you get down to it. It’s retreating from something that can, at worst, cause you extremely short discomfort. But it’s also about being wrapped in a comfortable cocoon. Once you find a couple foods you like, what are the incentives for trying something new? I already know I like eating something, so why risk the disappointment that I won’t like something new? And isn’t it crazier to start eating chocolate regularly at 26-years-old after spending 26 years never eating it?
Which is why my natural yellow-bellied inclination was to pretend like I hadn’t eaten turkey, because then I wouldn’t be subjected to having to try something new. I will not take the easy way out, food-wise, for the first time in my life.
"Choke a duck lay it on the plate (roasted)/ Snap my fingers for the waiter come and pour the grapes (toasted)."--“Rare Chandeliers”
Given my general inefficiency as a killing machine, I decide that literally following Bronson lyrics isn’t feasible. Plus I have no idea how I could get my hands on a live duck. Do they have nets for that? Are there duck farms? Can you mail-order a live animal? So after soliciting some local food bloggers (Does Action Bronson even know food bloggers? He probably doesn't need to) I am told to venture to Metcalfe’s grocery store here in Madison, WI, because they're stocking fresh duck for the holidays.
There’s a Clash song called “Lost in the Supermarket” that's about how Joe Strummer thinks small businesses are cool, or whatever. But I am living the more literal translation of that line as I wander the aisles at Metcalfe’s. When your diet is 90% frozen chicken and pizzas, you don’t really “get to know” your local grocery store. After wandering around the meat department aimlessly looking at about a million different kinds of frozen meats, I work up the courage to ask a butcher where the duck is. I assume she is going to treat me like a Daffy Duck-massacring deviant, but then I realize that she cuts the faces off of animals for a living. She shows me to the duck.
I was worried they wouldn’t even have any, but Metcalfe’s is almost overboard on making sure all your duck-related needs are met. They sell entire ducks. Duck breasts. Duck wings. Packages of duck fat. I’m sure they could have scared up a necklace of duckbills if I had asked. I instead opt to buy a package of duck breasts, which it turns out, are pretty expensive. They’re like $12 a pound, which is roughly seven times the cost per pound of anything I have ever bought at the grocery store.
Buying a package of duck was only the beginning of my problems though: I have no idea how to cook a duck. Neither does anyone I know. My roommate tells me some vague story of Anthony Bourdain grilling some duck on No Reservations that looked delicious. So I do what the modern man does in these situations. I google, “How to Cook a Duck Breast,” and click on the first link that doesn’t look like porn and follow the recipe to the letter.
Dear reader, have you ever cooked duck? Did you know that you need to cut holes on the outside layer of fat because it could ruin your breast if the fat can’t slough off into your pan? Did you know that duck actually cooks up brown? Did you know that there are conflicting reports about whether or not it’s cool to defrost duck in a microwave? Did you know that there are entire websites devoted to teaching people how to cook and be less afraid of duck? Did you know every duck website will tell you to pair your duck with a “hearty carbohydrate” for some reason, and even if you doubt the necessity of doing that, you do it anyway, because not following cooking websites somehow seems crazier? I bet Action Bronson has never even thought of this stuff: He probably cooks roast duck in his sleep.
So I pan-roast and eat the duck, and it tastes pretty good. It’s like eating dark turkey with a strip of beef fat on top of it. It’s a bit dry, but I guess that’s probably my fault for cooking it longer than I needed to; I can hold no candles to Action’s skill on the mic, or on the burner.
I finish eating the duck, and, unfortunately, nothing in my life is really different. What did I think would happen? That I would eat some duck, and suddenly I’d be a gourmand, eating the finest lambs and tilapias in the finest restaurants with the finest women? That I’d be able to overcome a series of insane mental walls about food because I bought a bird I’d never have eaten without the help of Action Bronson?
Maybe. Maybe I sort of hoped that would happen. But maybe that’s how this thing starts: being picky means being hyper-aware of what you are eating all the time, and maybe eating duck because a rapper shouts it out on a mixtape leads you to thinking that eating bone marrow on lightly toasted rosemary bread is totally normal. Then the next day you eat lamb laced with fennel, because this is who you are now. And then you don’t even think about what you’re eating as long as it’s awesome, and then you’re not being weird about trying new things. Maybe.
The optimist in me really wants to believe that living like Action Bronson (don’t worry mom, just in what he eats) could change how I approach my eating life. I don’t see myself going out and buying a tub of peanut butter hot dogs or anything, but I have been looking at the menus of exotic restaurants here, fantasizing about what it would be like to go in and order anything off the menu without thinking about it. And I owe that to Bronsolino. I’m thinking of going to one this weekend.