a PAW web exclusive column
Food and Fishing
Writer Peter Kaminsky '69 obsesses on both
J.I. Merritt '66
Kaminsky '69 has long obsessed on food and fishing the first
as far back as he can remember, the second since an outing on a
party boat in the 1970s.
didn't grow up fishing," says Kaminsky, a writer and TV producer.
"I was working at National Lampoon at the time an insane
and crazy and hyper place. I had to get away and went on vacation
to the Florida Keys, where I saw this sign on the dock saying 'Fish
all day for $10' and decided to try it. So I went out and caught
a fish and said to myself, "This is what I was born to do."
of the sports section of the New York Times are familiar with his
pieces about fishing in the metropolitan area, and readers of New
York Magazine know him for the "Underground Gourmet" column
he wrote for years. Now, Kaminsky explores the pleasures of angling
and eating in two books published this fall: The Moon Pulled Up
an Acre of Bass (Hyperion, $23.95) and The Elements of Taste (Little,
Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass describes a month Kaminsky spent
fly fishing on eastern Long Island for striped bass during their
fall coastal migration. The run attracts legions of anglers and
supports a cottage industry of fishing guides whose culture and
personalities he portrays in affectionate detail. The title derives
from an epiphany he had one evening. Kaminsky and a guide were in
a boat just beyond the surf and watched a full moon "as orange
as a fat, ripe pumpkin" rise in the east. As if on cue, the
water around them erupted in a frenzied cauldron of striped bass
feeding on baitfish.
Elements of Taste, which Kaminsky coauthored with four-star chef
Gray Kunz, is a lavishly photographed cook book that takes a novel
approach to its subject. Kaminsky and Kunz threw out most of the
standard terms for taste and came up with a new vocabulary. In their
lexicon some tastes "push" examples are "salty,"
"sweet," and "picante" (like the spicy heat
of chili pepper). Others either "pull" these include
"tangy," "spiced aromatic," and "funky"
(cabbage, aged meats, and pungent cheeses) or "punctuate"
book's recipes are built on this foundation and often combine ingredients
in novel ways. A sampler: green onion fondue; lobster in syrah reduction
with aromatic herbs; warm raspberries and elderflower curd (a dessert);
and among the many fish recipes striped bass with
caramelized scallions in green peppercorn citrus sauce.
mind, fishing and food, and writing about the two, are linked in
many ways. Most obviously, he says, "The connection goes back
100,000 years. We like fishing, I think, because it's tied to one
of our basic drives, to find food. I began writing about fishing
before I did about food. Reading Hemingway, I noticed that if he
put a slice of lemon in a four-page scene it seemed to bring everything
else into focus. So I began to include a little bit of food in my
fishing stories." He recalls a series he wrote for the Times.
Titled "A Season on the Harbor," it described various
fishing opportunities within the shadow of Gotham. "In one
piece I wrote about fishing with the walrus keeper at the Coney
Island Aquarium." They were fishing for blackfish, also called
tautog, a homely but tasty species that hangs around jetties in
winter. "After we'd caught a few we took them to 21 Club, where
my buddy Mike Lamonica was the chef. He cooked them up for us."
Kaminsky says the piece generated as much mail as anything he's
ever written and inspired him to integrate the two subjects whenever
he could. The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass has loving descriptions
of cooking fish as well as catching them.
grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. At Princeton he majored in history
and was president of the student government and an activist in SDS.
He was interested in intellectual history and especially enjoyed
courses taught by James Billington '50 (now the Librarian of Congress)
and Michael Walzer (a political theorist now at the Institute for
thesis was on the American labor movement I think Sheldon
Hackney was my adviser," he says. "It wasn't very good.
By then I was really majoring in the '60s. I was at Princeton at
what must have been the craziest time in its history." The
era left Kaminsky "dazed and confused." After graduating,
he drove a cab in New York for a year ("I put my Princeton
degree to work right away"), studied anthropology at NYU, and
drifted into journalism, writing first for Rolling Stone and then
for National Lampoon, where he was briefly managing editor until
he hit upon the tasteless idea of putting the blind rocker Stevie
Wonder on the cover of a special "3D" issue wearing 3D
glasses. That was over the top even by Lampoon standards, "and
my future was sealed."
father wrote comedy for Jackie Gleason, a relationship that gave
his son an entrÈe into show business. He also has a younger
brother who was producing TV comedy shows, and he did some writing
for him. Eventually Kaminsky began producing on his own his
projects have included specials for Spy and People magazines and
a 20th-anniversary celebration of Woodstock. He is the creator and
producer of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize celebration, which
in recent years has honored Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl
Reiner, and (this October) Whoopi Goldberg.
for TV is good it pays a lot better than journalism and keeps
my pension fund up," says Kaminsky, "but I've never enjoyed
it as much as writing about fishing for the Times at $1.50 a word."