Keep the Conversation Going – An Interview with Josh Hamlet

Photo credit: Gabriela Herman

Josh Hamlet is electric. He’s the kind of person who infuses whatever space he’s in with that brand of humming energy usually reserved for Friday night football games or the long, clanking trip to the top of the roller coaster before the drop. His mind is always working and seems to be in a hundred places at once. He’s organizing a dinner in New York, working through the details of a travel itinerary in Iceland, nagging writers about deadlines, and brainstorming about an event half a year away – all at the same time. And it’s infectious.

Josh and I have known each other since college. He’s the person who taught me how to move like no one was watching on the dance floor – and how to make a great grilled Portobello. Together, we’ve demolished a trash bag full of taco salad while whitewater canoeing down the French Broad and eaten real shrimp and grits in Savannah.

This October, Josh and I worked on a series of collaborative projects together in Berlin. The timing felt perfect. Josh’s online publication about food on the edges, Counter Service, is taking off in a big way, and I’ve been looking for ways to take Eat Me. Drink Me. out into the community. We spent the month writing and eating our way across the city, hosting a writing workshop, putting on events, reminiscing about the past, thinking about the future, and just basically having a damn good time.

We sat down one morning for breakfast at a very squeaky table to talk about New York, travel, hidden talents, and all things Counter Service.

LYZ PFISTER: I’m just going to dive right in. So tell me, why did you decide to start Counter Service?

JOSH HAMLET: Having worked in the New York food industry for six years, and having worked in food and around food since I was fourteen – I don’t know if that’s legal or not  –

* we laugh *

JH: …I saw so much passion and creativity and talent that was so untapped, because these days, the food industry requires all of your attention. » Continue reading this post…

Das ist Berlin – Counter Service Comes to Visit

Mauerpark at sunset, Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Walking back to the apartment after our run, Josh pointed up at the long and stately row of buildings across the street, shining white in the hazy morning sun. “That’s really beautiful,” he said, and I was silent. Not because it wasn’t beautiful, but because it was, and I had walked past that row of buildings nearly every day for the last four years without ever thinking about it.

There’s something about showing someone your city that makes you see it with fresh eyes. The mundane becomes magical. Places and routines you take for granted feel novel, inspired even. Your life is just your life, and you’re just living it, but with new perspective, even your life suddenly has its own special appeal.

Rathauspark, Schöneberg, Berlin (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)
Josh preparing lunch (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
On a Schöneberg corner, Berlin (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)
On a walk in Schöneberg, Berlin (GIF courtesy of Counter Service)

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to re-see Berlin. Josh Hamlet, founder of Counter Service and old friend extraordinaire, arrived on a dark Monday night in mid-October and stayed with me in Schöneberg for nearly a month, writing, talking, dreaming, eating, living. We’d been planning our spate of collaborative projects for nearly half a year, and to suddenly find ourselves in it was almost surprising. “This is happening,” we said, and clinked our glasses together over the small kitchen table.

Josh and I met at Davidson in 2006, were friends throughout college, and in my senior year, his junior year, started Eat Me. Drink Me. together as part of an independent study in food writing. What’s the Reader’s Digest version of our lives? I moved to New York, I moved to Berlin, I became a translator, I became the editor of a literary magazine, I started The Wolf & Peter. Josh moved to South Korea, Josh moved to New York (but after I left New York), he worked in restaurants, helped start some restaurants, he founded Counter Service. » Continue reading this post…

A Premonition of Winter: Grilled Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with Red Onion and Olives

Jerusalem artichoke salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For me, there is not much more seductive than unwrapping a thick piece of smoked fish from fat-stained wax paper. I don’t know what that says about me, or about what I find seductive, but there you have it. Grease-flecked paper makes me swoon.

Maybe it’s the nostalgia of it, how it recalls a time when we went to the butcher for meat, the fishmonger for fish, the cheesemonger for cheese – and a piece of something would be picked out just for you, weighed on a scale, and wrapped up by hand.

Grilled Jerusalem artichokes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Onion scrap art (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemons for vinaigrette (eat Me. Drink Me.)

This week, I finally made it back to the Winterfeldt Market, a Saturday-only affair I keep skipping because I’m tired or otherwise engaged or am once again lured by the Turkish market’s ludicrously cheap prices on crates of perfectly decent vegetables and fruits.

The Winterfeldt Market is classier, with the price tag to prove it. Most of the sellers are from small organic farms, there are beekeepers with jars of local honey and riotous bouquets of flowers, there’s the guy selling hand-sharpened knives and olive wood cutting boards, the craft vermouth stand, the truck that sells fresh whole fish grilled on the spot, and the tiramisu counter that’s always crammed with people slinging back espressos and digging into pillowy piles of dessert.

Jerusalem artichokes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Parsley (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Three little onions (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I don’t go to the market often, but when I do, I’m reassured to find my favorites in the same place, with the same good wares to sell. I always start my market tour with a raclette. I like to watch the big rinds of pungent alpine cheese bubble and brown under the hot metal grill, and the aproned woman working the contraption as she swipes the oozy top layer with a big wooden paddle and spreads it on a piece of crusty white bread, sprinkles it with paprika and parsley. » Continue reading this post…

The Wurst

Homemade Bratwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Intestines smell. Terribly. I’m not exactly sure what I’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the heady, pungent stench of a hound’s breath whiffed with rotten bone. However washed and dried and packed in salt they might be, intestines smell like what they are: long, stringy coils of an organ that once held yards of mulching food on its way to less pleasant places.

And yet, there I stood at the kitchen island, disentangling about seven meters’ worth of pig intestines. I was oddly reminded of the matted bundles of jewelry my grandma used to set aside for me. My nimble fingers were expert at parsing apart delicate gold links and unwinding them from multi-colored baubles. I never imagined the skill would come in handy here, as I gently tugged a knot out of the intestine, sending grains of coarse salt scattering across the floor.

It was sausage day.

Seven meters of intestines (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making your own sausages isn’t necessarily hard, but there are a lot of moving parts involved. And equipment. You have to have a meat grinder and a stuffing horn and probably a freezer that’s bigger than the crystal-filled icebox wedged at the top of my tiny European fridge. And it’s definitely a two-person job.

The meat grinder is an unwieldy beast, and one person must feed the chunks of meat into the machine, while the other keeps the red rainbow-strands flowing evenly into the bowl. After the dry-rubbed meat is ground once, it’s flash-frozen, then ground again with a finer dice before being whisked into the freezer once more. Finally, it’s mashed into a pinkish pulp by hand and worked with a glut of rich cream.

Intestines dried in salt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Checking casing for integrity (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Before you even begin to stuff the sausage, you must check the intestines for integrity. This involves wedging one end up to the faucet like a water balloon’s lip, and watching as the long tube fills, pale and eerily veined like ghost leaves. » Continue reading this post…

State of Affairs: Poor Writer’s Fish Chowder

Fish chowder (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been raining nonstop for days. Apparently, we’ve had twice as much rainfall this July as the year before, and the month isn’t even over yet. The weather seems hell-bent on tripling its record, sending down sheets in alternating waves of velvety drizzle and cascading downpour, and I’m becoming adept at discerning nuances in gray. There’s the white-streaked gray that means a short reprieve is coming, and the bluish gray that means it’s coming to an end. A dull, sodden gray means temperamental rain, and dark, voluptuous clouds against pale, rare blue promise brilliant thunderstorms that mean you’d better find a café to hide away in for a while.

I’ve been knocked out with a cold for the last two weeks, and I can’t tell whether it’s all this infernal rain and icky chill or if it’s the mental strain that comes along with returning home from vacation and having to get your real life – and real life deadlines – back on track.

Celery stalks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lobster juice and potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In any case, I haven’t been this sick in a long time, though by now it’s just lingering malaise and a wimpy-sounding cough, and I’m not sure it still justifies the excessive amount of time I’ve spent binge watching TV or the Game of Thrones theory sites rabbit hole I go down after every new episode airs.

For me, the worst symptom of sickness is guilt. It’s bad enough to feel awful, but it’s even worse to feel awful about feeling awful, to feel like I should go to work even when my body needs rest, to feel like rest is a waste of time, to ache as those hours of productivity slip by in sleep or as Netflix’s deliciously evil Next episode airs in… countdown keeps me tied to the couch. It doesn’t matter how vehemently I try to convince myself that recovery requires R&R – it only ever just feels like an excuse. » Continue reading this post…

For all the Lobster in Maine

Jordan Pond, Maine (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

How much lobster is too much lobster? In Maine, the answer seems to be, there is no such thing. There, it is possible to eat a lobster roll for both lunch and dinner, to ceaselessly crack into the thick red hull of a crustaceous claw and swipe its soft, white meat through melted butter. You can cook your own live lobster, you can order it in chowders and stews, baked into pot pies, have it whole, halved, beheaded, even gnaw on frozen chunks nestled into butter-flavored ice cream – though I don’t know that it’s a combination I can recommend. You can have lobster any way you want it, and you can have it every day. And I did.

Maine lobster roll (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lobster roll with mayo (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I love Maine, love its rolling mountains and crashing cold waves, the glacier-scraped rocks thick with barnacles and crushed shells, the way the low tide leaves vast patches of kelp exposed to the sun until the evening brings the salty water crashing up the shore. In late summer, I love the tenacious wild blueberry bushes full of tiny fruit that never hit the bottom of the bucket until the belly’s full, and the gentle, sweet smell of balsam fir that perfumes the forest and every Bar Harbor gift shop.

A pile of live lobsters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A feisty lobster (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Corn on the grill (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sunset on Mt. Desert Island, Maine (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Wise old lobster (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Our house in Maine was on a sound, and I’d wake in the mornings to sun streaming in the windows across the water. From the back deck, you could catch brief bright flashes of harbor seals’ heads as they flicked up out of the ocean in play. Once, we canoed out to where we saw them in the water, navigating close enough that we could make out each quivering whisker and their alert eyes, wet and black as midnight pools.

A platter of lobsters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lobster roll in Bar Harbor (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fresh boiled lobsters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet corn on the grill (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On the Fourth of July, we spent the day in Bar Harbor, staking down a small patch of green at the waterfront for first-row firework seats. » Continue reading this post…

A Little Literature: Mint & Dill Sweet Pea Dip

Mint and dill sweet pea dip (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For the first time since I moved to Berlin, I’ve missed my favorite social event of the year: SAND’s new issue launch party. Yes, sure, you might say I was gallivanting around Colombia, eating fried mojarra and drinking fresh-pressed juices, so what did I want with one evening of readings, of dancing, of congratulatory back-clapping? But for those of us who’ve spent six months putting it together, the launch party is our first chance to hold the new issue in our hands – this beautiful physical object we produce in an age where “print is dead.”

It’s been an interesting issue for me in any case, my first as retired editor in chief. It’s an odd feeling, somehow, to have worked my way from copy editor to managing editor to poetry editor to editor in chief and then to suddenly find myself with an honorary senior editorship and the hoary post of keeper of old history. I know the intricacies of the journal inside and out – after six years, you become something of an expert. But it’s more than just having knowledge. I feel like I’ve helped SAND grow from a small and maybe slightly ramshackle passion project to a fixture in the Berlin literary community and beyond. It’s well-organized and structured, the team is so so dedicated and talented, and the journal is ready to blow up. Which is ultimately why I decided to step down as editor in chief.

SAND Issue 15 (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemon zest (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A bowl of green (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Like any empty-nester, I had plenty of projects lined up for when the birdie flew. There’s The Wolf & Peter, a food venture the very talented Anna of Anna’s Kitchen and I are launching, where we host supper clubs and workshops and kitchen takeovers. And I’ve been writing a cookbook that is slowly but surely nearing completion. » Continue reading this post…

A Colombian Lunch in Two Parts

Mazorca in Colombia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Part I

When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was already swarming. It was a Sunday, and it seemed as if half the city had flocked to the northern outskirts to eat themselves into a gut-busting stupor. We wound through the open-air building, packed with rickety wooden tables and plastic chairs, all full of families grabbing food off large silver trays piled with glistening cuts of meat and puffed up whorls of chicharrón, potatoes and flat white mounds of yuca. A happy clamor drifted across the simple concrete floor and low walls, mingling with the smoky scent of barbequing beef.

Once we’d snagged a table nestled in the very back of the long hall, we divided – half our group to hold our spot, the other to order food and wrestle the trays through the crowd. The wait seemed everlasting. It was already edging past 3 p.m., and my stomach was growling, the morning’s arepa and scrambled eggs feeling frighteningly distant. I worried the salt shaker between my fingers, wondering if a few grains might sharpen or dull the pangs, when David’s dad swooped to the table bearing a basket of grilled corn on the cob, thick yellow pearls scrubbed with black char, butter, and salt. Mazorca. The kernels were sweet and slightly powdery, almost popcorn-like. He also set down a pitcher of refajo, a mix of pale Aguila beer with sweet Colombiana soda, and we poured a round into our small plastic cups.

Colombian picada (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Arepas de choclo (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And then, like an answered prayer, the food was there. Soup, slightly thickened and a little bitter with herbs, with tender strands of chicken and a few vegetables – just enough to whet your appetite for the giant tray heaped with fist-sized cuts of beef, charred from an open flame and dripping with juices. » Continue reading this post…

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