Aprons made from old pants and shirts courtesy of Chicago’s own Winter Session.
The article in question: The Paupered Chef’s Baja Fish Tacos.
Google “fish tacos.” Go ahead. Do it. Leave this page, open a new window and search The All-Mighty Google for the words fish and tacos.
Depending on your browser history, you’ll find just after a recipe from the Food Network’s Big Bad Bobby Flay, comes a recipe from some blog called The Paupered Chef.
That some blog belongs to two old friends, Nick Kindelsperger and Blake Royer. And like the LCD Soundsystem song says, “I was there.”
I was there in 2006 when these two greenhorn cooks made their first batch of fish tacos. I was there when the golden crust of beer-battered, fried tilapia, purchased from the Citarella just up the street from the Upper East Side three-bedroom-converted-studio loft apartment we three shared, first shocked my taste buds into unholy submission. How they made such a decadent, delicious meal on a sputtering four burner in a sad afterthought of a kitchen still leaves me shaking my head in utter disbelief. Yes, I’m obviously so proud of these guys and their accomplishments, but more than that, I am so impressed they created such a crave-worthy dish in such dire circumstances. And… I was there.
But truly shocking me time and again is the staying power of this incredible — and incredibly simple — recipe.
As Blake said the other night, “Max, you probably make this more than anyone I know.” It’s true. Friends. Girlfriends. Parents. Girlfriend’s Parents. Brother. Sister-in-Law. I make this for the people I love.
Who knew fish tacos from Baja would become a comfort food for a Midwestern meat-and-potatoes kid like me?
Leah Michelsen made some incredibly delicious vegetarian tamales.
Our beautiful hostess, Heather Pieske, provided some tart cherries and a wicked swipe at the bull piñata (not pictured).
That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to help Blake organize a party to celebrate summer’s arrival. He invited a sizable group of friends to revisit the most popular recipe on his blog and corresponding iPad app, Appetites.
With his cohort Nick Kindelsperger out due to a prior engagement, Blake called in some very able reserves, his old friend Mr. Joe Roy. Joe made the flour tortillas, and he prepared two salsas: one tomato-based, the other tomatillo-based.
My duties included ambience and decor. Thank you to K-Mart and Party City for the decor assist. Ambience was provided by the likes of Guy Clark, The Gypsy Kings, Los Lobos, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Sr. (RIP) and Jr., and Mr. Townes Van Zandt (may he also rest in peace)… and a lot of mariachi music I collected at the last minute.
And so it was, we gorged ourselves on fried fish tacos and tamales. We shared stories of trips to Tijuana or to Los Cabos or to Ensenada — the birthplace of the fish taco — or just trips up the road a ways to Michigan to a brand new brewery, Greenbush Brewing Company (Mr. Auer, I owe you three growlers of IPA). Watching as worlds collided, as friends of friends of friends became friends, I smiled. For some reason, I recall swinging some girl around singing “Bamboleo” at full volume, my head swimming in one of the 39.6 margaritas I helped our host David Baker prepare. And at that moment, for one chilly summer night in Chicago, all was right with the world.
Special thanks must go out to Blake’s better half, Elin, who kept the whole thing running smoothly. To David Baker and his wife Heather Pieske, thank you so much for hosting, for building — yes building — a beautiful wood table for the party, and for just being wonderfully funny people. To Joe Roy, thanks for the tortilla-making lesson. I just need a griddle, a tortilla press, and ten pounds of masa (see you next Saturday?). To Tristan Coulter, thank you for providing the aprons, Blake and I received endless compliments. Thank you to the man with the golden eye, Mr. Ryan Plett, for capturing many of the night’s more beautiful moments. Thank you to all our friends and loved ones who made it out, and to those who were unable to come, you were sorely missed.
And the biggest thanks of all goes to Mr. Blake Royer, for making the food, for buying the food, for thinking up the whole concept for — what I hope is — the first of many of these dinner parties.
Blake and Nick’s Baja Fish Taco Recipe is available at The Paupered Chef.
More of Ryan Plett’s photos are available at [you_have_broken_the_internet].
If you are interested in sponsoring a similar food party, feel free to contact me at plaidout [at] gmail [dot] com. Serious inquiries only, if you please.