Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Steven Tietjen

“I hope you're ready to learn the finer points of salting eggplant!” Steven Tietjen writes to me via email.

Steven, who I and many of his other friends affectionately refer to as Steven Jude, is a full-time freelancer like me. A self-described “professional opera queen,” he has written about opera for places like Opera News, Opera America, and Opera Pulse. He also works in publicity, specializing in classical music artists and organizations; he translates opera supertitles (the words you read above an opera so you can understand the dialogue); writes for opera companies’ in-house publications; and has worked as a dramaturg for places like the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York. He's also beginning a career as a food writer and getting a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing from NYU.

And Steven Jude, wearer of jewel-toned pashminas and lover of all things (Republic of) Georgia, is one of my dearest and utmost companions. We have especially bonded in recent years over a love of food writing and, well, food eating, so today he has decided to take me on a journey to his local farmer’s market in search of eggplants and whatever else might tickle his fancy. Perusing the market’s wares, he teaches me how to select an eggplant—a good one doesn’t have too much give, he says. It feels like a hard balloon in my hand. He debates if he wants a red onion or not, but swiftly turns away from a long, green stalked vegetable and declares with a wave of his hand, “I do not fuck with leeks.” (They are difficult to clean, apparently.) His eyes light up, however, when he spots bushels of purple basil, or opal basil. The herb is often used in Georgian cooking, and he has not yet decided how we will use it in today’s cooking, but grabs a bushel nonetheless. “We’ll figure it out later,” he says. On the way out, he spies some beet greens and snatches them up with the same vigor, an “Oooh” purring from his lips.

We head back to his apartment and I wash the vegetables, a tomato, garlic scapes, eggplant, and summer squash from his father’s garden. Shortly SJT is slicing eggplant. He salts it because he wants it to be softer when it’s cooked, but you don’t have to salt it if you want it to be firmer. After a while, the eggplant starts to sweat, small beads of moisture pooling on the slices’ exteriors. With sunflower seed oil, salt, and pepper, it goes on a roasting pan in the oven. Our friends Dan and Qite look on in awe. Shortly Steven Jude slices squash and softens it in chicken broth. He chops tomatoes and cucumbers and basil, and sends beet greens and scapes into a pan to crisp. All the while Klavdiya Shulzhenko, a Soviet cabaret singer who rose to fame in the 1920s, sings in the background. “I have no idea what she’s saying,” Steven Jude says, “But I just love her."

Follow Steven Jude on Instagram and Twitter.

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