Jen, at far right, waits for her chance to approach Jeffrey Steingarten, in blue blazer at far right

What do you do if you love barbecue, can recognize obscure though notable writers, and have no qualms about introducing yourself? If you're me, you find yourself at the 1st Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, hands sticky from eating a pulled pork sandwich, debating the best way to approach famed food raconteur Jeffrey Steingarten.

2003_6_steinbook.jpg2003_6_steinbook2.jpgPossibly the only thing to make an afternoon of wonderful barbecue in the company of friends that much better, Jeffrey Steingarten is the food critic for Vogue. His writings are collected in two wonderful books that express his undeniable passion for food and life: The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must've Been Something I Ate and they are favorites of mine. Thus, after wandering on rainy East 27th, trying to figure out what barbecue to eat next, seeing a nattily dressed white-haired man near the 17 Street/Memphis Championship Barbecue smoker was exciting. I excited said to Jake, "That's Jeffrey Steingarten!" and started to bounce around. Jake said, "Really?" as he was familiar with Jeffrey from Karen's reading. Our friend said, "Who is Jeffrey Steingarten?" and that's when I became a little savant-like, listing his various credits ("Author! Food writer! Barbecue advocate!"). It was one of those moments where my friends realize how big a freak I am...moments that become more and more typical by the day.

I darted to and fro Jeffrey's general vicinity a few times, trying to confirm that it was in fact Jeffrey Steingarten. Jake was having difficulty in watching this because he's generally shy, but when he took my camera to document it, it was much easier for him. Finally, I took a deep breath (mmm...barbecue smoke) and walked over to where he was. Jeffrey was sitting on a cooler, happily eating a rib. I said, "Excuse me, are you Jeffrey Steingarten?" He turned to his colleague and turned back to me and said, "I am!" "I am a big fan of your writing," I blurted out. "That's why I'm here, to try the barbecue!" Jeffrey beamed and said, "Then I must give you one of Mike Mill's ribs..." and he reached over to pull some ribs off the rack sitting near him.

Jeffrey reaches for ribsJeffrey breaks ribs off
Jen accepts ribs from JeffreyJen tries the rib

Jen and JeffreyThen I told Jeffrey I had seen him at a book signing and I was the girl who suggested he check out a certain chain restaurant in his neighborhood. He was aghast and called me, jokingly, I think, a "terrible girl." Awesome. Then I saw Jake excitedly waving the camera. I asked Jeffrey if I could take a picture with him. Jeffrey good-naturedly agreed and I knelt by the cooler. I feel I look weird in the picture, but it's probably because I'm grinning like a fool. I thanked him profusely and then shared the ribs with Jake.

My interest in barbecue was definitely spurred on by Jeffrey's chapter on judging the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, "Going the Whole Hog." He lovingly details what makes great barbecue, like hog specifics, cooking time, sauce and seasoning, and the devotion of the pitmasters. I was ready to go to Memphis or some other Southern city for a barbecue contest, or maybe even attend barbecue boot camp, but then the 1st Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party beat me to it. Well, boot camp is still there, but it was very fitting and special that Jeffrey Steingarten gave me my first taste of Memphis barbecue.