Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New York Times Food Writers School: Week 8 Assignment

Communist China Identified as Source of Italian Poaching

It is an unseasonably cold and wet Saturday afternoon in the month of May, 2011. I am practicing the fine art of cooking tuna submerged in olive oil. It’s the only way I will eat tuna. I had not started life this way, but I was driven to this by my encounter with the Communists.

In 1986, China had decided it was time to peek out from under its shell and take a step into the global economy. To accomplish that, they asked two, multi-national advertising agencies to create a comprehensive, multi-media campaign that would introduce China to the world. The agency I worked for at the time, Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon and Eckhardt, was asked to be one of those agencies.

We had 65 offices in 42 different countries and our management selected 10 of those offices to put together the Chinese advertising campaign. I was selected to head up the campaign and coordinate all of the work between the offices and be the liaison with the Communist Chinese government officials in Beijing.

In March of 1987, I boarded a plane with our proposed campaign on a journey to Beijing, with interim stops in Tokyo and Hong Kong. Because of the long flight, my agency had booked me first class. About 30 minutes after lift-off, the flight attendants circulated, offering fresh sushi to all of the first class passengers. I grabbed myself a couple of pieces made with raw Bluefin Tuna, the darkest and fattest and most prized of all raw tuna. Within an hour of eating the sushi, I was laying on the floor of the bathroom….deathly ill…losing prodigious amounts of body fluids every which way possible.

Twelve agonizing hours later I had made it to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, albeit in a coma-like state. From there, I flew to Hong Kong with a terminal case of the shakes and eventually made it to my room at the Mandarin Oriental. I felt like death warmed over…I had never been sicker.

The next day I was to meet with representatives from our Hong Kong office before flying into Beijing. I was far too ill to travel, so I had to simply hand off the campaign to my Hong Kong counterparts and let them take it to the mainland to present it to the Chinese government. No shoulder rubbing with the Communists for me. No Great Wall. No Forbidden City. Just phone calls to housekeeping for more toilet paper.

For 10 days I was bedridden in Hong Kong. Despite being in the care of an English doctor, I lost 14 pounds and looked like a skeleton with an ill-fitting robe of superfluous flesh. At the end of the 10 days, I was deemed just barely strong enough to travel and returned home.

From that day forward, I vowed to never again eat raw fish. I look on in horror when I see rare tuna delivered to a patron in a restaurant. So if I am going to prepare tuna, I look to the Italians for my inspiration. In Italy, they cook their tuna by gently poaching it in olive oil. It is cooked all the way through. No red. No pink. Cooked, all the way through:

2 pounds tuna steaks, about 2 inches thick
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 small garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 fresh thyme sprigs


1.   Season tuna with salt.

2.   Stir 3 cups oil, the lemon zest, garlic, and thyme in a medium saucepan. Add tuna and more oil to cover tuna by 1/2 inch if needed. 

3.   Set over medium-low heat. Cook, covered, until tuna is opaque, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat; let tuna cool completely in the oil.

4.   To serve, use tongs to remove tuna from cooking oil. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Flake into 2-inch pieces.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir


Our work on this campaign was chronicled and turned into a 
college textbook by Dr. Jaye Niefeld. The book was titled 
"The Making of an Advertising Campaign". 
There was a government shake-up in early 1988. The  Communist 
Chinese government replaced their leader, Li Xiannian, with Yang 
Shangkun. The contract with our agency was terminated and the 
Chinese advertising campaign never saw the light of day. 
To this day, I do not eat sushi. I rarely eat fish with the exception of tuna, which, in the fine tradition of the Italians, I poach in olive oil.
To this day, I do not like Communists.

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