Al Sicherman | 75
I was a fledgling restaurant critic who grew to love Viennese pastries as an exchange student in Austria. Al Sicherman, the Food section’s copy editor, was dazzled by French pastries during a year in Paris.
At the mere mention of Viennese pastries, he oozed contempt. He had visited the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, originator of the famed Sacher torte, which he declared dry and tasteless. Like all Viennese pastry, he added.
Game on. For weeks, our dispute occasionally erupted in a volley of bizarre pastry insults hurled across the cubicle divide. Finally, I proposed sort of a pastry duel: We would each make three pastries and argue their merits. We brought them in, pushed “record” on a cassette recorder (it was the early ’80s) and made our cases.
Just to push Al’s chocolate-loving buttons, I had created a classic Sacher torte, its glossy glaze a shimmering perfection. He sliced a piece, held it 3 feet aloft and, with a look of glee, dropped it to the table.
“Ah-ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly. It had landed uninjured. He dubbed it the low-heeled German shoes of the pastry world.
We argued ridiculously for an hour, transcribed the tape and put it in the newspaper (you can still read it in Al’s book, “Caramel Knowledge”). Readers began to adore Al and his writing that mixed recipes and sizzling one-liners.
He came by that naturally. He loved to tell the story of his mother simmering a beef tongue on the stove in his childhood home in Milwaukee. His cousin Harold wandered in, lifted the lid and asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a tongue, Harold,” Al’s mother replied.
“Ew,” said Harold. “I would never put anything into my mouth that had been in a cow’s mouth!”
“Have an egg, Harold,” she replied.