People wonder why geese always fly in a “v” formation, but I don’t think it’s a “v”, I think it’s supposed to be a peace sign–as in, “Peace, we’re outta here!” It’s getting to be that time when, like the wise among us (read: the elderly), geese fly south for the winter. Launch the gallery to get a good look at some before that happens.
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Ah, the sweetness of a childhood crush, a boy in the thrall of his first love. Except for stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan, the crush wasn’t a cute girl with pigtails; it was a hot dog with mustard. “For my fifth birthday, my sister got me a package of Oscar Mayer Wieners and a six-pack of Dr Pepper,” remembers Gaffigan, 48. “She knew how much I loved my hot dogs.” That passion has never waned and now extends to all manner of meats and sweets—a gastric affair Gaffigan chronicles in his new book, Food: A Love Story (Crown), a sort of follow-up to his best-selling 2013 memoir Dad Is Fat (named for the first complete sentence his son Jack ever wrote). The book is a brilliantly funny tribute to the simple pleasure of eating—or, more accurately, overeating. “Last night I had the following train of thought: Ugh, I’m so full. I guess I’ll have some cheese,” Gaffigan writes. “I can’t stop eating. I can’t. I haven’t been hungry in 12 years.” It’s part confessional (Gaffigan’s idea of a food sacrifice is French fries with no salt) and part travelogue through the mouthwatering world of unlean cuisine. “I’m not a foodie, I’m an eatie,” says Gaffigan, who is six feet tall and not so much fat as slightly circular around the middle (he wears his extra calories surprisingly well). “Doing stand-up almost every night doesn’t leave me much time for culinary adventures. Mostly I just want the closest good burger.”
For this interview Gaffigan chose one of his favorite New York City chow-down spots, the venerable Katz’s Delicatessen, which has been serving cured meats to loyal customers since 1888. It’s an old-fashioned, no-frills foodery that perfectly suits Gaffigan’s blue-collar appetite and fondness for teetering, overstuffed sandwiches. (Katz’s serves more than seven tons of pastrami each week.) In fact Gaffigan’s photo is up on the wall, not far from shots of Bill Clinton and Johnny Depp and a newspaper clipping marking Katz’s centennial (headline: “A Happy Birthday to Heartburn”). “Jim is a great schmoozer and a super-nice guy, but mostly he’s an eater,” says Alan Dell, Katz’s fourth-generation owner. “It’s great to see how much he enjoys the food.” True to form, Gaffigan jumped behind the counter at Katz’s to joke around with the staff and mingle among the hanging salamis. “Jim Gaffigan?” said one startled customer and fan. “You’re working here now?”
Slinging brined beef might have been Gaffigan’s dream job if he didn’t already have one. A sometimes actor (the late, lamented sitcom My Boys) and frequent talk show guest, Gaffigan is one of the nation’s most popular touring comedians, snagging Concert Comic of the year at the 2014 American Comedy Awards and solidifying his reputation as one of the best clean comedians around.
Much of his material comes from his hectic home life: Gaffigan and his wife, Jeannie, live in a modest two-bedroom apartment in New York City with their five children, sons Jack, Patrick, and Michael and daughters Marre and Katie. (He has said he has a “chronic and acute case of children.”) When he’s not touring, he makes a point of sitting down for dinner with the whole gang. “Eating with your kids is nurturing, but it’s not relaxing,” he says. “There’s a lot of negotiating, the anxiety of things being spilled, kids missing their mouths. If you can get them to sit in a chair successfully, you feel you’ve achieved something.”
Over the years Gaffigan’s act has slowly become more foodcentric, to the point where roughly half his jokes deal with the digestible (in airports fans yell “Hot Pocket!” at him, in honor of his signature bit, about the microwavable snack he calls “a Pop-Tart with nasty meat”). “I used to try to not do any food jokes, because I didn’t want to be known as the food comic,” says Gaffigan. “But I had all these jokes about cake and bacon and they sort of pushed their way back into the act. Or I’d start talking about weddings and that would veer into ice cream. Talking about food helps me connect with an audience. Eating is something most of us do.”
Growing up the youngest of six kids in a middle-class suburb of Chesterton, Ind., Gaffigan learned that eating can also be a contact sport. “You had to eat it before someone else ate it, whether you were hungry or not,” he says. His brother Joe Gaffigan, president of a Chicago-based brokerage and the second-youngest sibling, recalls that at the Gaffigan dinner table “there was definitely a competition for food. But there was also a competition for attention. Since Jim was the youngest, he had to try harder to get everyone’s attention and get in on the family bits. He got to where he could walk into any room and talk to anyone and bond with them right away. Jim was always a hard worker, and that shows up in his act.”
So does his obsession with what he calls non-adult foods. “Oysters are an adult food,” he says. “Blue cheese is another one. But I never stopped loving the celebratory foods—hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, the stuff you eat at ball games and parties. Foodwise, I never grew up.” As a student at La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind., he packed away prodigious amounts of grub, owing to his youthful metabolism and training as a wrestler. “When I was 16, my sister’s boyfriend took me to McDonald’s and said, ‘I’ll pay for whatever you can eat,’ ” he says. “I got down five Big Macs, no problem. Let’s just say I couldn’t do that today.”
After graduating from Georgetown University, Gaffigan got a job in advertising but switched to stand-up when a friend saw him in an improv class and suggested he give it a go. It was a great career move, but rough on his waistline. Being on the road several nights a week makes it hard for him to resist the siren call of greasy club food. “Burgers,” he says, “are my kryptonite.” He’s had a few named after him, including the Gaffiburger (a.k.a. a bacon cheeseburger) at Schoop’s, a chain in Indiana and Illinois. “The top honor is having an ice cream flavor named for you,” he says. “That’s like being knighted.”
Food seems to follow Gaffigan everywhere. After shows “he comes home with boxes of donuts or muffins or cookies his fans gave him,” says Jeannie, who is also his producing partner. “Or people send him anything with bacon in it. It’s a constant battle between being gracious to his fans and not eating everything he gets his hands on.” Remarkably, Jeannie herself has managed to stay slender despite her husband’s food fixation. “It’s not easy,” she says. “With Jim it’s kind of a when-in-Rome thing. He’ll ask if I’m hungry and I’ll say, ‘No, I’m fine,’ and then he’ll come back with a banana in a hot dog bun with peanut butter and jelly on it, and he’ll say, ‘This is called a Daddy Dog.’ He’s kind of a bad influence.”
Maybe so, but Gaffigan blames the kids. “The key to not eating bad food is not having bad food around,” he says. “But kids have a bland palate, so you have to have burgers and pizzas and stuff like that in the house. If the kids are having it, it’s going to be there. How am I supposed to say no to pizza if it’s right in front of me?”
Okay, so he’ll never be Slim Jim, but neither is he throwing in the towel. Exercise, for instance—Gaffigan does it regularly, if somewhat casually. “I like to watch NFL games while sitting on an elliptical bike,” he says. “The problem is, I’d have to work out twice a day just to look out of shape.” He also tries to balance his diet by tossing in the occasional vegetable. “Look, I want to live as long as I can for my family,” he says. “I’m not saying I eat hamburgers every night. I’m not a proponent of leading a destructive life. I’m just kind of self-aware. I know what I like.”
In the end, Gaffigan is resigned, and happily so, to continuing his great movable feast for as long as the road, and the burger joints, will have him. After all, his book isn’t called Food: A Like Story. “I’m a big fan of cheese, but when I eat it I feel bad the next day,” he says. “I’m sure I’m allergic to dairy in some way. But I know I’m going to eat cheese again. Why? Because cheese is amazing, you know?”
Gaffigan’s new book, Food: A Love Story, comes out on Tuesday.View the original at Parade or follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+
Pumpkins and sweet potatoes are both in season at your local farmers market. But which makes the tastier dessert? In many parts of the country, sweet potato pie is gaining ground over the classic pumpkin pie. Here are two great recipes from McCormick Gourmet using its delicious Saigon Cinnamon.
Try them both, and cast your vote in our pie showdown below.Take Our Poll View the original at Parade or follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+