The Kenny Chronicles: In Which We Attempt to Charm and Disarm the Curmudgeonly Cook

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Photo: AP

Kenny Shopsin is somewhat more press-friendly these days he went on Conan and showed the Times how to cook macaroni-and-cheese pancakes. So has the man who makes Gordon Ramsay look like Ned Flanders finally mellowed? We werent about to try to find out for ourselves (not without Calvin Trillin on our arm) so we sent a sacrificial lamb intrepid reporter in before us. We challenged Jessica Pilot, who has charmed many a counterperson into a free cuppa, to befriend Shopsin over the course of a week, or at least become a respected regular. So how did she do?

November 6
My first visit to Shopsin's. I wear jeans, flats, and a peacoat so that I dont stand out. When I see Shopsin, all I say is Hello.

He looks up from stove and yells "What are you doing? You want to eat or waste my time? Scraaaam.

His server, a beefy guy in his early twenties, asks me in a thick Brooklyn accent whether Im a reporter. I tell him no, Im a customer.

A deliveryman headed for another vendor in the market stops and asks, "Hey, lady, why you talkin' to that man he's crazy!"

November 7
Kennys little (well, not so little) helper doesnt seem too pleased when I return. Like Kenny, he avoids eye contact when he talks to me: "That table is for a group of four, and you gotta get off your cell phone, or you aint eating."

A German couple is escorted to my table even before theyre done reading the menu or deciding whether to dine. They ask me if the food is good, and I tell them its my first meal. They both order the Krakatoa and I order the mac 'n' cheese. The waiter grimaces. "That's it?"

"Yeah," I reply.

When the food arrives, he slams down the plates and I dig in. As he walks back to the kitchen, I ask him to tell Kenny that its delicious. He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. I decide its only polite to thank the chef myself.

The waiter looks flustered when I walk up to the counter. "What do you want?"

I ignore him and tell Kenny, "Hi, I just wanted to let you know how good the mac 'n' cheese is.

No response.

"Okay, I guess youre busy," I say.

The Germans complain that their meal isnt hot, so the waiter takes their plates and returns with the check. They don't seem too pleased, especially because my mac 'n' cheese is on their bill. The girl takes out a $50 bill and asks me for change. I handle the bill, and they leave. The wait for change is longer than the wait for food was, but I leave a nice tip I want to be a welcomed regular, after all.

I wave good-bye to Kenny, and he lifts his arm. But he isnt offering a quasi-friendly wave good-bye; hes only reaching for a utensil.

November 10
After taking the weekend off, I arrive at 1 p.m. I sit at the same table, but this time I don't have to share it. The waiter comes over, and I ask him for a menu.

There's one on the wall, a few feet in front of ya!" Hes enraged that Im not ready.

I order the mac 'n' cheese again, hoping it might make me one of Kenny's "regulars."

"What else?" he asks.

"That's it," I tell him.

I stare at Kenny, but he never looks up from the stove. When the food comes, I ask him if I could rent out the space for my birthday. He laughs and says once again, "What are you doing? You want to eat or waste my time?"

Four more days of this, and I might get blacklisted, if I'm lucky

November 11
While Im waiting for a free table, the server accuses me of "loitering."

"I don't mind waiting, it's fine," I assure him.

"Come back in an hour," he says.

After fifteen minutes of walking around the market, I return to find an empty table. The waiter sees me sit down and says that it was the shortest hour he ever "heard of." Im tempted to correct his grammar, but instead I apologize for not listening.

"So, you gonna come back?"

This is what I get for funding this guy with my tips? I leave, and don't return.

November 12
I consider going to Schiller's and getting up some nerve via a cocktail or two, but Im running late for a meeting so I just charge right up to Kenny. As I walk toward him, he darts his ghoulish eyes at me.

"Hi," I say.

Im whisked away by the waiter he stands close to me, in order to prevent me from getting any closer to King Kenny, who has clearly had it with me.

"Don't bother him, man."

"I'm not a man, and I would appreciate it if you'd allow me to thank him."

"For wha?"

"For his fine hospitality."

Kenny is not interested in speaking with me, I am told. And I believe him.