The Grub Street Diet

Filmmaker Justin Fornal Pairs Homemade Chicha Morada With His Mom’s Caramel Apples

Justin Fornal, as Baron Ambrosia, drinks from the ladle of life.
Justin Fornal, as Baron Ambrosia, drinks from the ladle of life. Photo: Melissa Hom

As his alter ego Baron Ambrosia, filmmaker Justin Fornal’s goal is simple: be a “quaffer of culinary consciousness.” As the host of the community-access show Bronx Flavor, the Baron finds himself in sticky situations every week that can only be solved by exploring small, little-known pockets of ethnic cuisine. Fornal is hard at work putting together the newest season of the show (“We’re going to have a big party when it premieres next month,” he says), but we convinced him to don the guise of the Baron for six days and keep track of everything he ate for this week’s edition of the New York Diet. (We honestly had no idea what to expect, but we’re pretty sure he’s the first subject to eat grilled gator tail and Thai water beetles in the same week.)

Friday, October 15
I got ready for a day of shooting and went over production notes with a bowl of French-pressed coffee. I had it black with some ground cardamom in it and ate a chunk of homemade pumpkin bread.

Went to BronxNet and had a cup of Earl Grey tea, black.

After a year and a half of hunting, I’ve managed to track down an elusive Garifuna beverage specialist named Callita. My producer, Michael Max Knobbe, and I, along with our crew, headed to the Morrisania section of the Bronx to Callita’s apartment. I sampled and learned to brew an assortment of homemade tonics: giffiti (Honduran roots and spices that are soaked in white rum), jiyu (a naturally fermented beverage made from sweet potato, jyu bread, and panela), and mammara (similar to the jiyu, but made with corn sprouts, raw rice, and sugar cane). During the shoot, I nibbled on bits of cassava bread, which is more like a matzo cracker than bread. I left Callita’s place with an 80-ounce bucket of unfermented jiyu and five 20-ounce bottles of mammara.

We stopped at Ali’s Roti Shop for lunch. I downed two doubles covered in kuchela, tamarind, and pepper sauce while we debated what to eat. I got an extra large platter of curried goat with a buss-up-shot.

Before starting to edit our footage with Callita, we stopped by H.I.M. Ital on Burke Avenue for apple, carrot, celery, and ginger juice.

My wife and I were invited to join some friends and try Sonora restaurant in Port Chester. I was trying to hydrate, so I had a virgin margarita and several glasses of ice water. We ordered appetizers: braised-short-rib empanadas, calamari salad with baby spinach, seviche mixto, and grilled baby octopus with chorizo. For the main deal, I got the grilled skirt steak, medium rare, with garlic mojito sauce.

On the way home, we stopped by Michael Proietti’s birthday party at City Chow House and I downed seven Mulberry Burger sliders. I didn’t work out until 2 a.m. and finished off the night with a twenty-ounce Super Red Drink with psyllium husk and a bag of frozen mango slices.

Saturday, October 16
I made Kopi Luwak coffee in a Vietnamese coffee press. It went well with another hunk of pumpkin bread. Making preparations for dinner, I opened the freezer, grabbed two pounds of alligator tail, and defrosted it. I cut it up, tossed it in some homemade Jamaican-jerk seasoning, and put it in the fridge. As usual, that led to removing various things from the fridge’s recesses: I ate some pickled eggplant, homemade kimchee, and spicy Indian lemon and pepper pickles with pita.

Hopped into editing with a large glass of 25-year-old pu-erh black tea. Somewhere during the lunch hours I ate some sushi and four glasses of matcha green tea.

At dinner, I put a handful of grated asiago cheese on a flour tortilla and toasted it while I was grilling the jerked gator. My wife, Big Kim, made a massive pot of her arroz con gandules for a side dish.

After dinner, I smoked half a bowl of my own pipe tobacco blend. That was accompanied by two glasses of Laphroaig, thirteen-year cask strength. The first was with a rock, the second was neat.

Later I had a package of puffed banana and pineapple pieces and a half gallon of Tropicana berry punch.

Sunday, October 17
I finished off Big Kim’s rice for breakfast, then ventured to the Lower East Side for the Pickle Festival. Ate a few half-sours, a pickled pig’s ear, two kimchee tacos, and a kimchee dog.

After the crowds got too big, we fled back to the Bronx and had lunch at Siam Square. I had one of my favorite dishes — extra-spicy som tum (green papaya salad) with diced maeng da (giant water bugs). The maeng da is an upgrade that’s not on the menu. For the main course, I had panang curry with half a duck.

When we got home I made a gallon of purple corn cider. It’s similar to the Peruvian drink chicha morada, but I went a little heavier on the mulling spices and served it hot. My mother stopped by with a small tray of caramel apples that we ate with the cider.

For dinner, I made puttanesca sauce over farfalle. I got a little reckless with the capers.

Callita’s jug of jiyu had been fermenting on the window sill since Friday. I noticed the bubbling had stopped, so I put it in the fridge to let the solids settle.

Sometime after midnight I had four kiwis, a mug of Valerian tea, and two glasses of jiyu over ice.

Monday, October 18
Coffee. No breakfast. Headed to BronxNet for a day of meetings, which means a day-long tea and tisane festival. Started off with yerba maté in a gourd. That was followed by a cup of Sideritis (Greek mountain tea), rooibos, and a bowl of matcha. For lunch, I went to H.I.M. Ital and had a small portion of chop-chop and fungi.

Before beginning night editing, I took the Perambulator-Rex for a spin in Van Cortlandt Park with a travel mug of lapsang souchong tea and a Nat Sherman Gotham Westside #500 cigar.

For dinner, Big Kim made an amazing chana masala and I put together a reasonable saag paneer. We had it over jasmine rice with two garlic naan. I gave my plate a blast of heat with my favorite ground habanero powder.

After a late-night workout, I put down twenty ounces of Super Red Drink with psyllium husk, a large bowl of broccoli slaw covered in oil and vinegar, and another bag of frozen mango slices.

Tuesday, October 19
Breakfast didn’t really happen — just munched down a bag of sun-dried hibiscus flowers.

We’re getting ready to do a Filipino episode of Bronx Flavor, so a friend brought over several homemade dishes, three of which I’d never tried: bicol ginataang laing (taro leaves in coconut milk, and shrimp paste), dinakdakan (diced pig’s ear and tongue with lemon juice, and onions), and ginataang langka (pork, young jack fruit, shrimp paste, coconut milk, and ginger). We also threw some spring rolls in the deep fryer and had them with one of my new favorite condiments, suka pinakurat (extra-spicy coconut vinegar).

We went back to Callita’s house to get some pickup shots and I had a bit more giffiti.

That night I had to make an appearance at the Bronx Rotary Club’s Italian Sunset meeting in City Island. I had a mammoth plate of eggplant Parmesan and a big crunchy salad. I grabbed two fruit tarts from the pastry tray before fleeing into the night.

Before starting evening editing, I had a big bowl of the Greek mountain tea and, of course, after the late-night workout I put down twenty ounces of Super Red Drink with psyllium husk and another bag of frozen mango slices.

Wednesday, October 20
I ate what was left of the spring rolls — not sure it was a good idea.

I had a bunch of meetings at BronxNet and went prepared: I brought a red-clay teapot and a yuzamashi to make proper yame gyokuro all morning.

I ate various nuts and dried fruits throughout the day and mentally prepared for a huge dinner.

That night I met some friends at Hunan House in Flushing. The intent was to take absolutely no prisoners: We started out with ox tongue and tripe in spicy red-pepper sauce, spicy bean curd, dried beef, sautéed water spinach, and what I was surprised was my favorite: sour string beans with minced pork. After a Tinsgtao and a few cups of oolong tea, it was time for the big-boy dishes. Sautéed pig’s trotters, smoked Hunan duck, flash-fried lake frog, and a football-size fish head in pickled chili sauce. I went home thrilled by the meal.

When I got home I finished off the night with a small pot of super-earthy 75-year-old pu-erh.

Filmmaker Justin Fornal Pairs Homemade Chicha Morada With His Mom’s