Meet & Eat: Jeff Orlick, 'Food Ambassador' Coordinator at 'Jeffrey Tastes'/'I Want More Food'
I've been following the blog Jeffrey Tastes/I Want More Food for a while now and am friends with its proprietor, Jeff Orlick, on Twitter and Yelp. He's proven insightful and full of good advice over the time I've been following him.I really dig his "Food Ambassador" program, so I thought I'd put him in the hot seat and have him tell you about it here. —AK
Name: Jeff Orlick
Location: Roosevelt Avenue/Jackson Heights subway stop
Occupation: TV production
How long have you been blogging at Jeffrey Tastes?
My first post was nearly 3 years ago. It was about why we break bread. I didn't even realize Jeffrey Tastes was the blog name until this year. Some people think it's my name. I'm starting to go along with it.
Wait! What do you mean you didn't realize the name of the blog was "Jeffrey Tastes"? That's always caused me some confusion when looking at your site. I'm not sure if it's "I Want More Food" or "Jeffrey Tastes." How can you NOT KNOW THE NAME OF YOUR OWN BLOG?!?!?
What's in a name? That which we call a blog by any other name would read just as well. I figure one name or the other will emerge one day the victor.
Why did you start?
I started writing on Yelp. I had my 7-year-old niece writing reviews and then her account was deleted for violating the Terms of Service. I didn't want my account deleted, too, with all my work, so I started backing it up on my own site. I also wanted a place to write articles beyond reviews.
What makes Jeffrey Tastes different from other food blogs?
I'm not doing food porn. I'm trying to get people to go outside and experience something new. Apart from reviews, musings, and guides, I organize eating experiences mostly in Queens, but also all around the city too—for free.
I don't understand why there are so few other Queens writers like me; here is the mecca for exciting food. I'm at the cross section of the most diverse city in the world. I have Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona, Woodside, Flushing, and Astoria within arm's reach. I'm reporting from ground zero.
I would love to see other people getting gnarly with a Queens food blog, but I am only aware of azrihaeatsworld.xanga.com, Sara Markel-Gonzalez from Under the 7 (and Serious Eats: New York), and World's Fare with Joe DiStefano actually getting gnarly.
The Food Ambassador Program is something that really caught my eye. Can you explain it in a nutshell?
The idea is to have dinner with a family from another country.
We have someone passionate about a culture or cuisine lead a group of about 12 diners. They choose any restaurant in the city, order their dream meal, and eat for free. The added cost to the guests is only a few dollars, so everyone wins. All the ambassador has to do is explain what they are eating and why they are eating it. They don't necessarily have to be a guru, they just have to be willing to spread the joys of their food. I tell the ambassadors to be an artist of the table and order only what they love to eat—not to pander to the guests. It usually works out to be an incredible meal and a great learning experience.
I'm always looking to solve problems like why people don't go into unfamiliar restaurants. One roadblock is just walking in the door, another is not knowing what to order. This solves that.
How many ambassadorships have you catalyzed so far?
Eight since it began in February. It's been on hiatus during the 5-Boro Pizza Tour but will be returning full force in July. We've done Filipino, French, Tex-Mex, American barbecue, a Flushing tour, South Indian via Little India, and more. There are many people who are passionate about something and don't realize the knowledge they are capable of imparting, also people who see a simple thing like barbecue and don't think there's much to it. But for the people who went on the barbecue event, they've learned the cuisine is incredibly deep. And for some ambassadors, they've learned how much they know that most people have no idea about.
How does a person go about becoming an ambassador in your program?
If you are passionate about a culture, please contact me through my site. If you love the food, you cannot fail: iwantmorefood.com/ambassador-program
What if someone just wants to go along with an ambassador tour?
Then you will eat well and have a great time. Send me your contact info through my site and I will put you on the mailing list. The guestlist is formed first respond, first seated. I don't post the event announcements publicly, I only show the write-ups. The write-ups are an extremely important aspect of the ambassador program because the knowledge is spread infinitely when it goes online. I do not want to limit the experience to just 12 people.
The guest list fills up very quickly. Optimally I would have one every week so more people would be able to go.
What's the next one? And when?
I'm working on a Bolivian one. Date TBA.
Wow. That truly is a cool program and one that resonates with all of us at Serious Eats HQ and, I'm sure, all the SE'rs reading this. Thanks for explaining. Now it's time for some of our standard-issue "Meet & Eat" questions....
Everyone has a go-to person they hit up for restaurant recommendations. In reading your site and from what you've just told us, I'm sure you play that role in many folks' lives, but who do you turn to?
I generally go by my own whim and follow my nose, but I do have a great network of Queensites and food people who are sometimes referenced in my site. However, the main individual I consult whenever I go on a trip is Holly Moore of Hollyeats.com.
Holly's site is great. I love that he uses "grease stains" as his rating system. What's the best recommendation he's given you?
Probably Walter's in Mamaroneck, New York.
Best ______ in NYC ... Go!
I'm just going play along and give answers without going into the argument about the word best.
Yeah. I know that's a freighted word. We'll consider these "places Jeff Orlick loves." Continue. Burger: Shake Shack. It's perfect.
- Pizza: Salvatore of Soho in Staten Island
- Taco: Al pastor from Beky's in Corona
- Barbecue: Are kebabs barbecue? If so, then from Kababish in Jackson Heights
- Dessert: Gray's Papaya hot dog
- Food cart: One of the Ecuadoran ladies on Roosevelt Avenue/Elmhurst Avenue. The one with her trays teetering on a shopping cart has the most character, but I'm still trying to discern who has the best chicharrones
- Cheap eats: Cuatro Vientos taco truck in Woodside. Don't come for lunch, they are only out when the sun goes down
- Undiscovered gem: Jeez, my whole life is undiscovered gems. Let's start with Villacolombia Bakery on 82nd Street in Elmhurst
Wow. Thanks! Great list. Hot dogs for dessert? You're crazy, man! What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it?
Lunch. No other meal is worth mention. I can't even remember the last proper breakfast I've had. Lunch allows you time to digest and enjoy the food completely. Also, it's lighter in the wallet. Lately I've been going to Fiesta Grill for Filipino food in Woodside. They have about 25 selections on the steam tables at all times. Even though they only opened a few months ago, it's constantly busy so the food is always fresh.
Do you ever cook? What's the best dish you make?
I love to cook. Unfortunately there aren't enough meals in a day. One dish I make better than anyone else is tostones. The trick is to dip them in saltwater, double fry, and smash them vertically. That's not the order, so my secret is still safe. I am always searching for someone who can do it better than me—similar to Dr. Mario. Haven't yet.
When did you know you were a serious eater?
The day I got my name printed on American Hamburger Company's ceiling. Actually, no, I wouldn't even consider myself a serious eater. I like to explore and I happen to pay special attention to taste. Food is an incredible way to share culture. If it wasn't for food, I probably wouldn't care to know about the people of Angola.
What other events or projects are you working on?
Roosevelt Avenue Street Cart Crawl on June 27
The last Jackson Heights Food Group in late July
Midnight Roosevelt Avenue Street Cart Crawl in late August
5-Boro Pizza Ride (one day, one bicycle), late summer
Midnight Pizza Crawl in fall
Flushing Mall Grazing Experience in winter
And, our Craigslist killer, roommateswantednyc.com, going citywide this summer
Thanks for the interview, Jeff. It's been fun and insightful. If you didn't catch his website throughout the Q&A here, folks, once again it's iwantmorefood.com.