If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hand sanitizer and the electric toothbrush. We asked chef Jonathan Waxman about the pen, olive oil, and polo shirts he can’t live without.
Most salt that you buy, I’m sorry to say, has been chemically altered with anti-caking ingredients or some other kind of nonsense. Maldon is a pure product. It has this flakiness to it; you can crush it in your fingers to turn it from coarse salt into fine salt. Also, Maldon is saltier than other salts. I don’t know why that is; it’s not actually saltier chemically, but it tastes saltier. Sometimes you even get crystals that look like snow crystals. It’s a good last-minute additive on caramel ice cream, or to get a little bit of a crunch or on steaks. In salads too. Fish is also the best with Maldon. I keep it right next to the stove — actually, I keep two different kinds of salt there. I’ve got Maldon salt and then I’ve got a Brittany salt. The Brittany salt is a little more chunky. I like that too, but for different things. This I’ll use on everything.
I’m from California. I like T-shirts, and these are basically a formal T-shirt. I have them in every color, probably 50 at a minimum. I love that they’re long in the back but short in the front; that I can wear one to the beach or wear one to a fancy dinner. And they get better with age — after a couple of washes, they’re perfect. I first saw them on the guy that organized Woodstock, Michael Lang. In the 1970 documentary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music, he’s wearing a blue Lacoste polo shirt. When I saw it, I thought it was the coolest-looking shirt in the world, and have worn them ever since. That was many, many years ago. Whenever I wear one on TV, they want me to cover up the logo or wear something else. It’s always an issue, but I still wear them, because I love them.
I’m all about blue. I wear blue. I have a blue Sharpie to sign books with. I write everything in blue ink. It’s just the best color. This particular pen is great — it has a fine point to it, which I like. Plus, it just feels good. It doesn’t exude too much ink, so it lasts a long time. I like to doodle, so it’s a good pen for doodling. I do all the designing for my restaurants, and draw everything out. I do menu design. I do physical design. I do kitchen design. I do exhaust design. I write out recipes too. I think the pen makes my ugly handwriting look palatable, so I can almost read it and other people can kind of read it. Sometimes, I’ll forget a pen is in my pocket and will throw one in the wash. That’s a really bad idea — don’t wash the pens. Though they actually don’t blow up very much when that happens. They’re pretty well made.
Olive oil is such a complicated subject. It’s hours of discussion. I can definitely taste the difference between olive oils from different regions. In the Mediterranean, there are many different kinds of olive oil. You start in Spain and Gibraltar and go clockwise around the Mediterranean Sea. As you go around, there are great French oils. There are great Italian oils. There are wonderful Greek and Turkish and Syrian and Lebanese and Israeli and Egyptian and Tunisian and Moroccan oils. You get it. This Italian one from Liguria has a freshness and brightness unlike any of those other oils I mentioned. It’s almost like the sun shined perfectly on those olive trees. I first had it in Liguria in 1976, when I was in cooking school in Paris. And it just blew my mind. I had the oil with mesclun lettuce and salt — nothing else. It has a viscosity that’s just perfect, delicate and not too heavy. It’s fruity without being overpowering, and slightly bitter without being texturally different. The nice thing is that it’s a universal oil, so you can actually cook with it. I should also mention that you should buy it in small containers because it goes bad quickly in about three to four weeks — all olive oil does. Some people keep it in the refrigerator, but I think it does something weird in the refrigerator. And don’t be shy with it.
Shure is one of the oldest audio companies in America. It’s from Chicago and it still makes everything in America. If you’ve ever seen a concert, chances are whomever it is will be using a Shure microphone. I was a trombone player, so I played onstage and stuck my horn into a lot of Shure microphones over the years. When I heard that it made earphones, I got the cheapest pair — the 215s — and then worked my way up to the 535s. They deliver the clearest sound. I’m always listening to music, always on Tidal. It has what it calls a hi-fi streaming service, which you pay extra for — it’s a higher resolution sound and it really does matter. I also like the way Tidal organizes things. It’s so easy for dummies like me. When I cook, I always play something loud: rock and roll, James Brown, Marvin Gaye. Sometimes I listen to Mozart when I cook, too.
Shortbread was the first recipe I ever made, when I was 7 years old. I made it from the Joy of Cooking. I would like to make shortbread cookies more often, but now I just buy them. Walkers are better than any ones I could make. Actually, I don’t know about that — but Walkers has been making shortbread for more than a century. They bake it just right: not undercooked, not overcooked. Firm but crumbly, with a great bite. I eat these cookies year-round — shortbread for every season, every day. I’m kidding, but I do eat them a lot. My wife knows they’re a weakness of mine. And if you dip them in chocolate, it’s not such a bad thing.