Hot Off The Presses! John Kessler Profiles The Amateur Gourmet

It’s finally here folks, a profile several months in the making. I owe John Kessler a great deal of gratitude for such a generous piece. I owe the photographer a buttered-knuckle sandwich for such a horrible picture:

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I look like a nose with glasses or, worse, Dobby from the Harry Potter movies.

Anyway, apparently the AJC site requires registration to read the article (a time consuming process). If you’re up for that, you can do so here:

Welcome To Adam’s.

Otherwise, allow me to copy and paste the story below.

Welcome to Adam’s

Web site visitors are eating up the kinetic musings of a budding reviewer and gourmet

By JOHN KESSLER

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 06/03/04

In just over two hours, guests will begin arriving at Adam Roberts’ apartment for the 25th birthday party he is throwing for himself. Nothing is ready. He hasn’t made the guacamole. He hasn’t dressed. He hasn’t vacuumed up the copious fluff left in the wake of Lolita, the dour and distrustful Himalayan cat with whom he lives.

And so he sits down at his Mac Powerbook — with his DVD collection of “Freaks and Geeks” and his printout of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” flanking him for inspiration — and types:

“Ok two hours and 15 minutes before people start arriving and there’s so much left to do! Why am I posting on my blog?”

Why, indeed. Why does this recent Emory law school grad record every meal he eats out — whether a lackluster slice at Johnny’s Pizza or an extravagant tasting menu at Per Se, the new Manhattan sibling to California’s French Laundry? And why has he become such a thorn in the side of food cognoscenti?

Why does he post photos of everything? The chicken glop from the hot bar at Whole Foods Market. The warm lobster martini from Aria. The pile of grody napkins he left after eating ribs at Fat Matt’s. The halibut cooked “a la plancha” with roasted spring garlic and arugula pudding from Per Se.

Why did a kid who grew up eating restaurant food every night of the week turn into such an enthusiastic cook that he makes bread from natural starters and cupcakes that look like Janet Jackson’s . . .

. . . OK. Maybe it’s best to start at the beginning, five months ago when Adam Roberts became the Amateur Gourmet.

He posted online, and he was hooked.

Roberts registered at the online food forum eGullet and, last November, began a thread entitled “Charlie Trotter Superdud(a long review).” He started with this disclosure:

“My name is Adam and I am an aspiring gourmet, limited in my pursuit by factors that include: a. budget; b. food knoweldge [sic]; and c. friends with limited pallettes [sic]. No matter. Challenges are opportunities for us to shine: just ask Mary Lou Retton.”

Roberts then proceeded to explain, in words and pictures, why he found the service a bit snotty and the food a bit lackluster at this legendary gourmet Chicago restaurant. Immediately he found himself in dialogue with well-known food figures, such as “Kitchen Confidential” author Anthony Bourdain. Applauded by some, reviled by many, Roberts had suddenly tapped into the passion, glamour and celebrity of the food world. The thread now has more than 300 follow-up postings and more than 16,000 page views.

Roberts launched his blog in January. Soon after the Super Bowl, when the Jackson flap was still funny, he posted a pictorial recipe for sunburst-patterned J.J. cupcakes. The site registered more than 250,000 hits, and CNN’s Jeanne Moos came to his apartment to record a segment.

This one-titter joke was his beginning. Viewers logged in for cupcakes and stayed for dinner.

Roberts posts daily reports of his kitchen experiments and his perambulations through the cheap eastside restaurants favored by Emory students. He ventures into commentary — defending Martha Stewart or satirizing same-sex marriage opponents — and shows a knack for producing hilarious Quicktime movies. In one, his anorexic Barbie doll, whom he named Pancetta, complains about the weight of her friends and demonstrates her recipe for bran flakes and vodka. In another, potatoes, sizzling bacon and a Screwpull bottle opener are given voice as characters in a pornographic movie. Think “Boogie Nights” meets “Mr. Bill.”

He appears in many of the films just as he is in person — talking a mile a minute from behind thick glasses, his tongue working overtime to keep up with the rapid-fire messages from his brain.

Enthusiastic diners

Among Roberts’ audio files is one prank call to the reservationist at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York. He calls as ultraneurotic Pancetta Williams and asks for a meal of vegetables that grows increasingly bizarre — cooked without butter, oil, fat of any kind or water. The restaurant, amazingly, agrees.

But mostly he records his dinners. Calamari at Fritti. Breakfast at Crescent Moon. Nice dinners whenever his parents come to town — fancy places for mom, big-bucks steakhouses for dad.

His parents, Heidi and Bradley Roberts of Boca Raton, Fla., come to town a lot. They stay at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead and take Adam and his friends out to Chops, Fogo de Chão, Bacchanalia, Seeger’s, Aria. New York Prime because they’re once-a-week regulars at the branch in Boca Raton. They gladly submit to photographs of themselves and their food. Heidi Roberts looks equally resplendent in each photo, her smile always at full mast. How does she do it?

“She has a patented technique,” Adam Roberts says. “She starts laughing — ‘heh, heh, heh’ — to get the smile ready.”

Heidi Roberts loves having her picture taken, especially if there’s a famous person standing next to her. “My parents’ definition of a good restaurant is not if the food is good, but if celebrities go there,” says Adam. They are what he calls “celebrity stalkers.” The den in the family house is plastered floor to ceiling of pictures of the Robertses with Woody Allen, Ben Stein, Cheri Oteri, Helen Gurley Brown, Wolf Blitzer, Barry Manilow, Sammy Sosa, Geoffrey Rush. For starters.

“The best one is of my mom with J. Lo and Puff Daddy,” says Adam. When they were pointed out, “she went running up to this guy and said, ‘I love your music,’ and it was their bodyguard. But they were nice about the picture.”

Celebrity alert

The parents once sent their other son, Michael, into a restaurant restroom after Billy Joel so that they could catch them exiting together.

The Robertses are celebrities in their own right as far as some restaurant workers are concerned. Last month a waiter at Emeril’s Atlanta came running to their table at lunch, having recognized them from their patronage of Emeril’s Orlando.

Mrs. Roberts loves it. The waiter apologizes that the corn bread here has less jalapeño than at Emeril’s Orlando. She cuts it into pieces to better slather it with butter. At her side is a Chanel bag filled with Chanel makeup. She explains that she gave up any attempts at cooking early in her marriage.

“I took a gourmet cooking class when I was younger, but he,” she says, motioning at her taciturn husband, “is such a picky eater. So what did I do? I gave [all the food] to the neighbors.” At the Roberts home, even the Thanksgiving turkey is catered.

Did Adam ever cook as a kid? He tried to make eggs once, got burned and still has the scar. “It wasn’t until after college that I tried again,” he admits.

But now he cooks during the time he’s not studying for law school finals, studying for the bar, posting on his blog and applying to creative writing programs, since he has no intention of ever becoming a lawyer. “I was very much shoved into law school by my parents,” he admits.

Adam Roberts has more bottled energy than there is oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. He makes fancy cakes, ice cream and marshmallows, the latter of which he presents in a Quicktime movie edited chronologically backward, à la “Memento.” His biggest cooking project has been bread prepared with a starter of fermenting grapes. His non-feline roommate, best friend and classmate Lauren Schwartzreich, says it made their apartment “smell like rotting corpses.”

A sometime star

Adam Roberts is the celebrity in a world of his making — actor in his films (playing the German raw-foods chef; Pancetta the disordered Barbie; the well-hung potato), writer of his dialogue, diarist, family chronicler.

People are linking to his site for the humorous writing, for the pictures of his meal at Per Se (which he really didn’t much care for) and for the film of Lolita dreaming of grilled salmon but living with kibble. Yet, he admits, most of his hits come from people looking for Janet Jackson. First on his reference list one day is someone who Googled “big naked breast.”

He’ll take it. As long as people are reading what he has to write.

Recently, Roberts found out that he has been accepted to the Tisch School of Dramatic Writing at New York University and is a finalist for the playwriting program at Juilliard. First he has to take his bar exam. And blog at length about his recent meal of all-you-can-eat salad and pizza at the Patio in Inman Park. It apparently was only fair.

12 comments

  1. Congratulations Adam, you were the talk of my office. “Who is this Adam Blog? Josh, do you know Adam Blog?” they asked.

    (The print edition of the AJC, you see, features the large title, “Welcom to Adam’s BLOG” – an apparent point of confusion for some readers who glossed over the ” ‘s “.)

    My only quibble with the article: I, not Adam Blog, was actually the voice of the “well-hung potato” in the classic film “Food Porn.” There, I’ve admitted it. I can now kiss my political career goodbye. Smooch.

  2. What a pleasure to read about you and your numerous accomplishments in the AJC today! We here on eGullet have long enjoyed your contributions and wish you well in this newest endeavor!

  3. A fantastic column, Adam! But the pic definitely did not do you justice. Readers, let me tell you that Adam is one handsome fellow!

    And who knew that your parents were celebrity stalkers? Their home photo website is amazing – and a little scary.

    In the immortal words of Lawrence Welk, “Wunnerful, wunnerful, dat’s jus wunnerful.”

  4. What a nice article. What an odd picture. You appear to be leering suggestively at a cupcake. But hey, any press is good press :) Can you update us on Julliard?

  5. HI

    I found your site from the AJC article today, what did you do to get a front page spot, man.

    Anyhow your site is really nice, I am wondering if you use “moveable type” or if not what you use to make such a nice blog.

    Thanks,

    Joey Joeseph

  6. Wow, this is really a huge step for this blog. What I really liked about the article is that it filled me in on little things that I had missed.

    Congradulations, Adam, and keep up the good (and hilarious, well written, up-to-date) work!

  7. Congrats! My favorite: “Applauded by some, reviled by many, Roberts tap[s] into the passion, glamour and celebrity of the food world”

    Fabulous! You deserve all the success and celebrity that will surely come. My only question is – What are you still doing in Bar/Bri? xoxo

  8. Loved the article in AJC and am now obsessively reading your website archives trying to catch myself up. Question…the paper listed your mom’s website with her celebrity photos and I threw it away…any way you could forward that?

    Thanks!

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