May 28, 2010 — -- We have an old habit of assigning powers to food that have nothing to do with calories. The lotus-eaters found paradise in the act of sustenance. The Greeks convened feasts to calm and exalt the gods. Buddhist gurus gorge on oranges to dissipate bad karma. And there was that one apple that blew it for everybody.
Chef Adam Perry Lang has his own ideas of the mystical power of food. He sees it as a kind of lingua franca, a magical instrument that allows him to understand and be understood, no matter whom he's feeding or where he's eating.
"One of the greatest things, which I've found, and I think I've figured it out later on in life, was that food is a great connector to people," Perry Lang said. "I'm very social and I love to meet people. I realize that if I get into it, I can literally talk to [them], whether it's an executive from Microsoft or it's just a home cook in Thailand. It levels the field completely.
"So I realize that I can literally bypass the whole process of the awkwardness of kind of meeting somebody and literally be right there with them. We can communicate, even if we don't speak the same language. For me, that was the greatest gift."
Best known as a virtuoso practitioner of the barbecue arts, Perry Lang distilled his expertise through a variety of culinary traditions. Of particular note is his training in French cuisine. He started under Daniel Boulud at Le Cirque in New York City while he was still a student at the Culinary Institute of America. From Le Cirque he went to Daniel, and then to the hallowed Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris.
Perry Lang became an urban barbecue pioneer with his first restaurant, Daisy May's BBQ in New York. Recent projects include Carnevino, with partner chef Mario Batali and restaurateur Joe Bastianich in Las Vegas; and Barbecoa, with partner British chef Jamie Oliver in London. Perry Lang is the author, most recently, of "BBQ 25: The World's Most Flavorful Recipes, Now Made Foolproof."
With the approach of Memorial Day and its promise of a hundred million American grillouts, "Nightline" sought out Perry Lang for his take on life, his thoughts on food and -- most importantly -- his tips for BBQ.
Perry Lang was born in Brooklyn, reared on Long Island and exported to Wisconsin for college. The standout memories of food from his youth, he said, involve trips to a French bakery. He grows so animated with the memory it's as if he's back there, tasting it all again.
"What was interesting was Sunday morning breakfast. It was a ritual," Perry Lang said. "I would get up with my father, and we would go to a place called La Patisserie, which was on the Miracle Mile [on Long Island]. It was a little French place, and we would get éclairs, and it was exotic!
"I mean, that was exotic back then to get all those petits fours, and we'd make hash brown potatoes, and put them into a paper bag and shake them to take the oils out. It was just like a whole ritual, and I loved it! The Sundays were the thing. The food wasn't like over the top, but it was really a time where the family got together. It just was special."
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When the future chef eventually took matters in the kitchen into his own hands, it was to make the rather unlikely jump from breakfast cereal to drumsticks wrapped in Italian ham.