About Manny Howard

Manny Howard is the founder of Stunt Foodways International and is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning journalist. He has written for New York Times Magazine, Mens journal, GQ, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, New York Observer and more, and he has appeared on The Colbert Report. Howard is also the author of the runaway hit memoir My Empire of Dirt and recently contributed (along with Stephen King, Jim Harrison and Mario Batali) to the essay collection Man with a Pan.

The Thanksgiving Day Massacre


Managed to get in the middle of it after lunch last Friday. Sitting in the car finishing up some correspondence on the thumb devil one minute, breaking up a fight outside that badguy social club next to the Chip Shop on Fifth Avenue the next.
Press send on a text and through the rear view mirror I’ve got one middle-aged man pounding, stiff as a statue, on a morbidly obese member planted on a chair outside the club. His assailant is screaming curses in time with the blows he’s landing and Fatty has his arms up protecting his face, but he’s getting the worst of it. I drop out of our Luxury German Automobile like a cross teacher on the playground. As I’m marching round the back bumper towards these graceless gladiators it becomes clear that the assailant isn’t entirely talentless, but he is drunk as a Lord.
Game changer. As I close on the melee Fatty launches off his chair fist first, connecting with Drunky’s nose. A testament to Newton’s Second Law, Fatty has no swing, just locked shoulder, elbow and wrist. And even with its paltry acceleration, when Fatty’s doughy fist makes contact with Drunky’s nose it’s all about the multiplier of Fatty’s enormous mass. The nose splatters, flattening instantly against Drunky’s face. Fatty doesn’t hang around to celebrate, rather continues, his arch uninterrupted, on his course, landing, a modest hillock, in the middle of the sidewalk. Too blasted to realize that his profile has been irrevocably altered, Drunky begins kicking Fatty who tries vainly to roll over on his back.

Fat Johnny flattens Drunky's nose as he falls to the floor... inert

I am joined in my peace-making efforts by a pair of ruffians drawn out from the interior of the club by Drunky’s unceasing invective.
The club, a VFW Hall in name only, is a Known Location, so as you’d expect, the new arrivals aren’t the least bit concerned about the condition of the screaming drunk with the destroyed face. They are looking out for their own. A deeply-muscled thug pulls up in a tow truck, leaps into the street and chases Drunky through traffic off across the street where, face streaming blood, he stands defiant, if weaving unsteadily, and begins taunting Fatty. “Bury me? Bury me? You’ll bury me?”
Outnumbered now, Drunky appears satisfied to stand his ground, shouting from a safe distance. Tow Truck joins the three of us and together we haul Fatty–cold to the touch and completely disoriented, likely in the throws of massive heart attack–back into his chair. Tow Truck and the two ruffians are joined by an amigo (“Johnny? You okay, Johnny?”) and all four implore Johnny… “Fat” Johnny… to stay put in the chair. Fat Johnny just stares out on the scene like he is a million miles away.
Once satisfied that Fat Johnny is okay (which he absolutely is not), the ruffians pat him on the back, bid Fat Johnny take it easy and lope off in different directions away from the club.
Unattended, Fat Johnny immediately heaves himself out of his chair and back into the fray. Before he can take a single step he falls flat on his face, lets out a low moan, and lies stone still. I’m closest, so I’m first to try to grab him up. Joined by Tow Truck and yet another denizen of the VFW we drag the inert Fat Johnny back into his chair. “Maybe he should drink some water?” I suggest, certain he is dead.
“Yeah, water. Here Johnny, some water. Johnny, over here. Drink water. You okay.”
“Don’t move Johnny. Drink water,” says tow truck looking up and down the avenue. Drunky, still unaware he has no nose, is leaning heavily on a mailbox, berating Fat Johnny.”
“Okay,” says Tow Truck. “We’re good. Stay here Johnny. Drink water.” Johnny has touched a drop. That’s the best part, every new bad guy who swoops in to help is trying desperately to move on as soon as he arrives. Nobody wants to be around if the cops show up. I keep my eye on Tow Truck. He’s the smart one, a man of action, too. Tow Truck keeps his eye on me. We’re both wondering what I’m still doing on the scene.

Combat King's tow truck

When we aren’t sizing each other up, scrupulously avoiding eye contact, Tow Truck is scanning for the avenue for official response. My gaze follows his. Drunky could have friends too. That would be bad.
Fat Johnny either falls asleep or dies.
It’s time to go.
Tow Truck hops into his ride and guns the huge engine, I’m back in the Luxury German Automobile, and the remaining ruffians vanish around corners and disappear into storefronts. It’s over. The only guys left on the block are Fat Johnny and Drunky.

Just Nail the Fish to the Fence and Preheat the Oven, Honey


Lisa just loves the greenmarket on Cortelyou Road. Every Sunday she returns with a report about how it has grown, or how busy it is. She presents the week’s trophy fruit or vegetable. This week Lisa said she’d purchased the most gorgeous fish. She called it a striper. I smirked. Nobody sells whole stripers at the greenmarket. Hours passed. Lisa worked intensely cleaning up after the painters. Howard Hall was more in the weeds than usual. The playroom ceiling had been replaced.
I did nothing. Worse than nothing, I played SPORE for the entire afternoon (I’d ordered the game when it first came out, but was only now trying it out. It’s completely absorbing).
The sun set. The kids argued. “So are you gonna cook this fish, or what?” demanded Lisa.
“Me?” shaking free from the care and feeding of my gayly painted two-legged carnivore with antlers, long, bony hands for grasping and nasty biting teeth. “I’m cooking the fish?”
“It’s too big for me to cook. And its got scales.”
“What is it?”
“I told you, a striper.”
“A bass? You mean a ‘sea bass.'”
“A striped bass.”
“Like this?” I asked, holding my hands seven inches apart.
“Much bigger.”

I held my hands nine inches apart. Lisa shook her head.
“A legal striped bass is 28 inches minimum.”
“At least.” Lisa nodded her head.
You bought a wild bass at the greenmarket? Not scaled? Is it gutted?”
“Nope,” said Lisa losing patience with my condescending questions. “The lady said it wasn’t hard to do.”
“It’s not, if you’ve done it a hundred times, but it’s always messy as hell.”
“Forget it!” Lisa stormed. “I thought it’d be fun. I’ll just throw it away. We’ll just have chicken fingers.”
“Throw it AWAY? A striper? Shit.”
“Forget it. You don’t have to do anything. I will. Just tell me how.”
“Tell you how?”
No problem, I taunted, all you need to do is remove the fins, scrape every single last scale of four square feet of fish skin, cut it from its gills to its anus and tug free a couple-three handfuls of icy cold fish guts. Oh, and then clean the god forsaken mess up before even turning on the stove. All at 6:30 on a Sunday. With that I stormed into the garage, found a ten-penny nail and a framing hammer, grabbed the fish (sure enough it had the tin tag looped from gob to gill vent) from on top of the cooler.
“Nice fish,” I said, impressed.
“I told you,” said Lisa.
I nailed the fish’s tail to the fence, turned to Lisa who was cold, and heading back inside. “No way. If I’m going to process this fish in the dark, you’re holding the flashlight.”
After some to-do I recovered two respectable fillets. After pawning off the guts and carcass on the chickens, I picked what remained of the broad leaves from the spindly fig tree and washed my hands and the leaves thoroughly. I sliced the fillets into single-serving pieces and then placed alternating layers–fig leaves, seasoned fish, olive oil–until the baking dish was full. The fish baked at a high heat to draw out the flavor and aroma from the fig leaves. I served it all with baked spaghetti squash seasoned with Chinese Five Spice (fennel, cloves, and cinnamon, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns) and steamed broccoli. (7 servings in 50 minutes, not including fish processing)

Arrive Alive: Collioure, France to NYC


Awake before the fishermen of Collioure (I know because I went down to the wharf to see if I could watch them prep for the day, before hitting the road).
I arrive before the airport opens in Perpignan
Thunderstorms at Orly delay departure from Perpignan, chopping away at Orly-CDG transfer opportunity
20E bribe to cabby to get me to CDG before noon works.
Roll into CSG just in time for scores of soldiers (or some such with assault rifles) to compress 10 check-in gates into two because, as one airport employee explains, “We have bomb, here, msr.”
Nobody gives a shit. everybody pushing to get to a kiosk to check in. Bad info is flying all over the place. kiosks are smoking and going dark, then BANG!… not BOOM… some poor twat has just had all his traveling worldlies (or the appalling sex toys he was afraid to reveal to security) that he’d left unattended detonated under a heap of lead blankets and a ballistic plastic blast shield.
Crown applauds lustily, goes back to dog-eat-doggery of airport check-in.
Dressed smart in jacket and proper shirt, I haughtily wave my passport and skip past the functionary at the first class/VIP security line. She calls out “Are you with them?” gesturing to three similarly attired travelers, I nod, of course, silly.
I arrive at The gate to discover, Air France has overbooked flight 018 to Newark and me (and the exit row seat I’ve human engineered) have been put on stand-by list until a late-arriving connecting flight from god knows where has arrived and (this was unstated, but obvious) those ticket-holders with more Air France frequent travel miles than me can board first.
Oh no I haven’t, I explain. I’m here now, hon. I’ve got a seat. Says so right here, it’s called 29J and I’m sitting in it. When your late arriving friends show up, they can have whatever seats are left, but I’m here, and I’ll have my seat thanks ever so much.
She tells me I do not understand.
I explain that I understand perfectly clearly, I just don’t agree with the plan.
I’m here, they’re not: My seat. Now please check me through, thank you.
Non, msr. Please you to wait. It will be okay.
Agreed… As long as my ass is in 29J, madame.
Don’t make trouble for all of us, spits an old duck from America, with a mix of anger and fear on her face, also in the stand-by line.
This isn’t trouble, hon. Trouble comes when I dont get my seat. I return her pinched disapproval with a dark menacing smile, and then clock a second gate attendant flirting with a gray haired French man (I hope he’s French, if he’s not, the outfit is inexcusable) while both lean over examining the flight information. I wait, patient/courteous, for the flirting to stop. She and I talk. We are reasonable people. We smile, we laugh sardonically about the bomb; scare c’est la vie and all that. She speaks with The Shrew guarding the gate. Time passes. My name is mispronounced over the klaxon. Air France is ready to board ticket-holder Chaahrlz OW-ahrd. Shortly after I board the shuttle bus to the plane, The Old Duck boards the bus, as well, trying not to make eye-contact.
You get in trouble, too? I ask.
She hates me.

An Essay from Powell’s.com about writing “My Empire of Dirt”


When I talk to people about My Empire of Dirt, I tell some outrageous stories from the year I spent turning my back yard in Flatbush, Brooklyn, into a farm that would, with the exception of salt, pepper, and coffee beans, sustain me for at least a month. Some of the tales are — or at least are intended to be — funny, some provocative, some poignant, and some heartbreaking. And when I finally finish talking, the first question is always, “Do you still have the farm?

Hell yes, I reply, and then immediately I equivocate, call it a marriage-preserving compromise.