One In A Million... a million people live, work and play in upstate New York's Catskills region. These are their life stories... in their own words.
Series produced by Kent Garrett
Photo editing and website design by Ed Kirstein
Bob Block :
Everybody Eats When They Come to His House
Bob Block transcript:
At 8:40 on Monday or Friday mornings if you are in the Catskills or anywhere in the world, that’s right anywhere, if you turn you radio, your smart phone or your computer to WIOX you’ll hear Bob’s FoodCast… that would be Bob Block--- radio personality and cook extraordinaire.
Here is his story in his own words:
I grew up in the Bronx and Yonkers. And, the fantastic thing about growing up in the city and in and around the city, Yonkers was one block away from the city. We moved to Westchester because that was the status at the time… 55 years ago was not living in the Bronx… but, my Dad coming home from work and being so proud that he got a ten dollar raise and said to my Mom, I got a ten dollar a week raise, we are moving to Westchester. And, so there we were on Bronx River road in Yonkers, one block away from the Bronx. But, I’m in Westchester schools now. So, the migration from there was up to Tarrytown during high school but I finished high school in Yonkers. And, I went to Boston for school and stayed there for 30 plus years… met my wife, raised my family in Boston, Brookline. And, then after my wife passed away, I went to Washington, DC to sort of get out of town. My kids were grown, they were in college and I wanted a change of pace. The Washington, DC area afforded me a position to work inside media, which I have been doing for 30 plus years. It was my good buddy Joe Piasek, who said, “Enough already”. Come on up. Now, I had visited this area of the world, originally in high school… following Woodstock.
Q – Growing up what did you want to do? What kind of kid were you?
Growing up, I was the spirited slash troublesome child. I was the one who was creatively thinking about how to get around all the systems… yet, stay within the systems to the extent that I could. I was the one, who during Senior Prank day decided to alleviate a hardware store of about sixty lawn chairs in high school and bring them to the front lawn of the school and set them up with umbrellas and paint on the front of the school Lincoln Country Club… so that we could all hang out and party with wine sacks, etc,etc.
Q- Did that get you in trouble?
Well, it is interesting. They brought me to the office and said they were going to suspend me and I said, what does that mean exactly and they said that means you can’t come to school for two weeks… that is your punishment. And, I said, well, let me get this straight: So, I did something really wrong and my punishment is that I get out of here for two weeks? I mean, you are kidding of course? Right? So, I can sit home or lay in bed all morning and watch the Flintstones… that’s a real great punishment. And, the principal looked at me and said, well, what would you do? And, this is where my big mouth has always gotten me into trouble. So, he said what would you do? I say, hey, I‘d give me a tooth brush and tell me to clean the cafeteria floor and you are not leaving until 6 o’clock every night… and that is punishment. He said good… that’s now going to be your punishment. So, my spiritedness also got me into, often, a lot of trouble.
Q – Well, what did you want to be, growing up?
I ah…My first job vocation was I wanted to be a rabbi.
Q – Really?
Yes, around the time of my Bar Mitzvah… a little after 10 until about 15 years old, I thought being a rabbi was a great job.
Because, it was clear that this was a guy who could lead a congregation and I thought the leadership thing was cool and I had it a little bit in me… so, I thought. We were even in elementary school, middle school, etc… you know, people gravitated to for one reason or another. So, the leadership thing was attractive. The sort of preaching to a congregation and writing speeches and public speaking… that was attractive. But, most importantly what was really attractive and always in the back of my mind was helping people. It always seemed like whatever was going on in our community the rabbi was there to help… that the rabbi will have the answer. In almost a very antiquated way, my grandparents and parents would say when some dilemma… and automatically would come up, “Oh, the rabbi will know”. Really, what thinks I rabbi will know anything… ah, he knows.
Q- So, I assume you became dispossessed of the idea at some point?
Well, it took too much study. I wasn’t the best student in the world, until many years later. As a matter of fact, I purposely transferred colleges… when I started college it was in Connecticut at Quinnipiac College, where I met Joe and we were roommates for a while. And, I wanted to study media at that point. And, with those of the media course being offered. The only three schools on the east coast at the time, in the mid ‘70s was Syracuse in New York, Emerson and Boston University… where Howard Stern went to school at the same time I was at Emerson. So, I wanted a mass media degree and was very attracted to radio. Joe had just started the radio station at Quinnipiac and I was doing a show there forty years ago and so I wanted to do a radio show, which I did in Emerson and studied broadcast journalism. I wanted to start my career as a journalist. Again, it was that notion of helping people understand and dissect information… deliver information and help them dissect it.
Q – Well, how did you get into the cooking thing?
That has just been personal interest.
Q – Really?
I grew up in a family… first, of all, I grew up in an apartment building. And, so there were no playgrounds. There was no house with a giant kitchen. There was no… you know, I played on the roof. I played in the street. I played in playgrounds to play basketball and it is… an urban existence is very different from a suburban or a rural existence. And, that links to food. Food in an urban existence comes out of a can or out of your freezer…. especially, in the 60’s. TV dinners are persuasive, cans of vegetables are persuasive… buying packages of meat in the supermarket and freezing them and eating them for dinner that night. Moms are just starting to work a little bit and not just stay at home moms in urban environments… the more expensive to live in. So, my mom was a secretary at the United Way in White Plains. My dad worked for IBM. She would come home at the end of the day, defrost a piece of chop meat or steak… throw it in the broiler… no grilles, no open air… open up a can of peas. And, I thought that was food. It is why I have so much respect for what Michelle Obama is trying to do… to teach inner city kids that food actually come from the ground. And, let’s go back even further, it comes from a seed. And, let’s go through the process. Even in urban Washington, which is reasonably a disgusting area… let’s take these kids out of this area and teach them that here’s where our food comes from. It’s a seed you plant in the ground, you nurture it, you water it… oh, by the way, there is a cow… there’s a lamb. These are live creatures… including plants that we sustain ourselves on. And, so I became interested in food when I went to college for the first time and I thought cafeteria food was great… cause I had never tasted anything so tasty and my friends made fun of me and said, “You’ve got to be kidding… this is the worse crap we have ever eaten.” I said “No, no… this is really good stuff… it didn’t come out of the can per se.” So, I began to get interested in… all about food. Now, the first trip I took to England. I lived there for six months. I travelled throughout Scandinavia, and Germania, if you will, and was very intrigued by the food and the cultural differences everywhere. I put myself through college for the large part working in delicatessens. But, food was always part of my repertoire and wherever I was, I would try and take cooking lessons… try to understand some level of historical perspective about food.
Q – Well, that is interesting…
And, then it stayed with me forever. Becoming a businessman many years later, I found myself in Japan for six week stints and because, even though the work ethic in Japan is about 30 times more than it is here… 18 hour days, 7 days a week… sleeping in, and it is no joke, sleeping in slabs, sometimes for three or four hours at a time… and, then go back to work in the same clothes. The culture is very, very different when it comes to work ethic. I found on the weekends I would travel to towns like Kyoto and other cities on the bullet train and take cooking lessons.
Q – Last question, ten, fifteen years from now, what do you want to be doing? What is Bob Block going to be up to?
Hopefully, above ground or not in an urn on someone’s mantel… those are the two things I don’t want to do fifteen years from now. What I want to do fifteen years from now is continue to learn.