Always Hungry to Meet "Johnny" Apple

I was sitting at the bar at Kinkead's Restaurant one autumn evening in 1997, when my barstool mate whispered, "Hey, there's "Johnny" Apple, sitting over there having dinner!" I remember replying with a big quizzical, "Who?"

It didn't take long for this new online food journalist in town to begin following the byline of the veteran war correspondent and esteemed food and travel writer for the New York Times. Apple, who died yesterday at the age of 71, lived a life of culinary adventure that I yearned to experience, and his writing became (and has continued to be) my guide to delicious, exotic places I had hoped to explore one day, too. As recently as this past Sunday, I traveled to Apple's Singapore, yet another destination on the to-do list.

When he wasn't trotting the globe with his wife, Betsey, Apple lived here in Washington, a stroke of geographic luck that I had hoped would bring us together one of these days. Alas, my Apple encounters had been all near-misses and only through some nth degree of separation.

Since that night nine years ago, I have spotted him on several repeat occasions at the same table at Kinkead's, always wanting to say "Hello, I admire you, big guy," but my shy gene would kick in and I'd wilt instead, admiring him from afar, wondering what he was lapping up on his plate.

One afternoon, a few years ago, Apple nearly ran me over with his Saab in the parking lot of the Whole Foods in Arlington. When I realized that the driver of this careening car was "the Apple" himself, all I could do was howl with laughter. "A man with a mission," I remembering thinking at the time.

In the two years I've known Jon Rowley, gastronomic wayfarer, oyster authority and my culinary bodhisattva, I have heard Apple's name mentioned repeatedly. Earlier this year, Apple wrote about Rowley's passion for the oyster. Rowley's wife, Kate McDermott, would tell me how she's occasionally sought counsel from the wise Betsey Apple, who knew all too well the ins-and-outs of being a wife to an impassioned epicure. During my recent visit to Seattle, not a word of Apple's failing health was mentioned; instead, the focus remained on the places he'd go and the food he'd experienced.

After hearing the news yesterday, I spoke with Kate, whose words were bittersweet: "This is a great loss in my life and I know it will be in Jon's, but it will be filled each day by new experiences and knowing that he and Betsey are standing with both my beloved husband and I as we carry on 'the work' of living a passionate life."

By Kim ODonnel |  October 5, 2006; 12:27 PM ET Kitchen Musings
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