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A Maraschino Mogul’s Secret Life

In the April 23, 2018, issue of The New Yorker, in “Red Hook Story” (p. 32), Ian Frazier reports from Dell’s Maraschino Cherries, a family business that processes and sells fourteen million pounds of cherries a year from its single factory in Brooklyn, and that has been mired in scandal involving honeybees, a marijuana-growing facility, a police raid, intra-family lawsuits, and suicide. Arthur Mondella, the company’s former president, cared deeply about his employees and the local community—from hiring many ex-offenders to helping keep bees from drinking surplus maraschino syrup. In 2010, local beekeepers noticed their honey was turning red (it tested positive for F.D.&C. Red No. 40, an ingredient of the maraschino syrup used by the Dell’s factory). In 2015, ocers from the Department of Environmental Protection, the New York City Police Department, and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s oce came to the cherry factory with a warrant to search parts of the premises for evidence of illegal dumping of wastewater. While examining some shelves, they found what appeared to be a false wall. Mondella excused himself to use the bathroom, where he shot himself in the head with a .357 Magnum pistol. Frazier writes, “To have strangers going through his factory must have seemed, for such an inward and self-created man, as if invaders were rummaging around in his brain.” Behind the false wall the ocers discovered a ladder leading down to a large basement, twenty-five hundred square feet, and space for about a hundred marijuana plants in a well-set-up system of hydroponic cultivation under L.E.D. grow lights. In a garage area, officers came upon a collection of vintage cars, a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce among them. Later reports mentioned his use of cocaine, his boat, his lavish spending in restaurants, and his fiancée, a former Penthouse model. As for Mondella’s possible criminal ties, his ex-brother-in-law, Salvatore Capece, served five years in jail for money laundering, and Salvatore’s brother, Vincent Capece, had a rap sheet for drug oenses that went back to the nineteen-eighties. Frazier writes, “The volume of the operation, obviously larger than was needed for personal use, implied that Mondella had been selling it. How, and to whom, and who helped him build the farm—who serviced the plumbing, the wiring, the grow lights—remained intriguing questions he was not around to answer.” Mondella’s daughters, Dana Mondella Bentz and Dominique Mondella, run the company now. “This is all our father left,” Dana told Frazier. “He didn’t have a home. His cars were taken away by the investigation. I didn’t get to sort through his things. . . . The only tangible thing that we have left of him is this place.” Please see this link:


A River Trip Through the Borderlands that Trump Wants to Fence Off

In “Water and the Wall” (p. 44), Nick Paumgarten travels down the Rio Grande, the fourth-longest river in the United States, which would be devastated by Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico. The Rio Grande “is typically considered, by those of us who don’t depend on it, as little more than a boundary separating Mexico from Texas, a squiggly moat on a map. It represents a gateway to opportunity or escape for the migrants and fugitives, in life and in song, who cross it in the hope of a fresh beginning—a kind of baptism by border,” Paumgarten writes. Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the nearly two thousand miles of border between the United States and Mexico would be crippling to life along an already threatened river. Paumgarten writes, “the wall could disrupt the flow of what meagre water there is, upon which an ecosystem precariously depends. And it would essentially seal the United States o from the river and cede it to Mexico.” There is also the matter of efficacy. “The wall would probably delay a hypothetical crossing by a few minutes, depending on its design and the manner of the breach. . . . For a great deal of its length, the river is insulated on both sides by hundreds of miles of desert—inhospitable terrain that does more to discourage smugglers and migrants than a wall ever could,” Paumgarten writes.

This winter, Dan Reicher, a professor at Stanford who previously led Google’s climate and energy initiatives and served in the Clinton Administration as an Assistant Secretary of Energy, and Bob Irvin, the president of American Rivers, an advocacy group, put together a trip on the Rio Grande and invited Paumgarten along. Among the guests were two grandees with dynastic connections to environmental conservation: Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, whose father, Stewart Udall, spearheaded the protection of vast tracts of American wilderness and was a crucial architect of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; and Theodore Roosevelt IV, whose great-grandfather, the twenty-sixth President, turned the federal government into a force for, and enforcer of, land and wildlife conservation. Austin Alvarado, one of the guides, and Ben Masters, a filmmaker on the trip, had spent a couple of days with Representative Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas, who usually votes with Trump but strongly opposes the wall. He prefers a so-called smart wall, the deployment of camera and drone technology to trace movement on the border, especially in remote areas. The group talked about a kind of antidote to the wall: a bi-national park, linking the existing Big Bend park and some adjacent public lands, on the American side, with millions of acres of wild country, both public and private, already set aside just across the river. Roosevelt, a lifelong conservationist and Republican, is “the kind of environmentalist who can acknowledge and regret the occasionally invasive and inflexible nature of a federally enforced regimen. Nonetheless, the rollbacks and predations of this Administration appall him,” Paumgarten writes. Please see this link:

On the Hunt For an Elusive Legume

In “Bean Freaks” (p. 56), Burkhard Bilger profiles Steve Sando, the founder of Rancho Gordo, and his fifteen-year search for rare heirloom beans in Mexico. Once or twice a year, Sando travels to far-flung markets and towns throughout the country, discovering exotic varieties unknown even to many Mexicans. In the process, he has become the largest retailer of heirloom beans in the United States, and turned what was a humble legume into a gourmet food. Chefs like Thomas Keller have called Sando’s beans “a revelation” and made them staples of their menus. Since 2008, Sando has worked closely with Mexico City native Yunuén Carrillo Quiroz and her husband, Gabriel Cortés García, who manage Rancho Gordo’s Mexican operations. Everywhere they’ve gone—from farms next to active volcanoes in ­Morelos to communities in Veracruz and the Yucatán—they’ve found new beans. As Sando puts it: “It took the right gringo and the right Mexicans to make this happen.”

Rancho Gordo started in 2000, when Sando began growing beans outside of Napa, California, but sales at local farmers’ market were slow. “People would ask, ‘What’s your best bean?’ And the subtext was: ‘Beans are bad. Which is the least bad?’ ” he told Bilger. Three years later, Keller, whose restaurant The French Laundry is located nearby, stopped by Sando’s table and was wowed by the beans. Keller recalls, “Steve had taken something that used to be just a dried bean and raised it to a new level, where the flavor was really intense and it cooked so much more consistently.” Within a month, Rancho Gordo beans were being served at the French Laundry every week. Within a year, every chef in California seemed to be serving beans. Today, Rancho Gordo sells half a million pounds a year, sales are growing by about fifteen to twenty per cent annually, and their subscription-based Bean Club has a waiting list of more than five hundred. Sando uses sales and branding skills honed in previous jobs to convince customers that his beans are worth three times the cost of more ordinary varieties. He told Bilger, “You start with the chefs and you work your way down.”

As Rancho Gordo has expanded its operations, some chefs in Mexico City have accused the company of cultural appropriation. Some have even called Quiroz a culinary La Malinche, the infamous native woman who collaborated with Cortés during the Spanish Conquest. “They say, ‘Why are you telling him about these beans?’ ” Sando said. “ ‘Why didn’t you tell us first?’ Well, the beans were there all along.” Others believe these fears are overblown. “It’s true that a lot of the really good Mexican products get exported,” the chef Enrique Olvera told Bilger. “But if you keep some here and export the rest there’s no problem. Food migrates.” Olvera is the owner of Pujol, in Mexico City, which is often cited as one of the best restaurants in the world. He met Quiroz ten years ago and has been a Rancho Gordo customer ever since. According to Olvera, the Columbian Exchange is less lopsided than it used to be: Mexican cooks use cilantro and cheese, from Asia and Europe. Why not share their beans? Please see this link:

Plus: In Comment, George Packer responds to the recent reports of Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians and warns that any response from Donald Trump will be “feckless at best and possibly dangerous”

in Shouts & Murmurs, Ann ­Beattie offers a wine menu designed to appeal to the tastes of our teetotaling President

Dan Chiasson reflects on the legacy of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Carrie Battan listens to Cardi B’s début album, “Invasion of Privacy,” and considers the rapper’s rise to fame

Adam Gopnik reads Jenny Uglow’s biography of Edward Lear, “Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense”

Emily Nussbaum watches ABC’s reboot of “Roseanne” and contends with the show’s place in the current political climate

Hilton Als reviews Jack O’Brien’s staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical “Carousel”

poetry by Jennifer Chang

and Andrew Grace

and new fiction by Yiyun Li

Podcasts: David Remnick hosts Ross Douthat to talk about his new book about Pope Francis and the Catholic Church; Dorothy ­Wickenden and Robin Wright discuss the ongoing situation in Syria.

The April 23, 2018, issue of The New Yorker goes on sale at newsstands beginning Monday, April 16.


Press Contacts: Natalie Raabe, (212) 286-6591
Erica Hinsley, (212) 286-7936
Madison Heuston, (212) 286-4255


Monday, April 16, 2018